Is a PhD really worth it?


Hi All,

I've never posted on a forum or anything like this before. I have been in graduate school for 5.5yrs for a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology. During this time I have had multiple failed projects, communication issues with my advisor, been married, had a child, and am now divorced. I cannot afford to stay in graduate school with my child, but my advisor does not think I have enough of a body of work to deserve a PhD although she previously agreed that I could get out on the minimum. I do not want to be a PI, I want a well paying job in science that has regular hours and I will not have the stress of taking my work home with me every night.

So the question it worth it? Should I stay in the program for at least another semester of misdirection and going down rabbit holes, or should I cut my losses and masters out?

I've talked to a few committee members and the chairs of my department. Somehow this made it worse in that now my advisor thinks I'm spreading rumors and going behind her back. The lab environment in itself is toxic and I am not the only one to have issues. I'm just the one who has outside circumstances that I must consider.

Any and all advice is welcome. I have a committee meeting next week.



How close are you to writing up? PhDs don't have to be conclusions to work, but you need to show what you are doing and the results you have will or can impact your research area.

I know its a lot of hard work that supervisors don't seem to understand or care about your life beyond the research but in this day and age especially for the biosciences, a PhD will work for you getting a job in industry or academic research. Without it your starting salary can be much lower without years of experience to back you up and your fighting PhD students for those jobs.

If at all possible I'd tell you to do as much bench work as possible while you can as long as it's relevent to getting you results for your thesis and then if money is an issue look for a job while writing up.

From my own experience my supervisors expected me to write up full time after my funding had ended. That just wasn't possible for me so I took a job to pay my bills while writing up instead. They weren't happy with that but you're the only one that can balance what you need to do money wise with what you can do writing up.

Good luck!


Personally I think since you have already put in 5.5 years, you should , if you can at all, finish.

Is it possible to work with your supervisor to come up with a plan to finish. Results don't have to be groundbreaking or even publishable . Your research just needs to be be theoretically and methodologically sound. Can you build on what you have and tie up some up lose ends with your current research, so as it across as , you understood the theory and had a good rationale for doing what you did. And then that you proceeded in fairly logical fashion, and conducted your research in methodologically sound fashion. It's okay if you made an odd mistake here and there, as long as you learned from it and used that knowledge, to go further.

So basically, good rationale (understanding of theory, finding gap in knowledge where you could contribute) and then methodologically sound and progressing research, even if results are all non significant.

If you could come up with a plan that would give you that and see you finish in a year or 18 months, I think it would be well worth it.

If finances are an issue, is there any way your ex could bear brunt of childcare costs, until finish up and then when you get a job you make it up. If there's any way she could help you out in this way it would benefit you both and your child in the long run.


Hi, ithicamae,

If you have already put in 5.5 years, you will have enough to put in your thesis. Even the failed projects could possibly be a chapter each. As long as you can write on your trials and errors, your reasoning for doing things, and your trouble shooting, these show critical thinking which should help you earn that PhD. Your PI's "body of work" possibly only looks at the things that worked, and that is not what a PhD is about.

I do not think you should walk out with a master. In your committee meeting, please outline your thesis chapters (including the failed projects) as clearly as possible. Show them that there is a flow in your story. Tell them you want to stop doing experiments and would like to submit. And convince your entire committee that you DO have enough to submit as a PhD. These days, it is possible to submit without a supervisor's approval, but we would like to avoid that if possible.

You have come so far, please do not quit. Stop doing experiments, write up and leave your toxic lab. Do keep us up to date with the outcome of your meeting, if you are comfortable sharing. Good luck.