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There are several posts on this site about potentially leaving a PhD program due to mental health issues (e.g. 1, 2, 3), and these issues can impede productivity. Seeking help from a mental health professional can help immensely, though progress on the mental health front may take time. Depending on when they seek help and how long it takes to get better (and if they choose to remain in the program), they might experience years of low productivity. I imagine this can affect job prospects in industry and academia upon graduation.

One option is to leave the program and reapply when one's mental health improves. This post talks about prolonging a PhD to improve to improve one's CV. Assuming one's mental health improves, does it make sense to prolong a PhD to make up for periods of low-productivity caused by poor mental health?

Another possibility is to graduate, land a research job, and improve your research CV there. By asking the above question, I'm implicitly assuming that one's research output during their PhD affects their career trajectory more than one's research output in their first job. Is this accurate?

Edit: Here's a more concise phrasing of my question. Suppose one hopes to get an industry research job X upon graduation and needs a more competitive research CV to get job X. Is it preferable to (1) extend the PhD to build one's CV, or should one (2) take a different research job Y, build their research CV there, and then try to jump to job X?

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  • Getting a suitable first job might be the bigger issue, but, no, if you are successful in that first job (or postdoc), nobody will really care about your PhD time.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 6 at 18:59
  • That's a common reason for prolonging a PhD. It may or may not "make sense." What are you actually trying to achieve? Apr 6 at 19:53
  • I've edited my post to include a clearer phrasing of my question.
    – Bratwurst
    Apr 7 at 15:40

3 Answers 3

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New to the community so I can't comment, however my answer is similar to Anton's. I'm not sure if my experience within my field/industry will translate for yours, however I am currently facing similar circumstances.

For academia, I find many roles have many explicit and unspoken criteria related to publishing, which in turn means they will scrutinise your PhD timeline to some extent. Alternatively, in industry I have found that companies are less concerned with the PhD status and publications, and more the quality/output of work (published or not) in addition to the capability to integrate into a team environment. Whether to prolong should depend on whether you prefer academia or industry and what your goals are. Getting the PhD done (and getting "PhD level" roles) is a requirement for academia but not for industry in my experience.

To my knowledge, industry based PhD's are also becoming somewhat more common, in that you publish based on work developed for a company. You publish your thesis via a university that has collaboration with your employer, or you have previously done a degree with, should they accept it. I recently found a role which offered that I complete my PhD with them.

Regarding the second question, to somewhat reiterate, I think it is accurate to assume so, given we are discussing academic roles. The dichotomy between academia and industry is one contrasted most by the quality versus quantity debate. In academia, quantity is a kind of quality and is desirable, thus PhD graduates with a high publication rate will be looked on favourably. In industry, I have found that they care a lot more about the quality of the publications and its inherent quality rather than the content itself. They care that you are competent to do the job and will look for parallels in your work that indicates such. Discussions with one CTO highlighted to me that they would hire someone competent for the role even if they didn't have a degree, let alone a PhD. If you can do the job and have the skills necessary, that is all they care for.

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If you can graduate with your current research, the near-universal advice is to do so. I personally did not, but that is mostly because my status did not perceivably affect the employability in the foreseeable future. For most people, however, PhD gives opportunities.

There are times in our lives when we are not in our best shape for whatever reason, and may not want it to be representative of us as a whole. But this is something one needs to reconcile with eventually. You can almost always make up for these lows in the future, and your most recent achievements is what people would be the most concerned with. Good things stay with you, "I did not produce anything of note for three years straight" - less so, given you have achieved something since. By some industry employers, getting a poor PhD is still "getting things done despite the odds", while prolonging it indefinitely is a negative trait.

One way or another, move on. Try to get in contact with potential employers prior to graduation, you are likely to be able to improve your CV on the job but you do not want to start knocking on all the doors and cold-calling people the moment you get your diploma.

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I can only answer the second question reliably.

Having hired you on the basis of your qualifications, an employer will judge your worth on how you perform in the job you are given, not on the status of your past PhD work or previous jobs.

When I employed research staff, I employed them to do the job in hand, not for their real or imagined status in a previous role. Once I had used the PhD work as one of the important criteria for appointment, the PhD itself matters little thereafter in judging performance. What does it matter how well you did in your intergalactic turbulence when I want you to deal with the problems of oceanic turbulence affecting the dispersion of pollutants? I employed people for their applicable skills, not for their medals.

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