I have been feeling miserable about my PhD degree situation for a bit of time, and I just started therapy. So far I've tried not to take drastic decisions such as quitting, because I know I am strongly influenced by my condition, but lately I can't think about anything else.

I wonder if it is possible to convert my contract in a research assistance, or what is a graceful way out so to continue deserving recommendation, or what is an adequate resign notice period, etc., but I know it would much better to finish the PhD degree, and so continue trying.

Is talking about quitting possibilities with your supervisor a point of no return?

  • 4
    "I have been feeling miserable about my PhD situation" You have already passed the point of no return. Feb 23, 2015 at 18:44
  • 32
    Isn't feeling miserable like a part of been a PhD candidate? :D
    – OutFall
    Feb 23, 2015 at 20:50
  • 13
    I talked to my PhD supervisor about quitting and then didn't quit. It certainly wasn't a point of no return.
    – Flounderer
    Feb 24, 2015 at 6:09
  • 6
    @itcouldevenbeaboat: I couldn't disagree more. Feb 25, 2015 at 12:43
  • 2
    @N0ir (1) Drudging on despite feeling miserable shouldn't be necessary to make a good researcher. (2) I know the statement was made in jest, but someone suffering from depression or similar would also describe themselves as 'feeling miserable'. Part of the problem is recognising that it's more than just that and the OP seems to have done that by starting therapy, so kudos to them. Telling them it's just par for the course can be incredibly insensitive and counterproductive, as it implies they should just 'toughen up and get on with it', which is the worst you can tell someone in that situation
    – ThomasH
    Feb 25, 2015 at 13:41

5 Answers 5


Talking about quitting with your supervisor (or someone else in your supervisory committee or department) is not a point of no return. In fact, it can be a turning point.

PhD students all go through ups and downs and part of the job of the supervisor, and others in the department and university (head of department, counsellors, etc) is to help you get through the rough patches.

If you do not talk about it and things get so bad that you actually quit, then it may be a point of no return.

Full disclosure: I quit my PhD. The first my supervisor heard of it was the day I quit. Luckily, someone else gave me another chance a few years later.

  • 7
    Signed in just to upvote this. Couldn't agree more.
    – Tom Wright
    Feb 23, 2015 at 11:20
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    +1 and even the process of thinking about what issues you would raise and how can be beneficial.
    – Chris H
    Feb 23, 2015 at 12:23
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    This is not an attack, I am genuinely curios to know: Isn't your answer a bit absolute? I mean, should one also consider the relationship between the supervisor and phd candidate? Aren't there some supervisor whom such conversation might affect all their future considerations of the student? What if the supervisor him/herself is one of the reasons that OP is finding the job exhausting? Again, I am not attacking and I myself upvoted your answer. I couldn't however, be sure if it is a general rule to consider supervisor so supportive in the times of despair.
    – Pouya
    Feb 23, 2015 at 13:40
  • 5
    @Pouya: Good points. Other people in the network should be consulted in that case. In any case, quitting should be the last resort. Feb 23, 2015 at 13:52
  • @Pouya if the supervisor is one of the reasons, that is an even stronger case to talk about it. That is the best hope of finding a solution for it.
    – Davidmh
    Feb 23, 2015 at 20:19

This question resonated with me, so I signed up just to answer. The short answer is that one would hope that it shouldn't be a point of no return. But, of course, it depends heavily on your supervisor’s temperament.

I was in a similar situation where I was deeply unhappy with the direction and content of my PhD research and despite my best efforts at raising these concerns I struggled to alter things. This was partly due to having two supervisors with not entirely overlapping areas of expertise. However, my main (on paper) supervisor and I met for a coffee in a neutral location, i.e. off campus and not his office, to discuss things. He was non-judgmental and supportive and, having done a PhD himself (naturally), he understood the situation. I did end up leaving the PhD programme but it was not because I couldn’t discuss things with my supervisor (I’ve since completed my PhD at a different University).

So my suggestion would be definitely do not simply quit, you should feel able to discuss issues with your supervisor. After all (at least in the UK) supervisors are expected to provide some level of pastoral care, as well as directing research. If you'd feel more comforatble suggest a neutral location. Further, I’d reiterate what Dave Clarke said in that I don’t know a single PhD student who, at one time or another, wasn’t fed up with some aspect of their PhD.

  • 2
    Re. your last paragraph, if you are not feeling frustrated, it is not called research. (Tongue in cheek).
    – Davidmh
    Feb 23, 2015 at 20:24

Absolutely not. Even quitting may not be a point of no return, if you have a good relationship with your advisor. I know of a student, for example, who actually withdrew entirely for reasons of mental health, but was explicitly told that their return would be welcomed if their circumstances changed. What is most important is to find a way that you can be honest about your struggles and planning. If you don't feel you know how to talk safely to your advisor about this, you should start by talking with your therapist, who can help you plan an approach and figure out how to talk about it without revealing information that you wish to keep private.

  • I quit and returned and succeeded and look at me know. A regular on Academia. Feb 24, 2015 at 7:15

I would assume the answer to this question depends on the area. In mathematics (where I work) or humanities your supervisor will most probably try to help you not to quit, and if you do quit welcome you back after two years. In other disciplines, where Ph.D. students consume significant resources, things are different. The supervisor might well think "If I let someone play with my 12 million dollar gadget, and he quits, then I wasted a lot of money. Better invest this into a student who actually finishes."


There are few points of no return, else we'd all be lying at the bottom of cliffs.

Are you going to GET the PhD? If so, finishing it and putting up with being miserable for a bit longer is an option you should consider. If you're convinced you're going to flunk it, talk to your supervisor, it's what he's there for. Maybe you'll be reassured that in fact you're doing OK. Maybe he'll agree you should try to succeed at something less ambitious.

If you have the choice, not too long in the future, of having a PhD or not having a PhD, which would you prefer?

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