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I am thinking of quitting my PhD program to leave with a master's degree. I don't think I learned much in my PhD so far, and I would have gained more skills if I got a normal master's and took a bunch of classes instead of spending the past two years doing research.

Is it a good idea to quit my PhD program and then apply for a second, coursework-based master's degree in the same field? Or is there some way I can accomplish this at my current school?

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    I would have gained more skills if I got a normal master's and took a bunch of classes instead of spending the past two years doing research. I think you may be doing it wrong. To me, it sounds inconceivable that someone could learn more from coursework than from doing research. – ff524 Sep 3 '15 at 8:17
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    @ff524 As a PhD student I have been hired to solve a small set of specific problems, and I mostly use my existing knowledge to solve these problems instead of learning a lot of new stuff. But if I took more classes it would expose me to a broader range of material and help me think in new and different ways. – user40698 Sep 3 '15 at 8:21
  • Perhaps you should be looking for ways to expand your research to include some new and different things, then. Have you spoken to your advisor about this? – ff524 Sep 3 '15 at 8:23
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    "Well I kind of have a short attention span so it takes me forever to read papers, because I keep getting distracted. " I think you may need to consider why you are doing a PhD. Most people study for a PhD because they want a career in research, but if you have a short attention span and have difficulties reading papers you may not be cut out for research. For research you need to be able to learn without being taught (and preferably enjoy it), your working life will (hopefully) be long, so you don't want to spend it doing something you dont like, so do give this some thought. HTH, – Dikran Marsupial Sep 3 '15 at 10:12
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    @user40698 if it's any consolation, I don't think I really thought about it either! The important thing to do at this stage is to work out what it is you want to do in the future; if you really want a job in research (either in academia or industry) then finishing the PhD and giving it your very best effort would be a good thing to do as it will be a test of whether that is a career to which you are well suited. Finding out that you are not interested in research is a valid finding from a PhD, so there is no shame in stopping early if that really is the case – Dikran Marsupial Sep 3 '15 at 14:24
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If you want to try making a few changes, to see if they have a positive effect, before deciding, here are some ideas:

  • Each semester, take one of the classes you're interested in.

  • Before reporting the week's results to your advisor, anticipate what he might prescribe as the next step. Write up your ideas about next steps each week, to show to your advisor for his opinion and/or green light to go ahead as you proposed.

  • Set aside one or two hours every day for literature research (reading of papers). In the beginning it might take you more than a week to get through a paper, but it will get easier with practice.

Please note, your distractibility is something you could talk over with a doctor (general practitioner), if this is a significant problem for you. There are a number of things you and your professors can consider trying that might help.

If your doctor screens you and finds a noticeable difference between you and the general population in this regard, you can get some assistance with management of the distractibility from your university.

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The main thing that a student should learn as the result of studying for a PhD is how to be an independent researcher, which means being able to formulate new research questions, generate hypotheses, design experiments to test hypotheses and analyze the results. Another important aspect of research is being familiar with the work of others in your field (which means reading lots of papers), both as a source of ideas, but also for proper evaluation of your work. Sure, you will also gain some new technical skills in the progress, but that is not the primary goal. To be a researcher you need to learn how to gain these technical skills without being taught them, because if you are near the state of the art, there is largely nobody there to teach you anymore (other than by reading their papers).

The important question is why are you studying for a PhD, what to you want to do as a career? If this is not research based, the need for a PhD is perhaps questionable.

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