Some of you already know that something has been running through my mind lately: whether or not I should pursue the PhD that I just started.
To give you some context, read this post by Rohan Maitzen on The PhD Conundrum. The first comment is mine, and I will copy it here as well:
I’ve been thinking about this topic lately… after a year in my PhD and the really competitive program I am in, I wonder if I should focus my professionalization on something other than tenure-track teaching.
Don’t get me wrong, the first thing I wanted to do when I started graduate school was to become a professor… but I find myself looking at other, much more motivated students who have already published during their MAs, become part of 3-4 committees in the student union or the department, etc… and I realize that either my motivation is deficient, or maybe I’m just not that interested in the “academic life”. Knowing that there are possibilities outside of the tenure-track path is encouraging: I’ve already started doing some freelance writing, and given my experience in office jobs during my early 20s I know I could land a job in the communications department of any office, private or government.
I think that the question really gets down to knowing the costs of dedicating your life pursuing a tenure-track job. I’m starting to believe that it’s not worth (for me at least) to put my future and financial stability on what has literally become a lottery. I realize that unless I start not sleeping at night, I can never catch up to those with years of service with student associations and already one or two publications and book reviews to their name. I have absolutely none of that, and I know that my chances are reduced by that much.
So, the question remains: do I get out of the PhD with my sanity still intact and a pretty useful MA, or do I keep going just to get the “Dr.” and for the satisfaction of a challenge faced and conquered? I give myself another year to decide whether my dissertation project can sustain my interest for the next three years and to test my abilities as a teacher; otherwise, I think withdrawing makes the most sense.
So here it is. Although I am very happy that I made it in this department with excellent funding, faculty and opportunities to teach early on, the reality remains that jobs are scarce and that after a year with other PhD students it might not be what I want after all. Does “quitting” mean failure? In my head, it doesn’t anymore. Maybe I stayed in academia because I knew of nothing else, because low-level office jobs left me frustrated and underwhelmed. But an MA gives me access to things higher in the hierarchy: I can be more than a secretary or office clerk. While I do believe that teaching would fulfill me, ultimately there are other things I could do that could fulfill me just as well.
After writing this comment I found myself looking at professional communication degrees (online especially since the local university where I would move to should I leave Edmonton doesn’t have one). If what I’ve learned to do for the past 6 years is communicate ideas through writing, then this seems like a logical path to choose. I love writing and communicating ideas, but the academic style has stifled me so much over the years that I thought there was nothing else worthy of doing. I see it differently now, after a semester taking composition theory as well as working as a freelance writer. I’m interested in a ton of things and I feel more and more the urge to share them.
This is serious, long-term thinking and I’m not going to drop out tomorrow. I really need to assess my desire and suitability for an academic life, which means that I do need to get through the next year to test my interest in my project and in teaching. However the more impulsive side of me is telling me to just stop now. I don’t want to give up something I’ve worked so hard for only after a week or so of thinking about it; but usually those gut feelings are a sign that I should do something, not remain impassive and indecisive.
This is a hard decision to make. Both my heart and my mind are divided between the two–it’s not a matter of following one or the other.