About to quit my PHD


So Im 31 years old and a first year phd in sociology student. I have been struggling a lot, mostly with feeling overwhelmed, not good enough and not knowledgable enough. I am terrible procrastinator and this part is even the most painful for me. As i am a person who loves working, and than being "unable" to work while things are falling apart kills me. And i tried a lot of things, but lately its a complete struggle.

One of the aspects is that I entered the Phd unsure of it, I was working on a the scientific project but the phd than came as a good option and i than got pushed into it (so I dont lose my job). And than i decided I will go and try.
Now Im at the end of first year, unable to push trough and do the final exam and presentation. My dissertation theme is still not clear andi spent time with advisor trying to come to it but nothing yet happened. And at the moment i should be doing 5 complicated things in a rush at the same times, which i cant even start. And all this type of work also disrupted my daily life completely. I feel trapped all the time and guilty to do other stuff, but at the same time I cant do the work for the phd.
Before I worked for an NOG and on a governmental project and felt capable and confidant. This phd just ruined me. I am also not in sociology enough, lack basic methodology and theoretical knowledge as it has been quite some time from when i studied it. I should be motivated and learn it now, which was the plan, but my progress is super slow. Also i am in lot of panic about it all the time on which i also waste a lot of time.
So all this made it obvious for me that i should drop out. Its still the first year, better to go develop career somewhere else sooner. At the same time Im panicking, I dont know how to explain it to my mentor, i feel like a terrible failure and incompetent. Coz I think this is not even that hard at the level I am now, just that I have to learn all from the start, and lack knowledge in almost everything.

And I am also afraid for the future, and what other job I could do - as if I quit I will all of a sudden be jobless and this scares me and makes me sad. I worked in good jobs prior to this and this than just feels like a terrible failure. And after all the anxiety and numbness i have been feeling I cant even figure out what I would want to do..
Any similar experiences or experiences with quitting?


It sounds like a very tough time and I can say I both understand and empathize with your feelings.
In my second year I hit a very similar wall and trawled through forums, such as this, for answers which I couldn’t find. The truth is no one can truly answer your question but you. What I can say now that I’m approaching my viva is that both quitting and persevering have pros and cons. I always think if I had quit I would probably be a happier person but I suppose I’m not a stage yet where I’ve been away from a PhD long enough to see the career benefits of it. I hope you can find the right answer, both are scary but brave decisions.


Thanks a lot this is a wise and calm answer. It actually helps a lot to hear something like this from someone who has been trough it.
And yes, no one can answer the question for me. I now red also my first post and see how bad my mental state was when writing it, as there is a lot of misspelling. SO I fore sure have to calm down about it and accept the situation. I really think this phd happened too soon for me, and in the wrong time. Which is a pity but life..
So thanks again!


Quote From lala216:
Thanks a lot this is a wise and calm answer. It actually helps a lot to hear something like this from someone who has been trough it.
And yes, no one can answer the question for me. I now red also my first post and see how bad my mental state was when writing it, as there is a lot of misspelling. SO I fore sure have to calm down about it and accept the situation. I really think this phd happened too soon for me, and in the wrong time. Which is a pity but life..
So thanks again!

It sounds like one of the things you are worried about is going from being competent at work, to bewildered by the PhD. Could it be that you change your approach to the PhD? I treat mine like a desk job, sit from 9-5 and work as I would in a work day. It helps me to split things into tasks and plan the week ahead, ticking off each (sometimes micro) task so I feel I have achieved something.
It is totally normal for you to not have a full idea of what you are doing yet-especially in sociology. A lot of a PhD is thinking and conceptualising, which you don't feel like as being work, but it is.
But, you are the one doing the PhD. And you know in your gut what is right at this time for you. If you, despite persevering, really deep down want to leave, then you don't need anyone's permission, and you will have other opportunities in the future which you may enjoy more.
Ultimately nothing is worth your mental or physical health being put at risk.
Slow progress is the nature of PhD. It is nothing like a Masters in that respect, and is really difficult to stay motivated.
I wish you luck in whatever you choose to do.


Hi lala216, I certainly can relate to a lot of what you described: don't know where my PhD project is heading in my first two years; feeling incompetent and lack of knowledge in my field when I started (I switched field); feel so much shame that I was unable to communicate with my supervisor and peers; panic about my career if I quit.

I did push through in the end. My mental and physical health suffered, but it is on the mend since my graduation. In retrospect, my takeaways from my experience are:

Don't feel shame and guilty about who you are and how you feel when facing your supervisor. You don't owe them anything. They accepted you knowing you are out of school for awhile but have relevant work experience. If they are decent supervisors, you should be able to communicate with them candidly. Like replies above said, PhD is a slow process and your supervisor has seen it all. Tell them about your worries, ask how they expect your progress to be like, are they confident you will pass the first year review, what theoretical knowledge you need immediately, etc. For me, a lot of disastrous belief were just in my head. If I was brave enough to communicate with my supervisor, I could find out that they were not true.

Priorities your tasks. If your first year review is imminent, I would say passing the review may give you some breathe room and confidence. Maybe ask your supervisor to help make sure you get through for now? It also seems that you have work responsibility outside your PhD? I don't know whether this comes with your previous job, but PhD itself is a full-time job; if you are pushed to take on other work responsibilities, you have all the reason to put it to a stop. Maybe change to a part-time PhD? Maybe ask for less work responsibilities? I don't know what works for you, but the important thing is you are treated unfairly here and it is not sustainable.

Future career, again my suggestion is find out whether your current belief matches reality. Look on recruiting websites, talk to recruiters, go on this forum and reddit to read other people's experience. It is difficult to start researching, because of all the unknown and self-loathing. But I think it does help one reduce irrational fear and make informed decisions.

Talk to a therapist if possible. Your institute should have some free resources. I think a lot of the overwhelming fear and shame are deep in us, and PhD is just a trigger.

All in all, you have work experience and get pushed into a PhD -- that is a head-start in career a lot of us didn't have as a first year. It may or may not be a suitable step for you, but whatever you choose, you are not a failure, and you will have a lot options in your future career.


Hi there,

I can relate to some elements of your experience. I got accepted into a PhD scholarship program after pushing through a gruelling MRes in Social Research Methods. I had two weeks of space between PhD onboarding and handing in my MRes dissertation. (*cue gasp*)

But, during the entire PhD proposal pre-program meetings with supervisors and my university's Head of Research every gut instinct told me not to do it. I received my acceptance letter and initially was so happy but this soon feel into dread as I came from a policing/criminal justice background and my doctorate is in politics.

Alot of tears later I decided, Im not afraid of a new challenge and decided to push through 1) not having any connections into the participant community i was interested and 2) being unfamiliar with the theories and scholarly field within my projects field.

4 years later, Im now postdoc but at a huge cost and deficit for my mental health and wellbeing. I never told my supervisors about how I really felt and had to talk myself out of quitting more times than I can count. Now, I didnt quit as I am a perfectionist and care deeply how others receive me. I shouldn't but hey.

I'm now trying to find a postdoc job to no success and constantly being turned away from good interviews to be told you dont have the right experience and specialism. So why interview me?!?

Like you, I was told use your masters. You'll be really good for this. But this wasn't part of my plan. It was the plan others saw for me. I will tell you first and second year is really difficult because you're trying to figure things out still. That's normal to not be 100% sure. I actually boosted my Political Science case study with additional theories in my 3rd year as it made more sense. Its completely normal to change course but you must justify and be able to stand behind your decision making in the course of designing your research.

Lastly, the decision to leave is not a light one. If you did decide to, I'd have a back up plan first. There is no consequence if you have something else lined up in my eyes. The decision for me to ignore my voice has caused me alot of anguish, I did push through but at a huge cost. It might just be you have yet to read or find scholars who engage you yet, or that you havent met your network of others who are in the same field.

Nothing is worth your mental health.


Hi, did you ever feel 'not up to the job'. I've been trying hard to complete my work- feel burned out but I get the feeling that my supervisors don't think I am putting enough effort in?