Why I’m leaving the PhD program

This is my last week at Marquette University. I’ve been thinking about quitting for a long time — at least over a year now — but it’s been a difficult road to that decision. How much of my unhappiness was from regular ol’ imposter syndrome and how much of it was from sincere unhappiness of my life decisions? I’ve spoken to a lot of friends, trusted professors, strangers online, and my therapist, and I realized that the thought of leaving makes me happier than I have felt in a long time. I feel free now. While I’m nervous about starting my new job as a student services specialist,  having to start paying down my loans, and worrying about the possibility of regret, I’m also excited for the first two. I read several personal blogs about why people left their Ph.D.s and I wanted to share my reasons in case it resonates with people in the same position.

For a long time I’ve been struggling with my dissertation. I imagined my dissertation to look a certain way. I know that how you imagine it in the beginning is never how it turns out; I was ready for that. What I was not ready for is being told that the argument I wanted to make wasn’t enough. I lost interest in my own dissertation. If I didn’t care anymore, why should anyone else? Also, how can you write 200 pages on something you aren’t interested in? A seminar paper is easy enough. I’ve had to bull shit those for years, but you can’t do that for a book. I am passionate about my topic and hope to pursue it in other means — blogging about it, for example — that won’t give me the same grief as my dissertation, but still satisfies my need to share my thoughts and ideas about some amazing books and women with the public. So that’s one reason.

In the last few years, I’ve also seen friends with PhDs unable to get jobs. A few have gotten tenure-track positions (some right after graduation and some after a few years of adjuncting), but in places I would never want to live — Alabama, Georgia, Iowa. Where I live is more important to me than the job, because I need to love where I live. I know that a lot of people can live anywhere, but I am not that person. I want to be close to my family, I want to live in a blue state, I need mountains and relatively quick access to an ocean. Friends who didn’t get TT jobs either ended up having to adjunct in several places to make ends meet (and this obviously means no benefits) or have part-time or temporary jobs (again with no benefits). I hate to sound like a capitalist, but I would like good health benefits, pay down my loans, and be able to travel occasionally. If that’s the life I want, then I need to change my situation in order to get it. The priorities I want have become clearer and I’m lucky enough to be responsible only to myself so that I can make the changes I need.

My third reason, which some (like my therapist) can argue should be more important, is that mental health has deteriorated since I’ve started. Since I’ve been here (August 2012), I’ve had to increase the dosage of my anti-depressants and the frequency of which I took my anti-anxiety medicine. For the first time in 10 years, I considered cutting as a way to alleviate my pain/frustration/anxiety/whatever I was feeling that day. That alone scared me and made me face why I was feeling the way I was. Being in therapy has luckily saved me from resorting to old and bad habits, but it also made me realize that I was unhappier than I was willing to admit to myself. I need to refocus my life and figure out what makes me happy — or at least content instead of miserable. Reading is one of those things that I loved and has been sacrificed (ironically) because of this path. I’ve missed free time when I’m not racked with guilt. While I still read for fun, it’s usually for half hour a day, some days. I miss reading things I actually want to read. While I hate the cynicism of this statement, I do think that loving literature and loving reading are not enough reasons to pursue a graduate degree. And I’ve realized I miss enjoying reading. It might seem trivial, but it’s time to focus on what makes me happy.

There was a lot of thought and talk about me “wasting 5 years here,” except I don’t see like that. Since 2012, I’ve taken classes in which I’ve learned new things; I’ve discovered literature that is never or rarely discussed; I’ve gone to conferences to hear some fantastic speakers and presenters; I’ve worked as an editorial assistant for a literary journal which introduced me to a new side of academic publishing; I’ve taught to some amazing (not not-so-amazing) students; and, I’ve made lifelong friends. It’s been a great experience. Now it’s time to move on. I used to hate it when a professor here would discuss the Ph.D. as if it was a job, but it really is. And if you’re unhappy with your job, you leave. So my decision came down to this: I’m unhappy at my job, I’m getting paid next to nothing for it, and I’m getting into more debt. If no one is dependent on me having this job, then what is stopping me from quitting and finding a better job? At the end, this logical break down made my decision easy.

Meanwhile, as a forever emo kid who swears by the power of music, this song perfectly encapsulates my life right now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s