My morale started to falter, and I started wondering: should I cut my losses and focus on my other main project the doctoral degree that I had started in parallel?
7 Reasons Why Bright Students Drop Out of Grad School
Or was it better to drop out of the Ph. If you ever faced this kind of thoughts, you are not alone. Not at all. Imagine you are in a classroom with your peer Ph. Look to the person on your left. Look to the person on your right. According to the statistics, only one or two of you will ever finish the Ph.
Of course, this is just a general approximation. This is probably due to many social, economic and cultural factors that are quite different in each discipline rather than the inherent difficulty of the subject. There is also the issue of when will you drop out. Several studies mention that dropping out of a Ph.
This is probably due to the students coming to the doctorate with a certain image or expectation of what doing research looks like, and academic research life not living up to those expectations — leading to disillusionment and dropout. So, it is clear now: if about half of the doctoral students actually drop out of the Ph. Now that we know this is a quite common problem, what are the factors related to greater chances of dropping out or persisting until completion? Looking into the research on this issue, I found five factors that appear quite often 4 :.
OK, so far things seem logical. If we are alone, we are not academic over-achievers, or we have to get an unrelated job to make ends meet, we will generally have a harder time during the dissertation — and more chances of being faced with the dilemma of abandoning it. However, I cannot help but think that we are seeing only one side of the coin: that of the institutional success, and the student as a human resource. We could also be a bit more empathetic and look at students as a human beings , and their experience: what if dropping out is the better option for this particular student, as a person, at this point in time?
In one paper, a doctoral student explains:. Plus, are they really wasted? So yes, you should consider carefully before starting a Ph. Rather, ask yourself: am I or is this person going to be an effective, convinced, purposeful researcher, if I continue my doctoral training under these conditions and in this place? Heck, there is even research that suggests that, if you are at the point where you could decide by tossing a coin, you would be better off making the change right away!
If you are facing this conundrum, evaluate your environment and your daily experience carefully, and talk about it with family and close friends. But the decision is only yours. If, on the other hand, your lab environment is toxic, your economic or social situation is really bad, or you feel deeply unhappy every day you do research, maybe it is time for a re-evaluation.
Coming back to my own personal case, I did drop out of the Psychology masters, to focus on my Ph.
PhD Discussion Forum
You must arrive at this decision independently for two reasons. Secondly, your PhD work will shape your future. It is also important to the dynamic of science that your entry be well thought out. This is one point where you can start a whole new area of research. You must establish a firm psychological stance early in your graduate career to keep from being buffeted by the many demands that will be made on your time. Here are a few things to watch out for:. The initiation-rite nature of the PhD and its power to convince you that your value as a person is being judged.
No one does. It stems from the open-ended nature of the thesis problem. A thesis can always be made better, which gets you into an infinite regress of possible improvements. There are going to be flaws in it, as there are in everything. Settle down to make it as good as you can within the limits of time, money, energy, encouragement and thought at your disposal. You can alleviate this problem by jumping all the explicit hurdles early in the game.
Get all of your course requirements and examinations out of the way as soon as possible.
Not only do you thereby clear the decks for your thesis, but you also convince yourself, by successfully jumping each hurdle, that you probably are good enough after all. Nothing elicits dominant behavior like subservient behavior. Expect and demand to be treated like a colleague. The paper requirements are the explicit hurdle you will have to jump, but the implicit hurdle is attaining the status of a colleague. Graduate school is only one of the tools that you have at hand for shaping your own development.
A Happy PhD | Who drops out of the Ph.D.?
Be prepared to quit for awhile if something better comes up. There are three good reasons to do this. First, a real opportunity could arise that is more productive and challenging than anything you could do in graduate school and that involves a long enough block of time to justify dropping out. Secondly, only by keeping this option open can you function with true independence as a graduate student. If you perceive graduate school as your only option, you will be psychologically labile, inclined to get a bit desperate and insecure, and you will not be able to give your best.
Thirdly, if things really are not working out for you, then you are only hurting yourself and denying resources to others by staying in graduate school. There are a lot of interesting things to do in life besides being a scientist, and in some the job market is a lot better. If science is not turning you on, perhaps you should try something else. However, do not go off half-cocked. This is a serious decision. Be sure to talk to fellow graduate students and sympathetic faculty before making up your mind.
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If you already have a good background in your field, then minimize the number of additional courses you take. This recommendation may seem counterintuitive, but it has a sound basis. Right now, you need to learn how to think for yourself. This requires active engagement, not passive listening and regurgitation. To learn to think, you need two things: large blocks of time, and as much one-on-one interaction as you can get with someone who thinks more clearly than you do.
Courses just get in the way, and if you are well motivated, then reading and discussion is much more efficient and broadening than lectures. It is often a good idea to get together with a few colleagues, organize a seminar on a subject of interest, and invite a few faculty to take part.
How can you lose? These comments of course do not apply to courses that teach specific skills: e. It makes it possible for you to defend your independence by providing a concrete demonstration that you used your time well. It literally makes it possible for others to help you. What you have in mind is too complex to be communicated verbally - too subtle, and in too many parts. It must be put down in a well-organized, clearly and concisely written document that can be circulated to a few good minds. Only with a proposal before them can they give you constructive criticism.
Having located your problem and satisfied yourself that it is important, you will have to convince your colleagues that you are not totally demented and, in fact, deserve support. One way to organize a proposal to accomplish this goal is:. Why it is important scientifically, not why it is important to you personally, and how it fits into the broader scheme of ideas in your field. Describe your problem as a series of subproblems that can each be attacked in a series of small steps.
Devise experiments, observations or analyses that will permit you to exclude alternatives at each stage. Line them up and start knocking them down. Write down a list of the major problems that could arise and ruin the whole project. Then write down a list of alternatives that you will do if things actually do go wrong.
It is not a bad idea to design two or three projects and start them in parallel to see which one has the best practical chance of succeeding. There could be two or three model systems that all seem to have equally good chances on paper of providing appropriate tests for your ideas, but in fact practical problems may exclude some of them. It is much more efficient to discover this at the start than to design and execute two or three projects in succession after the first fail for practical reasons. Pick a date for the presentation of your thesis and work backwards in constructing a schedule of how you are going to use your time.
You can expect a stab of terror at this point. Hope that their comments are tough, and respond as constructively as you can. Get at it. You already have the introduction to your thesis written, and you have only been here 12 to 18 months. Keep your advisors aware of what you are doing, but do not bother them.
Be an interesting presence, not a pest. At least once a year, submit a written progress report pages long on your own initiative. They will appreciate it and be impressed. Anticipate and work to avoid personality problems. If you do not get along with your professors, change advisors early on.
Be very careful about choosing your advisors in the first place. Most important is their interest in your interests. Never elaborate a baroque excrescence on top of existing but shaky ideas. Go right to the foundations and test the implicit but unexamined assumptions of an important body of work, or lay the foundations for a new research thrust. There are, of course, other types of theses:. The classical thesis involves the formulation of a deductive model that makes novel and surprising predictions which you then test objectively and confirm under conditions unfavorable to the hypothesis.
Rarely done and highly prized. A critique of the foundations of an important body of research. Again, rare and valuable and a sure winner if properly executed. The purely theoretical thesis. This takes courage, especially in a department loaded with bedrock empiricists, but can be pulled off if you are genuinely good at math and logic. Gather data that someone else can synthesize. This is the worst kind of thesis, but in a pinch it will get you through. At least the results show that you worked hard, a fact with which you can blackmail your committee into giving you the doctorate.
There are really as many kinds of theses as their are graduate students. The four types listed serve as limiting cases of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Doctoral work is a chance for you to try your hand at a number of different research styles and to discover which suites you best: theory, field work, or lab work. Ideally, you will balance all three and become the rare person who can translate the theory for the empiricists and the real world for the theoreticians.
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