TL;DR: Thinking about leaving my PhD program after 6 months. 1.) The program is not what I imagined it would be. 2.) I'm not positive I need a PhD to do what I want to do. 3.) I've been offered a pretty great opportunity that would put me back on a track that I was happy with prior to my program. 4.) However, I do not want to burn bridges with faculty/people that have invested time and resources in me.

I would love to hear any thought exercises or lines of self-inquiry that people have found useful in making a decision of this nature! tl;dr/close

I will keep details in the following fairly vague to avoid identifiers.

I am a 1st year PhD Student (6 months in). I've spent several years in "the real world" in between my Masters and my current position. I was achieving just about everything I wanted to during this time, but felt that a little more access to independence and/or creative discretion in designing projects would be nice. I decided to pursue a PhD, visualizing 4-5 years of independent research in a free-thinking environment, and then returning to an applied position outside of the academic arena.

Without getting stuck in the weeds, I'll just say that my program, and academia in general, is not what I had built up in my mind, and I am now incredibly disillusioned with the work of my cohort. I feel as though the end result of my research ideas will simply be research products that remain one or two steps removed from being applied in practice, whereas prior to this work I was taking ideas and just implementing. Creativity realized. I'm not sure a PhD is necessary for what I ultimately want to do. In the end I'd rather share my ideas with a broad audience of practitioners, researchers, as well as lay communities. No textbooks. "Regular books" with complex ideas distilled into elegant simplicity that even the public could ponder.

I have recently been offered a pretty great position that would place me back in an applied position and on the track I was on previously. My intuition tells me to find a graceful way to exit my program, but I also know that I am new. I would give the decision more time, but the external opportunity requires fairly immediate action, and I'd hate to become more ingrained in a current team project and have folks invest more resources in me.

I would love to hear any thought exercises or lines of self-inquiry that people have found useful in making a decision of this nature!

Thanks in advance!

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    I would love to hear any thought exercises or lines of self-inquiry that people have found useful in making a decision of this nature. I would ask myself: 1. How many lives do I have? 2. Which do I care more about, my own long-term happiness and ability to contribute to the world in the best way I think I can, or what some random group of people I happen to be working with at the moment thinks about me?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 21:47
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    When the usenet group alt.grad-student.tenured was active they had a heutristic rule: if you would rather scrub the toilet than work on your dissertation you are in trouble. You're not quite that far along yet, but the same principle applies. If there is something most people consider a dreary chore that you would rather do than work on your studies, maybe grad school isn't for you (or not at this time). Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 22:11

4 Answers 4


Been to similar situation. Here couple of points:

Decision and Responsibility: You have enough personal reasons to leave. In fact, I'm impressed you figured it out in the first 6 months, which is a good thing. Here is the thing: You need to make a decision, and take the full responsibility for it. Other people in your research group, might have different agendas, and therefore might give you the answer which is good for them. Probably your supervisor spent decades in research and does not get you, or doesn't want you to leave, because he/she spent time and energy in the last couple of months to guide you through your early PhD stage. you see what I'm trying to say here?

Burning Bridges: If you decide to leave, this is your answer to your current situation, and other side effects are out of your hands. They are not your wife/husband that you need to take to your consideration. It is a professional decision you made for yourself. Good thing is, you are a PhD student and not a supervisor to leave number of students and their future behind.

Interaction To Your Supervisor: First have a meeting with your supervisor, and tell him/her, your decision. Tell him/her sorry for the situation created but you have to do what you have to do.

Interaction With Friends: You can also let others know about this, and wish them best of luck.


I'm in a PhD and I absolutely love it, and I fully appreciate how fortunate that is. It's not for everyone, and you've given very good reasons why it's not for you. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Regarding burning bridges, just be open and honest. They'll understand, and they'll appreciate that you won't spend the next 4 years wasting their time and money.

The important thing is you tried, and your decision is based on your experience rather than assumption or hearsay.


Perhaps more a comment on @MercedesSchrödinger's answer, take into consideration that your advisor/school did commit resources to you (a place in the research group, some founding, time, a potential thesis thema, ...). Don't believe that you just walking away will go over just like that.

Taking such a step is burning some bridges. It is not something to be taken lightly. You might consider putting your PhD on temporary hold (but not for too long!) until your sort out your dilemma.

In any case, if you rummage around here (and also by personal experience, both undergraduate and more acutely during the PhD), you'll see that doubting if you are on the right track is quite common. Sit down, clear your mind, and work through the issues. Write down pros and contras, weight them carefully with a cool head, and lay out your future path.

Whatever you decide, good luck.


...perhaps this might serve you as well as it does me:

Imagine that you have arrived at the end of your life, and are on your deathbed. Looking back upon your life, enumerate that which you would like to have accomplished in life.

If any of those accomplishments necessitate as consequence the PhD which you currently pursue, then perhaps you might reasonably bear out the current course.

Wise would be remembering a simple truth: that each of us is infinite at the core of our conscious awareness. Infinite possibilities we each might at any moment enact, conjure, attract, or cause to precipitate in reality, within the external illusion of the physical world.

Best of luck,


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