Thinking about quitting my PhD


Hey everyone. I've read through countless other "quit my phd"-threads but yet I feel like I want to share my own story and ask for advice.

About me: I started a PhD 6 months ago in the field of Machine Learning in Germany in combination with a fully paid job as research assistant in my department.

Within the last three months I started becoming less and less motivated to go to work as I dislike most of the tasks I have to do as a research assistant. Most of it is administration tasks or work on government funded research projects which are not really interesting or sometimes even frustrating (but need to be done, it's the way we get our money). I have the feeling that I waste a lot of time doing "nothing" and I don't get any useful or interesting work done. This takes up about 75% of my time on average. The current specialization area of my research group also becomes less and less interesting to me the more I read into it. Even though it might be possible to go in a more general machine learning direction.

I pretty much already concluded they I don't want to stay in academia if I were to finish the degree. But this brings another (maybe irational?) fear to me that I might have a hard time finding an industry job since I won't necessarily learn any practical skills during the time as a researcher. For some reason, this is a very persistent thought that keeps floating in my head. I'm not sure if I want to become a "Data Scientist" in the end - which seems to be a common career step for ML PhD students. That's why I currently look into do practical-oriented online courses in my freetime even though they won't replace proper work experience.



Even though there's a lot I dislike about my current situation and it's preventing me from sleeping at night, the things that I really like are reading papers, thinking of new ways to solve a problem and discussing them with my peers. This freedom to try out new things is probably something I won't find (easily) in industry. And I'm not sure if I can do it as a "hobby" besides a full-time job.

Then again right now I completely lack direction or even a real project/topic and I'm also unhappy about the "pressure to publish" which (from what I've seen) results in some "quick" papers that still somehow get accepted in conferences. While I get that it's unlikely that I might do something ground-breaking in my PhD it's still frustrating. This is also a huge factor that drains my motivation.

Currently I'm debating with myself whether I should just apply for an industry job. A few weeks ago I was actually quite sure that I want to quit but I have the fear that I might regret that decision afterwards or maybe in a few years.

My current "plan" is to apply for a job and when I have an actual offer try to discuss it with my supervisor although I highly doubt the situation will change. I'm just feeling a little bit lost overall.



Finally approved - any thoughts?

I talked to a PostDoc today (that is sort of second in hierachy to the professor) about my unhappiness regarding the tasks as a research assistant but there's essentially nothing I can do about it.


You are not interested in what you do and do not want to stay in academia. You are right. You should probably go get a job in industry. It is easier to get an industry job without a Phd, otherwise you may be deemed under experienced but overqualified. Get a job then inform your supervisor and quit. Tell no one beforehand. You don't want to be fired from your Phd and RA role before getting a paid position

Avatar for rewt

I agree with tru, don't quit the PhD until you have a job lined up. In the meantime you can treat your PhD as strictly a job with regular hours. I think you should only do a PhD if you enjoy the topic/project, as motivation becomes a problem otherwise, like you describe. Treating the PhD as job and developing your life outside of uni will give you some much needed freedom and potentially relive you of burnout (if you have it). I see too many people be consumed by their PhD project to the point that it is their life, which is not healthy. Detaching yourself from your PhD slightly, might make you more motivated, if that makes sense.


Hi, what did you decide in the end? could you do a swot analysis of your choices and take it from there...?


let us look from the perspective from someone who left academia to industry. As you already said, pros for quitting are obvious. In particular, you you do not like the project and research direction. I would like to add two important things: If you are not motivated the PhD years may pass and you might not learn a lot to qualify for a job. The second thing, you may find after the fund is over that you won't get even the PhD degree. This is a possibility especially when you are hired as RA and the PhD is not the priority of the supervisor.
Now let us be fair to academia. You know already that you have more freedom. You may have more innovative and interesting tasks than industry. You are driven by funds in academia but to a mire extreme way by projects and customer demands in industry. You have more flexibility in tasks and time in academia.
I do not agree to a general rule that people who do not intend to work in academia should not pursue a PhD. Industry is there and would not go away if you spend a couple of years in academia. What can be really hurting is spending these years in academia demotivated and not learning anything. Academia is a paradox. You have to treat academia carefully. Do not just go and hang around like many guys do and do not kill yourself working 12 hours a day like some guys also. If you have the right motivation and willing to spend 3-4 years working in academia, I would say do not quit. Otherwise, like you and tru, rewt said, quitting would be the best choice (after ginding a job of course).


Might I add as a doctorate myself, complete what you started with your best outcome, then move on. It is never easy though. Start by looking into the actual reasons as to why you want to quite, work them out and then make your final decision. But if I were you, dont quite. Not many, at least not here in SA, have these opportunities. All the best.