10 reasons why you should quit your PhD

If you’re a PhD candidate contemplating quitting, we’ll help you see if “the juice is worth the squeeze.”

Stressed male student in a white T-shirt sitting in front of a laptop in study room
Image by Tim Gouw via Unsplash.com

Should you leave your PhD program? Here are 10 factors to consider before your decision.

A PhD program is considered by many the pinnacle of education and academic accomplishment. A PhD is also a formal prerequisite for access to academic careers. That is perhaps the only valid reason for choosing a doctorate program.

However, many people pursue such ambition only to feel superior or because they have misconceptions about it. Some don’t even think about their future career path. As a result, they quickly find themselves burned out, and unwilling to even open a book.

Wearing a lab coat and doing science is only a fraction of the reality of a doctorate. Once you’re in, you’ll see that things might become too rough for you to handle. This, in turn, generates a spiral of doubts that make you change the PhD program or quit it altogether.

While quitting might appear as the least desirable option, it could be the right option for you. Not everyone was meant to be a scientist, and not everyone will benefit the same from it. Also, you have to consider your physical and mental well-being. PhDs can have a great toll on you on all levels. If you have reached that point, is important to understand that you shouldn’t feel guilty for quitting. You need to also understand that other life choices might suit you better.

In this article, we’ll outline 10 solid arguments for why you should go ahead and quit your PhD. It’s essential to understand that this article is not advocating for quitting PhDs. But to let people know that there might be a better solution to their problem. So, if you have exhausted all the possible options and talked to your supervisors, to no avail, then keep reading.

1. Time consuming

A PhD practically requires you to spend all your available time. Many times it forces you to steal hours from other important activities that keep you functional. Regardless of how much time you dedicate to your dream, you’re still going to spend at least 3-4 years on it. In some cases, that period might even extend to 10 years.

Now, that’s a considerable amount of time. And since we don’t live that long, it’s crucial to make the right decision to avoid wasting valuable resources on something you don’t envision success in. That’s also a good indicator to start focusing on yourself and other career options.

2. Exhausting

Apart from your time, your PhD will need all of your mental and physical fortitude. You’re going to spend sleepless and dinner-less nights quite often, for the sake of your reports and articles. This perpetual burn-out will let you tired even if you aren’t doing any activity.

If this is you after being enrolled for less than a month, then consider other viable options. At this point, you’re only going to harm yourself if you keep it up. A “consumed” candidate isn’t going to accomplish anything. Trust me on this. I did it for a year before calling it quits.

squidward tired after writing phd progress report meme
Every PhD fellow.

3. Money wasted

People typically skip this part, which can be a deal-breaker for other folks. Despite scholarships and stipends being available, most PhD programs are still costly. Also, you have to think about your personal expenses as well. Working in parallel to your program to make it might be impossible.

So, would you like to struggle in borderline poverty for multiple years, or find a job that pays well? Your choice.

4. Career uncertainty

Now that you’ve got your precious PhD title, you can’t wait to show it to the chairperson of a university. This can also be a hiring manager of a company. Contrary to your beliefs, neither of them cares about your accomplishments.

Being a successful Dr. does not equal being successful in attaining a great job. There are multiple places, that reject applicants simply because they find them overqualified for the job. Other times, they find the lack of experience a huge red flag.

If a great career was your motive for a PhD, then you should know there are easier ways. Many companies out there place importance on experience instead of qualifications.

5. Curtailed social life

Make no mistake, keeping up with your doctorate is going to have a strong impact on your social life. You won’t be available to hang out with your friends, attend parties, or get drunk silly with your bestie. Forget about gaming too. Usually, your supervisors are too strict and require you to attend university daily. Just like a full-time job.

Therefore, it’s understood that you may need to sacrifice your social life to make your dreams come true. I don’t find this a good deal at all.

6. No more “me” time

The workload of your program will determine how much time you can spend on your activities and yourself. This also depends on how effectively you manage your time. However, the probability that you won’t be able to goof off, is quite high. Spending time on your hobbies might be impossible too. Yes, you might take a “Leave of Absence” if you feel unwell. Supervisors are usually supportive of that. But once that’s over and you go back in, there won’t be another exit.

If you feel that your PhD is making you sick or keeping you away from living your life, then you should quit. The whole purpose of being alive is actually living and doing the things you like. Four or more years aren’t going to come by quick enough. If the only thing that remains at the end of your program is a pathetic shell of your former self, then you’ve done more harm than good.

7. Uncertain future prospects

Maybe when you first applied, you were naive and inexperienced. You were fueled only by your ambition and your flaming dreams. However, after experiencing the heavy workload of a PhD program, you realize that perhaps an academic career is not suitable for you.

This is completely normal, and it shows that you can actually think. Making a proper assessment of your situation shows maturity. Whether it’s been a month or a year, it’s never too late to acknowledge that this doctorate is worthless to you.

8. Monotonous

Doing the same thing over and over for multiple years is part of the “PhD experience.” Undoubtedly, you’ll even struggle to get yourself up from bed to go to the university.

If that sounds like you, and you see no way out of this misery, then you need to act quickly. Finding what makes you smile is more important than a title.

9. Aimless ambitions

Most people enroll in a PhD program for career opportunities, and to become widely recognized scientists. However, there are some who have weak motives for pursuing their doctorate degree.

Some just want to get away from their families, while others use it as a way to migrate to preferred countries. There are also others that simply can’t find a job, and need a temporary solution.

Again, if that sounds like your case, it will impossible to pull it off. As previously mentioned, you need to be fully determined to make this work.

Hence, consider immediately resigning from the program, before you waste more of your precious time. There’s no point in doing research while your mind is drifting away from your true dreams.

waiting for success meme
Success is coming. Just be patient.

10. Regret is OK

People are different, and so are their reasons for disliking or quitting their PhDs. There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve made a mistake. Neither in realizing that you found something better.

It’s also understandable that you don’t want to let down your parents, your peers, or your wife. But more importantly, you feel that if you quit you’ll let yourself down.

That’s not true. The world is a dynamic place that changes every moment. Also, people are beings that strive to adapt and overcome those changes.

We have feelings and dreams, and we are the ones who define what’s important to us. You’ll be perfectly justified in letting your supervisors know that you’re leaving.

When did you realize a PhD wasn’t for you?

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