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In 2015, I enrolled in an MSc in Computer Security program with the aim of getting a Ph.D. However, I dropped out of that program as I didn't like it. Then I enrolled in a MSc Machine Learning program in 2016 but again dropped out of that program because it was too hard for me, apparently because my proficiency in statistics was not sufficient. So, my Ph.D. dream was shattered by the end of 2016.

After much struggle, I was able to draw the attention of a research professor in bioinformatics because: (1) even though I dropped out of two programs, I did a lot of self-study out of curiosity and sheer interest; and (2) I have outstanding computer programming skills from my Bachelor's years.

This research professor has offered me two scholarships: one is from the National Science Council and another from the faculty; we published two papers; and finally, I have been accepted for a Ph.D. position this year. Therefore, everything is looking great for me.

I was even able to forget my previous two failures in the form of dropouts. This memory is giving me no pain anymore.

However, I have become old. My age is 41 years and 7 months. To put things in perspective, my classmates have already become professors.

Also, I am unemployed and surviving on scholarship money. Although my professor has taken me on many research projects, they are not a steady source of income; they are like bursts of money. My wife and only child are being taken care of by my parents. I have also been suffering from depression.

At this age and reality, a PhD does not seem to be a success anymore, although it has been my lifelong dream to have a PhD.

What should I do about this?

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  • 4
    Have you consulted a mental health professional with this issue? Mar 20 at 8:00
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    Probably you need to self-reflect on the main reasons why you failed before. If you have already published two papers, then that suggests to me you are ready. In many research areas, there are many pathways to make contributions. For example, in my discipline, one either does theoretical or system research. Lastly, one of the main skills you need to learn is how to learn. As a researcher, we are faced with unknowns all the time, and there is a constant need to learn a new tool, be it statistics or a new programming language.
    – VitaminE
    Mar 20 at 8:46
  • I think talking with a therapist is likely to be the most helpful thing for you here
    – Joe
    Mar 20 at 18:07

3 Answers 3

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It looks like you have the curiosity and enthusiasm to start ambitious projects, but you also tend to get easily bored or discouraged. It would probably be good for you to understand why this happens and how to be more persistent in your efforts. This is quite important if you start a PhD: it's a long and challenging process, so practically everybody doing a PhD faces obstacles and discouragement at times.

I don't know you so I don't know if this is your case, but I observed that perfectionism is a common cause of giving up in academia: people who are perfectionist have great hopes about what they want to achieve and how they imagine it, then they face the mundane difficulties and the imperfect nature of the research process and get deeply disappointed, sometimes to the point of dropping their goal. In case you feel familiar with this, it's important to manage your expectations and accept that nobody is perfect. Don't hesitate to seek professional psychological advice, it can help you achieve your goals.

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Actually, though it might seem odd to you, I'd suggest that the best solution is to celebrate your current success and just let the past be the past.

There is nothing wrong with leaving a program that you learn you dislike. You want to organize your life so that it is pleasant overall.

There is nothing wrong with leaving a program that you find, too late, that you are unprepared for and don't want to live in eternal catch-up mode.

You have found a successful and enjoyable path. Yay. Exploit that.

Lots of people have "stumbles" in their past. Not everyone successfully moves past them as you seem to have done. You are both lucky and persistent, not being defeated by setbacks.

There are, however, some hints of imposter syndrome in your post. You might explore that, and you might want to talk to a professional about it.

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I can give you some points that could be helpful:

  1. Don't look back and think about the past, especially overthinking about the two past failures, actually they are the stepping stones towards the success. I heard about many people that didn't know what to do in this life, and they tried many things to find their passions, and hit many walls but they didn't stopped, they continued until the problem was resolved.

  2. The science study and research does not have age limit. I saw one time at the university, an aged man that got a medical diploma studying computer science with young students, and guess what ! he finished and got his CS diploma. So, if someone could make a balance between all his duties, he can manage well his life.

  3. The most important point is to believe in your capabilities and understand what you want/like to do.

  4. When it comes to financial side, I think that you could find many opportunities for part-time jobs since you are in computer science field (e.g, consulting, freelancing, etc)

Finally, I see your experience as an inspiring example, so good luck

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