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TL;DR: Young graduate student in his first year of a PhD program who has lost a passion for the academic world. Seriously considering quitting but don't know what to do. Science background. Would love some advice from anyone.

So, as the title says I'm thinking about leaving my Doctoral program. I'll give you the rundown of my situation. I'll be withholding specifics to try and keep anonymity, but I'll try and give the best information as I can. This will likely be very long.

My background
I'm 21-25, with a Science background, B.Sc in Physics. Took a year off between Undergrad and Grad school and worked full time as a research scientist. Theoretical background (most of my work has consisted of modelling). Strong quantitative and computer skills. Excel in presentation/project focused environments.

General Information
I am currently finishing the second semester of my first year in a PhD program at a top tier US school in an engineering program. I have a full scholarship that pays for all of my tuition and a living stipend (typical graduate student stipend ~$1800 a month after taxes, so quite enough to live off of). I'm not a US citizen (from Canada), so I'm here on a student VISA, so if I decide to stop I have 2 weeks to leave the country. I cannot hold any other employment in the US while here on my VISA. My PhD consists of ~1.5 years of combined coursework and research, followed by a qualifier at the end of that period (research based), then into your thesis (doesn't have to be related to what your qualifier research was on).

Current Academic Situation
As I said, I am currently finishing my second semester. I came first semester ready to start a new life...(first time moving away from home- did my undergrad where I was born). I did very well first semester (3.9/4.0 GPA) and research was on track (mostly lit. review). By the end of first semester however, I noticed that I was losing interest very quickly in both my coursework and research - it started to become very hard to get myself through to work on a daily basis. Went home Christmas break for a few weeks and came back to start my second semester and immediately noticed a big change. I started to struggle in my classes and fall behind on research. It wasn't that the material was too difficult, I just had no motivation to do it. No excuses here - just didn't really want to do it so I didn't. I reached the end of the semester and realized just how far behind I was. I am likely going to hit ~C average this semester (A last) and am drastically behind on research. I had weekly-biweekly meetings with my supervisor all semester, but I sort of hid just how bad things were going. Had a long meeting last week where I basically came clean on everything (said I was struggling in classes, behind on research) and the supervisor was very supportive. The supervisor believed in my potential and suggested I speak to a school counsellor and emphasized that this kind of thing was common for doctoral students.

Personal situation/feelings
I come from a family where both my parents have PhDs. Although my parents have always been supportive and open to my life, I feel as though they would be very disappointed if I quit and this pressure is very real to me. I have tried to have the conversation with them and their attitude is mostly: "just put your head down and work through it, it's just a phase". Quite frankly most people seem to think it's a "phase" when I tell them. Outside of school my life is great. I'm not unhappy or depressed, I have hobbies, friends, I work out - it's just school that makes me feel this way. I just don't like the academic world at all any more. I HATE classes (always have) and where in the past research has been the saving grace keeping me interested in school, it now is losing a lot of it's appeal.

Basically, I feel no passion or drive for what I am doing any more. This for me is a huge problem. I'm not the kind of person who lacks passion in life. Quite the opposite in fact - I will just about kill myself trying for things I love to do/want. I have incredible drive when I want something, but when I don't...I don't. Right now I have no such drive for school. I have a long term long distance relationship with someone from home that is incredibly happy and stable. They visited here many times since I moved and we are doing great. I would be lying if I said it wasn't a factor in me wanting to quit. I hate being away and If I moved back home, we would likely move in together almost immediately. Moving here is a lot more complicated because unless we are married (probably too soon), a work/student visa is needed to be here on a permanent basis, and that would severely limit options available. The relationship has been incredibly supportive and is very aware of my current situation and has maintained a very neutral stance, trying to play devils advocate wherever possible and trying to make sure it doesn't influence the decision. I should state that I am pretty sure if I had to choose between school and the relationship, I would choose the relationship immediately with no regrets.

Basically I have just reached a point where I find myself doing just about anything else but school work. I'll get groceries, clean the apartment, watch TV etc... before doing any work. I'm trying to stick around for a couple of months for the summer (to see if not having classes changes anything) but since talking to my supervisor I'm already having doubts about even that. At this point, I feel like moving home and getting any job would make me happier than what I am doing.

Financial situation
I have a few thousand dollars in the bank (enough to get me home /move out etc...) and zero debt. If I move back home, I can likely live with my parents for the first month to get back, then I'd be looking for a job and moving in with my partner. I realize having no debt puts me ahead of a lot of people and I'm not particularly concerned about the situation financially - I'm very lucky to have what I have and am aware of this.

So what's the deal? I know I have this amazing opportunity. I'm at a top tier school on a full scholarship. I wake up every day and get to work with the top minds in my field doing important research. I'm doing something a very small % of the population ever gets a chance at and yet still I have no motivation to do it. I'm not sure if I'm doing it for me any more, or I'm doing it so I don't let down other people in my life. My parents, mentors, friends, all the people who keep telling me how amazing this opportunity is. The more I look back, the more I realize that Grad school was what I did because I basically just didn't have another plan.

What would I like to do
I'd love to find a job. I don't need to make a lot of money to be happy - I live off of 22k a year right now and am perfectly comfortable. Money isn't a major motivator for me. (Obviously more money isn't bad, but it isn't important in what I do, I only want to make enough to not be very worried about my financial situation). Working in the financial sector, doing quantitative risk analysis, banking, DoD, just about anything sounds more appealing than school to me. I know I'm smart and I've got a strong quantitative background combined with very good personal skills. I'm great with people and one of the things I HATE about the academic world is how under-used that part of my skill set feels.

I have no idea what to do. I want to quit, but I haven't. Maybe I shouldn't? I've been looking into options, but quite frankly I'd much prefer to have some kind of plan before quitting - at the very least this pays my living right now. I'd love advice from anyone. Someone who's been in this situation, someone who hasn't It doesn't matter.

I know that what I am doing does not make me happy. But I don't know what will. Please help.

(Thanks for anyone who took the time to look at this. I really appreciate your time and input)

  • 8
    Welcome to academia.se. I have voted to close your question, not because I think it is unimportant, but as it is written now, it is too specific to you. The TL;DR in my opinion represents an excellent general question about how to know if you should leave a PhD program. – StrongBad May 5 '13 at 10:16
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    TLDR should be at the start and not the end. – user13107 May 5 '13 at 15:02
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    A quick comment in addition to the great answers below: You describe drifting into graduate school to meet other people's expectations. Now you seem to be looking for other people's permission to leave. No matter what we or your family says, this is your decision; you do not need anyone's blessing but your own. That doesn't mean you're alone — far from it!! But after talking with your family, your friends, your girlfriend, your advisor, your counselors, and Random Internet People like me, you get to decide. – JeffE May 5 '13 at 21:18
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    Neither my husband nor I finished our PhDs (I left after 2, he held on for 6), and we have no regrets. The next thing you try might not make you happy either, but that's okay. Figuring out the things that don't work and moving past them is what makes you successful in the long run. – Amy May 7 '13 at 4:24
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    @Cawas I randomly got an email about this question and hadn't thought about this in awhile, figured I'd answer it. What have I done? I chose to leave school, and came home. My relationship fell apart but I found a decent job working for a tech startup and did that for about 1.5 years - I saved some money and took some time off and now I'm doing full time analytics consulting work for a website - It's working out well so far and I enjoy the freedom of it (work from home) etc. Though I do often wonder about what would have happened if I stayed, I don't regret it. – user7007 May 28 '15 at 14:39

15 Answers 15

52

Here is my general advice for graduate students who are thinking about quitting graduate school (and I'll sprinkle in some specific advice):

  1. At one point or another, almost every graduate student wants to quit, so you're not alone. The fact that you're not alone doesn't solve any problems, but it may give you some peace of mind. The advice from your supportive advisor to seek out counseling is a very, very good one.

  2. The decision to get a graduate degree is personal and different for everyone, but regardless it is a long-term decision that will probably have a significant effect on your future. The five or six years of your life spent doing it could open up many doors; that is not to say that other opportunities aren't worth considering. You really do have to do what is best for yourself, in the end.

  3. Getting a PhD really does require passion (and in your case this is weaning right now). You can push through a pretty good chunk of time without it, but if you don't find the passion, it's going to be a long haul. If you were passionate and lost that, try to figure out what it was that you were passionate about before, and see if you can get back in the groove. One of my favorite Richard Feynman stories is about how he rebounded from a slump because he watched a spinning plate in the dining hall.

  4. If you hate classes, make it a priority to finish them up quickly so you can concentrate on the research! Classes, while important, are not why you are in graduate school. A friend's advisor told his students that he would be upset if they were getting A+'s, meaning that they weren't spending enough time on research.

  5. You can take time off from graduate school and come back later. This is hard to do (particularly if you have to leave the country), and you can't necessarily expect the same financial support when you return. But, you can do it, and if you need time off, take it. My suggestion for you if you are still on the fence about staying in grad school is to look at an internship somewhere for the summer where you are away from school and can clear your head. Then come back next semester.

All of my advice is kind of ignoring what may be your most important statement:

I want to quit, but I haven't.

If you've thought through all the reasons why you want to quit, and this is the answer, then you should take time off -- 'quit' is a harsh word, and not really a necessary one (see point 5). Your point is well taken that you shouldn't try to stick it out for anyone but yourself -- we all go through worries about disappointing others, but most people want you to be happy, and they will understand. You will almost certainly find a big weight lifted from your shoulders, and not extra pressure from those around you. Yes, having a plan before moving on is always a good idea, but I've been in a number of places in my life where I decided to do something before having a definite plan, and it all worked out in the end. Good luck!

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    To the contrary, I find the Feynman example misleading. I know quite a lot of people who are very passionate about some scientific stuff, but the discouragement comes from misalignment of it and topics or approaches at their PhDs. – Piotr Migdal Jun 19 '13 at 11:16
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    @PiotrMigdal what you say is 100% right. – Nafaa Boutefer Sep 29 '13 at 22:25
  • Best advise I got: Get over the stressful moment (finals, ...), perhaps wait until some break is (almost) over before thinking it though, and consider your situation calmly. – vonbrand Feb 28 '16 at 1:40
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Whatever you decide to do, just keep in mind that leaving a Ph.D. program because it's just not right for you does not represent any kind of failure on your part. I know plenty of people who didn't leave graduate school because they thought quitting would mean admitting that they couldn't hack it; this simply isn't true, and if your only reason for staying in school is that you don't want to disappoint your peers, parents, or advisor, then you should think long and hard about taking some time off from school and reassessing what you want to do.

23

Finish what you started.

I dropped out of a prestigious program 6 years ago, with much of the same reasoning:

  • "The degree is just a piece of paper anyway"
  • "If I want to learn things I can just learn them on my own"
  • "What's the point? To spend that many years just to get a qualification to impress other people. I don't care about money, and if I want a job I can get a job now." (I was making $80/hour on contract work at the time.)
  • "I'm planning on starting my own business"

But here I am, 6 years later, applying for grad school to give it another go.

Here are my reasons for going back: (I welcome people to correct me if I'm wrong about any of these!)

  • Most full time employment is mindblowingly dull. As a student you don't fully appreciate this.
  • A PhD is not very different from a job in the sense that you have to show up and do some work, most of which you don't necessarily want to do. The difference is, with a PhD you get something at the end, but with a job there is just endless tedium. Also with a graduate degree you get to use your brain a bit more.
  • Your job prospects will be severely diminished, and your salary will be lower. It is fairly difficult to get a good research job without a graduate degree, and most opportunities outside of grunt work will be closed to you.
  • In academia, you're used to working with smart people and having intelligent discussions, etc. If you leave and enter typical workforce, that goes away. There will always be a significant gap in academic potential between you and your colleagues and this will bother you because it means you are not hitting your potential and are effectively being under-utilized and under-paid.
  • Feeling underutilized and unchallenged is very very bad. You will hate your job and therefore hate your life, and it all goes downhill from there..
  • Everybody wants money. Most people that want money really badly, have at some point in their lives said "Nah, I don't care about money, money doesn't make you happy." Being broke doesn't make you happy either.
  • The fact that you quit will forever haunt you. No amount of "Bill gates dropped out too" or "I'm too independent to need this" will make you feel better when you see your former classmates graduate with PhDs while you have to live with the fact that you started but gave up.
  • In the workforce it doesn't always matter how smart you are. Most places I've interviewed have trouble hiding how impressed they were, and several have told me directly that I'm the best candidate they've ever seen. I always breezed through the most difficult interview questions and I've gotten offers from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, etc. BUT at the end of the day all of the jobs they offered were boring menial tasks. You could argue that it's possible to start with a menial job and then work your way up, but as I mentioned before, a PhD is also a job, why not just finish that?

Also, regarding your note on quantitative finance, please be very aware that the world of quantitative finance is very competitive and most places won't consider you if you don't have a PhD. I know because I tried several times to get a job doing quant work, but every firm I spoke with only offered back-end jobs doing menial SQL work. Your mileage may vary, but be warned that most people don't care about how good you think your quantitative skills are. (One fairly famous hedge fund manager told me very directly "everyone thinks they're going to be great at a new skill, so why would anyone risk their money on an unknown, unproven entity?".)

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    I just noticed this was asked in May 2013 and not May 2014, oops! Ah well. – CaptainCodeman Jun 5 '14 at 14:28
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    I concur, the possibility of being underutilized and unchallenged in typical workplace is one major reason for me to strive to stay in academia. Working at big names like "Google, Facebook, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, etc." also boils down to boring menial tasks? Can you please elaborate on this? I don't have any industrial experience. – sinoTrinity Jul 2 '14 at 3:46
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    @sinoTrinity What I did not know when I left uni, was that there is a huge division in the real world between "developers that come up with ideas that improve the business", (aka "researchers") and "developers that should do as they're told" (aka "programmers", "SQL developers", "engineers", ...) Generally speaking, most software jobs fall into the second category. e.g. I got a job at Goldman Sachs, and I thought I would be working on financial models, but it turned out they wanted me to write programs to draw bar charts showing their profit. Same with Google, they just wanted a mobile dev. – CaptainCodeman Jul 2 '14 at 7:13
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    ok, but don't you acknowledge that you could have found a different team in Google that does something more interesting, or at Goldman. For example, you could have been doing risk analysis at Sachs or Search optmization at Google with a Masters. – codekitty Aug 10 '15 at 18:55
  • One thing I do want to add, however, is that getting a PhD in Japan and Korea is restrictive for prospects whereas not having a degree is not. (Just a point to consider for potential readers from those countries) – virmaior Sep 12 '15 at 8:14
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You are not alone.

Most graduate students are in their 20’s. Many have boy/girl friends and are away from their partners while in school. Many graduate students are international. They go abroad to study. They are away from their home countries. They study in a different environment/culture. They may have language problems. Fortunately, your situation is not that bad. Many graduate students go to graduate school as a family tradition. Their parents/relatives are academics. They were raised to be academics.

Most (if not all) graduate students have trouble with their course/research works in school one time or another. Many graduate students lose their interests in the school. Some quit. Some stay.

Your long post seems to suggest to me that you mixed your personal life with the graduate school life. We are human. We have emotions. We let our personal life interfere with other aspects of our life sometimes. We know we should not let it happen. But, it happens.

You did well in the first semester. Everything changed in the second one. Something happened. No one knows what happened except you. In other words, you are the only one who knows the answer.

I would suggest you to take a break, long or short, to figure out what you really want to do. Then, make your own decision.

There are good answers and commentaries here. I will not repeat them. I would emphasize something very important, your future is yours.

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    We know we should not let it happen — Huh? Why not? – JeffE May 7 '13 at 6:41
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    @JeffE Sometimes, personal life would jeopardize the professional life. That’s what I mean. I am actually a victim. I gave up my academic life for personal reasons. I always regret it. Too late to change that. I try not to mention it in the answer because it’s too personal. – scaaahu May 7 '13 at 6:53
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I'm surprised that both the question and the existing answers talk little about what used to motivate you to do research. You wrote, "where in the past research has been the saving grace keeping me interested in school, it now is losing a lot of its appeal". So what was that appeal, and how did it get lost?

Here are some possible answers, from my own experience; I'm sure there may be others in your case.

Did you get disillusioned about your field of research? Perhaps in the beginning you thought that if problems in this field were solved it would make a difference in the world, and now it seems that the big problems can't be solved and solving the small problems won't make a big difference?

Did you get disillusioned about academia? Did you have experiences that changed your view of academia? Did you come in the pursuit of truth and found that a lot of it is about the pursuit of publications?

Did you get disillusioned about your own abilities? Perhaps you were used to often being the best at what you were doing, and now you're surrounded by more smart people and your abilities seem less exceptional (and thus less motivating) in comparison?

Or perhaps your motivation had always been to please your parents and now that's not enough anymore?

I think having a clear understanding of what used to motivate you and why it stopped motivating you is a necessary and sufficient basis for the decision you're trying to make. If you lost interest in this particular field, you might have to look for a new field. If you lost the motivation that comes from a strong belief in your exceptional abilities, you might have to learn to enjoy being among the best and not necessarily the best. If your view of academia changed, you might try to find a place where academia is more how you'd like it to be, or if there doesn't seem to be one, perhaps academia isn't the right place for you. If you were only doing it for your parents, perhaps you should just leave. And if you lost interest because it turned out to be harder than you expected, then perhaps you should indeed "just put your head down and work through it, it's just a phase".

I think the key to sorting this out for yourself is to keep an open mind about your own motivations. Some of them may have been very pure and just got lost along the way and perhaps you can tap into them again; some of them may not seem so desirable now that you take a new look at them, and you may be glad not to have them anymore; but whatever they are, what's important is that you're honest about them to yourself and figure out how and why they changed, and that might allow you to see where they're leading you and whether staying or leaving is more in line with what's important to you now.

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    I like this post a lot because it clearly states the things almost everyone gets disillusioned about during a PhD: academia, your research topic, and your own potential. Losing faith in only one would be enough to affect you emotionally, but it's rarely just one. Accepting that both reaching your limits and the emotional journey (especially the negative emotions) are part of the program helps to stay positive. – FvD Aug 2 '18 at 7:19
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If you don't feel any passion or motivation after the second semester, I'd say you have to really take a hard look at if graduate school is something for you as you'd still have a few years to go. If you should quit or not firstly depends on what you want. You need to try and find out why you lost your passion. Was it there first, and did something cause it to leave? Where you ambivalent about graduate school, and now you found out it was not for you?

Please do not stay just because you might disappoint others, live is just too short for that.

9

PhDs are not for everyone. That's why most top-tier schools have about a 50% retention rate, some closer to 25-30%. You need to discover what makes you passionate, and it might not be what a PhD will get you.

I have a friend who is currently getting his Bachelor's degree. His father is a rocket scientist for NASA, so naturally he went into the Physics program. It took only a couple semesters of C's and D's for him to realize Physics isn't for him, so he switched to Computer Science. Then he realized he hates Math, so he wanted to switch majors again.

All this time, though, he has had a creative outlet. He makes things, sometimes out of leather, sometimes out of steel; the other day he came to class with a clay pot he'd just finished. Toward the end of this last semester he went through with changing his major one last time. He already has too many CS credits to give up on that major altogether, but he's dropping the Math minor that comes de facto and is picking up an Art minor instead.

I've never seen him happier than he is now. He found what he's passionate about, and it's not what his father did. You have to discover your passion. And it sounds like the job you had back home is just that.

5

I know how you feel because even as an undergraduate, I once packed my bags. But a friend prevailed on me and I'm still thankful for not quitting. Consider the following:

  1. If you start a count down to finish date and get really excited about seeing the day approach, you'll know time passes really quickly.

  2. Our emotions/feeling/circumstances are temporary/passing but our achievements (good or bad) are permanent.

  3. Creative/innovative people (like you) get tired of routine. If you take interest in something around you that requires you to learn something challenging (say music) or something alien to you, your PhD vital signs may be positively influence.

I am not an expert at these things but I know that when I get tired of routine... I stimulate my creativity somewhere else... Not for the gain but for the challenge.

Good luck man...

5

Given the glut of PhD's I would suggest that you get a real job. A PhD is worth only if you are really interested in doing research otherwise you'll waste 4-5 years (then another 3-4 years doing a postdoc). Faculty positions are few and far between and then you'll have to worry about getting funds/tenure. So unless you're highly motivated by research/academia you'll mostly be miserable. In the industry a PhD doesn't make much more then a Masters and significantly less than a MBA, so there is no financial justification. Also there is a very good chance that you'll be working on things which don't even require a PhD. Some are lucky to find a good research environment but not everyone.

On the flip side if you do quit now then at some point you'll regret not getting a PhD. So think about what you want to do in life (besides having and providing for your children). A (PhD) degree is just a means to an end. People sometimes get emotional about it but they should not. Talk to your parents and I am sure they'll understand.

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    "A PhD is worth only if you are really interested in doing research" -- citation needed. Google, for instance, hires many PhDs and most of their time is spent in non-research work. – Chris Gregg May 6 '13 at 12:43
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    @ChrisGregg Yes, but Google would have hired many of those same people with only master's or even bachelor's degrees. – JeffE May 6 '13 at 12:55
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    Google gets PhDs for pretty much the same money as those with MS. I dont know of any firm where entry level PhDs are being paid 1.5x or more than those with MS or even BS. – user7021 May 6 '13 at 14:25
  • @user7021 Yes, there is one. It is called Renaissance technologies. – user774025 Nov 2 '13 at 8:21
3

First and foremost, you have to look out for you, and only you. By this, I mean your well-being, your happiness and your own future.

As many have said, rather than quit at this stage, take some time out from the study. If I may suggest some things to do in your hiatus - volunteer work, teaching in a high school, perhaps try something completely different.

You are definitely not alone - I am a PhD student and have found myself in the exact some situation, took some time - concentrated on my job (teaching), travelled, lived overseas, even did some acting. I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle the project. In my case, I returned to study. But, all situations are very different - you have to give yourself some time and space to work out what it is you want.

3

I read your post and from what I can see you don't sound like you enjoy your PhD or academic life in general. I personally did not find the reason why your situation became so hard. Perhaps you don't feel ok with the fact that your girlfriend is at home and you have to be somewhere else. Perhaps you you don't find the project entertaining. I'd say it might be the research itself that does not motivate you. One thing I am certain about is that you have to feel passion for doing research. You need to be determined and driven. Otherwise, it's easy to lose motivation.

You may need to ask yourself if you really need to stay where you are! PhD is for those who plan to be professional researchers. It's only counts if you plan to stay at any university. Not only will this have to be your everyday job, you will also have to be the person who proposes many new projects and be a leader for others. If don't see yourself in this roll, then it's probably better if you consider quitting. It's nothing wrong with quitting PhD. Besides, you can still begin a PhD somewhere else. You don't need to stick to the one you don't enjoy.

I can tell you that I met many people in my office. Everyone of them had their sort of crisis and this seems quite natural stage in the whole process. The research is also not a usual job and can be frustrating. Things always go wrong. Only determination, enjoyment, and passion make people stay and continue their PhDs.

As some of the others already said, It's nothing wrong when you quit PhD. Taking a longer break, coming home for couple of months, calming down may help you realise and understand a lot of things which are difficult to spot when you under pressure.

Good luck

2

Your issues are real and I do not want to discount them in anyway.

In my view, you are in a privileged position and if you can make the most of it, then it would be not be a loss (as you tend to describe your experience now).

Here is a simple test: think of where you want to be in (say) five years from now? If you want to be in a place which requires a PhD, then start working on it now, other wise get out.

I know this is simplistic but it works when the issues are complicated and there are no easy solutions. At least in this way, you will make an informed decision and will not have the guilt later on!

2

It seems to me like the fundamental question here is that of whether or not your current feelings are part of a typical grad student "phase" or indicative of misaligned life goals, priorities, etc. on a much deeper level. Ultimately, a question you'll have to answer on your own and most likely by trusting your gut and intuition.

There are many, many reasons why you might be feeling the way you do now. From your description it's clear that you started the PhD process knowing you were accepting less than ideal conditions in some areas of your life with the understanding that these would be offset by other benefits. You might be more or less ambivalent about some of those benefits now that you're in the process, and the tradeoffs and benefits would certainly change if you were to switch sides and leave the program.

I would suggest assuming, for the time being, that one-year-ago you made a well educated calculation of the costs-benefits of the PhD program, in particular with a time horizon greater than 5 years.

Staying in the program then means trusting in the vision of one-year-ago you in that the long-term benefits to your life outweigh the immediate suffering (including the less than ideal use of your skills and the momentary loss of passion). On the other hand, your valuation of the tradeoffs and benefits of the PhD may have changed more than you expected, in particular with respect to your relationship or your connection to the research area.

The way to know this, in short, is to trust yourself. If your current path is just wrong for you -- if you feel you're compromising some fundamental part of yourself -- then trust that feeling. Otherwise, trust your prior vision: accept that your feelings are part of the PhD journey and trust that you'll find your passion again soon (when you stop putting pressure on yourself to find it).

One last thought that might really be the crux of the issue is that getting a PhD is a highly individualistic and very lonely experience. Richard Butterworth has a talk that really drove this home in which he says:

A PhD, by its very nature, is a very individualistic venture. ... The next big surprise for people who are starting PhDs after an undergraduate degree is just how excrutiatingly lonely a PhD is.

-4

Just suck it in and get it!

After you pass all the formal requirements, you will have a mini-tenure for 3/4/5 years (depending on the Dept you are in). I was thinking to quit first two years but now (in the mini-tenure period) I'm enjoying my life and research (from 9 to 5 only).

Try it, if you don't like it, you can always quit.

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See if you can get a Master's in your second year, so that your graduate studies are not completely wasted. This is but too common in doctoral programs that they let students who are admitted to doctoral programs without being the "doctorate material" to finish the required number of courses, take the qualifier as the bottom line as far as qualification goes, and let you off with a Master's degree. They don't like that, but that's likely flight overbooking: you know that some people are not going to make it. Discuss this with your adviser.

For what I see on the earnings curves, there's a notable jump at 4 years of college/getting a Bachelor's degree, where the average earnings jump up by may be 15% from "Some college" to "BA degree" category. After that, the incomes are pretty flat, with a very modest 2 or so % return per year of education. So you ain't losing much in income, but an unfinished degree puts a big "L" across your forehead. I mean, if you drop out and found a Google or a Facebook, that's fine, but the probability of that happening is about 1e-6. (You don't know how funny that 20k figure is going to look like when your new wife asks you: "As I am expecting a baby, we need a bigger house... and also please open the college saving account for our baby", so your bold statements about income are totally out of line with real life. Or at least the life you will have in 10 years time.) The engineers that I taught seem to be starting off at $40-50Kpa, and I see no reason why a guy with a decent quant background should be making less than that.

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    who are admitted to doctoral programs without being the "doctorate material"...or decide for some other reason not to complete the PhD program. Your framing strongly suggests that everyone who drops out of their PhD program just aren't good enough; in my experience, this isn't even true as a first approximation. – JeffE May 6 '13 at 22:39
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    an unfinished degree puts a big "L" across your forehead — Oh, come on. Seriously? – JeffE May 6 '13 at 22:40
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    "an unfinished degree puts a big "L" across your forehead" "I have to say I don't know very many people who dropped out of a Ph.D. program." You probably do, they just choose not to be friends with you – Amy May 7 '13 at 4:29
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    I also don't understand why an unfinished degree looks like a big "L". I was accepted into a program at a top tier school, which obviously means I was qualified to be there (full scholarship as well). I am doing well in my program despite my sentiments. Why would an employer frown upon me saying something like "Well, I went to do my PhD and I did very well, but I very quickly realized I didn't have passion for my research anymore and the doctorate did not feel like a good fit. Now I am searching for employment opportunities such as this one where I feel my skills and passion will be utilized" – user7007 May 7 '13 at 6:13
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    @StasK I think your views on the matter are a little harsh (and in a way contribute to the fear people have of leaving a Ph.D program). A Ph.D is not the culmination of your academic career. It's a career choice, and like any choice is right for some and not for others. People are tempted to go for a Ph.D because it looks like "more school", but it takes time to realize that it's a choice of career and that it might not even be the right one. – Suresh May 7 '13 at 16:17

protected by Community Jun 19 '13 at 7:19

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