I am not sure whether this is the right place to post this question.

I am at the end of my seventh year. I won't have funding neither from my department nor from my advisor next year and I do not have a thesis. I can enroll as a student if I can support myself, which will be possible but not easy for me.

My advisor made it clear from day one that he won't be much help to me. He said: PhD is taken not given. I started studying seriously two years ago. I could not much talk to him about what I learnt. Our conversation ended in a minute or two, if I asked immature questions. He didn't even suggest a problem. He said good students find their own problem.

I went astray at times. I spent more than necessary stuck on problems. I felt like Buridan's ass: I could not decide between learning new material or sticking to the same because of my limited time. I talked to his last student and a friend of mine, over the phone for six months. He is playing the role of my advisor now. I feel good about this.

If I do not earn a PhD my life will be much different. But at the same time, I am not sure how much more time I will need to get a result and get "done". Two years ago I thought I will have a result in six months. This was over-optimistic. Same thing happened a year ago. I am not sure whether continuing is overoptimistic at this point. Beside the fact that I feel lonely, and stressed, and worn...


closed as primarily opinion-based by Federico Poloni, Mark Grant, András Bátkai, Alexey Ustinov, Neil Hoffman May 25 '16 at 7:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ If he is not helping with the problem or suggesting a problem or assessing the difficulty of a problem, then what is his role as an advisor? $\endgroup$ – Burak May 25 '16 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ I've voted to close your question, as it does not contain an actual question (the question in the title is far too subjective). MathOverflow works best when you ask focused questions which come up in your research. You might even get useful answers which help you complete your PhD! $\endgroup$ – Mark Grant May 25 '16 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ As general rule, not necessarily applicable to your case specifically, individuals and society (but usually not private employers) tend to undervalue time and to overvalue certificates. $\endgroup$ – Yaakov Baruch May 25 '16 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ An important question to ask yourself: would you be happy doing something other than academic math? Sometimes, knowing when to quit is the brave and smart thing to do. But, by all means, do talk your thoughts through with the people close to you (both professionally and personally), since they will be able to give you the best advice for you. $\endgroup$ – Igor Khavkine May 25 '16 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ "I am at the end of my seventh year." ... "I started studying seriously two years ago." What were you doing for the first five years?! $\endgroup$ – Yoav Kallus May 25 '16 at 15:28

I do not think you are the only one in this position. Personally I knew one 9th-year PhD, one 8th-year PhD, and one 16th-year PhD in our department. Not long ago, I talked to an 8th-year PhD who was fortunate to graduate. But he said he was so exhausted by the work that he did not want to do math anymore. He could have dropped out and done something he enjoyed in the mean time.

One website you might find some help is https://academia.stackexchange.com/.

Fake proofs or fake original ideas are surprisingly common if you get yourself isolated by working in a cubicle for a long time. I would encourage you to speak out your ideas to more people (conferences could be a good idea). Unfortunately, mathematicians are of measure zero density in the society. A lot of us do not socialize and cannot form an intellectual conversation outside of our working field. I am one of them as well.

But life is not all about mathematics. Put away your thesis for a while, try to do something different, then look back to see if you are interested. If not, I would not suggest you to stay in PhD. Otherwise I think you might have found the answer already.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "fake proof" and "fake original idea"? $\endgroup$ – Shubhodip Mondal May 25 '16 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ @ShubhodipMondal: A "fake proof" is a proof that intuitively works, but did not work because an important step cannot be justified or being false. A "fake original idea" is something you worked for at least two months and has a type-up already, then you discovered that it was done in a paper published 30 years ago. My own example would be calculating the Hochschild homology of differential operators on a manifold using Poincare lemma. I found a proof recently using derived functor machinery, but then I realized it was done essentially by Getzler already. $\endgroup$ – Bombyx mori May 25 '16 at 18:38

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