Currently, I am at one and half years into my PhD in Netherlands. I had burnout at the end of my first year, I got some help but I don't think I am able to work still at my full potential.

The burnout could be of the following reason, I am the first PhD for my supervisor and I need to setup the lab as well (like buying components and materials needed) and need to build my device from scratch. Since I started during lockdown, I couldn't obtain the materials I needed and it delayed which caused some delay in making the device itself. This was overwhelming as I see myself not progressing and not doing science but engineering works.

My supervisor is very kind and understandable, I was insisted to take holidays and take help from universities which I got. The university psychologist suggested that I should go out and seek professional help as I have serious burnout and depression issues. So I applied for one and it starts next week.

My supervisor changed my topic and gave me a new one which doesn't involve hardware and now I can do things on my laptop itself. However, I was insisted that I should start working now otherwise I wouldn't be able to graduate. That is, I am technically restarting my Phd and should be completing it in 3 years time.

I really do not see myself doing this in my current state, it's like tripling down my work and my doctors suggests me to take it really slow as I am recovering from burnout. Also, an important thing I don't know if research gives me happiness anymore (or am just very anxious about it), every weekly meeting takes a huge toll on my mental health.

1) Should I still consider to pursue PhD ?

2) Is getting job in Netherlands after quitting PHD considered a bad thing?

3) If I go for job, should I get a job before leaving PhD?

Looking forward to all your valuable suggestions.

  • "The university psychologist suggested that I should go out and seek professional help as I have serious burnout and depression issues. So I applied for one and it starts next week." - I'd talk to them carefully about it. Sometimes a break is helpful, but they will be able to give you the personal 1-on-1 discussion that will help you walk to a decision you're happy with. Nov 5, 2022 at 13:40
  • Note that even if you leave the PhD, you can usually get your advisor and university to assist you in getting a masters instead after a short while more, and it is not a bad option in the long run. So just give priority to your well-being and choose as best as you can.
    – user21820
    Nov 7, 2022 at 10:55

1 Answer 1


Given you are the first (and still only?) student in that lab, would a medical leave not be possible?

I think ideally, you would stay in this PhD course, because;

  • You seem to like, and communicate well with, your supervisor. That's worth so much.
  • 3 years is actually not a bad length of time for a PhD project. It would be normal in many countries.
  • You have likely learnt more about this lab/institute/area than you realise, some of that would transfer to another position, but not all of it.

I've had friends who have taken medical leave (3 months for them) from a PhD project. During the medical leave they qualified for medical benefits from the state, so although their PhD stipend was paused, they had money for rent still. They still came along to some seminars, and they stayed in touch with their supervisor during that time, but they weren't allowed to teach and no research was expected. In those months, they managed to heal and build healthy coping strategies, and have now come back to research feeling like it's more manageable. Medical leave can be a really good move.

You could raise this idea with your supervisor, emphasising that you do want to work on their project, but you want to have the energy to do it justice.

If you did chose to leave this project, and find another position in a few years time, I don't think anyone would look poorly on it. It's a frustrating series of events, but one that most people with understand was no fault of your own. However, it sounds like you have a good thing here. I'd advise you to see if it's possible to stay with that.

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