work full time, part-time PhD that I don't like - REALLY need advice


I am hoping to get some advice here, I'm at a loss. I've been working full time as a mechanical engineer in a satisfying job for two years. I began a PhD prior to getting this job, this was right after my Masters. Continuing my Masters project into a PhD worked out with me and my supervisor.

I've been at the PhD for 4 years, all my course work is done. Problem is, I liked this topic enough for a Masters, I like it 10x less after 4 years. The PhD is still engineering-based, but unrelated to my day job. I haven't produced a single research paper, although I am close to finishing one (programming is left). In the two years since I started my job, there were several personal circumstances (totaling 6 months) where I couldn't do any PhD work at all. By now, my Candidacy exam should be completed, but I haven't gotten around to it and it should be done by spring 2014. For that I should also get a research proposal done and then prepare for a written and oral exam and then finish in 2-3 more years. My research proposal should be a derivative of that unfinished research paper. My supervisor is fine with all of the above, including my full time job. These are good circumstances, but despising your topic doesn't help. I only like the mathematical model I got to develop, but have zero desire to read anything on the topic itself. I cried twice in the past two weeks and I'm debating whether this is worth it. I don't know what to finish - the research paper, or to go through the candidacy exam. From similar posts, I see that they are able to continue because like their topics enough to read about them in their free time. I'm tired and miserable, lack of prospects for pursuing other interests or a better personal life is sad.

Thank you for reading, it's a long post.



I don't really have the answer for you, only to let you know that you are not alone.

I think its difficult studying part-time. You have other pressures and demands on your time, and its lonely. No one to moan about your supervisors to, discuss things when they go wrong, share the success of 'yes, I finished a section or a piece of data collection'.

I am doing a part-time PhD and full-time work. I haven't written a great deal, or published anything yet, and its like this mountain in front of me. It wouldn't seem so bad if I had 5 days a week to spend on it, but I'm thinking, where am I going to find the time to complete. I have one year left and so it seems such a shame to give up now, but also impossible to continue. Like you, I do not have a great deal of enthusiasm for my subject. And there seem to be all these unpolished corners where with hindsight I would have done things differently. Having said that, all my data is collected so all I really need to do is write it up.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone else in the same boat - coping mechanisms etc. I'm literally about to give up, but got a funny feeling I will regret it. I think for me at least, I need to look at things in bite-size chunks and find some kind of network who understand roughly what I'm going through to share it with and get through to the end? I also think my supervisors expect me to give up, which kind of makes me want to complete to prove them wrong, as they haven't exactly been supportive.

If you haven't read it, you could also look at (google>) the thesis whisperer - who talks about a phase everyone goes through in their research called 'the valley of shit'.


Ok, so trying to be more helpful than in my last post...

I found a good thread you might find it helpful to read... - I'm not saying you should quit, but its nice to hear a balanced viewpoint. Everyone I ask for advice always says 'of course you should stick it out' and 'you'll regret it if you don't'. Often, they have no experience of what it involves. At least, not part-time. So its nice to hear some advice from the other side so you feel you can make a balanced decision at least. I find the posts underneath from people in the same boat the most encouraging. 'Whizzcats' right at the bottom is pretty good.

Whatever you do, good luck. And make your own decision that's right for you.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

A full time job with a part time PhD will mean you have very little time to yourself. I do not envy your position.

Can you obtain a suspension of say six months to take time out from your PhD? I'd suggest you use such a period to consider if you actually want to continue with your PhD. I note you are some way off finishing and seem to have taken four years just to reach what I see as the mid-point stage.

Possible options include:

1) Gaining a sabbatical from your job to have a real go at your PhD. However, time for your sabbatical may be limited.

2) If you gave up your job, could you obtain a bursary or sponsorship to financially sustain yourself.

3) Settling for an MPhil or MRes and writing up for that. However, you already have a Masters.

4) Consider giving up the PhD and getting your life back. However, you may find yourself wondering "What if?".

I cannot give you a definitive answer as to what you should do. You know your situation and how you feel. However, I sense you consider the current situation as unsustainable.

Have you talked to student counseling or a friendly colleague?

I'll finish by saying you need a life outside work and with the workload you currently have, you may find your health may suffer if you continue with the workload (full time job plus part time PhD) you have.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


Collie11 - a huge THANK YOU. That website and the link and the thread from Whizzcat are ideal, just what I needed to read. The Valley of Shit was good too.Gosh, had no idea that website existed, then again I didn't look till I got truly miserable, with tears and all. I admit, quitting has been on my mind for the past little while - being in the pits and anxious sucks. I still have to do more thinking but it's better knowing others have gone through this and that quitting is not the end of the world. With no friends or colleagues in a similar situation, it can be awfully lonely with such a problem. My close friends and family have luckily put no pressure to stay in or quit the PhD since I got like this. Maybe things would be different if the PhD directly related to my job, but my supervisor's area of expertise is quite different. Again, incredibly grateful for the link and for sharing your experience:)

I wish I could give you some good advice, but clearly, I'm not the best person for that. Having data collected does feel like miles ahead of where I am, but only you know best where you stand. Shame about unsupportive supervisors, they should appreciate the effort you are making, but I'd say don't let that be a deciding factor unless they're truly impossible. Really wish I had a brilliant link for you too. If I come across one, I'll remember to send it your way. What Mackem_Beefy suggested sounds good - seeing an academic counselor or a trusted colleague, possibly a colleague who has gone through this/has a similar career?. Since you're a student, counseling should be a free service. They can be very good for helping with coping, bringing things into perspective etc. Back in undergrad, a friend of mine got through a tough time with a counselor. Guess it can't hurt to try - it's only an hour out of the day. Wishing you all the best:)


Ian (sorry, only noticed your first name now) - thank you very kindly for taking the time to breakdown the options down the way you did. Reason and logic should prevail, they're just so hard to find when upset. I haven't ruled out quitting/taking a break from the PhD.

You assessed correctly - I'm at the mid-point time-wise, but not truly at the mid-point progress wise, sigh.

Going through these options at least I realized that I wouldn't want time away from work to work on the PhD. I'd have to love or at least like my PhD for that. Your suggestions to try a counselor or trusted colleague I am starting to consider, like I mentioned above to Collie11. Some changes have to happen, because things cannot remain for me as they are now, not in the long run, for health reasons and just for being able to have some fun in life. Thank you again.



I did mine part time while working full time. From my experience;

You need time at work to spend on it. This could be by reducing hours fitting it in, getting your company to support it. Do what you've got to do.

If you take a break, don't stop . Use the time as more time on it! Seriously.

It will get easier as you get your chapters down. You may hate every min. Bit engineers really respect doctorates so worth the pain.

Oh yeah, if you don't already; start exercise. Healthy body healthy mind.


All the guys here posted some fantastic suggestions but in ur case u say that u don't like the subject/field. This is an issue- from my experience anyone who doesn't like their PhD topic is unlikely to do well. First look at what it is that you don't like about your topic, and then see if you can pursue perhaps a different angle/ add something to make more interesting (a comparative study or another experiment etc...) Sorry I work in the social sciences so can't really help when it comes to mech engineering.

Know that you're not alone like ppl said and Mackem_Beefy gave you some great possibilities. I think before deciding on an option, however, try to recapture interest in your topic as that is key.


Ok sounds good- then slightly alter the focus of your PhD to accommodate for elements/topics in civil engineering. As I said I'm no expert so can't help much but sounds like you can perhaps do one or two chapters that link civil engineering advances/latest issues that interest you with the wider topic you're investigating. Of course you need to inform your supervisor but if it's what you want to do I doubt he/she will give you any trouble. In my case, I only did a minor change to my topic to make it more interesting given the geopolitical situation in the world today, and my sup agreed.


Thank you so much for your advice everyone - really appreciate it. Got some thinking to do and appt. with academic counselor has been made. Your feedback helped realize the options available.