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Dropped out of PhD - now what? watch

    • Thread Starter

    So until recently, I was studying a mathematics PhD at the University of Sussex. However, over the last month or so I made the decision to formally withdraw from my studies and move back home. This is because I was having very little drive to work, which was in turn due to not enjoying higher level study as much as I thought I would and having a less-than-passionate interest in my topic. Things got rather unpleasant towards the end and my supervisor was beginning to express major concern over my work ethic and progress and basically suggested that I needed to ask myself if my heart was really in it. Also, I had some concerns about some ways in which the project was being dealt with on her part, as well as how my mental health issues were being taken into account, and things became unpleasant rather quickly. I did speak to my mental health adviser/mentor at the university about the situation and decided to do what was best for me in the end and call it a day for academia for a long while. I went into it too quickly whilst worrying about what to do after I graduated, and I picked my topic based more on mathematical ideologies rather than what I was already very good at, which ended up being a non-optimal choice in the end which has led to me having a bad taste in my mouth from academia.

    Having made the decision to quit, my mind has not felt this uncluttered, relaxed or open in a very long time and I'm extremely relieved to do something other than to follow the academic cycle of gaining qualification after qualification and basing my life around those. This is a great opportunity for me to rectify any personal and mental health problems and so I want to improve my general fitness and do a lot of things that I never really had the opportunity to do before. If it wasn't for financial worries, I would make this coming year my gap year.

    On the other hand, at the moment I am feeling pretty glum. For my whole life I have been thinking that academic mathematics is the route that my life should take and I have been picking up bits and bobs of experience during my university degree tailored towards this accordingly. As it turns out, perhaps this is not the route for me and, at this point in time, maybe I don't have enough steam at the moment to become an academic mathematician after all. I'm now suffering from an existential crisis because at the moment I'm unsure about where my life should be heading and what career path I should go for, and the thing that I thought I'd be really good at is actually something I found quite difficult. I now know what failure feels like, having been a consistently high achiever at university without really pushing myself too hard.

    I'd like to ask what sorts of things can I do in the meantime to take my mind off the sense of failure I seem to have lodged in my head at the moment? Nobody has officially told me that I have failed, and everyone has been really supportive of my decision to drop out, but this is my first real experience of doing a qualification/job and having failed to meet my supervisor's expectations (well, it did happen during my Masters dissertation too). I don't have that much real-world experience other than helping out with my former department with education/pedagogical work, so I feel like the only real route for me would be seeking a graduate trainee teaching position at a nearby college for teaching A-level maths (which I think I would enjoy) or a tech sales/retail job which would help me to get some more real-world experience and deal with people face-to-face rather than becoming a mathematics learning machine. Furthermore, something I've realised is that I tend to function better in a "big fish in a small tank" style environment where I know everything there is to know, whereas if I'm in a job where I have to keep learning things I get stressed out and feel like a failure due to not understanding it immediately.

    Any thoughts/advice would be much appreciated.
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