I was accepted to a STEM PhD program. But, my impression of this field have worsened, starting from interviews and campus visits. Maybe I have bound myself to a dying area, and I can’t imagine what can I do in my 5 years PhD to stand out myself.

Maybe the programs I applied for are not the places I truly want to go to. If I applied to some other programs, I think I would get offers based on my application's strength. (Everyone I met during the visits said that my application is very strong.)

It has been 3 weeks since April 15, and I accepted an offer. I think maybe I made a wrong decision, and it would be better to reject the offer and apply again next year. Or maybe I should go to a master's program first.

But if I want to switch my direction, the school I accepted is not the best fit. Maybe the result has been destined since I submitted applications last December. Maybe my decisions were based on stereotypes and biases, or a small sample size, or failing to explain my thoughts, so I changed my mind after receiving more information. There were so many things I didn't know when I applied. Quitting the program (which is a top program) doesn't seem so feasible, I will lose everything.

I don't know what is a clear question to ask now. Maybe someone has some suggestion?

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    As you probably realize, there is not very much for any of us that we can provide in terms of an answer. I suspect that perhaps having a therapist may be useful to talk through some of the confusion? Commented May 5 at 15:45

5 Answers 5


This question is just the PhD-centered version of "Why do we always feel that the other queue moves faster?"

Doing a PhD (and research in general) is an extremely boring task, where it takes forever to reach a minimally tangible result. Yes, even if you were to be Bohr looking for the H2 atom.

Just think of the technology that went into something as powerful (for the good or the bad) as a smartphone: it is decades of research, but no researcher was "there" to see the process from the inception of the R&D to the blossoming of the product.

Maybe the scientist creating the A-bomb had some "not-boring" times, and similarly the people working today at the intersection between AI and nanorobotics... maybe.

But for the vast rest of scientist time is slow. And rightly so, the brain works well at a relatively slow pace.


If you let go of the romanticized version of the PhD, which many people hold, and instead view your PhD as what it is (see below), you will be happier.

The (sub)topic or even (sub)field of your PhD is not so important. This is a time where you will be learning how to conduct research, write papers, present at conferences, and grow professionally both in skills and network. If you are in a solid program (regardless of how trendy), with a good advisor, your PhD will set you up for success.

Of course, if your dying area is phrenology, then perhaps yes, find something else to study.


Happiness during a PhD seems to follow a bimodal distribution. And a top predictor of being on the sunny side of it is intrinsic motivation: being super curious about the topic you work on. If what keeps you up at night are the ideas bubbling in your head - regarding that last paper, experiment or model, then you're at the right place. If it's strategic doubts about the field, I'd say you aren't. My advice: don't do it, drop out now, rather than later. A masters may be a good way to find out whether there is a (sub)field exciting you in this way.


You must define your goal first: are you after a title PhD for better chances? Or can you create your own chances in your own business? In which case you must test your talent for academic study in that field, in which branch can you do outstanding studies, create something new, which new thing can be done differently to help others.

Your passion for the specialization that you choose is the energizer for the long study, so check if you are passionate about doing it and bear whatever obstacle. Besides, having a trusted advisor in the field or making a quick online survey around the pros and cons of that specialization can help you decide well. On the other hand, you should also build up your own business project to keep working on, in case you withdraw from that academic study, you will find a shelter to encompass your talent and let it grow more and more.


After getting a PhD after five years in Biochemistry, I can say don't do a PhD. It's not worth it unless you need the comma PhD in your LinkedIn to be a better candidate for a job position. There are clever ways to make money than a PhD. A lot can happen in five years. Don't waste your time because that is more precious than any STEM scientific research program can give you. Most people who have a PhD regret doing it. Don't regret starting a program; you can always quit anytime. Worst case scenario: you start and reach your comprehensive exam. You can either continue or fail out with a masters, and not pay tuition for it as it is typically covered in STEM PhD programs. Just check and see if your tuition reimbursement comes with a not quitting in 180 days into the semester. Best wishes on your decision.

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    "You can either continue or fail out with a masters" This is country dependent.
    – The Doctor
    Commented May 5 at 20:38
  • Yeah very true, and program specific as well. However most in US follow this so that is my assumption based on the question asked
    – hack 91372
    Commented May 5 at 23:29
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    I do not believe the statement "Most people who have a PhD regret doing it". Not only do I think that you cannot back up this assertion with actual data, but I actually think that it is not true. Commented May 6 at 9:55
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    There are clever ways to make money than a PhD This is one of the worst reason not to do a PhD (and there are plenty good reasons not to do a PhD).
    – EarlGrey
    Commented May 6 at 13:42

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