Third year in, contemplating the idea of quitting


Hi guys,

This is probably one of the million posts of people whining about their phd mid way in. However, I’m mentally in a really bad shape and any advice will be welcome.

My background is epidemiology and I have been given a topic to work on that I think is uninteresting to me (at lease compared to what other students are working on). I tried hard to get some work done anyway and felt fine for the past 2 years, and I even managed to get a manuscript submitted. However, this is where I think the nightmare started, the manuscript has been rejected couple of times, and the reviewers were always trashing this new thing I propose in the manuscript, and the worst thing is this new thing was my supervisor’s idea and I can’t help but agree with what they say. Lately I keep thinking how my phd has probably been a pile of garbage and I won’t pass the oral defence. At this point I don’t know how I can cope with this massive negativity and I have been googling why other people quit their phd.

I understand that this is my phd and I should just get on with it and stop whining. But I feel like I am on the verge of snapping and I don’t know how to talk to my loved ones about this. I was wondering if anyone has experienced similar things or am I just being a drama queen? Thanks!


Hi Iichan

Your post resonated with me so I thought I would chime in. I was also in my 3rd year when I almost quit. I was told by an experienced academic that my data collection method was wrong and my research question was wrong too. The scary thing was was that I agreed. It just felt 'wrong' and I ended up crying in my supervisors office and having a not-insignificant mental breakdown.

I eventually got back to it and restarted the whole analysis stage. It turns out my research question was good and so was my data collection, but it was my analysis that was shot. I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. And this sounds like your situation as well.

What I found helpful was to stand back from my thesis and look at it objectivity. What was the data telling me compared to the story I was trying to tell? Essentially, a PhD is a story, and it sounds like you're telling someone else's story (i.e., your supervisors).

If I were you I would sit down with my supervisor and ask him/her to justify, with evidence, why they think this 'idea' is the correct path for you. I would then do the same with your reviewers, possibly even getting everyone into the same room. Listen to what they have to say and make a decision based on what you 'feel' is the write choice. Then go for it.

Good luck, keep me updated.


Your story resonated with me too. I was the same for a while (nearing a mental breakdown) I had an absolutely horrendous viva where the external examiner disagreed with my theory, my chosen analysis, my research questions and all of my novel findings. It was hellish. I'm not sure how I managed to get corrections from it but following my viva I took 6 months off to sort my head out, decide if any of it was worth the absolutely crap I have been through to get here and what it was doing to me and my husband.

Long story short, I took 6 months off, went to my GP who was brilliant and I'm now back working on my corrections with a clear head and a clear idea of what needs fixed. It took a while but I couldn't bring myself to quit after all the effort and heartache I've went through to get this far so my only other option was to re-focus.

Someone said to me recently, you are finding it hard because IT IS HARD! That made me alter my perspective slightly, a PhD is not an easy thing to do but you are doing it. Like Marshall said, stand back from your thesis, take a break and try to come back to it like it's not your work. Read it as though you are helping out a friend and offering constructive criticism, we're not as hard on other people as we are on ourselves.

Good Luck!!


Thank you both for the replies, I really really appreciate the advice. I have been thinking about this over the past two days and am planning to speak to my supervisor about this issue. Essentially I think this boils down to my past training has not equipped me to do this project, and I respect that fact that my supervisor thought I could.

To Marshall and Dr_Crabby, I suppose you had found a chance to speak frankly with your supervisors. May I ask how did you initiate the conversation? And what was your supervisors' reaction when you brought up the problem? Thanks!