Kshitij Tiwari Ph.D.

Knowing when to quit PhD: Signs to look for and what to do next

11 min read

Not many know of the harsh realities of the PhD program when they first start out and many struggle to be fully convinced that PhD is indeed the right career choice for them.

So, somewhere along the journey they start feeling stuck with no real progress being made and start questioning whether or not to continue. It is at this time, they need to make the tough call and often they lack the know how to be able to decide how to proceed thereon.

In this article, we will look into the signs that indicate it’s time to quit your PhD program, what to do after quitting, and alternative career paths to consider. We’ll also discuss managing finances and prioritizing mental health during this difficult time, as well as the importance of a healthy relationship with your PhD supervisor.

Finally, we’ll explore how a change in personal goals can affect your decision to leave the program and provide resources for those considering leaving their PhD program. Contrary to the other blogs that touch base on this topic, we will also look into how you can resume your PhD journey after a brief hiatus if you decide so instead of quitting.

Signs it's time to quit PhD

There are some tell tale signs that you can look out for to know if it’s time to quit your PhD.

Lack of Passion

Your passion for your research should be what drives you to continue your PhD. If you find yourself lacking excitement or interest in your work, it may be time to re-evaluate your goals and consider quitting.

Emotional and mental health issues

The stress of a PhD program can take a toll on your mental health. If you find yourself constantly anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed, it may be a sign that the program is not worth sacrificing your health.

Financial Hardship

PhD programs can be expensive and do not always offer enough funding or job opportunities to support your lifestyle. If you are struggling financially and cannot see a way out, it may be time to consider other options.

Lack of Support

A strong support system is crucial during a PhD program. If you feel isolated or unsupported by your colleagues or mentor, it can make the program even more challenging.

If you recognize any of these signs, it may be time to take a step back and evaluate your options. It’s important to remember that quitting your PhD program does not mean you have failed. Here are some steps to take next:

  • Speak with a trusted mentor or advisor to discuss your options.

  • Consider taking some time off to re-evaluate your goals and explore other interests.

  • Look into alternative career paths or programs that align with your interests and values.

  • Connect with a therapist or mental health professional for support during this transition.

Poor relationship with supervisor or lab members

If you’re experiencing conflicts with your supervisor or lab members, it can create a toxic work environment that affects your ability to perform. This can be especially challenging in a PhD program that is often heavily reliant on the relationship with your supervisor. If attempts to resolve conflicts have been unsuccessful, it may be time to consider moving on to a different program or workplace. Remember that your well-being should be a priority and it’s okay to make changes that support that.

Change in personal goals or circumstances

As we grow and change, our goals and circumstances can shift. If you find yourself no longer interested in pursuing a career in academia or if personal circumstances make continuing the program difficult, it’s important to consider whether the PhD is still the best path for you. Keep in mind that it’s never too late to make a change and pursue a different career path that aligns better with your current goals and needs. Remember to seek support and guidance from trusted advisors and professionals as you make these decisions.

Making the decision to quit PhD

The decision to quit your PhD is a difficult one, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about your needs and goals. Remember that quitting does not mean failure, and it’s never too late to make a change. Here are some steps to help you make this decision

Weighing the pros and cons

When making the decision to quit your PhD program, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Some pros of continuing may include a strong passion for your research, a supportive advisor, and opportunities for career advancement. However, some cons may include financial strain, mental and emotional exhaustion, and a lack of interest in your work.

Reflecting on your goals and values

Reflect on your goals and values and how they align with your current situation. Are you still passionate about your research? Is the PhD program aligning with your personal values and goals? Reflecting on these questions can help provide clarity when making the decision to continue or quit the program.

Seeking advice and support

Speak with trusted mentors, advisors, and professionals to discuss your options and gather information. It’s important to seek advice and support from people who understand the demands of a PhD program and can help you make an informed decision.

Trusting your intuition

Ultimately, the decision to quit your PhD should come from a place of intuition and self-awareness. Trust your instincts and listen to your body and mind. If you feel that continuing the program will have a negative impact on your well-being and happiness, it may be time to consider other options.

Remember that quitting your PhD program does not mean you have failed. It takes courage to acknowledge when something is not working and make a change. Trust yourself and do what is best for you and your future.

Next steps after quitting PhD

If you have decided to quit your PhD program, it’s important to have a plan for what comes next. Here are some steps to consider:

Take time for self-care

Leaving a PhD program can be a major life change that can have an emotional impact. It’s important to take time to reflect, process your feelings, and engage in self-care activities that help you feel grounded and supported.

Re-evaluate your career goals

Reflect on your interests and career goals and explore alternative career paths that align with your passions and values. Consider taking courses or workshops to develop new skills and broaden your options.

Network and build new connections

Connect with professionals in your field of interest and attend industry events to expand your network and gain insight into new career opportunities. Building new connections can help you find new opportunities and grow your professional circle.

Seek support and guidance

It’s important to connect with a mentor, advisor, or therapist who can offer support and guidance as you navigate this transition. They can help you overcome any obstacles or self-doubt you may have and provide valuable insights and resources.

Consider further education or training

If you are interested in pursuing a different academic path, consider further education or training in a new field. This can open up new opportunities and help you gain new skills and knowledge.

Embrace the change and stay positive

Leaving a PhD program can be challenging, but it’s important to embrace the change and stay positive. Remember that this decision is an opportunity for growth and new experiences. Focus on the positives of your decision and stay open to new opportunities that come your way. With time and persistence, you can forge a new path that aligns with your passions and goals.

Alternative career routes after quitting PhD

If you decide to leave your PhD program, there are many alternative career routes to consider. Here are a few options to explore:


Consider exploring career opportunities in industry that relate to your research interests. Industry jobs can offer more stability and a faster career trajectory than academia.


If you enjoy teaching, consider pursuing a career as a high school or community college teacher. You can also consider teaching positions in non-academic settings, such as museums or community centers.


Starting your own business or consulting firm can be a rewarding career path that allows you to apply your research skills in new ways. Be prepared to invest time and energy into building your business.

Non-profit work

Non-profit organizations offer a variety of career opportunities that align with your values and interests. Consider working for a non-profit in a role that utilizes your research skills or knowledge.

Government work

Working for the government can provide stable employment and opportunities to make a difference in your field of interest. Consider working in a government agency related to your research area or in science policy.


Freelancing or consulting can offer flexibility and the opportunity to work on a range of projects related to your research or interests. Be prepared for the challenges of self-employment and building a client base.

Remember that there are many alternative career paths to consider after leaving your PhD program. Take time to explore your interests and goals, and seek advice and support from trusted professionals as you navigate this transition.

Consider your options carefully and make a decision that aligns with your values and goals. Remember that it’s okay to change your mind and pursue a different path. Take time for self-care, re-evaluate your career goals, network and build connections, seek support and guidance, consider further education, and stay positive.

Resume your PhD journey

As opposed to quitting, if you give it a second thought and decide to resume with your PhD, here are some steps to help you through it and your approach from the past. Don’t worry if you’re feeling unsure; this is a normal phase for many.

Reconnect with your advisor and lab members

It’s important to reconnect with your advisor and lab members after a hiatus. Schedule a meeting with your advisor to discuss your plans moving forward and any necessary steps to re-integrate into the program.

Review and update your research plan

Take time to review and update your research plan to ensure that it aligns with your current goals and interests. Consider any changes that may have occurred during your hiatus and discuss any necessary adjustments with your advisor.

Re-establish your routine

Returning to a PhD program may require adjusting your routine to ensure that you have enough time and energy to dedicate to your research and coursework. Make a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Create a plan for managing your time, including scheduling regular breaks and self-care activities.

Connect with your peers

Connecting with your peers can help you stay motivated and engaged in your program. Attend department events, join a study group, or participate in student clubs to meet new people and build relationships.

Seek additional support and resources

If you are struggling to get back into the swing of things, consider seeking additional support and resources. This may include working with a tutor, attending office hours, or accessing mental health services.

Keep your long-term goals in mind

Remember your long-term goals and why you started your PhD in the first place. Keeping your goals in mind can help you stay motivated and focused as you resume your PhD journey. Celebrate your successes and milestones along the way and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.

Key takeaways

Whether you decide to quit your PhD program or continue on, the most important thing is to be true to yourself and your values. Take the time to reflect and seek advice and support from trusted mentors, advisors, and professionals. Remember that there are always options and opportunities to pursue your passions and goals. Whatever you choose– to quit or to resume your PhD after a brief hiatus, trust yourself and take pride in the journey ahead.

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