I have received my MSc. degree at software engineering 5 months ago after a 3-year period of study and research. At the time of graduation, my supervisor asked me whether I would like to continue as his PhD student, I said I'll be happy to continue with doctoral degree under his supervision, but I didn't tell him anything about my curiosity about working in the industry.

When I got my master's degree, I also started working remotely in a bank as a software developer. At first, this was just for exploring the industry since I did not have any previous experience. However, I really liked the environment and the challenges that I have been dealing at my job and I got promotion last week which resulted in a huge increase in my salary which is great since there is an ongoing economic struggles in my country and it helps me a lot. My supervisor knows me as a part-time engineer in the company but in fact I am working in a full-time position.

While I was working on my master's thesis, we also wrote a paper, which is related to my thesis (in some parts), in collaboration with my supervisor and another student who was a fresh Master's student then. We started this work 2 years ago and we got the initial outcome as the programming, writing/revising the paper part completed 1.5 years ago. Until then we applied for publishing our paper at 2 different international journals but rejected from both. After each rejection we spent a lot of time for both revising the paper and modifying/enhancing the implementation(code). 3 months ago, we applied for a 3rd journal and this time they suggested us a major revision. In last 3 months, I cannot work intensely on the paper and code revision since it requires indeed a major revision. My supervisor is not satisfied with my recent work and it causes stress on me although I will not continue with a doctoral degree. There is a huge amount of unfinished work of code/paper modification and the other student should be responsible of this burdening job. And I also told my supervisor that I want to continue with doctoral degree since I was not sure at the time of graduation. I feel guilty due to this to my supervisor but more to the other student.

So my question is: How can I kindly tell my supervisor that I would like to continue as a software developer in the industry not as a PhD student although we have an unfinished work? I will be happy for any of your suggestions.

1 Answer 1


As someone once told me, "there is no subtle way to throw a grenade."

Having said that: we are talking about weighting your life's work vs. an inconvenience for him. You can feel bad about having to break your word, but don't overdo the feeling bad part. Just because you once agreed to what looked like a good idea at the time, does not mean you now have to spend 5-6 years of your life bound to that.

My personal strategies for when I have to give people bad news:

  1. Don't go into the conversation intending to negotiate if you should leave. Make your decision ahead of time, and then meet with your advisor to deliver the news.

  2. Only Present Your Best Arguments (Rule 7 from Simmons MP (2015) Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Reply Paper. PLoS Comput Biol 11(10): e1004536. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004536

  3. Once you are done, shut up, let the other person speak, and listen.

  4. Write a note to yourself about how it feels to break your commitment, and use that note in the future to remind yourself of that feeling, just when you are about to make a new commitment.

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