Why Do So Many Graduate Students Quit?

With half of all doctoral students leaving graduate school without finishing, something significant and overwhelming must be happening for at least some of them during the process of obtaining that degree. Mental illness is often offered as the standard rationale to explain why some graduate students burn out. Some research has suggested a link between intelligence and conditions such as bipolar disorder, leading some observers to believe many graduate students struggle with mental-health problems that predispose them to burning out.

.. Ph.D. programs are extremely lonely and based on a culture of critique rather than support in which professors and peers constantly look for weaknesses in the doctoral student’s arguments, she said.

.. “You become overly fixated on what your professors think of you,” she said. “Paranoia is quite rampant in Ph.D. programs because Ph.D. students can get so isolated and so fixated on whether or not the people in authority [committee members] approve of what they’re doing since they have total authority to grant the degree.”

.. Wilson’s recollections are reflective of a widespread problem at her university and graduate programs across the country: a lack of communication between faculty and students. “Very rarely is the faculty motive … malicious,” she said. Faculty members are often “very busy and they don’t communicate the full reason for some of the things that they do, so it is only natural that a student makes certain assumptions based on what they have been able to observe.”

.. An overwhelming number complained about a lack of quality mentoring and support from faculty. The study also noted that doctoral students believed mentoring needs to begin earlier, be more systematic, and be based on a multiple-mentor model.

.. students describe the doctoral process as more “political” than intellectual in nature. There are “lots of issues of power and powerlessness that pervade the graduate experience,” Kerlin said, which may induce extreme distress for students who feels powerless.

..  found that 43 percent of all study participants reported experiencing more stress than they could handle, with Ph.D. students expressing the greatest amounts of stress. Of the students polled, more than half listed stress or burnout as a major concern, about a quarter cited feeling like an outsider, and nearly a third listed their relationships with professors. Only 6 percent of graduate students said they felt they could frequently turn to their mentors and advisors for assistance during stressful times.

..  In 2014, well over a third of doctorate recipients reported no firm employment upon graduation.