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I am currently in my third year, 5 semesters over, of my MS programme at a top Indian institute. MS is a research based Master's programme in engineering.

Being a research based curriculum, there is no fixed time and I have seen people do it in 4 years also but the average is 3 years. Also there is no fixed criteria of what defines ``satisfactory work'' to graduate.

My advisor is saying my work of 2.5 years is still not publishable and added that a lot more work has to be done yet.

I know my work is not a very novel work, unlike all the lab-mates around me, but for the current work I had to put a lot of efforts and overcoming my mental barriers. I started taking therapy few months back to make sure I keep working.

After my advisor's comment, which happened for the first time a few weeks back, my world is now upside down. I do not know what to do, and he keeps telling me to do things in a deadline which I don't think I can do. I am feeling like sh*t as my whole work till now has been just a ``colouring book'', to quote him.

I have been talking to my friends about my situation, they are saying just keep pushing; but do not know if I have the ability to push or even work anymore. I am coming to lab daily, dragging myself out of my dorm, and wasting a lot of time. I haven't told my parents yet, because they think I will graduate this December with a job in hand, FYI Indian institutes have a concept of campus placements. But the reality is I do not know when I will graduate, or even if I will graduate! I do not know if I will get a descent job if I quit.

I don't know what to do. Should I quit? Even if I quit, will I get a job? My self-image at this time is at all-time low because I actually wanted to do research and now I am hating it to my gut.

Can someone suggest a way out please?

Apologies for the long post, I had to vent it out.

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  • Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer.
    – Community Bot
    Jun 27, 2023 at 8:32

3 Answers 3

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Can you get a job? Well, do you have the skills required?

Go to your local jobs portal (or your university's career portal if they have one), and see what jobs are available that you think you might be interested in. Read the job descriptions, see what they ask for. Here's an example I got from a quick search.

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Do you have these things? If yes - then sure you can get a job. If no - then no, you won't get this job. But you might be able to get another job. You won't know until you search.

By the way, there's nothing stopping you from applying for a job before you quite your MS.

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I can answer it from the Indian perspective. I have seen some of my friends stuck in similar situations during my Ph.D. I would recommend that you don't quit yet. How easy it would be for you to get a job depends on which branch you are in. If you are in CS/EC/EE, I think it should be pretty easy. If not, I'd suggest you start preparing for placements. Most companies that come for placements don't care about what research you have done as long you can perform the job that they hire you for. During our time, most companies wanted software developers or data analysts. So, preparing for those roles will maximize your chance of success.

Once you have a job, you will be in a better position to negotiate with your supervisor. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will let you graduate even if you get a job, but you will be in a better position to push. All the best.

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There is no shame in quitting a shitty MS program, or a bad relationship with an advisor. There's something to be said about persevering, but what they don't tell you is that persevering is only good up to a point, and that the "always persevere" mantra is usually accompanied by the sunken cost fallacy. And you've hit the nail on the head with the statement

Also there is no fixed criteria of what defines ``satisfactory work'' to graduate.

One of the most frustrating parts of doing a research-based MS or PhD is the lack of consistent criteria for what constitutes enough work. This works across programs, but you often also find inconsistent criteria among advisors at the same program. For example, colleague of mine from my undergrad years decided to do an MS at the same university, since her experience there was good. She spent 7 years on the MS, every year being told to do "just one more experiment". In retrospect, this was unfair, and I consider her thesis to be a lot better than PhD theses I later saw accepted at the R1 institution where I did my PhD. Again, this is all in retrospect, but she could have quit her MS degree and done a PhD instead at a better institution.

I don't know what will please your parents, but pleasing parents is rarely a good criterion for deciding what to do with your life.

And yes, you can certainly get a job without an MS degree. Most people in the world don't have an MS degree.Your criteria for "success" will vary, but to take a common criterion for success, money: many of my friends back from when I was an undergrad never went higher than the bachelor's degree, and they all make more money than I do with my PhD. Two of them come to mind, one is an electrical engineer, the other a civil engineer. So there's definitely a market for engineers without MS degrees (caveat: this is in the US; the market for engineers in India will be different, of course.)

Before you quit, however, speak with your advisor and tell them about your frustration with the moving target nature of finishing your current degree. If they are reasonable, they might even be willing to put in writing what you need to do to finish, and with that you can make a reasonable plan to finish. But again, if they keep yanking your chain with "one more experiment" BS, it's time to cut your losses.

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  • no downvote from my side, but "I consider her thesis to be a lot better than PhD theses I saw accepted at the R1 institution where I did my PhD." no one cares, you are just a random person in the internet.
    – EarlGrey
    Jun 27, 2023 at 15:40
  • When reading other's answers, I always appreciate answers that refer to their personal experiences and opinions stemming from those.
    – Cheery
    Jun 27, 2023 at 16:52
  • +1 for mentioning the sunk cost fallacy and stating "pleasing parents is rarely a good criterion for deciding what to do with your life." I think the anecdote about the friend's thesis is unnecessary but doesn't detract from the rest of the answer.
    – shoover
    Jun 27, 2023 at 17:57
  • Personal experience: xkcd.com/1827
    – EarlGrey
    Jun 27, 2023 at 22:28

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