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I know there are lots of other similar "Should I drop out?" threads, but I think my case is a bit different from what I've seen.

I'm currently a Master's degree student in Computer Science, about to start the second and final year (I've finished all required courses, now there's only research left to be done). My problem is that I'm unhappy with the program itself and my dissertation subject. I don't have any motivation to actually do research, I don't like scientific writing (My adviser says I write like a novelist, and I enjoy writing like that as I like literature, and I find scientific writing way too boring and soulless...).

The thing is that I started doing Masters because I've finished BSc with top marks on my final research project, and I had previously worked in industry and didn't have much of a pleasant experience, so I believed I would fit right in to academic life. Plus, I thought it would be an easier way to find a job or study opportunity abroad, and finally leave my hometown (I've no love for this city, there's nothing for me to do and I've got almost no friends here). As it turns out, however, I got frustrated from all the classes I had (even if I had good grades in all of them), and from what I've seen of my colleagues', adviser's and other professors' academic lives, it just isn't the kind of life for me. Even if it helps me get out of here, it's no use if I end up just as unhappy. I think to really enjoy academic life, your motivations should be academic, and I now realize that my motivations certainly aren't.

I've also been told that every grad student thinks about quitting at least once, and I know many others like that, but that doesn't make the situation better. Actually, it makes it worse for me, because it seems that nobody has any confidence in their work, and nobody is expected to have that confidence whatsoever. I find that extremely unhealthy and demotivating.

Summarizing, the problem with going on with masters is that it makes me unhappy, and it is destroying my self confidence (really, I hate myself when I'm doing it). I don't enjoy the things I do, and I can never appreciate the results I get. I don't see why I should finish a degree that I don't see myself using in the future, so to me it just seems like a waste of precious time. (I'm 24, by the way) The problem with dropping out, however, is that I'm in a scholarship, so I'll have to return the money that I've received so far to cover for the program's fees. While I do have that money, it would be quite a setback considering that I intend to make a big trip soon. I thought about starting freelancing in software development so I could work from just about anywhere in the world, but I'm not sure how feasible that actually is. Even so, I'm not sure that's what I would like to do for the rest of my life. The upside in dropping out now is that I would gain a whole year to actually focus on my life, instead of focusing on some research I'm not willing to do just for the sake of not paying the scholarship back.

Does anyone have any advice or similar stories to share? I know the decision is mine to make, but I would like to know other people's opinions on my situation.

closed as off-topic by vonbrand, jakebeal, scaaahu, Fomite, gman Feb 1 '16 at 10:59

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    "so to me it just seems like a waste of precious time". Dropping out is a waste of the time spent at passing the courses. Sticking it out for an extra year in exchange for a MSc degree is not a waste of time (or money), it is a compromise. – Alexandros Jan 31 '16 at 18:23
  • Everybody studying I know had moments of despair, usually near year end (burnout, mostly). Do not decide on your future until you have a quiet time (say near the middle of summer vacation or so). Other than that, this depends heavily on your personal preferences and situation, so it is off-topic here. – vonbrand Jan 31 '16 at 18:32
  • What is different between how things are now, and how they were when you successfully completed your BSc.? – Patricia Shanahan Jan 31 '16 at 18:45
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    If you like writing, and write well, you may want to consider options that mix science and writing (e.g. science media/journalism). I have no idea how good the job options are there, so you may want to keep software development as a day job, though. Generally, I recommend getting the degree, however, if you got that far already. – Captain Emacs Jan 31 '16 at 21:04
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    @TheLunatic: Surely the vast majority of people getting master's degrees in CS are not even considering pursuing an academic career. Moreover, no matter what you mean by "industry," it is far from monolithic: just because you were not happy in one part of it does not mean that you couldn't find a suitable job in another part of it. Dropping out of your degree does not seem to open any doors for you. – Pete L. Clark Feb 1 '16 at 1:38
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I think to really enjoy academic life, your motivations should be academic, and I now realize that my motivations certainly aren't.

No human being can -- or should -- have only academic motivations. In this statement I find a kernel of truth: "An academic career is not a good one for those who are not motivated by a love for and a desire to work in their academic subject." But also I find a kernel of falsity: "The only worthwhile reason to have degree X in subject Y is a love for and a desire to work in subject Y." That's really not true: in modern life, degrees -- and increasingly, "advanced" degrees like master's and doctorates -- are necessary credentials in order to attain any of a variety of non-academic jobs.

If I understand your current situation, then:
(i) With one more year and with full financial support, you can complete a master's degree.
(ii) If you drop out now, then not only do you not get the degree but you will have to pay a financial penalty. (So you say, anyway. In the US, students who drop out of a degree program do not have to pay back their stipends. It sounds like you are outside of the US. It might be worth exploring -- carefully -- whether this is actually true in your program.)

In other words, looked at in non-academic terms you would be paying a nontrivial amount of money for the privilege of extricating yourself from a master's degree program and sparing yourself one year of doing something that you do not enjoy (but are doing well in; you seem not to doubt that you could get the degree with one more year of work). Okay, if you drop out of the program right now, you will do....what?? If the answer is that you have a lucrative and long-term job lined up now, it would make sense to drop out (and try to put your degree on hold, if possible). If you do not have something specifically positive lined up but are just looking to release yourself from the drudgery: I don't think that's a rational decision. Ten or twenty years from now you may well look back and wish you had finished the degree.

I am not going to pick apart your entire message, but at several points your reasoning seems predicated on faulty assumptions. Just a couple examples:

I had previously worked in industry and didn't have much of a pleasant experience, so I believed I would fit right in to academic life.

That makes no sense to me. For many values of X and Y, liking X is positively correlated with liking Y. I have never heard anyone say, "If you don't like this, then I know you'll like..." I have a friend who made the same mistake in the other direction: as an academic he found himself weighed down by his colleagues' and superiors' expectations of how he should spend his time and conduct himself: he found these expectations both too numerous and too nebulous. So he switched to an industry job to correct it. Suffice it to say, he didn't stay in that job for terribly long. There are (at least) two problems with this reasoning: (i) There are more than two walks of life...many more. The majority of human beings are not working in either academia or industry. (ii) Not all forms of unhappiness can be cured by any change of location. Some of them are more internal.

The upside in dropping out now is that I would gain a whole year to actually focus on my life,

Not being a graduate student is neither a necessary or sufficient condition to actually focus on your life. Try focusing on your life while completing your master's degree. Yes, it's challenging...but worthwhile.

I've also been told that every grad student thinks about quitting at least once, and I know many others like that, but that doesn't make the situation better. Actually, it makes it worse for me, because it seems that nobody has any confidence in their work, and nobody is expected to have that confidence whatsoever. I find that extremely unhealthy and demotivating.

Then I have good news for you: in five years of graduate school, I never thought about quitting -- not once. I had my better and worse moments, and yes -- at times my confidence lagged -- but I was at all times completely confident that I was doing what I wanted to be doing with my life. My graduate school cohort consisted of people who were amazingly (indeed, intimidatingly) competent, enthusiastic and successful: the vast majority of people around me reinforced my interest and inspired me to work harder. You don't sound like you're in a very positive cohort. If you did decide to stay in academia past your master's degree (which I am not recommending if you continue to feel the way you do now, but it is possible that you could have a change of heart), you should make it a priority to place yourself in a positive academic environment. It makes a world of difference.

Good luck.

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    +1 Strong point: the cohort/environment makes the difference. A huge difference it makes. – Captain Emacs Jan 31 '16 at 21:05
  • "The majority of human beings are not working in either academia or industry." I was struck by this observation, since it made me realize the unreasonable extent to which academics in technical fields tend to think of "industry" as synonymous with "not academia". – Mark Meckes Jan 31 '16 at 21:45
  • Thanks for the reply. I know my reasoning when choosing MSc was faulty, and that's why I'm trying to compensate for it now. I'm just not sure what I can do with CS that is neither industry nor academia. You're right about me not being in the US, but I do have to pay the stipends back. I feel that pressing on with this degree wouldn't be worth it, as I don't see myself actually using the degree for anything. I reckon there must be people who don't think about quitting. I do, though, and it makes me think even more that this just isn't for me. – The Lunatic Feb 1 '16 at 0:49
  • @The Lunatic: Getting life advice from someone who doesn't know where you are in the world is a bit fishy. I know very well that in the US, it is increasingly true that any "white collar job" either requires or much benefits from an advanced degree. It can be very helpful to have a master's degree in anything -- the subject does not have to be at all relevant to the job. Having said that, CS is just about the most broadly appealing master's degree I can think of. Even the implied skill in things like webpage design could make you more desirable than many others for a range of jobs. – Pete L. Clark Feb 1 '16 at 1:32
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    Whether that is true in your country, I don't know. Moreover, it is unfortunately beyond the scope of this site to tell you all the various things you could spend your life doing. Most universities have personnel that can help you with this, however, and if not there are books ("What color is your parachute?" is a classic of the genre.) But bottom line: unless you have another job offer to take right now, I think the smartest choice is to do all your soul-searching / future career planning while you're getting your advanced degree. What magical benefits does unemployment confer? – Pete L. Clark Feb 1 '16 at 1:35

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