I am going to start my PhD degree this week and I realised that, for personal and professional reasons, I don't want to do it.

  • Personal reasons: I live in a foreign country and I don't like living here, I have no friends or girlfriends here and I'm far from my family. I already lived two years here during my masters degree and I'm just sick of it.
  • Professional reasons: I don't want to work in the academic area. I don't hate it, but I prefer to work in a company or start my own company in the future. Besides that, the companies in my home country don't value too much a PhD degree, so after 3 years of sacrifice in the PhD, I would be applying for the same jobs I could apply now.

At least I'm not officially engaged with the university (I'm not even enrolled), so I could just give up, the problem is telling my PhD supervisor this.

I'm having lunch with my supervisor tomorrow and I don't even know how to start to tell him this. He put a lot of effort to put this thesis together and to make this work for me, he'll be very upset. I'd like to be the type of guy that says "f**k the world, I'll do whatever I want" but I'm not, I'll be very ashamed telling him this, he'll probably try to convince me to do it, and I'm afraid I won't be able to say no.

So basically I wonder how to start to tell my supervisor about dropping out and how to say no when he tries to convince me.

  • 3
    Have you considered asking the question on academia.stackexchange.com ?
    – breversa
    Oct 14, 2020 at 12:27
  • 2
    @breversa there's a few things about referring people to other sites that are also useful to know for Henrique: a.) If a question, as is, would be on-topic on both sites, it can be useful to point out the differences in answers you can expect on one site vs. the other, so that people know why it would be worth their time to post in two places and
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 14, 2020 at 12:59
  • 1
    b.) cross-site duplicates aren't strictly forbidden, but they are discouraged and can be (depending on the site) sometimes very ill-received. If you know anything Henrique could do to edit their question to make the reason for posting on a second site clear and tailor this question to be more specifically for academia, that could help them write a better received question for that site :)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 14, 2020 at 12:59
  • What was the reason you let him go through all the preparations? Haven't you made up your mind until now? Didn't you know about his efforts? Other reasons? This will matter for the conversation. Oct 15, 2020 at 22:07

1 Answer 1


This will not be a fun conversation. Possibly the worst thing you can do tomorrow during lunch is to first lead him on with small talk ("Yeah, I too am really excited for starting the PhD"). I've had conversations like this with parents regarding dropping out of uni and with student councillors about said dropping out. It's not fun. The thing that worked for me, however, is to take charge of the conversation and open the talk with what you have to say.

You need to be clear and direct that this is the choice that you made. Do not say that you are considering to quit, or that you haven't made up your mind completely. If this is the decision that you made, you need to make sure that you do not give the professor room to convice you if you know you do not want to be conviced. Be emphatic, say that you really appreciate all the work that the professor did and that you understand that this is last minute and bad timing.

In the end, the professor will be better of with honesty, because a demotived or unhappy PhD student is not going to help anybody. For them, it will be better if you quit before you even started than when they've invested even more time in it. If they get angry or frustrated, try to remain calm and say that you understand, but that you have made up your mind. Professors I've had showed that they can certainly be frustrated, but leading them on will make it worse, so be honest and clear about your decision.

  • 4
    This is good advice and not just for this situation. Telling someone bad news immediately, rather than waiting for "a better time" often only makes things worse. Oct 14, 2020 at 14:58

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