I’ve been contemplating this post for way too long, and I’m still not entirely sure I should post it here. But reading the accounts of others who walked away from grad school without finishing or academia after getting a degree has been helpful to me, so I figure I owe at least this.
To get right to the point, I’m seriously considering walking away from my dissertation and the PhD program I’m in. I’m not 100% ready to go, but I’m pretty sure.
I entered the program in fall of 2006 and am currently ABD, but I just don’t really see the point in finishing. More importantly, I feel like the only reason I didn’t leave earlier (like 3 years ago when it would have made a lot more sense to bail) was some sense of duty–needing to finish what I started and not letting people down and other rationalizations born out of indoctrination and stubbornness.
A quick rundown of how I view the upsides and downsides of staying or going:
Arguments in favor of leaving:
1. I have no intention of pursuing an academic career, and getting such a job isn’t likely to happen even if I did. People, and I mean people who are better academics than I, and people who are willing to move for jobs, for the most part aren’t getting academic jobs. The academic job market sucks, and I want no part of it.
2. I need to adapt to the place I live and we don’t want to move. Despite moving here for grad school, the town where I live is home now. My daughter is in kindergarten, has great friends whose parents have become our friends. My mom moved here to be near her granddaughter and provides free childcare when needed. We own our home. Our garden is awesome I like my neighbors. The cost of living is low, and there are many things I would be satisfied doing for a living here.
3. I would reclaim weeks of my life. Seriously, to finish this ridiculous document will eat up a minimum of 200 hours of work–probably closer to 2 or three weeks if you add up everything. This is time I could spend working to expand my editing business, planting a garden, home repairs, playing with my kid, having lunch with my wife every now and then, volunteering, learning to do new things that I’ve tabled for years, and maybe even finding meaningful work that pays.
4. I would save the ~$2800 needed for tuition and fees next term. This money basically provides me University library access that I barely use and the right to schedule appointments with faculty members who then don’t bother to show up.
5. Stress. This limbo of being ABD and trying to get done is awful, especially with all the other things on my plate.
6. I can go ahead and publish anything I have written wherever I want, and I can do so now instead of shopping it around as part of my professional development to climb the stupid hierarchy of scholarly research.
7. Not having a PhD might actually make me a better candidate for jobs. As someone with an MA (I guess two at this point or something) and a fair amount of varied work experience (management, marketing, teaching, etc.) there are many positions at the University and beyond that I am qualified for. A number of them would prefer someone with a Master’s degree; none of them are looking for a PhD. Not to go down the path of “a PhD makes you overqualified,” but it might make one look over-specialized to hiring managers who want someone more pliable. And I do believe that some folks who don’t have a PhD would rather not hire someone to work in a position below them who has more education.
8. I can stop getting 40+ emails a day that I don’t care about or even really understand. Why the hell are you forwarding to 100s of people some CFP for a conference halfway around the world? Or a call for free editing of a book you signed up to edit? Knock that shit off, academics.
Arguments in favor of staying:
1. I may regret it later. This is possible, but not likely in the sense that I’ll be disappointed I didn’t finish because it limits my job opportunities. It’s more likely that I’ll be mad about walking away because I’m stubborn and hate not finishing things.
2. I’m so close to done. I’ve been telling myself this for way too long, but it really isn’t true if you look at the number of hours I need in order to finish. Plus there’s all the bullshit about formatting and defense and all that.
3. Walking away leaves a gap on my resume and shows a lack of work ethic due to failing to complete the degree. This is probably the biggest concern I have. However, the gap on the resume is still a gap if one finishes and decides to pursue work outside of academia–graduate instructor isn’t always seen as a real job, you must revise your resume to make it one. Likewise for not finishing, it’s just something you need to be able to address coherently and own–you made a decision that this wasn’t for you and moved on.
4. I’ll let people down. I worry about this, but anyone who actually cares about you should be supportive. From what I’ve read of other people’s experiences in leaving, most people are supportive or unsurprised when finding out someone walked away. I don’t care what the faculty in my department think and haven’t for a long time.
This is just off the top of my head, and I’m not ready to etch a decision in stone yet. I also don’t usually post personal blogs because that’s just not me, but I’d welcome feedback from my friends and random strangers.
In closing, a brief excerpt from Dr. Karen’s “It’s OK to Quit” (which is very much worth reading in full):
It is ok to decide that’s not what you want. It is ok to make another choice. There is life outside of academia. But academia is a kind of cult, and deviation from the normative values of the group is not permitted or accepted within its walls. You will be judged harshly by others and, to the extent you’ve been properly socialized into the cult during graduate school, by your own inner voices. Making the decision to leave involves confronting that judgment, working through it, and coming out the other side. It is long and hard and involves confronting profound shame. I went through this. I know.