Another 'I'm thinking of quitting my PhD' thread


Hello everyone, thanks for taking the time to read my post.

Well, I'm not really sure where to start, or how to put all my jumbled thoughts into words, but here goes. I began my PhD in September (or officially October) last year, so I'm only ~6 months in, but I'm already feeling like I just want to see the back of it and regret ever starting it at all.

To give a bit of background... I applied to the PhD in June last year, having been forwarded the advert for the studentship by my undergraduate tutor (I only graduated from my BSc last summer). Before this, I'd never really considered doing a PhD - I just thought this project sounded interesting so applied on a complete whim to see what would happen, and because I didn't have anything else lined up job-wise. And yes, I know that this is just about the worst reason to start a PhD, but actually, had the situation been different, I think it would have worked out ok – I enjoy doing research and am not against doing a PhD per se, but it’s mainly the project and timing that are making this such a miserable process for me. But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Just under two weeks before I began the PhD, my dad died. I'd always been very close to my father, and although he’d been diagnosed with cancer around 10 months before, up until the end I’d never really let myself believe that he could die. Even now I can’t really believe that he’s gone, and it feels bizarre talking about him in the past tense. I nearly gave up on doing the PhD at that point, but I was quite adamant with myself that I shouldn’t let it hold me back. So I moved the 350+ miles to a big city where I didn’t know anyone to start this new chapter of my life.

[continued on 2nd post]


From the beginning I didn’t really feel fully engaged with my project. For a start, it turned out quite different to what was advertised when I applied – cross-over with other peoples’ PhD projects and the fact the advertised project was effectively split-in-two to make two PhDs meant that what I’m now doing is actually in a completely different area of my subject to what I originally thought it would be. And this particular field doesn’t really interest me at all. I also have to spend a lot of time working at a lab overseas (roughly 8 weeks from October to December, and I’m now out here again for around 6 weeks) , which seemed exciting before I started, but has meant spending a considerable time away from my family when really, all I want is to be at home. It’s also meant that I still barely know anyone in my university city, having not spent more than a couple of consecutive weeks there. I have a few friends in my department but they’re not particularly close. I’ve thought about leaving pretty much everyday.

The problem is, everyone thinks I’m getting on perfectly fine. I know I sound incredibly gloomy on here, but in real life I’ve always been a very happy, easy-going type of person. Up until last year I’d say my life had be going pretty damn well, I had a fantastic time during my undergrad with plenty of friends, hobbies and interests and I enjoyed my degree subject. I’ll admit I have a tendency to bottle up my emotions, and I’ve maintained my happy persona even now, when I feel miserable, I’m just pretty useless at talking about my feelings. When I tell people about what I’m doing they say I’m ‘living the dream’ – to an outsider I know it would probably sound like this (working abroad in quite an exciting location, etc), but really I just feel so isolated and alone.

[continued in 3rd post]


I’ve had to write a couple of reports and give a presentation to my supervisors and sponsoring company, and they seem really pleased with my progress so far, even though I feel like I’m barely getting any work done. I just have no motivation to do anything, and no real interest in my subject area. The thought of working on this project for another 2.5-3 years just makes me feel so depressed.

I’ve looked into doing a master’s at my undergraduate university – this is what I would have ended up doing had I not started the PhD. The master’s would allow me to go back to the original subject area that I’m interested in. I just really don’t know how to tell my supervisors that I want to leave! I haven’t even told my family yet (although I think my mum can tell I’m not happy). I just wish I could just drop it all now, but I’m stuck at this lab abroad for around another three weeks, and this is something I’d rather discuss in person rather than through email/Skype. I just don’t know how they’d react when I tell them! Nor do I know how to even broach the subject of leaving. It also doesn’t help that there are quite a few people involved in my project – my supervisors at university, my funding company (in the UK) and the foreign company that I’m working with out here. My project is part of a larger collaborative project, involving a couple of other PhD students (one from my uni, another from a different one) as well as a few foreign research groups. So I feel like I’d be letting a lot of people down if I left, plus there’s the embarrassment of giving up. I’ve never just given something like this up before!

That turned into quite an essay! I’m not sure what response I’m expecting on here, I suppose I just needed to vent somehow.


Hi rubix, I'm really sorry to hear you've been having a rough time of it. I'm also very sorry for your loss. I actually know how you feel. It sucks majorly, and only time will make it better (the pain never really goes away fully but that's life unfortunately).

I haven't been through exactly what you're going through but I've certainly had moments of "I hate this, I want to give up and go home". I guess my main two pieces of advice would be: (1) trust your gut (2) don't give a flying fig what anyone else thinks - that includes disappointing/angering people, and feeling embarrassed.

Firstly, by 'trust your gut', I mean, take some time to really figure out how you feel. Probably there is a nagging voice somewhere in your head telling you either to stay or to go. Perhaps you're scared to admit how you really feel? Even in my darkest moments of feeling inadequate and depressed, I knew I always wanted to stick with it because I love my project and I believe in it. However, it took a year for me to feel really comfortable as a PhD student. Only you know whether you need more time to settle in, or whether it's never gonna happen. But as a recent graduate, you have time to restart a PhD later!

Secondly, it's easier said than done but at the end of the day, you have to do what's best for *you*. If other people choose to be upset, and direct that at you, that's their problem. Yes, obviously it'll make you feel bad but you'll get over that if you really feel it's the best decision. Please don't feel embarrassed. I know people who quit PhDs after 4 or 5 years, and no-one mocks them or thinks they're stupid. Just that it's unfortunate that things didn't work out. Anyone who thinks less of you isn't worth your time.



It doesn't seem like you can take time off right now, but try to relax and do things that you enjoy. If you don't have many uni friends, do you have other friends you can speak to on Skype or the phone? I now you said you want to talk in person but Skype is better than nothing. Bottling things up makes everything seem so much worse. Vent on this forum and be open with your loved ones. If you're feeling low, they'll surely want to help. Outsider perspectives can be really helpful. Maybe try to get in touch with your uni counselling services, if at least to talk about the loss of your dad. If the project if not what you thought it would be, that is certainly something you should broach with your supervisor. Hope that helps a little. Best of luck to you and hope everything works out. N xx


Hi Rubix, Your post sounded really familiar to me. My PhD has been split across 3 labs in 3 different countries and I constantly move between them. I have felt like quitting a ton of times and I understand it does all feel really isolated when you are the one in the department who is always traveling, All I can tell you is I'm now nearly three years in and writing up and it does get easier ... it just takes a lot longer to settle! You can get there in the end!


Hi rubix,ist of all sorry for your loss. I'm relatively young in the PhD having spent almost a year. You are not alone in how you feel. I have thought about quitting several time but like you I think about the implications, how I would disappoint my ever so committed sups, how I would appear a failure and that I may regret it. These thoughts bring me back to my work. One thing is as much as you may not enjoy your field either discuss with your sups and change topics or you try to enjoy it. Without a remote interest, it would be a miserable experience .
I was not so passionate about my research at first because it warranted a lot of interstate travel on field work so it was just depressing but I had to embrace it because I didn't wanna quit and I felt the work is meaningful. Another thing that keeps me going is my personal drive, I have always been willing to face challenges and overcome them.

So I would say try and make a few friends, so you van at least have company. It may not be easy but you can try. Be more open and willing to talk about your struggles. It helps. I have come to learn that in doing a PhD you have to takecharge of your social life and balance things otherwise it can be depressing. Like you again, even when low I still appear happy so people don't know my struggles. I wear a smile constantly and use every and try not to miss a social event if I can help it. It would get better at the end and be totally worth it.

If you decide on the other hand, to quit make sure you have given it a good thought. If you do, don' t worry about what others think. Do it for you. Be selfish for your own good. It may be hard but you can try.
Best wishes.