I want to describe my situation first. I was employed in a German institute as a PhD researcher with a contract. I had to go through a six-month probation period. However, since the first day in this group, I’ve been experiencing overwhelming pressure and anxiety from high load of work without proper supervision from the supervisor (he is just ‘too busy’ to teach me except for asking me to do this and that).

I’m not complaining about the group and the professor here as I attribute this to a mismatch between myself and the group. Thanks to the probation period, I can opt to quit the group after five months of working here to prevent further harm to both sides. But still, I have a strong will to pursue a PhD to do further research. I’m just wondering if my experience in this group would affect my further application. I don’t want to be dishonest, so could I properly describe this experience in my CV and to my potential future supervisor?

Edit: it seems inevitable to expand some of my experience in my previous group. First of all, I'm not against independent studying and thinking, but I spent a lot of time solving most problems all by myself, and the supervisor only said something like "try your best" without even a single word hint! What is more, I got almost no feedback from him and I only needed to do whatever I was asked to do. I seldom have a chance to talk about my idea, and my opinions are worth nothing. If the supervisor thought I was wrong then that was it, there was no room for discussion.

  • Are you asking only about application to another German institution or more broadly? How broad?
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 14:29
  • Sorry I didn't make it very clear. I'm open to positions in Europe or north America. Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 14:35
  • 2
    Most of a PhD is teaching yourself how to do things. Consider that first.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 14:37
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    @shinotakatoshi I think what Jon is getting at is that all PhDs will have a level of independent learning to them; if you don't like this, you shouldn't do a PhD. That said, there is a lot of variation in how much hands on assistance there is between mentor and student.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 15:19
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    @BryanKrause Yes I agree with it. I certainly learned a lot through solving almost every problem I met. But my problem is that I got almost no feedback from my supervisor about what I think and do. Anyway, thank you for your (and Jon's) advice, and I'll keep them in mind whether I'll continue doing PhD or not. Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


There shouldn't be any particular issue in the US, provided that you meet the criteria for acceptance. It seems likely that you will, but note the importance of letters of recommendation here.

You will need to mention this educational experience and provide any transcripts and such in the US, but having left voluntarily and on good terms shouldn't raise any particular issues.

See the answer for the US (and elsewhere) to this question for more on applications. Note that in the US, acceptance is by a committee of faculty, not by individual PIs. And, admissions can be quite competitive.


The answer to the title question is quite certainly "yes". I'm not aware of any regulation anywhere that would prevent you from doing that (although of course I don't know all places).

It's hard to say whether stating in a straight way that you have left your earlier program in the probation period will harm your chances. Of course you can say in one or two sentences that the specific work environment in that group didn't seem to be a good fit for you, but don't expand it too much. I suspect that in Italy where I am it won't be a problem, as applications are rated by a points system and as far as I'm aware such a thing is covered in hardly any point scheme (these have to be decided before applications come in) if at all. I suspect that wherever formal criteria have to be fixed before receiving applications this kind of thing won't feature in the criteria, which is good for you.

There will always be a subjective component in assessing applications, in some places more, namely where there are relatively lenient minimum formal criteria and beyond these potential supervisors make personal decisions, in other places less (any formal system can be "played" to some extent, for example to favour a subjectively preferred candidate). It is hard to say how much of a problem your issue is in this respect. I'd expect that occasionally somebody may want to shy away from such a candidate but more often than not it won't matter much (although it can make a difference if there is competition that is otherwise equally qualified), but that's just speculation.

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