Why do PhD students drop out?

Failed, arrived, happy

"I thought I was incapable"

After a year and a half, Annabell dropped out of her scientific doctorate and is now doing an internship as a beekeeper.

“My colleagues annoyed me. Everyone was always looking for competition. Instead of talking about content, they constantly talked about their great job offers and publishing. Anyone talking about anything other than research, or not willing to stay until midnight, was through downstairs. At some point I started to believe that I couldn't do anything - although objectively I was quite successful. After the topic didn't quite fit my interests either - it was very practice-oriented, but I'm more of a theorist - it is getting harder and harder to grit your teeth and endure the system. At the same time, I was fascinated by the thought that I couldn't just leave the project alone. When I made up my mind to announce my breakup, new opportunities opened up. I find it remarkable that my friends from outside of science said I should hold on and just take the title with me. But those who were in the system understood why I wanted to stop immediately. At the moment I am doing an internship as a beekeeper. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'll end up working as a beekeeper. At first I just followed an idea. "

"Learned from my children"

Tobias worked on a doctorate in economics for five years. Now he is going to be a primary school teacher.

“I gave up my PhD in economics - after five years. The decision weighed on me and it dragged on for a long time, but I can make it up with myself. Probably because I had doubts about my future as a scientist right from the start. The doctoral project came about at the time because I was offered a position after my master’s thesis and I was very happy to do the associated tasks of organization, exam correction or teaching. Over time I took on more and more of it, only with the dissertation it didn't really make progress. I think I was lacking the intrinsic motivation. Of course, I could have left earlier, but I also had no real alternative and good working conditions in addition to a meaningful job. The flexible office hours were ideal because of my children, plus the relatively good pay. When the contract expired, I seriously wondered if I wanted to stay in science. What bothered me is that it is a kind of vacuum in which you write for a small target group. Instead, I wanted more contact with reality. My children showed me that too. Through them I gained distance from the university and asked myself what my life is actually about. It was also the children who gave me the idea of ​​becoming a primary school teacher. They are looking for career changers in Berlin. Now I work as a teacher and attend seminars at the same time. It's time consuming, but it feels good. "

"Like after graduation"

Jannick did a two-year PhD in sociology and dropped out to become a journalist.

“At first I thought that a doctorate was the easiest and most natural way - apart from part-time jobs, I only knew academic work. Since I couldn't find a way to finance it, I started working as a freelance journalist and realized that I enjoyed it just as much. The tasks are pretty similar: you gather information, structure it, and write it down. Unlike in science, you get quick feedback and money for it. I also had a certain idealistic interest in science, but I always felt like a supplicant. When I applied for both a graduate school and an internship at a daily newspaper, I was still undecided. The acceptance from the newspaper came first - and I ended up there. Without really knowing it, I'm now doing exactly what I always wanted. I don't see the two years in which I worked on my doctoral project as wasted time, but as an important orientation phase - a bit like after my Abitur. When you work as a local journalist on a daily basis, what comes out is of course sometimes a bit superficial. But if at some point I want to go deeper, I can: Then I'll look around for a job at a weekly newspaper or a magazine. "

"The professor's delaying tactics"

Hendrik did his doctorate in law for two years and is now doing a legal clerkship.

“Because of my work as a research assistant, I didn't have enough time for the dissertation. At some point I didn't see a country anymore. I was actually employed by my supervisor for 20 hours a week, in fact it was around 25 hours. I had too many responsibilities and should be available 24/7. That created a pressure that at some point I could no longer distance myself. Even before my doctorate, I worked at the chair for a total of five years; I've observed how many start a dissertation - and that only a handful finish. Most of them quit their job at some point in order to concentrate fully on the dissertation. I couldn't have done that financially. In retrospect, I think that the heavy workload was a deliberate delaying technique of the professor. The longer we worked for him, the more valuable we became to him. One of them completed the dissertation after ten years. Even if I got understanding from many sides and also from other professors, of course I sometimes doubted myself too. After all, there are people who have managed that - with a 60-hour week. The hardest thing for me to communicate to others was that I dropped out and wasted two years. Now I'm doing my legal clerkship. When I see others who have graduated, I am sometimes disappointed. "

"PhD inflation made me skeptical"

Florentin worked for two and a half years on a doctorate in German studies, now he has a job in the university administration.

“At some point I didn't see any point in my work. The topic was political and not unimportant for the current time. But still I asked myself whether it would really help someone else, or whether it was purely an end in itself and only served to gain a title. In addition, I observed in my environment that many were offered a doctorate at the time. This inflation made me skeptical, after all, a doctorate should have a certain value. And then you have to make it clear what it actually means to do a doctorate: sit down for a long time and be diligent. That's good, but it's not a seal of approval for everything. In my job in university administration, I also acquire many skills. The job that I initially did part-time to finance myself, I was able to upgrade to a full-time position when I dropped out of the dissertation. Now I earn decently; In addition to the crisis of meaning, money was the second important reason for the termination. During my doctorate, I had just as little as when I was a student and slowly had to repay the student loans and student loans. It would have taken a long time to get a scholarship, and since most of them are ideologically bound, they didn't seem attractive to me. The existential fears weighed on me, and after two and a half years I broke up. I didn’t want to mess around any longer. "


The names have been changed by the editors.