Finishing PhD Early?


Dear all, I am in desperate need of advice on my rights here.

I am currently 3 years into a 3.5 year funded chemistry PhD (most PhDs in the department are funded for 3 years). I have two papers, with a third in the pipeline, and have been told by my supervisor I have more than enough results for my PhD. I am writing my thesis in my own time (I am not allowed to do this in work time), and will be ready to submit in a few months' time.

The problem - I am suffering from severe depression (as well as various other things) and feel I cannot continue with my studies anymore. I no longer enjoy them and it is making me more miserable than I already am. I am applying for other jobs outside of academia.

My supervisor is aware of my issues; but is not supportive in any way. He doesn't understand why I am even considering writing my thesis when I have 6 months left on my PhD. I am so desperate to leave I can't tell you just how much. I have lots of interviews lined up and as soon as I get an offer for a job I want I really want to snap it up.

So what are my rights? Can I terminate my studies (and funding) before my 3.5 years of funding is up, and still be able to submit my thesis and get a PhD? I have a meeting with the postgraduate adviser this week to discuss this but I want to hear all your opinions as I am very worried about this.

Thank you



I think it depends on the terms of your funding. For example, if they have contracted you for 3.5 years to work on a specific project then yes they might be able to hold you to that time. It's not clear if the work you were doing was your own or a group/lab project? It's a bit confusing because you say it's a funded PhD but you have to write up in your own time, is that right? So is your Supervisor of the impression you shouldn't write up until after the 3.5 year period in the lab? I think your supervisor might actually have your back on this, I suspect the think you leaving now an going for a job would actually give you less time to write the thesis than you have now. If you are very depressed and other issues the change might be going from the frying pan into the fire. The meeting you have lined up is good news as they should be able to tell you where you stand. Have you thought about going to the uni counselling service?


Can you take a leave of absence from your PhD? I took 9 months off from mine, while I continued to work teaching at the University, because I was too ill to do my research. I came back better and stronger, having gone from "i've got nothing, my work is awful, everything I do is awful" to writing up now (in my own time, outside of my full time academic post) and will be submitting by Christmas.

I needed that break to spend some time and energy getting well. But also, to reach the point where I just knew that finishing was a necessity to get me to a place where I can do the job that I love.

Might this be an option for you?


First of all, very well done! If you can submit early, you are certainly doing exceptionally well!

Your university should have a policy about submitting early. My university allows us to submit three months early (but I don't know anyone who has)

This is what I would do if you can't submit early:

Finish your thesis. Complete it. Print it out. Finished.

The wait your few months out or if you can go away, go for a holiday. Or go and do some casual work abroad.

Come back and submit it on the earliest day you can.


Chococake's advice is excellent. It is always good to go back to a piece of work after some time ('drawer time').

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

"Chemistuk", the above from "Chococake" is good advice.

I see no reason why you would not be able to submit early and all Universities will have provision for this.

If you really feel you can;t stand being there any longer, ask if you can work from home, go on the sick or apply for a suspension, possibly writing up whilst on suspension when you are ready to face it. This will at least mean you are away from the University if they insist on your presence during write-up. I say this assuming you are on write-up phase and are finished all experimental work?

I'll add the write-up phase is normally a point that saps motivation and we've all been there wishing it was over with. That said, however you choose to get this stage over with I suggest the sooner you are able to (possibly with a holiday before you go back to it), the better for your health.

I note your rush is to find yourself in paid employment as soon as possible, even with some bursary money yet to be paid to you. Do you feel you should be earning and in work or is there some form of unintentional pressure pushing you in this direction (i.e. friends, family, peers who are already in work)?

If you've some of your bursary still to be paid, I'd take advantage of that.

I remember my mother was concerned about me leaving paid employment, however, as the company I left to do a PhD closed down 18 months later that well meant hope for her was dashed. Any idea of her son being in a safe job with a financial security and decent pension also disappeared with that.