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To quit my PhD

(55 Posts)
RockChicken1 Sun 23-Jun-13 02:05:12

I'm just over two years in and I have been feeling like this for the last 6 months. I have no motivation whatsoever right now and I'm stuck in a cycle of guilt and apathy. It's so frustrating because I've never felt like this before, I worked really hard on my first degree and my masters and got good results. I just feel stupid and lazy. It's even harder to motivate myself as I know what I want to do career wise now and I don't need a PhD to do it. A few people I have sp

VenusUprising Sun 23-Jun-13 13:08:09

Don't give up rock chicken. Everyone gets the downers when the data isn't coming in as you expect and you're twiddling your thumbs.

It happens in real life too, work can be frustrating and disheartening, so don't give up thinking far away hills are green.

Use this time to read around and plan your write up.
Start writing up your introduction, or do a poster, attend a conference or two, or ask a fellow researcher can you shadow her or him in the lab, as your results aren't in yet and you're looking for something to do.

Tutor some students? I did a lot of tutoring and teaching when my experiments were being set up and I had to wait for the plants to grow etc.. I taught experimental protocol and statistical analysis. It kept me active when I was waiting for the growing season to come round again.

I give you permission to give up on a postdoc though!

Arcticwaffle Sun 23-Jun-13 13:06:07

I felt like that throughout my phd. It was the most miserable phase of my adult life, by a very long way, and sometimes even now I resent having spent my early 20s in a crucible of misery and angst. The only reason I didn't stop was because I worried I'd feel a failure about that for the rest of my life.

In retrospect I am glad I dragged on to the bitter (very bitter) end as after going off and doing other things I did end up back in academia, which I couldn't have done otherwise. And also I don't have to beat myself up for not having finished.

But really, if you know what you want to do and it doesn't take a phd and you could convert it to an MPhil at this point - I'd say that's well worth considering. I do know too many people who spent years and years not finishing. And now have up to 8 year gaps on their C.V.s and no phd to show for it. Whereas loads of people do give up Ph.D.s at all stages, it's not unusual and often does make sense.

ClimbingPenguin Sun 23-Jun-13 12:52:33

I remember feeling the same in my second year. The write up can be quick if you get going enough. I had the advantage of being pg so needed to write up before giving birth. I was quite thankful in the end as meant I stopped experimenting at the minimum point and wrote up a lot quicker than I would have done otherwise.

Did one post-doc before defecting to industry

Takingbackmonday Sun 23-Jun-13 12:44:50

I quit mine.

It was humanities and the job market isn't good, plus I'm now going into a different profession.

There is nothing like the isolation, fear, apathy, self loathing cycle. I am still on heavy anti anxieties.

olidusUrsus Sun 23-Jun-13 12:34:38

I nearly quit my PhD during a bout of depression. Luckily they persuaded me to take a short sabbatical and I'm now back on track. Thank God they didn't let me quit, I would have regretted it every day since.

You've said your PhD isn't going to be related to the career you want to join but that definitely doesn't mean it's worthless.

AnnieLobeseder Sun 23-Jun-13 12:29:45

RockChicken - I know just how you feel, especially about the failed experiments!! I'm in my 3rd year, though luckily I have a funded 4th year too, cos I really need it!!

I just scraped through my 1st year assessment, failed my 2nd year assessment and was downgraded to an MPhil. I went through the whole range of emotions - grief, outrage, despair, giving up, defiance and grim determination to carry on. Luckily the latter won out in the end, I appealed successfully and am back on the PhD programme. Though that being said, the examiners said they still don't hold out much hope that I'll manage to finish, but I "might as well try"! hmm

My supervisors are utterly shite, they just pretend there are no problems and fail to take an ounce of responsibility for how badly everything has gone. All my experiments failed the first 2 years, so I'm very behind in terms of accumulated results. Plus I can't say I'm particularly interested in the subject I'm researching.

BUT! I will not let this opportunity pass me by! I've always wanted a PhD, and while it may not have a huge impact on my career progression (I've decided that bench science isn't for me and I'm planning to go into scientific publishing when I graduate), I could never forgive myself if I just gave up

It's incredibly hard, and the work and hours I have to put in are negatively impacting on me, my DH and my DDs. But I truly believe it will be worth it in the end. If I can do it, you can too!!

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sun 23-Jun-13 12:22:29

Here, btw. Just if you're interested.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Sun 23-Jun-13 12:21:05


Sounds as if MN has sorted you out. MN has been so good to me during mine that my thesis is going to have to have a cryptic acknowledgement to it. I'm glad you're going to the doc, that's a good first step.

Have you reminded your supervisor that you feel you wasted time? I don't mean go in and accuse her, because that won't go down well, but explain that you've felt confused by the process and want to understand what was going on.

I get why you might want to quit, but if you're getting published, it seems like it's worth at least getting all the feedback you can from the university beforehand.

How do your peers feel about it all? Do they see their supervisors more often? Do they seem to have clearer plans of when they'll finish and whether they're going to have enough to write up on time?

It could be that you're struggling because your supervisor isn't giving you enough guidance. Sometimes that is because the supervisor is too busy, or you're miscommunicating, but sometimes it's because the supervisor doesn't know how much you are worrying. I had to sit down with mine and explain I was horribly nervous and worried - they were able to reassure me but it hadn't been obvious to them.

And please do pop over to the chat thread, I'll go bump it. If nothing else, reading all of us moaning shows you you're in good company! grin

lljkk Sun 23-Jun-13 11:43:42

Dh gave up a PhD about 15 yrs ago, has never regretted it & went on to earn a lot more than me (I am doctor'd). He just had lost his motivation & wasn't going to find it again. You just sound so much like him when I was trying to convince him to keep going. No turning back. he wasted time struggling on.

Could talk to your supervisor about turning it into an MPhil.

RockChicken1 Sun 23-Jun-13 11:27:32

I am extremely grateful for all the advice, I posted here because the only adivice I was being given was just get your head down and carry on. I knew MN wouldn't disappoint smile . I really didn't want to go to my doctor, but I think after hearing that the way I feel isn't ok I'm going to make an apt on Monday. I don't know if I'm depressed. I've had depression before but this doesn't feel the same. This is completely situational, I know if I woke up tomorrow and wasn't a phd student I'd feel completely different.
I'm also going to email my supervisor and tell her how I feel. I can't carry on like this, I think before I walk away completely I need some distance to gain some clarity. My supervisor is good but she has also been absent a great deal (various health problems and a small child). I went through about 6 months of something not working and she was probably in maybe 3 days for the entire time I was struggling. I had my own ideas on how to fix things but she wouldn't agree with my theories and told me to carry on with a method that was clearly ineffective. Eventually we ended up doing what I suggested at the start and it worked, but I was so annoyed that I'd wasted so much time.
I guess I could transfer to an MPhil but I already have a masters so I don't know if there would be much point? If I walk away now I'll at least have a little something to show for it. Some of my research is going to be published (hopefully in nature), I'm not the first author and my data is only a small part of the paper however it's still something that can go on my cv right?
Euphemia I'd never heard of XTC but I listened to the song and it gave me a giggle, especially the drummer!

Mumsyblouse Sun 23-Jun-13 10:47:23

Although I agree that a second year slump is normal (I supervise PhD students), I don't agree that that level of anxiety/depression and the suicidal feelings that many people have reported on here are normal. If my student told me they were feeling like this, I would definitely suggest a leave of absence to get them feeling mentally and physically better, and NO PhD is worth your mental or physical health.

I can usually tell the difference between a short period of mental stress towards the end of writing up quite common) or depression caused by something else which is impacting on your studies, but if the very experience of doing a PhD is such that you are making yourself ill over it, then it does suggest that academia isn't necessarily the best path, as it's very driven/people work very long hours and you will be competing with them in the future. If you don't need it for your future employment, it's not quite the same.

Having said that, I also see you are grieving and wonder if this is bringing you down so much it's transferred to the PhD. I would go and talk frankly with your supervisor and your postgrad director about the options for taking time out, they would rather do that than lose you two years in. You could work for 6-12 months as a tutor and then see what you want to do.

I am quite concerned by the extreme reactions some people have had, I know someone who killed themselves during their PhD, no-one saw it coming, but they couldn't face failing everyone. Ultimately not doing your PhD is just not worth that amount of stress, and once you get into the outside world away from the hot-house of academia, this will become obvious. Your mum will get over it too, especially if you tell her how unhappy you are, but even if she thinks you are wrong you are now an adult and can make your own decisions. I think many of the people who stay in academia are those who have always tried to please their parents with high grades and experienced little failure and this creates a toxic situation- please remove yourself if it is that bad.

ghislaine Sun 23-Jun-13 10:32:08

Towards the end of the second year of my PhD I got an actual real job in a similar field to my studies. I didn't technically interrupt (complicated story, to have done so would have caused more complications). It was a maternity cover for six months. I loved it, and still consult for this organisation on a regular basis. It re-invigorated my studies.

Would this be a possibility for you? Sometimes the thought of walking away completely seems too irrevocable a step to take. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. But definitely take some kind of break. Can you go an sit on a beach for a week or two?

I also wanted to say that PhDs are not for most of us a chance to impress the world with our intellectual brilliance, they are an exercise in persistence and determination in finding out something new about something little. Sometimes you just run out of energy.

Have you tried posting on PhinisheD? You might get some good advice there too.

BeeBawBabbity Sun 23-Jun-13 10:20:03

Well I quit mine 16 years ago after being offered a great job 400 miles away. It was in engineering. I had a lab "budget" of £300 per year and it just felt impossible to carry out any of the necessary experiments. My supervisor was awful, overworked and uninterested.

I do still feel some regret when looking back, but it hasnt affected my career at all. My parents were disappointed, but they understood.

It's not that important in the grand scheme of things, and you sound really unhappy. I think you should be kind to yourself and walk away.

Kveta Sun 23-Jun-13 10:00:37

The second year slump is totally normal, near enough everyone gets it - it does get better though, honestly, and I am so so glad I pushed through the slump and actually wrote up!

Highlander Sun 23-Jun-13 09:57:11

EVERYONE get second year blues when doing a PhD.

All of the feelings you describe are absolutely normal, and the next year will be extremely stressful.

It says an awful lot about you if you can stick it out.

Bue Sun 23-Jun-13 09:50:59

In your position I would walk away, and my DH (who has a PhD) would say the same. DH's PhD made him really ill with stress and anxiety towards the end (this was before I met him) and by the end he absolutely hated the world of academia and left immediately for the City! He says now that he would never encourage someone to do one unless it is necessary for their career. Being Dr something is a ridiculous reason to continue on so please don't let anyone sway you with that argument. I know someone else who has recently thrown in the towel and she seems so much happier.

Conina Sun 23-Jun-13 09:44:27

I'll tell you a secret. I quit my phd after 3 and a half years and I felt fucking fantastic. I got my research published anyway and it was bloody amazing to escape such a toxic hell hole.

I toyed with leaving for about 18 months and I truly redoubled my efforts in that time just so that when I did leave I would know deep down that I had tried my best.

Booboostoo Sun 23-Jun-13 09:33:05

The PhD is an exercise in persistence. While it is normal to feel disheartened, especially before your main thesis has come together (and fed up during the time it takes to actually finish writing it up), you do sound very fed up.

If the PhD won't contribute to your career options and you are not enjoying it then there is no reason to continue.

As for your worries about your experiments, what does your supervisor think? He/she should be able to give you an impartial opinion on the value of the work you have done so far and how much longer you have to go before you can write up. A supportive supervisor is really, really important in PhD work so if you don't quite click with yours perhaps it's worth getting some help from someone else in the department?

In my experience part-time PhDs are much harder to complete and taking time off does not work for many students, but each student is different and if you think this might work for you it might be worth a try.

Euphemia Sun 23-Jun-13 09:05:27

I just consulted DH on this - he's a professor with overall responsibility for 100+ PhD students.

He says 80% of PhD students feel this way during the second year of their PhD: it's utterly, utterly normal.

His advice is to take a break for a few weeks to try to get some perspective, and during that time talk to some members of staff you consider not to be egomaniacal bitches. smile

He reckons that both your funder and your university would be happy with you taking a year's leave of absence, if you felt that would help.

Not Dr Rock, but listening to Sergeant Rock by XTC might get you dancing and cheer you up. (That's my recommendation, not DH's, I loves XTC.)

TarkaTheOtter Sun 23-Jun-13 08:52:13

I didn't quit but sometimes regret sticking it out because I now feel trapped into a career using it and I am completely disillusioned with the subject. I also feel like the years (five in total full-time) were wasted and I could have been establishing myself in a career I was actually good at. I don't call myself doctor and actually see my PhD as a hindrance in the outside world (I feel like people see me as a failure because I am not in academia or closely related industry field).
Anyway, just thought I'd put across an alternative viewpoin

kritur Sun 23-Jun-13 08:41:56

I spent the first 18 months of my PhD destroying chemicals... My PhD title is not the one intended. It was difficult but I just plodded on through it. I would have regretted not finishing and as another poster has said, never again have I had 3 years to devote myself to something so entirely. Especially now I'm a single mum to an 18 month old.

I initially entered teaching, so my PhD wasn't directly relevant although it did help me establish a slightly more authoritative air! I had a good career, HoD etc but now with the help of Athena Swan (a scheme which works to improve female participation in physical sciences) I m moving back into academia. So my PhD did open doors. To my mind it's worth doing, it opens more doors than it closes but you need to address your current apathy.

zipzap Sun 23-Jun-13 08:39:49

Just because experiments have failed doesn't mean that they can't be included - you've still learnt something from them. You've either disproved the hypothesis or discovered there was a flaw and how to do it better next time but there must have been a reason that you and your supervisor thought they were valid enough proposals to actually try them.

And maybe if the supervisor is nice she'd be more upset and worried that you couldn't talk to her than that you were struggling with work or the decision to stay or go.

Could you afford to take a sabbatical over the summer? Maybe your lack of industry samples is a blessing in disguise. See if you could negotiate the summer off as there's no point sitting twiddling your thumbs if you can't do experiments you need to do due to lack of stuff. Then you can have a guilt free summer as you wouldn't be doing anything you needed to do at uni anyway as you don't have all the necessary stuff plus you can sleep, recuperate and get your mojo back so that when the new term starts in the autumn you hopefully get caught up in the traditional excitement about going back to study at that time of year and start back refreshed and invigorated!

whatsonyourplate Sun 23-Jun-13 08:12:26

It sounds to me like you need some support from your gp. Sleep depravation alters your state of mind and it becomes a viscious circle. At least if you can get some help with a short course of sleeping tablets or similar you may be able to think more clearly about the situation.

PicaK Sun 23-Jun-13 08:09:54

I don't have a PhD but DH does and is a lecturer. He'd never be cross if someone wanted to quitbut he would worry about them and whether they were making the decisions for the right reasons.

Do u think you might be a bit depressed? You've lost 2 close people in a year and watched your parents grieving too. Could either of these be influencing you?

coldethyl Sun 23-Jun-13 08:08:27

Could you intercalate for a year to get your breath back? (Note: don't know if this is possible in the sciences, my PhD was arts). I had to do this when I had PND after DS2 was born. Luckily my supervisor spotted I was struggling and suggested this after I confessed I was taking so many tablets I rattled. It made a huge difference to be able to concentrate on getting well, and I returned to the studying with fresh eyes and a new perspective a year later. If you could give as a reason that your industrial partner is not providing the data you need, might you feel better about a hiatus?

Feeling suicidal about something you loved is not the way forward, and not worth it. Could you go part time as an alternative? Full time research doesn't suit some people (I'm one of them!) and although my doctorate took me a decade in the end, I had a life during that time too and I don't regret going more slowly at all.

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