Here's my challenge: I took a suspension of studies about a year and a half ago from my UK PhD program (in ancient history) and moved back to the US after my funding ran out, and now have to decide whether to pony up for part-time tuition or just drop out entirely.

I have no hope or interest in pursuing the PhD for a career; I've got a career in an unrelated field. But my subject and my thesis add something to my life that I don't want to give up. But I'm not eager to dump $10,000 for just part-time tuition when right now that would be a doable but poor financial decision, especially since I doubt my rate of progress would improve. I've finished about 50% of my thesis.

Is it possible to just quit and then reapply again in the future? It's never been stated outright, but the vibe from the university is it's finish or quit forever. I don't really care if it's at the same university or not. (As long as it's not in the US; I have no interest in a longer than 3 or 4 year program).

Has anyone else left a program only to complete it or another one years later?

3 Answers 3


Whether your university (or another) will allow you to pursue your course in a particular fashion is something you will have to ask them.

The key question to consider though is how your research will be impacted by the delay. I guess ancient history may move slowly enough that it's unlikely someone else will do the research while you are waiting. But how well will you be researching while doing something else/after you haven't thought about your topic for a long time?

A more common approach in your situation would be to transfer to a shorter qualification (some sort of masters) that you can complete reasonably easily using the work you have already done.

  • Thank you. My specific subject is unlikely to be too impacted by delay, and whatever else, my hope would be to keep working even if at my current glacial pace. But I don't think they'd let me do that. I'd probably have to pay tuition to submit for a MRes, and I've already got an Mlitt from a better known university, so there's no real benefit to going that way. I do want to finish.
    – novium
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 6:46
  • @novium Your subject might not be impacted by delay, but the people that might have spent time and effort on you will, and they won't be happy to start from the beginning years later, neither to have you take your and their ideas somewhere else.
    – skymningen
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:56
  • @skymningen I'm not sure I follow you. Who else's ideas? What?
    – novium
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 21:47
  • Well, usually in a dissertation you do have input from supervisors, colleagues, and collaborators.
    – skymningen
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 6:43

There is at least one high-profile example of someone who put a UK PhD on hold for three decades to pursue a career in another field: the rock star Brian May suspended his studies due to the success of his band, and then resumed them 32 years later. His research was in astrophysics, but in a subfield which hadn't advanced so far in the interim that he couldn't catch up and complete a novel thesis, which seems parallel to the situation you expect with your field.


Two students completed their Ph.D.s under my supervision after a multi-year gap. They had taken all the necessary courses and passed all the necessary exams before the gap, and they returned much later to write their dissertations. If I remember correctly, they had to apply to the graduate school for readmission. Of course, the fact that this worked at my institution (University of Michigan) doesn't necessarily imply anything about other institutions.

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