I started studying my PhD with a federal scholarship that was supposed to sustain all my expenses and allow me to study without the need to work. Long story short, between family and mortgage payments money was scarce. My relatives helped with some of the expenses, but after 2.5 years, there were just too many pressure from financial problems, and I was not having a good progress in my investigation, that my advisor and I decided to suspend the PhD and that I should focus on getting a job.

To that extent, is it a good idea to emphasize that I started a PhD but was not able to finish it, or will it create a bad image about me not ending what I start? Should I wait until they ask what I did for those 3 years to tell them I didn't finish it? The PhD is in my CV, as started but not finished. Should I keep it that way or should I erase it?

To note for the possible answers is that I already have a Master degree in the same specialty as the PhD, and this is happening in México.

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    Generally speaking, something unfinished is better than a gap. What are you going to say you spend these 2.5 years doing if asked in an interview you got omitting the information? Also, it is better to have something unfinished that helped you get relevant experience than nothing (officially nothing).
    – skymningen
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 14:47
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    Also see: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/38201/… Never lie, and never sell it in a negative tone.
    – Compass
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:05
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    Some US institutions would consider awarding a master's degree or at least a research certificate in lieu of a PhD for someone in your position. Is this an option?
    – Solanacea
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:44
  • I suggest you make sure this is posted with a username that will not be findable by potential employers. (If you haven't already done so.) Because you don't want to project "wasn't able to finish" or "not making good progress with my research." Commented May 9, 2017 at 19:34

3 Answers 3


Don't worry, this is a very understandable situation. You should just be honest about it.

I don't think the fact that you started a PhD but were unable to finish it due to financial and family circumstances will be counted against you in a professional context, especially if you otherwise have a record of successful employment.

It would be more of an issue for pursuing a further career in academia (either another PhD or academic employment), since the PhD would be highly relevant to the work you wanted to do, and you might not have any other equivalent experience on your CV. But outside academia, I don't think it matters much at all, particularly since you have been employed since then.


This situation happens to people and it is often challenging to figure out what the next steps are. So, be happy that you are making the step to pick up the pieces and move forward!

You should definitely include the PhD program on your resume, especially if it relates to fields that you are applying to. Where you most likely want to address this issue is in your cover letter. If you are transitioning out of academia altogether, you can give professional explanations for leaving a PhD program where you wouldn't have to explain the personal challenges you have faced. For instance...

"I realized during my doctoral studies that I prefer more hands-on work that would be offered in industry positions."

"I enjoy my field very much, but am looking for positions that offer more stability and consistency in my schedule and pay than in academia."

Those are just examples. If you are seeking a position within academia that does not require the PhD, you can use similar explanations ("I have learned that I'm better suited for administrative positions" or "After starting my doctoral studies, I realized that my passion lies more with teaching than research.") I'm not sure if this would be different in Mexico or not. I hope this helps!

  • I think the (real) personal reasons are more sympathetic than purely professional ones. Those reasons are spin and they sound like it. Extenuating circumstances make the situation much more understandable.
    – user24098
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 19:09
  • The reasons I gave sounded like spin, because they were generic. The point was to give a perspective on one way to handle the situation, with the intent that their cover letter would be more personalized. I understand that the real and personal reasons are quite sympathetic. The point of my suggestion was that maybe the person doesn't want to talk to a potential employer about their prior financial stressors. Also, just because you and I may find this situation sympathetic doesn't mean that all employers would. Commented May 8, 2017 at 19:37
  • "Also, just because you and I may find this situation sympathetic doesn't mean that all employers would." That is a fair point.
    – user24098
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 22:57
  • @dan1111 - Yes, of course OP needs to look for a positive spin! Why sell yourself short? Commented May 9, 2017 at 19:32
  • @aparente001 well, yeah. But you can't really spin quitting a PhD as purely positive. If you don't give a clear believable reason for stopping, it leaves people wondering what the real reason is (and perhaps assuming the worst).
    – user24098
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 20:26

Leaving a job because it does not pay enough is perfectly acceptable. And that is what grad school is: a job. On your resume, you should treat it as a job, with a title and responsibilities and accomplishments, just like any other job.

As much as possible, present it as a staff researcher position (but don't go to the level of lying), rather than you being a student. If they ask about why you left, emphasize the financial considerations, not because you are greedy, but you had obligations that had to be met. Don't emphasize any difficulties you were having with your research.

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