The imminent beginning of a new academic year seems like a good time to broach this difficult topic. Before you make another tuition payment, it’s a good idea to make a conscious decision about whether doing a PhD is still the right path for you.
How do you feel?
This is a serious question. Is the approach of the beginning of term making you feel physically ill? Is your sleep being disrupted? Are you anxious?
Do not ignore any of these signs nor their million cousins. Go see your doctor or counselling services and talk about those things. Whether you decide to quit or continue, it is not normal to feel distressed. Do not stop to think about whether you are feeling bad enough.
Okay. Now comes the hard part.
A PhD is a big commitment
When you signed on to this thing you thought it was the right decision. And it was. Yes, I mean that. At the time you made the decision, you made the best decision given the available information, what was going on in your life then, and so on.
If you have a good argument why I’m wrong about that, stop reading this article and quit now. Don’t waste any more of your time.
Even if it was the right decision then, it may not be the right decision now. It takes at least five and often up to 10 years to go from deciding to register for a PhD to actually completing and defending a PhD. A lot can change in five to 10 years.
You have new information about the program, about where the program might lead, and about yourself.
You are not throwing anything away
When I say “It’s okay to quit” I mean it. It is okay. You have permission.
There is more to a PhD than a certificate at the end. Every month you are in the program you gain knowledge, skills, and experience. You have extended your networks.
You may also have passed significant milestones:
- Passing comprehensive exams
- Successfully defending a proposal
- Writing a chapter
- Collecting data
These count for something even if you don’t complete the degree.
There are very few jobs for which you absolutely need to have a PhD. If you quit now, you save yourself time, money, and a lot of anxiety about whether putting PhD on your resumé helps or hinders your job search.
You have options
It may not seem that way but that’s mostly because you have no idea just how many different jobs there are out there, much less what skills they require or whether you would find them rewarding. This is normal.
Transitions are hard. Quitting will not magically transport you to a new place. It will shift your focus to discerning a new path and working towards a goal you actually want.
If you want to hedge your bets, investigate whether it is possible to take a leave of abscence from your program. Really dive into exploring your options and re-evaluate next summer.