Unsure about progression



I'm currently in employment working as a chemist (production, over a year now) and have been going through quite a period of frustration. I graduated from university after a masters in chemistry (1st) with a year spent in industry abroad specialising in organic synthesis. Initially, i began a PhD within the same institution (in the UK) within organic chemistry but left as I was facing personal problems at the time, combined with a horrible sense of burnout, i took a break before entering employment.

Now, I am at a loss, I have passion for my subject still and have tried to deal constructively with some of the issues I faced, largely centred around my own confidence and belief in my ability, as well as other parts of my life that I was frustrated by at the end of my undergraduate course (I did seek counselling before and after leaving university altogether). My current job doesn't provide any room to learn at the level I feel I want to, yet I am terrified at the prospect of going back to do a PhD within a university. I understand many students go through periods (however long) where they feel awful about themselves/how things might be going.

I have looked to see if there are opportunities for such a PhD within an industrial setting with some ties to a university but they seem to be few and far between. I have tried to look at other jobs that might further my development, have had some success in getting interviews but no offers, especially given the current climate and situation we all face.

Ultimately, I do not know what is best for me, I feel I want to continuing learning and growing, and am trying to bring in satisfaction into other areas of my life that might help. Yet sometimes it feels like i let fear dominate my decision-making.

I appreciate this may read as a bit rant-ish and I do not want to offend anyone who may have been searching endlessly for a position only to read about someone who gave one up on what may seem to be sketchy details. If anyone has any kind of advice they feel they could offer i would be very grateful, and I hope that everyone is staying safe during these difficult times.

Thank-you very much.


Hello. I'm sorry you've had a tough time. I think I'd take a bit of time to work on yourself before applying again. Maybe counselling would help, or CBT to overcome those feelings you have. Obviously you already know that a PhD is a breeding ground for destroying your confidence and self belief, so it might be worth investing your energy in building a solid sense of self before applying to do a PhD again. One small, but strangely effective, thing I do is I look at myself int he mirror every night and I give myself 5 compliments. Some days it's simply 'you actually got out of bed and you managed to smile at yourself' others it's 'you absolutely smashed that recruitment expectation' but both are just as effective


Hi Dave,

It's clear that you want an environment where you can progress intellectually.
Firstly, I would stop caring what other people might think about you being lucky to have a job right now. Their opinions are irrelevant and changing how you think about this might be a good first step for you. You need a clear head to consider your options.

You have a few options. Either find a new job allowing progression (but your lack of a PhD might be an issue) or get an industrial PhD (difficult to find but they are definitely out there). There is a name for these types of PhD. Someone else might be able to remember. The other option is the PhD but the issue with any PhD is whether you can get the type of work you want afterwards. Another option is to take a PhD with the aim of starting your own company afterwards. This is a much overlooked avenue but might be worth a thought.

I would urge you to get your mental health sorted before you start a PhD.


I would advise you against starting a science PhD during the current academic year. Lab access is very problematic currently and the situation could worsen again. I have links with a US university and its interesting hearing of the situation there, of the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases after the fall semester commenced and now plans to have remote teaching only after thanksgiving, they currently have a blend of in person and remote teaching. Given your past experience another difficult start to a PhD could be detrimental to ever completing one. Most importantly you will need to find an understanding and supportive supervisor if you decide to start another PhD. You will have more support and be less isolated if you find a PhD that is part of a training school/ Centre for Doctoral Training, sometimes these PhDs will have a requirement for industry input whereby some funding comes from industry and you have an industrial co-supervisor. Industry-based PhDs are few and far between as you have found.
You have job security currently, that is a good situation to be in. You can take time to think about what you want and find a good opportunity for you. It may help to assess your current skills, think about what you want from a career. Some career coaching may be helpful.