“I hate my PhD…”

When I was first offered a place on a PhD program, it felt great.

Just being accepted to study for a PhD felt like a success, like some kind of validation that I was good enough to do it. What I didn’t realise was that it is much, much easier to get onto a PhD program than to complete one.

It was tough, and there were times when I felt like the whole thing was pointless… that I would fail and there was nothing I could do about it. There were times when I hated my PhD, and there were times when I just wanted to quit.

I hate my PhD

This is a common feeling, but what makes it worse is that it is easy to end up trapped by your PhD.

If you have a job you hate, then you look for another one. There is no stigma attached to quitting a job, and it is the obvious thing to do if you are truly unhappy.

But with a PhD, even if you hate every day and wake up dreading going to the lab or library, it is very hard to leave.

Why it is so difficult to leave a PhD

Unlike a job, a PhD has a defined aim which you either achieve or you don’t; to graduate. So leaving can feel like failure, because you haven’t achieved what you set out to do.

How, then, do you explain to a potential employer that 5 year gap on your CV? How do you explain to your family and friends? How will you feel years from now when you look back on that incomplete goal?

As long as you stay, there is still maybe some hope… perhaps if you work harder or longer hours then things will change…. But they never do, because if you are unhappy and lacking confidence, it is impossible to fully apply yourself and work to the best of your ability.

So people stay, month after month, year after year; unable to make progress, too scared to leave.

What can you do?

You have 3 options

  1. Just carry on and hope for the best
  2. Quit
  3. Make fundamnetal changes to the way you work

Of these, the first option is by far the worst. If you are unhappy, stressed or depressed, then it is a signal that something needs to change. It is easier to stay in the relative safety of the familiar (no matter how unpleasant) than to walk away and into the unknown, but this is just a way of avoiding responsibility for your own happiness and wellbeing.

If you quit, you are at least making your own decision and taking back control of your own life. Although scary, it can open up an entire world of possibilities… By letting go of the PhD, you can create the space in your life to do whatever you want to. You could;

  • Fly to Iceland and look at volcanoes
  • Learn to dance
  • Write a novel
  • Run an ultramarathon
  • Start a business and change the world

Life is what you make of it. The only limitations are the ones you place on yourself, and a PhD is not the only challenge out there.

Making changes to the way you work

It is possible to turn things around, but you need to not only change the way you work, but also the way you think about the work.

Being more organised and working harder are not solutions in themselves. Any burst of willpower or new time-management technique will work for a few days, but lasting change can only come from a fundamental change in your mindset.

For me, the change happened when I relaxed, and stopped worrying about the end result, and just focused on doing things carefully. I told myself, “I don’t care if this works or not, but I’m going to do it to the best of my ability anyway”.

I couldn’t control the end result, because I was doing experiments which only worked maybe 5% of the time. But I could control the care and attention I gave to whatever task I took on.

Pass or fail, trust in your ability to cope

There was a real possibility I would fail my PhD, but I told myself that if I did fail, I would be OK. It would not be the worst thing that would happen in my life, and although it wouldn’t be nice, I would cope.

I would find a job somehow. I didn’t know how, and I had no plan, but I trusted in my own ability to cope with whatever happened.

True confidence is not having certainty over exactly how things will work out, because that is impossible. True confidence, whether you quit your PhD or continue, comes from not knowing how things will work out, but doing it anyway.


46 thoughts on ““I hate my PhD…””

  1. ::sigh of relief:: This forum made me laugh. I needed a laugh. I am a first year PhD student and I feel as though I am losing myself. I accepted the only offer I got, I moved myself and my two children. I was familiar with the University that accepted me they are an accredited, non-profit, respectable institution. Well, the one college that accepted me was the one college I did not check to see if they were APA accredited… they are not. I cringe at the thought of my mentor finding out I am in a program that is not APA accredited. Although they are trying to do so.
    The program director is leaving after not even a year before that there was no program director for quite some time. The classes for the program are night classes literally 430-7pm and 715-1015pm four days a week. I don’t know if any of you can relate but that is very difficult for any parent especially a single parent. I am accomplishing the work although my disdain for research is ever present. I keep telling myself I’ll get used to it, it’ll get better, the faculty is ever making changes literally, maybe things will begin to change for the better…
    Getting used to being miserable, and stressed, for a person that enjoys happiness and joy, this notion is rather shitty. I thought to myself, just suck up the first year or two build your CV and transfer to a better program. I just want to open a counseling center and offer therapy to families, and individuals, maybe even teach a class or two at a University.

    • So I guess you need the PhD in order to open the counseling center? If the course is not accredited it seems like a big risk… What your mentor thinks is irrelevant- if you have a PhD from a non-accredited college, will you be able to open the center you want? If not then it’s a waste of time, especially since you’re not enjoying it. I would try to transfer elsewhere now, not wait to build your CV on a sub-standard course.

      • Aubrey,

        I haven’t had your exact same experience, but something fairly similar. I’m also in a psychology PhD program and I’ve found it to be utterly miserable at times. For what it’s worth, I agree with you that the structure of these clinical and counseling programs with classes all night and practicum/externship all day is really not set up for people with lives outside of their program. There is one other individual in my cohort who is a parent and she has decided to take an extra year simply because she cannot reasonably meet the full load of her academic requirements and care for her child at the same time. If that’s the most misery-making aspect of your experience, I’m not sure that transferring would make much difference in your experience – it seems this is sort of the nature of the beast. Aside from that, I think your concern about the APA accreditation piece is something to consider. I know a number of internship sites only accepts folks coming from accredited programs and you may bump into more hurdles when it comes to licensure as you’ll have to demonstrate your training met certain minimum standards in order to get licensed. That said, post-internship and licensure, if you’re just wanting to open a private practice, there is no need to come from an APA accredited program. Another thought – if private practice is your goal and you’re finding the structure of the clinical/counseling PhD programs to be too burdensome as a parent (which would be understandable), would you consider stopping after you acquire your master’s degree and get licensed at that level? There are plenty of very successful master’s level folks, especially those who develop a speciality, who maintain private practice and do pretty well for themselves.

  2. Glad to know I’m not the only one who has had a nervous breakdown as a result of this process. I’m doing my comprehensive exams right now and I’m afraid I will never finish them. I’ve read and wrote too much and it’s so hard to synthesize everything. But after suffering from a breakdown that left me unproductive for weeks, I know it’s not worth it to get that stressed. Trying to move forward everyday.

  3. I don’t find the actual PhD work that difficult, but the sheer dysfunction of my entire department has left me with a depression.

  4. It is such a relief to read all of these posts. My PhD program has almost exclusively been an endurance test. I am in an apathetic and highly dysfunctional department, within an even more dysfunctional system. Every time I think I’m out of the woods, I get slammed again by something unexpected. I feel like I’ve developed PTSD symptoms there. Outside of the department, I generally feel productive and appreciated, but within the department I feel like I’m under a microscope for no clear reason other than it seems I’m one of the only people around that actually cares to do something meaningful, and in that effort, I’m alone and different. Every aspect of me that is praised outside of this department seems to be criticized and elicit blame in my department. I am the pariah of my program. Faculty don’t want to be near me and make it clear. It’s messing with my head. Now I’m literally a month away from defending dissertation and being out of this place and I get another unpleasant surprise – a minor misunderstanding really that’s being framed as something much greater. I could go to the trouble of clearing it up and probably ultimately clear my name of blame, but I don’t have the energy to fight it. All I want is to quietly leave. I don’t even want to walk at graduation. Just let me go. In the long run all of the stuff that most recently came up might not even matter, but I’ve become so desperate to get out of there and so paranoid of things going wrong and keeping me from escaping that it’s hard to let it go.

    • Sorry to hear that! With a month left at least you are close to the finish line and will be able to move on. Best of luck!

        • I’m sorry to hear that, but really, congratulations Ellen! whatever happened before, you’ve almost finished it!!! that is the best way to see it. honestly, I’m a bit jealous of you, since I am far far away from graduating and in the midway, I am reading these self.help articles on quitting Ph.D. sometimes I just get depressed, that everything, everyone in the lab and every have-to-do presentations annoy me, and I feel useless and without any skill that can be used outside of school if I go out there…i dunno, maybe I don’t have enough to make a good researcher lol

    • PhD student here in her third year. Like most of the commenters, I also find myself completely burned out by the PhD ordeal. I just wanted to say that the “PTSD” bit really resonated with me. It’s exactly how I would describe my situation. I don’t even feel like myself anymore. It’s completely jarring how emotionally/psychologically affecting (and not in a good way) the PhD experience can be. I was fully expecting it to be tough, but not…impossible.

      I’m just hoping that I can get through it and somehow reclaim some semblance of emotional/psychological normalcy after (if?) I finish.

  5. Hi everyone,

    After one year of PhD coursework, I decided that research does not interest me…so I was fortunate enough to figure it out during a research methods class. I spoke with my academic adviser and switched to a Post-Master’s Certificate program instead where I will be talking concentration/specialization courses without the qualitative/quantitative/research design classes/dissertation of PhD programs. While it was a tough decision to make, I had to be honest with myself and feel relieved now. The good news is that if I ever decide to switch back to the PhD program, I can do so…so, it’s a win-win situation for me. Good luck everyone!

  6. Thanks for the post.

    I want to ask for a more early stage question.

    Right now I am waiting on the final decision on a PhD studentship, which I have a high chance of getting it after two interviews. The subject of reserach is related to my study, but not as relavent as I see it. The other position, which I passed the first round selection and am waiting for an interview, but the subject is highly relavent and applicable with my Master degree, and the subject is something I really like.

    So my question is: Assuming I get the offer by the 1st program, would it be possible to work for a short time, then quit and join the second program? I know there are a lot of assumptions here that I need to get offer for both programs, but I am just unsure if a PhD studentship can be like a job, where you can quit and get into another. Would “position-hopping” be a good thing to do at all for PhD position?

    Thank you.

  7. I personally hate my phd because it became something that I don’t enjoy. I’m a material engineer in solar energy field, 3rd year on phd (I’m allowed max. 4 years.. German system..) and not a single publication of some sort. Common phd projects in our department involve getting a high performance material from chemistry department, trying them in solar devices, if it works, it is pure luck, you write papers like crazy, if it doesn’t work you try to optimize the processing parameters but at the end you still write papers like crazy. There is not much of a scientific research in such projects therefore I got myself a project with a bit more scientific content in it. At the end, scientific part was too much. The project started slow since measurement devices were not there yet. My prof said, we could buy them, project has money. Perfect, I thought. While I was searching for devices with best offers, my prof saw a publication with a custom made device, combining 2 measurements methods. He came and said: I want that for your project. But not just 2 measurements, 3 measurement methods (including one more method which is very rare and hard.) I, out of reflex, said: ‘ Sorry, I’m just a material engineer. If I need to build up a mechanical device with 3 measurements on it and develop the methods themselves also, this will take forever. I’m neither a mechanical engineer, nor an optics expert’.. He replied: ‘ Argh, noooo. We have this guy, he has a bit of optics knowledge.. And for mechanical parts, you can go to mechanical workshop and get help there. This will be finished in 6 months.Besides your project is about measuring with the device, not developing it’… I was too naive to believe that. The device finished physically in 1.5 years. For this part, I had to learn EVERYTHING from the scratch (Never put a screw in a wall before and no knowledge on optics whatsoever.). Since then, I’m trying to, literally, develop measurement methods. Since they are rare and very complicated measurement methods, not much information can be found in anywhere. Therefore, I have to come up with ALL THE THEORY behind. I have to understand the data and process it. Can I? No.. Who said I can? As I said, I’m just a material engineer! Can anyone help me? No.. My prof has NO CLUE.. My supervisor (who is a post-doc) has no single idea either. However, they are very effective on pressuring me that I have to publish 3 papers before I can write my thesis (As I said, I’m in my 3rd year.. generally people in our department in their 3rd year have at least 2 first author papers) and those papers cannot be about the methods themselves. Perfect… Then can anyone tell me what the hell am I doing?! No results, nothing.. I hate the job..I should quit, I thought. I was serious about it. I mean, who cares, it is not more important than my health. It’s not my thing. I’m still (over)qualified for many jobs on the market. I’m also a hardworker. I can find anything I want with a right amount of confidence. My mistake was: I asked everybody, friends, family, coworkers.. including my sister who is a dr. herself. Everyone said the same thing: ‘ You started it.. You have to finish it.. You are not a quitter!!!’.. Yeah but I don’t like it. I like to play with materials, not developing measurement methods. Nope.. No chance.. if you quit it, you are a quitter. Instead you are a fighter.. Fight it.. Ok, I thought, I give up, I’m stuck with it. What can I do to make it better? Because I’m extremely depressive, ineffective. I have to change my way of work. See it differently.. Don’t think about the future. Just focus on a daily basis. Get the work done. Whatever the outcome is. If you fail at the end, you did everything you can. I started to see the things like this. I must say, it is extremely hard. Especially when you are in an environment where just testing a material, you’ve got from another department, in a solar device and publishing 5 papers on it is considered a very innovative, successful scientific research and awarded with smiles and congrats, while on the contrary, you are stuck in a project like this and everyone pities you. I became like an example of tragedy when a coworker complains about his/her project and the other tries to comfort him/her: ‘Be thankful that your project is better than Mai’s..’. To be honest, I lost my confidence long before and never felt this alone in my life. At the end, I’m still trying to set my mind, although I spent days and nights with cries..Setting new measures on how you look at the things could be a way however, be prepared, it is not easy.
    cheers from Germany

    • You know, I do understand you perfectly. Unfortunately, every single word from your message can be written about me. Plus, the conflict with labhead, that ends up in taking sedatives just to be able to come to the lab. I wanted to become a scientist since the age of 10, but now I just want to have a job, where I will be respected and happy.
      I just want to tell you, that there is no experience, which is not useful. I guess, we both got a crush course on the way how these things work. This is good, as well as an experience in establishing novel techniques on our own. I am struggling with depression and crying every day before and after lab. But I know, that one day all this horrible experience will serve me. Try to push it, change a project, just finish it by any mean. With whatever impact factor paper. I just want to tell you, that we were not lucky in the project, as many other people. Then the others made a showcase out of us. I don’t care, if they are calling me a looser. I do care that we are learning from the failure much more effectively than from the pure succsess.
      I am sending you greetings from Austria. I am so sorry for your situation and I wish you a fast way out of it. We will make it, you will see.

  8. Thanks so much for this post Dr. James! I am at a very similar point, and I’m going for option 3. Part of me is freaking out about the possibility of failing and leaving with a masters after having lost 3 years, a long term relationship, and who knows what other opportunities to a phd that I decidedly do not hate. In my experience, hating the phd didn’t help at all, it made me less productive, and eventually I realized that I hated failing but not the phd. To be honest I frickin’ love my subject, I’m curious and excited about it, it’s just hard to measure up to the expectations of my distinguished, smart and inspiring advisor who is a brilliant scientist but not the most tactful manager. I’m in a program where all professors seem to be geniuses and as a senior grad student I feel stuck, not being able to ask questions but also not necessarily knowing the answers on my own either.

    Would you mind elaborating a bit about what you meant by you had a real risk of failing your phd? For me it’s a matter of perishing in a publish or perish setting, and I’m just curious what other factors are out there.

    Oh, I also wanted to throw in a few ideas that helped me change my perspective on grad school, for the googlers of “should i quit”. For me what helped the most was recognizing that this was *my* problem, and not something that I cannot control. I needed to become more organized, focused, proactive, not because someone is demanding this from me but because it was essential if I want to finish my PhD. Which then led me to ask myself if I did want to finish, and why. Sure, the title is cool and helps open doors, but it wasn’t convincing me to be more productive. Which is why I’m in this scary phase right now. Eventually I found an answer that worked for me, it is a combination of not wanting to let my mentors down, and genuinely wanting to contribute the mini piece of knowledge I have to the community, worked as way better motivators for me.

    Thanks again for the post, and good luck googlers! No matter how grim things may seem right now, I have a feeling we’re all going to be just fine, with or without those letters.

  9. This was helpful, mainly since I have been ostracized and blamed for two years in my grad program. I’m in my third year and just can’t take it anymore. Out of the three options I’ve done numbers 1 and 3. I was rejected from my original program and my current PI contacted me and persuaded me to join her lab (an area I had no previous background). I joined her lab and accepted the PhD. She’s a complete nut job. Never had a grad student, and a spousal hire, jonsing for tenure. Her lack of skill, neglegence, and undermining has be condoned by the dept. And lame duck dept head. I’ve gained some skills, been told I have no data and don’t work hard enough. I’ve worked 11+ hrs 5 days and have suffered 2 nervous breakdowns. I’ve decided to quit. This abusive toxic environment is no good. The research area is not a good fit nor is the department. I may go back to a PhD one day, but for now I need to heal from 2.5 yrs of abuse.

  10. I found your post while searching for some support on the internet.
    I also hate my phd. I hate it badly because I feel like it started changing me towards a complete human catastrophe.
    I graduated my bachelor and master with first class honors but somewhere deep inside I always thought I am…well, plain stupid and very lucky that people didn’t notice that. It turns out that now, during the phd, everyone tries to precisely demonstrate that. I know that it might sound a bit sick, but I think that the environment in which I work is really not constructive at all.
    I have started the phd with a lot of enthusiasm, hoping to manage to discover new and interesting things but also thinking that I will have time to learn many new things and become professionally better. The topic of my phd was very loose, but I thought that I will get some help to make it concrete. Unfortunately, I realized very soon that I am completely on my own. I defined my topic by myself and also managed to publish some papers about it. BUT: I feel that my topic is complete bullshit. I see skepticism in people’s eyes every time I try to describe what I am doing. It seems that what I want to achieve is either not doable or completely stupid and no one needs it.
    I lost complete confidence both in my topic and in myself. I feel that everything is a waste of time. My colleagues are all very self-confident people. At our whole working group there is a discussion philosophy that involves a lot of criticism. The one that criticizes the most and who talks the loudest and the most is considered the smartest. They have a very arrogant attitude and they like to prove that what the person in front of them is presenting is just plain stupid. They particularly like to prove that they can easily demonstrate that the entire work of someone is just…wrong. Some while ago an external phd candidate presented in front of my group the results he has obtained during his whole phd time. One of my colleagues repeatedly interrupted him, implying that what this guy has done is not useful. He insisted A LOT, smiling ironically or, at time, smirking and gesticulating with his eyebrows. I felt horrible just sitting there…
    I realized that this constant fear of being humiliated and being taken as stupid is destroying me. I started to be afraid to ask understanding questions. I think that everything I say might potentially be enormously stupid. I feel nervous and agitated at the slightest criticism…I feel that everyone tries to prove me stupid or ignorant.
    I don’t know how to continue and I have no idea how to become more productive. I waste more time and energy into thinking about this instead of actually working for my phd 🙁

    • Jenny I am five years into a part-time PhD in theoretical physics and it has been at least a year since I sat face-to-face with my supervisor. When I started my research, I was very keen on publishing so I managed to put out four collaborative papers by the time I was in my third year.
      You say that people tend to roll their eyes when they hear what you are working on? Please consider that to be their ‘problem’ because as long as your papers were good enough to be accepted and published in a reputable journal, not even the examiners on your PhD defense are going to beat you over the head about it just because they themselves don’t understand it. Consider it an opportunity to educate them as the expert you are. Put simply, if some referees in a reputable journal consider your work good enough to be published, then no-one can tell you s£$$.
      As for the usual twats who tend to populate graduate school, I am glad I don’t spend too much time around them. My suggestion is to ignore them because they are only good at criticizing other people’s work and are usually just waiting to drop-out of the program sooner or later anyway.
      As a part-time student, I have had to do everything by myself . My supervisor doesn’t seem to know much about the subject and is prone to dismiss off-hand anything I propose so I tend to ignore and not take him seriously. I depend mainly on the four published papers (two first-name author) which will make up about three or four chapters of my thesis to get me through. Maybe I can get another paper published before I submit for examination depending on how inspired I feel.
      Please remember that the workspace in most grad schools is extremely toxic with a huge dose of negativity in the air. Go out and get some fresh air but never give up – I should know because I’ve been doing the same ‘interesting’ research for five years now!!

  11. It’s great to know that I am not alone. I am in my second year and have lost all motivation for my study. My main supervisor is rather ambitious in that he is supervising me on an approach that is not his area. I have been working on the second aspect of my project for months on his advice. However, I have recently been advised by the committee to drop it for lack of remaining time and poor framing of research goal. I am of course dishearted as I had many discussions previously with him and was just asked to continue on, no other input. Had I known that it was not strong enough, I would have 1) work on the aims 2) dropped it months ago. I asked for another person to be brought in whose background is in the area of my project, but the idea was rejected as I was seen as too reliant on supervision and others and was not taking ownership of my project. I have some data from my work till now, that to me are not answering major questions. I am at cross roads.so as to call it quits or continue but do something remarkably different in my project. It is tough when all interest has gone out the window.

  12. After reading all these posts , I feel less alone yet postgrad research is such an isolating experience anyway! I am currently doing a MA in Linguistics and am finding it extremely stressful. I often wonder where my passion went. I suppose that the expectations, deadlines and constant need to prove oneself within an institution and externally has made me feel enormous pressure. I am working 4 days p week and have taken a 1 year suspension to get my head around the theory and escape meetings etc. Sometimes I just want to do it by myself and ask for advice when required. I think the sustem is flawed and all about outcomes. Supervisors are stressed and so are students. I suggest creating a uni of the people where govt plays no role, funded by philanthropists who care about education and people/students are trusted to work independently but have access to qualified mentors and supervisors when needed. You complete it when you want and you learn at your own pace… For now I will crawl back into my hole and plod along. If I pass this I will think about opening that uni…

  13. I was pretty ambitious when I started my PhD, but sadly my supervisor turned out to be everything but. He (and most of the department) don’t really care much about the quality of the research being done, as long as they have cushy jobs where they do not need to plan or work hard. It is a small university, and noone really cares.

    My advice to any one out there who is wondering if they should do a PhD: check the supervisor’s and department’s track record for papers and former PhD students. Had I interviewed just one of the department’s PhD students I would never have done this.

  14. I found your blog when I was looking around for general PhD feelings. I am starting mine on 1st October and I was wondering how people felt over the three years of study. I have started a blog as a diary of progress, hopefully I won’t hate my PhD but we shall see.

    I already know my supervisor pretty well as she was my final year project supervisor last year, (just graduated with a first class honours degree and going straight into the doctorate), so hopefully that won’t be an issue as she knows how I work and I know when she is joking and when she is not!
    Anyway, the address is [link removed by admin], have a look and see how I get on!

  15. Thanks so much for this post – I came across it after a very specific Google search. I’m entering my 3rd year as a PhD student and beginning to feel that hope is slim for me. However, I am stubborn and cannot stand the sites that are completely negative regarding the decision to pursue graduate studies. Your advice to adjust my behavior, or “make changes to the way you work” is simple, but I have to say it’s some of the best I have seen. I need to get more mentally and physically fit in order to excel this year.

  16. I want to quit my PhD in physics so badly. My problem is not that I do not enjoy research/classes, it all boils down to not being interested in the subject anymore. Somewhere along the path and thanks to the research project I started doing about a year ago, my whole view of what I want to do has changed. I am about 2/3 done with the PhD program and debating whether I should stay or not. Quitting is not a failure or mistake, it takes someone brave and honest to do such thing. I know that if I quit is because what I was doing was not for me, and I do not exist to please people (family, friends and advisors). I exist to live life and be happy, do what I like to do, so I know that I’ll be happy if I quit. If I stay, it would be because I found that my line of research is promising to career paths I want to take. Best of luck to everyone and never ever feel ashamed and stay true to yourselves.

  17. Hello people.

    I hate my PhD so much, I can’t tell anybody. I have enough results, wrote a fair amount of papers, now I just have to write the stuff together into a book. And this is so difficult, because that feels like cleaning the dishes after a good dinner and a couple of glasses wine. I have really problems motivating myself because it is so boring…and I just procrastinate all the time. I already had difficulties writing papers but now facing to write something which 100-200 pages long makes me cringe. Worst thing is I do not even need one, I have my own company….. just this last thing an then it is over… then I have a PhD for whatever reason. One does not have to be especially smart for doing a PhD it probably would even be a hindrance, just pure endurance is required.

  18. I’m second year PhD, getting into the third.. I’m quite behind without any important result in my hand….
    One part of me has always known that I’m not the kind of person made for this job. The other one is too stubborn to accept that. So I had in mind to do a PhD abroad, and I did.
    I applied randomly, without being sure I actually was interested in the project. I took the first PhD project in which I was accepted. I wanted to demonstrate my family and myself that I wasn’t that nobody that they thought I was.

    The reality is that probably I’ld be definitely happier if I worked as a theatre actress (my hidden dream since ever, (but that would bring my father to suicide)).
    …. Yeah, Maybe without money, without future but just doing what I really love.
    Or (utopia aside) just a normal random job, earning that amount of money I’ld need to do things that I like in the free time.

    But I’m almost 27 now. Too old to make a change. Too old to do another school, or take another degree or whatever.
    I’m literally doing the first of the three options that you suggested. And it is so frustrating…. Instead of getting better it gets worse and worse.
    …And as you said, I feel trapped!!! I cannot leave it without leaving a gap in my CV and my conscience.
    Time flies and I just feel so miserable. I’m wasting my life and my happiness, and most of all I’m filling a position that someone else would love to have….

    It’s such a shit feeling.

    • I completely understand how you feel. The shit feeling and all, feeling like you are trapped. Its almost like the world is carrying on around you, and you feel like you are in a bubble and just want to scream for help but cant. The worst thing is that some people dont understand, so you just dont talk about it. If you do, it seems like you are ungrateful (especially when you have funding like me and a supportive family to boot), lazy or just useless. But its hard to find motivation when deep down its hard to admit that you (me), just really dont wanna do it, feel like you just cant be bothered. But we know this kind of feeling is frowned upon, sometimes i catch myself saying ‘how dare you think that you ungrateful shit, lol’….but honestly, prison is an understatement.

      • I appreciate having come across this blog. I have reached an impasse in my Ed.D. Program (yes, Ed.D.). I have been a doctoral candidate for three years working in a very toxic environment with a generally incompetent committee who has misguided me every step of the way.

        The faculty turnover in my program is unbelievable. As well, the doctoral handbook has been changed seven times for our cohort.

        After reaching the end of the coursework, the new director, a real piece of work, required us to take an additional pre-dissertation seminar course. Three years and an extra class later, we still exit the course with no topic or clear guidelines.

        Fortunately I found a viable topic, but then was not even allowed to choose my own committee. The director decided he would sit on every dissertation committee and then made himself our academic advisor as well.

        Everything is done through a dissertation course space in Blackboard, and you can not e-mail faculty members to ask questions privately, as they can no longer respond without including the director in each correspondence. He micromanages everything.

        Get frustrated? Be warned about your tone and threatened to be removed from the program. Get conflicting feedback? Make the changes and then change it back time and again.

        No content expert on the committee? No worries, the director, now your co-chair, knows everything anyway.

        Two years you work to finally get the prospectus, proposal, and IRB approved. Gather your data, then it is not good enough. Start again…

        The academic hazing, incompetence, intellectual bullying, arrogance, and lack of advocacy are unbearable. Keep paying for hours and never move close to graduation. I have had to change my date four times. And the kicker, my committee actually says, “We’re not here to help you write your dissertation.”

        No shit! Really?

        I hate my committee, am miserable, and wonder why I keep putting up with the emotional abuse. Surely there comes a time when one lets go of the stone. I would not wish this funked-up fairytale on my worst enemy. If I only knew then. I want to leave it behind.

        • I would leave. It sounds like you aren’t gaining anything from the programme, and it’s causing nothing but stress.

    • I would just say that at 27 you are most definitely NOT too old to change. I am starting my PhD at the grand old age of 47, having got my degree this year! if you want to change, either now of after your PhD is over then go for it. If I can think about it at my age, married with 3 kids too, then so should you. You do what you want, don’t leave changes till you are 47 🙂

      • How about starting a PhD at almost 60? Anybody ever done that?
        I think that as long as it’s a fully funded program that I am interested in, I would do it! Am I wrong?

        • lots of people have done that. I would say to anyone, regardless of age, to choose their PhD carefully though as they are not all the same and who you work with has a massive effect on the experience

    • Giulia, you’re not too old. I’m 27 and just moved to LA to pursue film acting and I was doing a master’s in science. I have too much emotion and energy to sit at a desk all day. I left to write the remainder of my thesis on my own and I’m applying for retail jobs and honestly, I couldn’t be happier making that jump. I audition for student films, because you can apply for those without paying up hundreds of dollars for headshots (you’ll eventually need them), plus you build up a demo reel, which is also required for bigger projects in the future. I had my first audition a while ago and thought to myself right before, “what the hell am I doing with my life…” because it felt so ‘out there’ after being in academia my whole life. When it was over, I didn’t get it because I didn’t fit the part, but it was a very powerful feeling knowing I had attempted something I had wanted to do for years.

      My backup is becoming an actuary (are you good at math?). You study on your own for a couple of years and take qualifying exams which allow you to become one, but you have to study hard (this is in the US). You also have to take ~6 classes which are available at community colleges, like economics and stuff. You have to fight to become one at this stage because a lot of people get internships during undergrad and that’s what gets them in the door, but it’s not impossible otherwise. Maybe you can tell your father that is what you are doing, if it looks interesting to you. It’s can become a six-figure income after a few years of being one. Since you are passionate about theatre, you can move to New York where theatre and actuarial work are abundant. And look up Jenna Fischer’s advice for actors and it can help you get started. Alan Rickman and Bryan Cranston started theatre in their 20s… dont’ sweat it. You don’t need to be Jennifer Lawrence getting discovered out of nowhere. You have to detach yourself from stories like those…. good luck.

  19. I absolutely hated my Phd (condensed matter physics) plus my supervisor was an absolute …., hmmm how to put it gently, he was not a nice person. I worked various jobs before I went back to academia, but I have to say, however horrible or mean some people were in industry, there was no match for Physics academics (I was naive at first that scientists, being more knowledgeable, would be more approachable). I am back in industry and I believe there are much better opportunities outside the academic bubble.

  20. Actually I don’t think it is all about the mindset, I think PhDs do sometimes suck the life out of you and no amount of mindset change by the student will alter that, or be desirable. Supervisors often want you to become someone you aren’t, give up control of your life to the subject and work 60 hour weeks, and are prepared to call you a failure if you don’t conform. I stayed myself and had a life outside my PhD which made me unpopular but it also meant as soon as I finished I had a personality and I got a job through my own initiative rather than relying on anyone at the university – which shocked those in the lab who were willing me to fail for daring to have a life outside of the lab. My PhD (in medical science) was horrible and it wasn’t because I was a bad student, it was because I dared to be myself, and that’s sad because it pushes potentially good people away from academia.

  21. But if you are depressed and your thesis is not working out and everyone is on your back all the time, how can you change your mindset? You can’t just flick an imaginary switch in your brain.

    • You can change how you interpret those circumstances and your reaction to them though. It is not easy, and I don’t mean to trivialise it, but mindset is often at least a part of the solution

  22. How very true about determination to move on with your PhD however much you may hate it or even desire to quit! What I do is to remain focused all the time but flexible. Since I embarked on writing my thesis, last month, I feel overwhelmed by the materials I have to put down. I am quite pleased with all the encouragement I am receiving on this website. I’m in Kenya, how can I go about making the payment for the videos. Thank you so much for the noble job you are doing James and God bless you in His own way.

  23. Thanks for one more post on quitting and the like, there aren’t many. I only wish there could be more written about how to take this difficult decision.

  24. I have many interests, ranging from astronomy, medicine, history, psychology, and philosophy; however I excelled in philosophy after taking four courses. I am constantly thinking about why things are the way they are. As Descartes said, “Cogito,Ergo,Sum” I think therefore I am. Focus is the key on writing your thesis. If your interest is at a peak, writing a thesis should not be painful. If you have another point of view, run with it. Your advise is very is right on the money.

  25. So true. The struggle with worry about what the PhD will lead to is my number one productivity killer. This is where making realistic targets and to-dos each day make the world of difference. If I can put the thoughtfulness and energy into what I am doing instead of dreaming about what may or may not come next then maybe this will all be over sooner rather than later. Thanks for the timely post!

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