A question of ethics?


I'm quitting my PhD to become a teacher. However, due to timing and availablility I will not begin my training until the Sept 2010 draft.
I am currently in a PhD with a good monthly wage, I have a good relationship with my supervisors and my work is considered to be of a satisfactory standard. It is an industrial PhD so the results I am obtaining are being used by a company to assess one of their products. I believe it would be quite possible to 'hand over' the research to someone else whilst maintaining the flow of the project (if you see what I mean). At the time of leaving I would be 2 years into the PhD (and no, I have no intention of just 'getting through' the final year to get the PhD - I'd rather eat an asbestos sandwich).
The question is - do I tell my supervisors this and risk being booted off the PhD now or keep it under wraps until next June (since I have to give 3 months notice).

I appreciate that the above may make me sound like a complete ar*e but I'd still like to gauge opinion and to ask what you would do in my situation.




I would hold back telling the supervisor and company people for a while. But also, I would give a bit more notice than 3 months, maybe spring 2010, because then your supervisor will still be able to recruit a new student for the new academic year in autumn (?!) and you'll give people some time to adjust to the fact that you are leaving, whilst you do not have to pretend to be there in three months time. Also, if you hold back now, you give yourself another chance (in case you needed it) to reconsider finishing the PhD. Good luck.


======= Date Modified 01 Jun 2009 15:29:29 =======
It's not an easy decision to make but do right by yourself as in life most people do.

Edit: Just saw the post by Poppy and would agree.


Thanks Poppy.
That's good advice - I guess what I'm really looking for is to minimise the damage to the project whilst still keeping a living wage for as long as possible. I am invisaging some fireworks once the announcement is made as my supervisor loves the project so much (and believes I do too - perhaps I should go on the stage rather than to a classroom! :-).



Wow...that's a tricky one. My first thought is that personally, my conscience wouldn't let me do what you are suggesting. But when I think about it a little more, this is the real world and things aren't always clear-cut. I guess if you have to do it, just try to keep it as mess-free as possible- no doubt if you keep it under wraps for another year you will upset a few folk when they realise how long you have been planning this. Is it really possible for someone else to take over? If there is only one year's worth of work left, will someone else be able to jump on board and get a PhD out of it?! I don't mean to judge you, you are in a really difficult position. Usually I would say honesty is a good thing...but if you are looking at your own best interests it might not be in this case. I would certainly spend time thinking about it and don't do anything too rash! KB


I think if I was in your position, I'd keep quiet. Keep doing the work, getting the results etc. then tell them nearer the time. As someone else said, may be not quite as late as next June, just to give them the opportunity of replacing you, but I definately wouldn't tell them now. You're still generating data, which they could probably use for future publications.


Resisting the urge to ask why going through the motions of PhD research this year is tolerable, while actually finishing a PhD next year is like eating an asbestos sandwich, 2 questions/suggestions:

1.) are you sure having a PhD might not help you out in your teaching career? I can imagine it might carry some weight depending on the school/age group/subject you're talking about. (Some independent secondary schools seem to like to employ PhDs, for instance).

2.) alternatively, have you thought about working as a teaching assistant for a year? That would replace your PhD stipend quite nicely (if it's at research council rates?), be clearly relevant to your chosen career path, and avoid the whole moral dilemma you've set yourself.


I think it is possibly a little unfair to the person who might want to take it over as a PhD project if you have done a lot of the groundwork. Could you try to convert it to an MPhil? This would mean you would get something out of it and might be able to leave it in a position that someone else could get something too. The idea of working in a school in some capacity might be an alternative, and posts will probably be advertised between now and September. Give the company you work for as much time as you can to get someone else to take over, and work out a strategy that would show them how this would be possible, you may need a reference from them sometime in the future and you will want it to be good


This post has annoyed me somewhat. You've no intention of finishing the PhD but are happy to take the money ... money that could be going to a student who really wants to do a PhD (and probably wouldn't be able to pursue one without funding).

If you have definitely made your mind up that you want to go (and it's not the end of the world if you have), then you should let your supervisor know that you are unhappy/considering leaving (and who knows, a chat with your supervisor might make you feel different about the PhD). If you aren't up front I'm pretty certain this situation will come back and bite you on your behind (and when you're least expecting it!!!).


======= Date Modified 02 Jun 2009 10:21:53 =======
============= Edited by a Moderator =============
"I'd rather eat an asbestos sandwich" I couldnt have put it better myself. lol

@ BB

Why should you give a rats **** whether this person leaves now or in three months?  I'm sure a few months more is not going to break the bank for his supervisor and its not as if he will be doing nothing for the next three months.

@ Pseudonym,

I do think it is a tough one to call though. If you have a good relationship with your supervisors then they should be very understanding and will probably appreciate you telling them now so that they can plan ahead. In this instance, I cant imagine you would be asked to leave straight away as they wouldn't be able to get another student till September anyway.

Having said that depending on the kind of supervisors you have, they could well turn on you as soon as they find out you are jumping ship by either getting you to officially terminate your studentship straight away and have your funding pulled or keeping you on but treating you like a lab whore for the next three months. As soon as I told my supervisor I was leaving my PhD he had my funding pulled, but then again we didnt exactly part on agreeable terms.

Is there anyone in the department you can talk to discretely to gauge opinion on what would be the likely reaction of your supervisors?

I cant imagine a summer on the dole watching daytime TV is very appealing prospect which is probably what you will end up doing should be be booted off, so should you think this is likely to happen than I would keep your gob shut until nearer the end.

Some people way find this hishonest but you will only be doing what many PhD supervisors are good at: looking out for number one!!!


Thanks for the advice everyone (even BB! ;-) ). Just to reiterate - I am not trying to fleece the department out of money. As I said, they are perfectly happy with my work and I am moving the project forward, but I do understand the concerns regarding potentially taking this away from another student.
I have talked with others regarding the situation but I have to tread 'very' carefully with this as my supervisor is about as senior as you can get within the Uni and there aren't many folk I can speak to who aren't in contact with him - and I'd definitely not want him to get any info from a secondary source.
Since I'll be teaching at primary level the teaching assistant idea isn't likely to happen, but I'll look into the possibility (so thanks for the suggestion).

The general consensus seems to be that I should wait it out and resign in the spring, giving the department 6 months to find someone else. Whatever work and data I have collated to that point (including any partially written Thesis) would be handed over to the new student with my blessing. I'm not sure how much of this they'd be allowed to use towards their own PhD, but I'd do all I could to help them on their way.




Pseudonym - I'm not sure why you think the fact that you'll be teaching at primary level makes working as a teaching assistant less likely... my wife's a primary teacher and at her school (which admittedly has more than its fair share of children with special needs of one sort or another), there are typically two teaching assistants in each class. In her experience I think a lot of support staff (teaching assistants, learning mentors etc.) are people who intend to train as teachers at some stage.

Some of them change their minds when they figure out how hard teaching actually is, of course, and quite a few of them are ex-teachers who wanted an easier life! Since you've asked for advice, I'd have to be honest and say I would think very carefully about staying on and getting that PhD if you think it would keep other career options open to you further down the line. My wife's a highly committed teacher but still says she can't see herself staying in the profession for more than 10 or 15 years - it's just too draining. The holidays are really not all they're cracked up to be (e.g. my wife did at least 30 hours of planning and report-writing over half-term), and the hours during term-time are pretty outrageous. 8.45 - 3.15 sounds modest enough, but by the time you factor in time spent planning, marking, maintaining the classroom (tidying up, making displays), attending meetings and training sessions, preparing resources etc. a realistic figure would be 50-60 hours (say 8.00 - 5.00 weekdays plus 10 hours evenings & weekends). And that's not to mention the mental/emotional drain of dealing with the job's inherent frustrations and difficulties, e.g. coping with violent and disruptive behaviour, trying to give children with special needs the help they need without neglecting the rest of the class, and being required to follow a curriculum that may be wildly inappropriate for many of the children you teach (e.g. covering sophisticated maths & literacy topics when half your class can't yet read or add 2 and 2).

Oh, and my wife is also fond of pointing out (when I suggest that her job is at least secure) that it would only take one slightly-too-hard tug on a child's shoulder in breaking up a fight, or one false accusation of a shove or a slap from a pupil, to bring the whole thing crashing down. (This does happen, alas.)

Sorry to be so utterly negative - and in fairness, I should point out that my wife insists on working in particularly difficult, inner-city schools; it can't be that hard everywhere! - but I really do get the impression that many if not most teachers become jaded and/or burn out long before retirement. If you're in a position to have a 'plan B' up your sleeve, therefore, I would be inclined to do so!

Best of luck with it anyway - I admire anyone who has what it takes to be a teacher. I wouldn't last five minutes!


Thanks Magictune,
I appreciate the feedback.
My original plan was to teach at Uni level (I never have and never will want to do research, it's too introspecitve and isolating for me), but now that I am part of the post-grad system I see that all Universities are interested in is the money that their staff generates through research grants etc - the teaching of students is almost an irrelevancy. (And if you're now thinking - if you didn't want to do research why on earth did you do a PhD? Well, there's not one University teacher here who doesn't have one - i.e. not having one is a huge brick wall to career advancement).
I appreciate that not realising this was almost certainly naive of me but I have lost any desire to be in this system. Other (current) lecturers who I have talked to are of the same opinion and feel that they are under constant pressure to deliver 'financially' irrespective of how their work is viewed as a teacher. I would say that 75% of them sound as jaded with their careers as your wife does with hers.
Yes, I could stick with this - I am at a very good Uni, in a well respected lab and am virtually guaranteed a PhD since nearly all the external examiners were taught by my supervisor, and hence they don't readily fail people for fear of offending him (seriously - I was told this by the other post-docs in the lab)! I am well funded and well supported - a circumstance that practically any PhD student would be very happy to be a part of.
I mention this to show that this is not a decision I am taking lightly, but I have no desire to continue and am therefore trying to make the change in the best way I know how.
Hopefully it will all pan out in time, but right now I'm feeling pretty miserable - not in the least because I know I'll be disappointing a lot of people who have invested a lot of time and faith in me :-(

I'll make enquiries re the teaching assistant and see how things go.

Thanks for helping... :-)



Rjb, I think the idea is that Pseudonym would leave in a YEAR and 3 months, which in my view is a rather different proposition. Am happy to be corrected if I've misunderstood the timescale.

Speaking as a PhD drop out, I can't quite fathom why you'd be willing to work on this for another 15 months if you know that you'd never write a thesis. I can understand a strong desire to leave, but not maintaining a façade for so long. I found it extremely stressful just pretending everything was normal for a few weeks while I was waiting for an opportune moment to raise the topic with my supervisor.

If I were you, I'd think of quitting soonish and either trying to get some work that is relevant to your teaching career, or seeing if your industrial employer has any paid jobs you could do. This isn't just about money - you have to consider how this will affect your career. If you are planning to get a reference from your current supervisors, you might be best not to do anything that could be construed as deceitful. (Or have you got a guaranteed teaching place - I wasn't quite clear from your post?)

Obviously the job market is not such that you can casually throw in the towel, but if I were you I would have serious questions about spending a year doing something that wasn't really going to benefit my career in any way, and could inconvenience other people.


I totally get what you mean - the system totally sucks and is not geared to helping the student.  As a PhD student you are just a number so they can say they have x no of students - you are an output! Even at undergrad level they want X no of students so they can get money - don't mention the word standards!  They pay for their education so they expect to pass! And doing research - it's all about who you know and how many research grants you can get or income generation!!  So the better connected you are the better off you'll be and this also depends on if you know the right people or went to the right uni!!! If not tough luck and you will always be an outsider as it's very cliquey!  There is also an awful lots of schmoozing in academia and you don't even have to be that good!

I can totally understand your frustration, disillusionment and lack of faith in the system! It does take you to do a PhD before you realise this as it's not so noticeable before when you were part of the system.  I really enjoyed uni until doing a PhD when you get to see how it really works and what people really think of you! So if you don't want to do research and don't see a future for yourself in the system I really wouldn't stay in academia!  It's not as cushy or academics in ivory towers as people outside academia think. It's just as cut throat although they may do it more subtlely!

Good luck for the future and the dilemma which isn't easy!