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Cutting the Vines of the Ivory Tower

May 23, 2012

I am sitting here, among the boxes, considering this new path of mine. I have left graduate school. The words are harder to type than I expected. The decision was not made lightly, I agonized for months, discussed with my husband at length. I consulted friends and family. I made list after list, and thought for days, weeks, and months. In the end the decision was mine alone. I made the choice to walk away half way through my program. The recent move was a part of this decision, or rather a result. For most of my life  I have always found school to be a comfort, my sanctuary of sorts. Every year when the school supplies are set out I can feel my heart flutter at the thought of starting up again.

I was one of those kids who loved to write papers in school. Presentations weren’t as appealing, but they were tolerable. Group projects tended to leave me cringing, (oh to be an introvert in a group of extroverts.) I can remember growing up and only being asked questions about school. Being one of the only “kids” to go to college on one side of my family I would always be asked in a playful manner (at least that is how I chose to understand it at the time) if I was done with Master’s or PhD. I can’t say I remember questions about anything other than my studies. My escape from a life that fell far short of any ideas I had. School is where things made sense, and while there was the drama and b.s. that accompanies any persons high school and college experiences, it still felt like home.

This led me to apply to a couple of grad programs. I was a religious studies major and believed I wanted to go on for a Ph.D and teach. School was delayed for a year due to in part to the economic downturn and in the mean time my husband and I packed our things up and made the move to where he could find a job. In that time I started and ended a brief stint at a company, a position I felt over-qualified for and one that I detested the entire time. I do believe part of it came from my desire to be in school, but at the same time it was a very simple position. I had it in my mind that the only place I could be happy would be in school.

Luck struck and we were able to make it out to the city for my school. We arrived a few months early and I was suddenly two states from everything and everyone I had known. It was an interesting experience to say the least. Our first place was horrible (bugs, odd smells, and creepy neighbors.) The second place worked a bit better (further away from campus) but it was a vast improvement over the previous residence. School began and while I had not grown to love the city, I was anxious enough for school that I tried to push away any negative feelings. Classes were interesting but started to become repetitive after the initial excitement wore off. The dislike of the city started to creep up more and more. I knew so few people on campus (introversion strikes again) that I would leave campus feeling more alone than the days spent in my apartment with just the two cats. I tried to make friends, and eventually grew close enough to a few core people, but at the end of the day leaving campus found me exhausted and unhappy.

A trip home over holiday break helped both my husband and myself to realize we were dissatisfied with our current situation, yet neither one wanted to say anything. (He didn’t want to because this was my dream, and I didn’t want to because I had pushed for this.) It wasn’t easy to make the decision to leave school, even when we decided to move back I knew there were ways to finish the degree.

At the same time I came to realize that I didn’t relish the idea of moving multiple times (in search of a teaching position.) The realities of the job market were one of the biggest factors. The best way to describe it (how I try to explain the decision to quit to a family and friends) the job market for Ph.D’s is bad in a good economy, and we all know this is not a good one. My field was specialized enough that finding a job would be tough, add to that needing to find a job for my husband and attempting to find both in a city we could stand and I quickly realized how unlikely it would be. I also started to realize that I had changed in the last two years. Prior to being married to my husband and being outside of academia I never thought I could be happy and feel at home anywhere else. I had sought school in part as a source of security, but also as a way to define myself. I loved the subject matter, I still do, but I have come to see my priorities shift. There are things I can do and ways I can understand who I am outside grades and class rankings. I am fortunate to have a support system that allows me to work through all of this at a steady pace. I am still terrified, after six years with a plan in place I am suddenly sitting here unemployed, having quit graduate school, without any idea or plan of where I am going next. Yet, I feel as though a weight has been lifted, the elephant has stepped off my chest and I can finally catch my breath and take stock of who I am.

From → Post-Grad School

  1. Letting go of the safe familiar is so very difficult when grasping for the scary unknown. But I do think the challenge is a great reward. To even attempt it is like you’ve won already! 🙂

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  1. Quitting is hard to do. | IntrovertedKnitter

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