Years ago I was diagnosed with leukemia and fortunately I won at that time the battle. Beginning of last year I started a PhD and after 1 year, my old illness was again knocking the doors and I had to stop the PhD asking for a Leave of Absence to start my treatment.

I've got a LOA but unfortunately, 6 months later and although my treatment works fine, it seems I'll need around 6 months or more to recover and I'm afraid to have a long year gap in my CV. Moreover, there is a total lack of support and communication from my university and academic committee and I was thinking to quit my PhD.

Therefore, and seeing this gap won't help me, I decided to make a step back in my career, apply for a MSc. in a related area of my PhD and later, apply again to other PhD program in a different university.

I understand is a big step back, but it seems I'll need around a year to recover (if everything works fine) and I don't think I'll get a rec. letter from my supervisor. I also need to refresh again my background and be humble about my situation, so I don't think it's really bad. However, I'd like to hear from you suggestions or ideas.

Thanks in advance for reading and all your comments

  • Could you put information regarding your country?
    – mdd
    Dec 17, 2015 at 11:33
  • Apologies Matthias, but I won't post any information regarding my country, university or field work. I only will say I'm EU citizen and I was doing my PhD abroad EU and in an Ivy League uni. Thanks for your understanding.
    – 1up
    Dec 17, 2015 at 11:52
  • 1
    If you were in europe I would know how to advise you @1up I dont know what is regulation in USA, but probably you can transfer from PhD to MSc, it is rather better solution than quit
    – SSimon
    Dec 17, 2015 at 13:28
  • 2
    Why do you think one year gap would be so bad? Specially since the explanation is clear: you were recovering from a very serious disease.
    – Davidmh
    Dec 17, 2015 at 14:36
  • 1
    @1up jerks are everywhere. Do you think your supervisor is one of them? Have you discussed it with him?
    – Davidmh
    Dec 17, 2015 at 15:08

3 Answers 3


If you have had a very serious medical problem like cancer, most PhD programs will take you back after you have recovered without much trouble. If you contact them now and tell them that your recovery is taking longer than anticipated, they will probably tell you to get better and come back when you are ready. I think withdrawing and moving to a master's program would be a very poor idea, unless you have gotten specifically negative information from your doctoral program, indicating they are unhappy with your extended absence.

You say that there has been a total lack of communication and support from your graduate program, but you may be expecting more than was reasonable or likely. When a student takes a leave of absence for a medical reason, the faculty and administrators may not follow up very extensively, unless you keep in regular contact with them. This is not necessarily because they do not care about how you are doing, but because they are trying to respect your privacy. If you have not shared many details about how you are doing with other students and the faculty, they may feel that your medical status is none of their business.

I have observed that once a student leaves graduate school, for any reason, there is a good likelihood that they will never come back. This is particularly true for students early in their graduate career. So your advisor and other faculty members may not be expecting you to come back, particularly if you have not been in touch with them during your cancer treatment. However, I would guess that they would probably be very happy to hear from you and would welcome you back when you were fully recovered.

  • Actually, one member of my PhD committee suggested me to "quit PhD, find an easy job and relax". That's the way how they encourage me to continue. Maybe you are true, they are unhappy about my extended absence, but I can say at my favour that it's not my fault. About lack of support and communication, I tried to contact with them, just updating my situation, without any kind of answer. In fact, last communication was like "are you able to perform some exams and continue your tasks?"...
    – 1up
    Dec 17, 2015 at 15:06
  • 1
    @1up was he suggesting it as a way for you to lead a less stressful life, or as a stronger suggestion "you-are-not-worth-of-being-here"? There is a huge difference between the two.
    – Davidmh
    Dec 17, 2015 at 15:10
  • @Davidmh, I thought about this when he told me that and... I have no answer. This guy is a bit strange :)
    – 1up
    Dec 17, 2015 at 15:18

Please get in touch with the student disability office at the Ivy League institution you were attending. That office provides the safety net you need. They will help you navigate the rocky waters in your department.

In the United States there are extensive protections for students in your situation. However, the professors in the departments are experts in their fields, not in disability rights. That's okay; the student disability office is there to guide them.

  • Hi and thanks for your comment. I already did it. Still waiting for their reply :/
    – 1up
    Dec 21, 2015 at 20:58

If you decide to go the M.Sc. route, I would think you could potentially turn your Ph.D. work done so far into a viable M.Sc. thesis at your current institution without much work? It is not uncommon for Ph.D. students to cut their losses by graduating with a M.Sc. from the same program.

  • Dear José, I thought about it, however, as my PhD is totally experimental, I still don't have enough results.
    – 1up
    Dec 17, 2015 at 17:38

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