I know there are already a lot of "should I quit my PhD" questions on this site. But I have a specific dilemma and I'd like to get some external thoughts.

After my Bachelor in mathematics, I didn't hesitate and started a PhD in pure math. After 7 months in the program, I'm having second thoughts. Research is not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. And I'm afraid that I might be missing out on other potential careers that would fit me better than academia.

So I'm thinking of quitting my PhD, get a Master in applied math and try to get a job in the industry. I'm 20 years old, so I feel that this is the last moment to try another line of work without too many consequences.

However, if I do that but don't like working in industry, what are my chances of being accepted in another PhD program? I'm afraid that quitting a PhD once will severely reduce my chances. Are the graduate admission comitees likely to understand the "if you love it, let it go" flavor of my experience? Or will they dismiss my application thinking that they can't trust someone who has already quit once?

It may seem weird that I'm already thinking of coming back to academia while talking about quitting my PhD. The thing is that I have very little motivation to continue, and I feel like if I hang on, I will end up with a bad PhD after 5 miserable years. That's why I think of quitting. If after working in the industry I want to go back in academia, I think I will have a lot more motivation, knowing that there are no alternatives.

  • You seem set on leaving, so I would focus on doing it gracefully. Try to convince faculty to keep you on for a masters (your question makes it not clear if you plan on that anyway, or on a masters elsewhere). I think then your current experience can be represented fairly on your CV as an M.Sc. in math (at age 20 or 21, which is early) w/o mention of it having been a Ph.D. position originally. If you now already believe that you'll be miserable for 5 years, staying on just because strikes me as a bad reason: join industry (or take a break and travel first), and re-evaluate a year later. Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 2:32
  • Thank you for your comment! I'm thinking of going back to my undergrad institution for the Master. If I work in the industry, I want to do so in Europe, not in the US (where I am currently) so I think it would be better to go back to Europe already for the Master. I've thought about not mentionning my failed PhD year on my CV if I reapply in a few years. But I'm afraid that they will find out anyway and that my lie by omission will kill my chances.
    – Nitrogen
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 2:49
  • 1
    Do not lie on your application, even by omission. Remember that 20 is very young. In a few years time, if the industry route does not work for you, you will probably feel you were too immature to know what you really wanted to do, and can put it that way in your application. Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 3:37
  • Yes, agreed with @Patricia - never lie, or lie by omission, on your resume. It tends to bite you later, and is just the right thing. That's why I suggested to consider staying on at your current school if they are willing to essentially transfer you to a Masters there. You could thus add this masters to your cv, and avoid gaps. Good luck whatever you decide! Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 5:01
  • The point of getting a PhD is to prepare yourself for a career in academia as a researcher. If you don't think you want that, it's better to leave now. It's much easier to try to return to a PhD program if you have a master's degree than to try to get a postdoc after you have a doctorate but have been in industry for a while.
    – anomaly
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 20:23

2 Answers 2


One way to ensure that you are able to continue PhD studies if industry turns out not to be for you is to arrange a leave of absence from your current program instead of quitting. They may even help you reach the Masters milestone before you spend your year in industry.

You'll probably have to cast this as why 12 or 18 months of industry experience will make you a stronger PhD candidate (might be hard in a purely theoretical program, but even theoreticians can be motivated by knowing their work will contribute to applied areas and help with important problems at some point in the future). You should certainly explore the "What if I like it a lot better than my PhD work?" question when you ask your advisor for leave, but you can cast that as an unlikely outcome.

Also, it will be natural for such an experience to affect your research focus if/when you do return -- but you can probably still continue with your current department without having to start graduate-level classwork over again.



Thinking of quitting or moving elsewhere is one of the important milestones in graduate studies.

We can't answer your question, as it depends on lots of personal and local particularities that we can't possibly know about. But one thing I can tell you: Don't take the decision lightly. Studies, particularly graduate studies, tend to stress you out, decisions taken under stress are very often regretted later. Wait until you have had some time to really relax (i.e., near ending term break, after taking holidays). Treat it as you would any other project evaluation (you had a class on that somewhere, right?): Set up your evaluation criteria, how to measure them (be it estimated time to graduation in years or personal satisfaction in a scale from 1 to 5), and define some weight for each. Then write down your value for each, and compare.

Never underestimate discussing this with your significant other, family, friends (on and off school), or even your advisor or other faculty.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer! I know that it is a question that depends on a lot of personal variables. That's why I'm looking for answers to the more objective question: Can I go back to academia after quitting?
    – Nitrogen
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 2:43
  • 4
    The OP didn't ask whether or not to quit, only about how quitting would be perceived on re-entering academia. This doesn't seem to answer the question.
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 3:03
  • @ff524, it looks like an XY problem to me.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 3:18

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