23

I've seen a lot of posts on here where someone is in a PhD programme, and they're very stressed and unhappy, and want to know if they should quit. Typically, there are a number of complicating factors, such as: They're away from home, and haven't made any friends yet AND they suffer from depression or panic attacks or some other mental health problem AND there's a sick relative or some other family situation that they're stressed about AND they're worried about money...

Usually these questions are closed because they aren't a good fit for our Q&A format. However, I think we could offer some useful general answers to a canonical question. E.g., address the mental health issue before making any big decisions, if possible; maybe see the student counselor; think about YOUR goals rather than just trying to please parents/advisors; realise that a PhD programme is very different than anything you've likely done before, so don't expect to feel comfortable in it for the first N months; try to think about each problem in isolation; consider a leave of absence; etc.

Here are some examples of the type of questions I'm talking about.


I've created the question and provided an answer: Should I quit my PhD? Additional answers are welcome.

  • My understanding is that meta is supposed to be for asking questions, just like the main site. This doesn't appear to be a question. It sounds like you think it would be a good idea to write a more generic version of this question, and solicit generic answers, maybe in the form of a community wiki. If that's what you want to do, then why not just do it? It sounds like a reasonable thing to ask on the main site, and you seem to have enough material to write a good answer to your own question (which is encouraged on SE, when appropriate). – Ben Crowell Apr 11 '16 at 23:19
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    @BenCrowell For questions like this which are very broad, and would probably be closed as "too broad" if asked straight out on the main site, users are encouraged to first ask on meta whether this question would be valuable to warrant an exception to the "too broad" and "depends on your particular situation, only someone familiar can answer" close reasons. – ff524 Apr 12 '16 at 19:37
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    @BenCrowell meta is a little different: academia.stackexchange.com/help/whats-meta – StrongBad Apr 12 '16 at 21:45
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    Look at questions tagged both "PhD" and "quitting". There are far too many different aspects about a decision like this. I don't see how we can create a useful canonical question here. – Stephan Kolassa Apr 13 '16 at 11:25
  • Wouldn't this just lead to closing questions like this one as "duplicate" and having the OP argue about how it's not a duplicate? Or indicate "hey this one is just as broad"? – Raystafarian Apr 13 '16 at 13:27
  • @Raystafarian The first line of the canonical question I created says that it's too broad and not a good fit for the site, and implies that it's a special case. We could expand that note to clarify the situation, if needed. – mhwombat Apr 13 '16 at 13:56
  • Overall, it looks like a rather broad question. While doing a PhD can be stressful at times, many of these points (worries about money, disagreement with supervisor, ...) are just broader things of life that could equally happen in any job. While some answers can be specific to academia and PhD programmes, many of these things are quite general. – Bruno Apr 13 '16 at 15:44
  • I just want to remind people that on meta up/down votes generally mean the voter agrees/disagrees and it is not to say the question or answer is good or bad. – StrongBad Apr 13 '16 at 16:03
  • The question was created and attracted a large number of answers with variable quality which was a concern expressed in this highly up voted answer. Therefore the question has been closed. – StrongBad Apr 14 '16 at 22:54
16

I think it is hard to provide a canonical answer to "should I quit". I am worried that it is such a personal question that the answer(s) will not help the majority of people and only lead to discussion in the comments.

  • Then the comments get flagged. – Insane Apr 13 '16 at 6:26
  • Good point. I've created the question, and worded it so that it's not really asking "should I quit". Instead, it's asking for tools and advice on how to approach the decision. – mhwombat Apr 13 '16 at 8:03
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    This expresses my worries precisely. – Dirk Apr 13 '16 at 13:38
  • I really wish I said "no" in my answer. As it stands I don't know if the up votes are for the concern or because people are against the question. – StrongBad Apr 14 '16 at 22:24
6

This deviates from normal StackExchange logic but I prefer to think of the question this way: the question is going to be asked. It's a very good question for anyone affected by it and people obviously google all sorts of questions, the trivial and the deep. I would prefer this community be charged with posting as nearly a comprehensive answer as possible to this question over anyone else.

I prefer this for all sorts of reasons:

  • The alternative is letting people find their way to sites like, say, the Ph.D. Comics discussion forums, where I really don't think they're going to find a fair and balanced discussion of life as a continuing grad student. (I love the comic, but I've experienced the attitude you can get from having your head in it too much.)
  • I actually think a thorough, well-written, well-vetted answer is possible. All you people make a professional career out of writing dense, comprehensive answers to hard questions. I know it's a broad question by StackExchange standards but have a little faith here.
  • I generally like the Q/A format with decoupled upvotes and downvotes as well as the wiki style of the question.
  • It pulls in visitors. This may be growth hack-ish but it's important. We're not trying to build a walled garden here.
  • In the "real world" sense of "good question," it's a good question. Of course it's a good question - it faces people, it has real consequences, it can be thought through in a somewhat rigorous manner.
  • It's 2016. People tend to google good questions they have.
  • In my experience this community has had a pretty darn healthy worldview between "follow your dreams at all cost!" and "academia is part of the broader context of life, so let's take that seriously too." We have a tag. We take both succeeding in academia and succeeding in life, whatever that means to "you" or the OP, seriously.

I'm glad we're discussing this seriously because StackExchange communities like StackOverflow have taken a draconian stance against open questions, and rightly so, for the natures of their communities and their scale. I think academia.SE is well positioned to put up a good answer to a big and hard question like this and will benefit for doing so.

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    ... and it's still far too broad. In my opinion, at least; the community seems to disagree. Far better to have multiple different questions addressing the different reasons people may want to quit a Ph.D. And yes, it does draw in traffic - it ended up in the Hot Questions list and already has four candidate-for-deletion answers. Do we really need clickbait? I just protected the question. – Stephan Kolassa Apr 14 '16 at 11:08
1

Yes, this sounds reasonable, and you seem to have enough material to write a good answer to your own question (which is encouraged on SE, when appropriate). Go for it!

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