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Quitting grad school. Need advice on how to make it as smooth as possible.


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I've already decided that I'm leaving the PhD program that I started this past Fall. I've made this decision very carefully over the last few weeks and my need to move on is due mainly to the fact that I've come to the realization--by being around academics for 60+ hours a week--that I do not want this life. I don't want to be in academia for the rest of my working life--hell, I don't even want to be part of it tomorrow. It's just no where near what I thought it was and the entire lifestyle is incompatible with the kind of life that I want for myself.


The issue is that I don't know how to leave tactfully and as respectfully as possible. I don't want to harm my advisor at all--he's been nothing but nice and supportive--and I don't want to waste any more of my departments' time, money or resources. We're in the middle of the semester... Should I tell my advisor now or wait until the end of the semester and finish out my courses and then tell him? If I'm going to wait it out until the end of the semester, what do I tell him when he asks about my research plans for the summer? Also, I get paid a stipend check every three months and my next one is due to come at the end of April for use in May/June/July. So, if I stay until the end of the semester (ends in May), then I'll be taking up a check that I know I'm not going to use and I really don't want to do something that crumby. And lastly, what do people think the best way to do this is? I've heard everything from just go in to a meeting with my advisor and tell him flat out I quit to email him first with an explanation and set up a meeting to talk things over after that to soften the initial blow. 


I appreciate any and all advice here. Thanks.

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I would finish the semester so that you don't have failing grades. You never know if you'll want to go back to school in 10 or 15 years. Maybe not for a PhD, but perhaps you'll go for a certificate or something else and will need to provide all of your transcripts.

Edited by jenste
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Email in advance to set up the meeting. Start by explaining that you have realised grad school is not a good fit for you and your career goals have changed, etc. Tell your advisor that you appreciate the support/advice they've given (provided it is true!). Then ask the advisor how best to proceed. I suspect that they will advise you to wait until the end of the semester (and I think that's the option I would recommend too) and pass the final set of exams/collect your last paycheque and then officially leave.


Set up the meeting sooner rather than later. I think you'd rather tell the advisor outright in a controlled, safe manner when they've had a bit of forewarning than for you to have the very awkward conversation with them when they ask: "So, what are your plans for the summer?...[Pause] Um, you *are* planning to stick around for the summer, aren't you?" 

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  • 2 weeks later...

What Lynx said. You're not the first to drop out of a program and you won't be the last! While they'll be sorry to see you go, they won't be shocked and appalled that someone doesn't want to complete the program. Until you get in a program, you don't really know what it's like to have the job, so how can you make that determination without experiencing it?

I'd advise talking in person simply because you have good relationships with the people there. Let them know as soon as possible so they can make plans for next fall. They're already planning on the spot you're supposed to have, so if they know you're not returning after the term, they might decide to offer it to someone applying this season.

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