Would it be seen as "a failure", "someone who is not able to finish what he begins" in my CV? This is what worries me, after finishing both my undergraduate and master with very good grades I fear it will be ruined by "started a PhD and gave up after 3 years".

Context: I'm doing natural sciences, in Europe, I would need one more year to graduate but I've realised academia is not for me (and I'm not really enjoying my time as PhD student).

Will dropping out be seen as a "failure" by potential employers?

Ps: I originally posted this in Academia but was advised to post it here instead

  • 1
    Is it possible to convert the work you've done on your PhD into a Masters degree of any form? Nov 2, 2016 at 9:49
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Should I include university education on my resume if I dropped out?
    – gnat
    Nov 2, 2016 at 10:47
  • A PhD has some value in industry and it is a title. But I don't think you would be seen as "a failure". Which science and is it the same as your master and undergrad? If you are getting paid and and it is painless it might be worth finishing out a year.
    – paparazzo
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:30
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    @JoeStrazzere Won't that simply lead to the question "What were you doing the last 3 years?" It seems unlikely to avoid the topic completely.
    – Brandin
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:35
  • I know many, many people who have left graduate programs both at the masters and doctoral level. I've not once seen it hurt anyone that isn't in a career path where it's required. However, I would encourage you to complete it since you're nearly complete. As one who is pushing 50, I assure you that one year spent completing it will be worth it, just to know that you got it. I know several PhDs who switched careers after a doctorate and all are glad they completed it, even though they too decides against an academic career.
    – Chris E
    Nov 2, 2016 at 12:54

5 Answers 5


In an interview you might/probably will get a question on why you've quit the PhD program. Explaining it as you did: "I've realised academia is not the path I want to follow", should not reflect on you badly. You have made up your mind. Just make sure you don't give the impression you change your mind/life choices frequently. Taking in account your grades and the fact that you were selected for a PhD should be an indicator that you could be a high performer.

I would say even though you did not finish the PhD program, the fact that you did it might be a plus. At the very least it was a learning opportunity, and your research experience could prove valuable if you are solliciting in the same branche.


I have to disagree with the previous answers. As someone working in an office (automotive development in Germany) where 90% of the people hold a PhD, I would not hire someone who gave up so close to the finish line. Even if you hate your PhD now, you will profit significantly from having a PhD even when working outside of academia. Going through with it would prove to me as a hiring person that you don't give up easily and that you can deal with a certain amount of pressure and pain.

I am sure you would find a job after giving up on your PhD, but my opinion is that it will definitely lower your chances to get certain positions in the industry.

  • One of the best things I got from my PhD was the ability to persevere with a difficult problem, find new ways to approach it, and stick with it until I found a solution. I left academic life after the PhD, but the confidence to keep going with hard problems is one of the skills I have found most useful in my professional life
    – strmqm
    Nov 3, 2016 at 8:09

I'm doing natural sciences, in Europe, I would need one more year to graduate but I've realised academia is not for me (and I'm not really enjoying my time as PhD student).

You seem to know what you want and what you don't want. If there is one thing that is important in life, it is to realise at some point that if you don't like what you are doing you should stop doing it.

That being said, you will have to explain exactly why you have stopped and how this has helped you in defining your professional project. Always try to find the added value in for your carrier when you make decisions like this and explain it to your future employer.


Don't beat yourself up. I gave up on my getting a PhD in Chem Eng from Columbia after just a year when I fell in love while moonlighting for a firm that I eventually helped become the largest environmental planning firm in the New York Metro area :)

Yes, both my academic advisers were yelling at me and my tiger mother cried but I was mentally done, and ready for the next phase of my life. The only casualty was my PhD candidacy. My career is fine :)

I'd rather not finish for the right reasons rather finish for the wrong reasons. And I count as finishing for the wrong reasons finishing for the sake of finishing. Life is a one-way trip and time that you throw away doing something that you no longer want to do - well, you'll never get it back.

Your life and career have just begun :)


As an employer it would make no difference to me, I'm interested in what you have achieved rather than what you didn't. On a personal level I would think it's wasted time because I value education being a school dropout myself. But others might think differently.

In any case, it's purely a personal decision for you to make, I can't see it affecting your career because you won't be applying for jobs that need a PHD which are fairly rare outside academia anyway.

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