The Student Room Group

Quitting my PhD - Retrain as a teacher

I'm currently a PhD student in biological sciences and I'm hating my current situation. I'm in my last year, but the pressure is immense. I wanted to do a PhD because I wanted to work with research, but I think I have finally realised that that is not going to make me happy. I don't cope well with the constant trouble shooting (why can't anything work just from the first try?), endless deadlines (focus on the data analysis, but do lab work at the same time, prepare for this presentation, do this, do that, random risk assessment here, write this manuscript) and I hate how I'm responsible for how my experiments goes (you can't control biology!). I also don't appreciate how coming in at 9 and leaving at 5 isn't even the bare minimum: You're expected to work evenings and weekends. I do also feel slightly bullied by my supervisors (they don't listen to me, they make faces at me, they treat other students differently), but even when I try to imagine what I'd feel like with better supervisors I still don't think I'd be happy.

It's gotten so bad that it's actually affecting my health. I often sleep badly, I have nightmares related to my research work and uni and people here, I get headaches, my stomach gets upset and my blood cortisol level is literally elevated just because I'm so stressed all the time. I'm also starting to feel like I might be downright depressed. Everything just kinda feels hopeless, and I don't really give a **** about many things anymore. I feel bitter and tired. Cliché maybe, but I don't feel like myself anymore.

Even if I can fight my way through this last year, I'm not sure it's worth it. I'd do a post doc after, and that's pretty much the same as a PhD student, but paid a bit more and more responsibilities. The above issues would still be there. You also get zero job security as a post doc. Very rarely do you get tenure when you work with research. I don't think I'd like one of those prestigious industry jobs where you need a PhD either.

I feel like I just want a simpler life. A stable, moderately difficult (instead of soul crushing and health destroyingly difficult), fairly OK paid job. I want a job where I can work til 5 and feel "OK, some things remain to be done but it's OK." instead of "I can't keep up, I'm drowning in things to do". So I'm thinking of quitting my PhD, because right now it feels more like I'm only continuing for my supervisor's sake, rather than my own sake, because I feel like I should, like it's the just thing to do.

The two career options I'm considering is either police constable or (more likely) biology teacher for A level students and adult school leavers. Both seem to pay better (once fully qualified) than the pay for a post doc. Both seem less stressful (yes, even working as a police constable seems less stressful than working in academia). I can train to do either and get paid whilst doing so (apprenticeships, bursaries etc).

Any advice on any of the above? I feel like such a failure.
Original post by 6587apaN
I'm currently a PhD student in biological sciences and I'm hating my current situation. I'm in my last year, but the pressure is immense. I wanted to do a PhD because I wanted to work with research, but I think I have finally realised that that is not going to make me happy. I don't cope well with the constant trouble shooting (why can't anything work just from the first try?), endless deadlines (focus on the data analysis, but do lab work at the same time, prepare for this presentation, do this, do that, random risk assessment here, write this manuscript) and I hate how I'm responsible for how my experiments goes (you can't control biology!). I also don't appreciate how coming in at 9 and leaving at 5 isn't even the bare minimum: You're expected to work evenings and weekends. I do also feel slightly bullied by my supervisors (they don't listen to me, they make faces at me, they treat other students differently), but even when I try to imagine what I'd feel like with better supervisors I still don't think I'd be happy.

It's gotten so bad that it's actually affecting my health. I often sleep badly, I have nightmares related to my research work and uni and people here, I get headaches, my stomach gets upset and my blood cortisol level is literally elevated just because I'm so stressed all the time. I'm also starting to feel like I might be downright depressed. Everything just kinda feels hopeless, and I don't really give a **** about many things anymore. I feel bitter and tired. Cliché maybe, but I don't feel like myself anymore.

Even if I can fight my way through this last year, I'm not sure it's worth it. I'd do a post doc after, and that's pretty much the same as a PhD student, but paid a bit more and more responsibilities. The above issues would still be there. You also get zero job security as a post doc. Very rarely do you get tenure when you work with research. I don't think I'd like one of those prestigious industry jobs where you need a PhD either.

I feel like I just want a simpler life. A stable, moderately difficult (instead of soul crushing and health destroyingly difficult), fairly OK paid job. I want a job where I can work til 5 and feel "OK, some things remain to be done but it's OK." instead of "I can't keep up, I'm drowning in things to do". So I'm thinking of quitting my PhD, because right now it feels more like I'm only continuing for my supervisor's sake, rather than my own sake, because I feel like I should, like it's the just thing to do.

The two career options I'm considering is either police constable or (more likely) biology teacher for A level students and adult school leavers. Both seem to pay better (once fully qualified) than the pay for a post doc. Both seem less stressful (yes, even working as a police constable seems less stressful than working in academia). I can train to do either and get paid whilst doing so (apprenticeships, bursaries etc).

Any advice on any of the above? I feel like such a failure.


Hi @6587apaN

First of all let me say I am so sorry that you’re struggling, as a final year PhD also in biology I can really empathise. There are a lot of tough expectations that come with being a PhD, even when you have the most supportive supervisors.

First of all let me say that research is not for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with that. Just like teaching isn’t for everyone, or art, music, different things suit different people. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people invest a huge amount of time, energy, and usually money into their research education before figuring out it’s not for them, but thankfully there are many options for you.

I would highly recommend looking into a sabbatical. You say that your physical and mental health have been compromised, and that might mean making these big decisions right now is not the best option. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your supervisors about a mental health sabbatical, you can probably find some basic info in your student handbook. From there, look into contacting someone else in your department (someone who you think may be able to give good advice on this matter, and would know who to refer you to) or if your university offers counselling sessions (most will do that for free!). Cranfield also sets PhD students up with a ‘chair’ in our internal progress reviews, where we can raise concerns to someone completely removed from our supervisory team/lab group. If your university has something like this, you might feel more comfortable speaking to them about your options.

You then have more time to contemplate your options. From your post, you sound like you have pretty much decided to leave your PhD. But that doesn’t mean you need to just ‘drop everything and run’. You could try to apply for an exit award, an MPhil or something similar. Since you are in your final year it is likely you have enough lab work to complete a thesis for that award. You could also find that taking the sabbatical and with some supports for your mental health (therapy can be a great way to find coping mechanisms for tough situations) that you are then able to finish your PhD.
You may also find that having someone from outside your project, whether it is an academic from another area, or a student support staff member, who could speak together with you and your supervisors may help. Having someone who is experienced in postgraduate education verbalise the problems that you are facing, and suggesting potential solutions, together with listening to your supervisors’ perspectives, can greatly help the communication going forward and improving your working relationships enough to finish the PhD thesis.

I will say that being a postdoc is not the only career path after a PhD. Biology is so varied that the skills you have learned are likely to translate into many sectors. You are likely qualified to work as a technician in industry (hospital, pharmacy, food processing, etc) labs. If you have experience working in computational biology/bioinformatics you could translate that into a data science or programming role. This isn’t even considering all of the project management, data communication, and stats skills you would have built up. You might consider these if you leave with an MPhil (or without) as ways to earn a bit of money before jumping back in to retrain (trust me, we all look forward to living off more than a stipend)!

I don’t have experience in policing or A-level teaching, so how the training works for them and which you may prefer, I’ll leave for others to comment on.

Best of luck figuring out what your next steps are 😊
Ciara
3rd year Agrifood PhD student
Cranfield Student Ambassador
Original post by 6587apaN

The two career options I'm considering is either police constable or (more likely) biology teacher for A level students and adult school leavers. Both seem to pay better (once fully qualified) than the pay for a post doc. Both seem less stressful (yes, even working as a police constable seems less stressful than working in academia). I can train to do either and get paid whilst doing so (apprenticeships, bursaries etc).

Any advice on any of the above? I feel like such a failure.


Working in A sixth form college is not as well paid or as permanent as in a school. Adult school leavers are few and A level Biol isn't common as an Evening course.

Have you rejected teaching 11 to 18? That is the 'stable' option - you could look at a selective school ...

How close are you to finishing your PhD - can you get an MPhil from what you have already done?
Original post by 6587apaN
I'm currently a PhD student in biological sciences and I'm hating my current situation. I'm in my last year, but the pressure is immense. I wanted to do a PhD because I wanted to work with research, but I think I have finally realised that that is not going to make me happy. I don't cope well with the constant trouble shooting (why can't anything work just from the first try?), endless deadlines (focus on the data analysis, but do lab work at the same time, prepare for this presentation, do this, do that, random risk assessment here, write this manuscript) and I hate how I'm responsible for how my experiments goes (you can't control biology!). I also don't appreciate how coming in at 9 and leaving at 5 isn't even the bare minimum: You're expected to work evenings and weekends. I do also feel slightly bullied by my supervisors (they don't listen to me, they make faces at me, they treat other students differently), but even when I try to imagine what I'd feel like with better supervisors I still don't think I'd be happy.

It's gotten so bad that it's actually affecting my health. I often sleep badly, I have nightmares related to my research work and uni and people here, I get headaches, my stomach gets upset and my blood cortisol level is literally elevated just because I'm so stressed all the time. I'm also starting to feel like I might be downright depressed. Everything just kinda feels hopeless, and I don't really give a **** about many things anymore. I feel bitter and tired. Cliché maybe, but I don't feel like myself anymore.

Even if I can fight my way through this last year, I'm not sure it's worth it. I'd do a post doc after, and that's pretty much the same as a PhD student, but paid a bit more and more responsibilities. The above issues would still be there. You also get zero job security as a post doc. Very rarely do you get tenure when you work with research. I don't think I'd like one of those prestigious industry jobs where you need a PhD either.

I feel like I just want a simpler life. A stable, moderately difficult (instead of soul crushing and health destroyingly difficult), fairly OK paid job. I want a job where I can work til 5 and feel "OK, some things remain to be done but it's OK." instead of "I can't keep up, I'm drowning in things to do". So I'm thinking of quitting my PhD, because right now it feels more like I'm only continuing for my supervisor's sake, rather than my own sake, because I feel like I should, like it's the just thing to do.

The two career options I'm considering is either police constable or (more likely) biology teacher for A level students and adult school leavers. Both seem to pay better (once fully qualified) than the pay for a post doc. Both seem less stressful (yes, even working as a police constable seems less stressful than working in academia). I can train to do either and get paid whilst doing so (apprenticeships, bursaries etc).

Any advice on any of the above? I feel like such a failure.


Hi there,

I'm so sorry to hear you are hearing this way about your studies. Firstly, I'd like to say that you are not a failure at all - postgraduate research is difficult and having doubts is a totally natural response. There are plenty of options available to you (including sabbaticals and time off), and plenty of avenues for support.

We run a site specifically for postgraduate wellbeing support called The Wellbeing Thesis, so take a look if you like. There is content such as advice on how to manage adversity whilst studying: https://thewellbeingthesis.org.uk/managing-adversity/. Is there also someone at your uni you can speak to? Wellbeing services perhaps, or an academic advisor?

Ultimately, the final decision on your studies is up to you and you should choose whatever feels right. Take your time when making a decision and look to access support available to you. I would also advise confiding in those around you to help you through this, as that always helps me!

I hope this in some way helps, and best of luck with whichever path you choose :smile:
- Dan
(edited 1 year ago)

Quick Reply

Latest

Trending

Trending