Quitting a highly paid PhD


======= Date Modified 02 59 2010 06:59:50 =======
Hi guys,


I am second PhD student in Canada. I am being paid very well. My thesis is also going pretty well. Despite this, I am deeply unhappy with what I am doing and already started hating my entire future as a scientist in this field. I wish I had not accepted the side job because without that I would still be living a good life with the scholarship and and focusing more on the research I like. But first it might be too late and I am worried my different decisions will create tension between me and my supervisor, and second it does not necessarily deflate my hatred towards the field of study anyways.

I am seriously thinking of saying goodbye to this altogether but I just don't know how soon after this I will start regretting my decision. It is really a stressful situation . Any help from you is much appreciated.


Only you know what is or isn't making you happy - I spent 16 years earning a big salary (well for the last few years) with a car, health insurance and other perks but I was so unhappy that at 38 I quit to go back to college to do another Masters. I've been lecturing for 5 years nearly and although the pay is less than half what I was on and there are no perks I am much happier. Big salaries arent everything.


Hi Nadoon,

I'm wondering, can you just quit your part time employment or is it related to your PhD? I think you should tell your supervisor your concerns, if you're worried about talking to him/her then there should be another advisor like the head of department that you could talk to, maybe see if a couple of months suspension may help. It's a big decision to make (not concerning the money, but the thesis) and it's worth speaking to someone in charge about your concerns before you've made up your mind.



I was in similar situation when I started my PhD about 3 years ago. I took 14 months break from studies to concentrate on similar matters and also resolving issues related to a stressful married life. It is true that many scientists spend all their life concentrating on issues which they later regret in life. This is analytical way of life anyway, the natural phenomenon is too complicated to understand successfully with the current state of the art (perhaps mankind will never or maybe in afterlife). Even a small home fly is much cleverer than any of my algorithms... that take ages on a Quad core processor to execute and generate enough heat to keep my room's warmth.
We can forgive ourselves and justify our research understanding that we are only humans and cannot compete with supernatural forces of nature....


Thanks for the advice and sharing your experience.

In a nutshell, knowing that I am generally an undecided person, my supervisor explicitly asked me not to screw up this employment offer (which is part of a longer term plan for my employment at the same institution after m graduation) and make my mind before applying because this is a long term investment on candidates. She is truly a nice and supportive person but I cannot expect to turn tables whenever and however I want and expect to maintain a healthy relationship. That is why I feel I cannot quite so easily quit employment and go back to my research. Our department is small, and I pretty much have to leave this university if I alienate the few people around.

There is an old fashion way of doing PhD, which is being committed to a study subject for a few years and being cutoff the world. I can feel why this system has evolved this way and why violation of old traditions are dangerous! I am being stressed out swimming in the fast lane!


======= Date Modified 31 May 2010 12:26:10 =======
This might be a bit naive of me, but surely they would all like you to finish your PhD, and want you to be happy with your research etc, especially if you are on a government scholarship (at least this was/is my experience on a 2-year funded MREs). It sounds to me that you are quite worried about what your supervisor would say if you left your job, so maybe the best thing would be just to explain the situation to her. You say she's nice and supportive (ok, she also said to you not to screw up the part-time work), but maybe she will understand that it's a bit too much for you right now.

If you quit your PhD you might regret it sooner than you think. If I may ask, do you have any alternative plans?


======= Date Modified 02 Jun 2010 07:00:30 =======
Thanks, Sbcc.

Here are a few alternatives in front of me:

1- Suck it up and continue with PhD+job, and then "suck up" the employment in a field I am not a big fan of, and try to shift my research as an independent investigator to what I want.

2- Quit the job, keep moving the PhD forward: very uneasy given an entire spectrum of volatile decisions I have made and the inevitable tension in my workplace. Yes my supervisor is nice, but no, I cannot trust the unfriendly environment that will be result of my indecision.

3- Quit the job, transfer my PhD with funding to somewhere else: I can use this opportunity to shift to a field I love, still not an easy option. I will have only one year of funding for the new PhD.

4- Quit the job and PhD altogether, take some rest and do some soul searching (thanks lord I am not in huge debt etc so I can handle an employment gap financial wise), then apply next year to the program I love: I probably have no chance of getting scholarship with this fiasco on my resume! Still able to pay through savings (+, I am single).

5- Keep thinking about this and go crazy and enjoy a tenure at a mental institution ;o)


I'm a bit concerned by your reference to "an entire spectrum of volatile decisions I have made". Whatever you decide to do next re leaving a PhD or not is a really big step, and you need to think it through extremely carefully before you make the next decision. Is there anyone local that you could talk to for impartial advice, for example at the student union or similar?

PhDs are incredibly hard slogs for everyone, whether they enjoy their subjects or not. It's at least as much about sticking power as any intellectual ability. If you're in an uncomfortable position it will be even harder, which isn't good. But you need to weigh up the alternatives.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do. I left a full-time PhD 13 years ago. It would have prevented me getting more funding in the same area. Luckily I switched to a diametrically opposite subject area (science -> humanities!) when I decided to have a second go, part-time, and I got more funding.


hi Nadoon
I think you will feel much much better once you have reached a decision about what you want to do with your life, what you want to be and where you are going.

It seems to me that you have a very bright future as well. If you worry about how soon you will start regretting your decision that indicates that you haven't really made up your mind what you want to do.

Take some time to think about this and to reflect over things. Don't be in a hurry.


Hello Nadoon!

I am making a wild guess here (having found myself in similar situations) but I think that the problem is neither the job or the PhD. At the end of the day it is your natural inhabitant! Working too hard for a prolonged period can make you feel exhausted, fed up, makes you want to run away.
In similar situations, where I feel I had enough, I try to take some time off. Sometimes going away just for a weekend and change the scene, stop thinking completely all about work, can do the trick. Try to build a pleasant routine:
exercise (find something fun to do twice a week), meet friends for a drink after work even if you feel tired, shut computer down at 23.00 no matter what, date people etc. Think positively: work can get hard, but at the end of the day it IS your choice and it WILL get better. Being enthusiastic and happy can make hard periods flow like water.
I quit well-paid jobs once they become really easy - not challenging my mental abilities anymore. I dread the day when writing will become easy. It will be time for me to drop everything and move on, learn how to built wooden ships, or make robots or anything new.
Enjoy it because it will not last for ever.


Thanks, guys. It is a good feeling to receive honest advice from people. Thanks to all of you. Yes I need some regulation in workload, and probably some rest (couple of month of leave) to restart my brain. I have already started feeling it will be a silly decision to quit. Maybe I do not deserve the good treatment I am receiving from my supervisor, and her generosity. The volatile decisions I have mentioned are a whole bag of last-minute change of mind which has affected other people as well. This included a change in my department two weeks before start of the program, and changing my mind and coming back to my supervisor two weeks later with a request to be reinstated as student!