reference from supervisor


hi there

i have decided to leave my phd after 1st year and move into the world of work.

it just isnt for me and i wish to get a job where i have set targets etc etc. rather than working on my own steam for 3 years in a subject that i do not have enough enthusiasm for.

however i have not had 'the talk' with my supervisor yet about leaving - even though he has an idea that i have not been doing as much work as i should - i had to have my 1st year report deadline delayed by 2 months as i did not have enough work done for the original date.

however i got the report in and am waiting on feedback from it (not that it really matters now)

the question i want to ask is - how do i approach telling him i want to leave AND still use him as my academic reference for future jobs?

i still need to enquire about converting my 1st years work into an MPhil but not sure I have done enough to attain that level of qualification at this stage - so not really relying on that.

any advice would be appreciated :)


Obviously how you would approach it depends alot on the character of yourself and your supervisor, and your relationship.

If it were me I would say that you're come to realise that this isn't what you want to do, it's been weighing on your mind recently and that you think it's best for everyone if you transfer to an MPhil and how would you go about doing this. I would use 'soft phrases' like "I think it's only fair to tell you..." rather than just going in bluntly with "I don't want to do this anymore". This way you aren't squaring up with opposing views, you are playing fair by him and approaching it more from their side. Thank him for giving you the opportunity and believing in you etc... and say positive things about your time working with him. Don't say you find it boring or uninteresting because that will likely upset him as it is something they have a keen interest in, stick with lines like it (the whole PhD thing rather than the project) isn't for you, and you think it's time to move on.

I would then see how they react before asking for a reference, hopefully this softer approach will keep them onside, say you want to work towards the MPhil and continue working together towards this goal, and ask for a reference at a later date, after they have had time to let things sink in, if you are around and see them a few times after discussing this they will probably be more likely to be friendly than if you have this discussion and then just disappear.

But obviously you know your supervisor best, and can judge how they would react.


======= Date Modified 21 Oct 2011 17:15:05 =======
I agree with Laney. I think that if you are sensitive to your supervisor's initial disappointment and make it clear that he is in no way a factor in your decision to leave, then he will probably oblige you with a reference. I wouldn't mention the reference at the time when you break the news though.

Also, I would be aware that even if he agrees to act as a reference, any disappointment he may feel could manifest in letters/phonecalls he does on your behalf. I have done phone reference interviews with two academics who had students leave after a year or so, and while they may have thought highly of the students abilities, some of their answers to questions brought up the negative aspects of their leaving.


======= Date Modified 03 Nov 2011 10:54:32 =======
hi again

thanks for the advice.

i am going to see my supervisor tomorrow morning and i think that will be the time to talk through my current situation with him.

i am going to try and break it to him gently without going in with all guns blazing etc etc as both of you have said.

i am still a bit nervous about it but its something that has to be done... i am actively seeking jobs at the minute but of course i have stated that under no circumstances that my academic reference be contacted until i say so.

as far as the mphil option goes - does anyone know of the procedure to 'convert' it from the studies i have done so far as a PhD course?

thanks again!


In a lot of universities students are registered in the first instance as MPhil students and then may be upgraded, depending on progress etc, to a PhD. It might be worth checking if you are officially registered as an MPhil student or a PhD. The theory is an MPhil should be completed in two years and three years is given for a PhD but very often these overrun. If you want to complete an MPhil your supervisor might help you scale the project for that degree of work.

Best of luck!


you know what actually, as i have not had my 1st year viva interview based on my report, i may not 'officially' be a phd student yet... ill need to look into that.



I quit my PhD a year and a half ago. I went straight into it after a good degree and hadn't done a Masters. I decided after about six months that it wasn't for me for a number of reasons. When you are thinking about quitting though all you can think about is letting people down - family, friends and your supervisor. My supervisor had hand-picked me and persudaded me to do it. So i felt a real debt to him and it was hard telling him, felt like I had very personally let him down. I was worried it would reflect badly on him.....the truth is that it did reflect badly on him for a few seconds when people first heard. After that though he is a first class academic who has and is helping others through their PhD. He will have been dissapointed but he will have gone home to his wife and children and not giving it another thought the very next day. Most importantly of all I know that if I saw my supervisor now at a Conference etc. he would be genuinley interested in how I am getting on and would happily provide an academic reference if requested. I think this would be the case in 99% of instances.

Quitting was very hard but I am now doing a PGCE and enjoying it immensely. The only person you have to justify it to is yourself. My prediction is there will be a low moment six months down the line when you ask yourself 'why on earth did I quit?'. But when you find your real vocation and your real passion you will only ever look forward. Good luck.


======= Date Modified 04 Nov 2011 09:34:53 =======
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Removed by admin - SPAM.


hi people

just a quick update - i had the talk with my supervisor - and no it wasnt as scary as i had built it up to be :D

he said he would support me if i did a phd or an mphil - and i chose to change over to the mphil, which i will aim to finish in feb/march of next year.

so at least ill get something out of 18 months of study :)


That's good, I'm glad it went well. All the very best with it!