1. Why did you leave?
My life in the [Professor X's] group at that time was not very pleasant. [Professor X] has a reputation as a demanding hard-ass, and it's true that he expected everyone to put in a lot of time at the lab, and let's say he was sparing with his positive feedback. I don't hold it against him (anymore) because he put basically his whole life into his work and simply expected his students to have the same commitment. Some people did quite well in this environment, but I was not one of them. At some point I started to ask myself if I really cared enough about chemistry to be miserable for several more years, and I realized that the answer was 'No.' This was in [pre-recession times], when the common wisdom was still that it was easier to hire an MS than a PhD, and I thought I might as well take advantage of that.
2. Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden?
The decision itself was rather sudden, but I'm sure it was bubbling in my subconscious for several months. I remember distinctly that I was at home late one night reading In the Pipeline, and some commenters were talking about the job market for MS vs. PhD students. It suddenly struck me to take the idea of leaving with an MS seriously. I talked about it with some friends in the group the next few days, and not long afterwards I decided to talk to [Professor X] about it. He was actually quite positive and it marked a slight thawing in our relationship.
I said that I started taking the idea seriously that night and discussed it the following days, but I think the reality is that as soon as I had that idea, the decision was made.
3. Where are you now?
Shortly after I made a solid decision to leave with an MS, I finished up a project with a post-doc in the group (which led to my only publication), started the job search, and started writing my MS thesis and the exit process. I got a job in the process chemistry department at [large pharma Y], just before the market crash. I worked there for a little less than six years, then in [recently] my wife and I decided to quit our jobs and travel for a while. So at the moment I'm unemployed, but in an alternate universe where I make responsible life decisions I would still be at [large pharma Y.]
4. Are you happy after leaving? How does the decision look to you now?
Unquestionably it was the right decision for me. I felt liberated after making it, and much happier with my life after leaving. Like I said before, I simply don't have the passion for chemistry to put up with grad school long enough for a PhD. I also don't feel a particular need to prove myself capable of it; in fact I'm more than happy to admit that I'm not capable of it. Obviously I'm not very ambitious about my career so it never bothered me that not having a PhD would hinder me.
I like doing lab work and working on technical problems and have no interest in moving into management, of projects or of people.
Now, bear in mind that my experience comes from before the employment market became truly dismal. There's a good chance that not having a PhD now is going to screw me when it comes time to look for a job again. But I still don't regret leaving. It sounds paradoxical but it actually felt like making an active, positive decision with my life.Thanks to "Z" for their story.