I'm a mechanical engineer with several years of practical experience. About a year ago I came back to university to pursue a Ph.D. and am coming up on my first years' report.
The prof I've been working for has grand (and realistic) ambitions for his lab and has all of us working on a giant group project in addition to our course work and research. However, the section that I am on is identical to my prior work experience and therefore old-hat for me. I'm not learning any new skills, but it takes about 60%-80% of my time to keep the project moving on schedule. Due in part to this extra project and all of my course work as well (20-30% of my time was spent on course work). I have completed almost nothing related to my actual research goals. I honestly feel like this entire past year has been an incredibly expensive and complete waste of my time. The course work has been impractical and useless for me and I've gained no useful skills from this extra project. (No I cannot drop this extra project, I've asked repeatedly)
Before I came back to university, working on my own I made leaps and bounds more progress. I came back to university because they have the resources to support the project and they open a lot more doors and have access to personnel to help with my research. Completing the research on my own would have become far too expensive for me to do on my own when it gets to the prototyping stage, but doing it at a university seems like it will just take too long to do. But the main issue is that I'm NOT doing academic work, I'm doing the same thing I was before I got here, but with an 80% pay cut.
I'm considering leaving grad school and wondering what future employers will think of someone who drops out of a Ph.D. program after only a year? I'm wondering if employers will view this past year as a "placeholder" job while I looked for something better, sort of like I was trying to hide the gap in changing jobs. How can I address this if it comes up in an interview?