Yesterday, I left graduate school permanently.
I’m not finished with my work just yet. There’s still grading to be done, as final projects were due last night and averages will need to be up very soon. But I’m now also job-hunting.
Maybe I should back up a bit. I’m in—or was in—the throes of comprehensive exams. They’re a nasty, exhaustive sort of test over 3 different areas: a 100-year time span, a focus area, and a methodology. There’s a written component and an oral component. My chosen areas for comps and dissertation were decided on too quickly, and I wasn’t invested in the way they worked together. Exams haven’t been going well partially because I have a project that is very much the Wrong Project for Me.
After passing comps, students move on to write a dissertation—so they must propose a study, sit a defense of that proposal, then write a large, research-intensive document, then defend it again before graduating. And there are reasons for this—I mean, after finishing a dissertation, a person is a doctor, an expert among experts. That means they need to know what they’re talking about. They should be coming up with new critical theories and methods, researching, writing, and presenting.
And generally, they should be teaching, too. PhD’s in English often teach. That is, in most programs (and definitely in ours), the expected path, and so activities focus on preparing graduates to get university positions in an ever-shrinking field and to keep those, to teach well.
But that’s something else that I realized. While I enjoy teaching my composition students, I’ve been reminded, over the last several years, that an academic career means a lot of things—ongoing publications, conference presentations, etc—that I find more stressful than is healthy.
In other words, an academic career isn’t for me, and neither is the project I’ve been trying to work toward.
Understanding those things allowed me to see more clearly that the time had really come to leave. Yes, I finished doctoral level coursework. Yes, I passed part of comps and was working toward the other. In some ways, I was almost finished. But in other ways, I’d only just begun. I can see value in what I was doing, what I had done, and I was—am—still interested in the topics themselves. But ultimately, finishing is not in my best interest.
I told all of this to my major instructors through individual e-mails yesterday. Out of courtesy, I wanted to tell them as soon as the decision was made. I have been on assistantship at the university and was scheduled to teach two classes in the spring semester, so there will be some schedule rearranging, and the group of kind and helpful faculty who have helped with this project needed to know my decision.
So yesterday, I left graduate school permanently.
And everyone was wonderful. My instructors wished me well and said they understood my decision. They reminded me of the names of critics we’d discussed in case I wanted to keep up my reading. My friends and colleagues called me brave, though I didn’t feel it, and lots of people offered helpful, kind words. My husband, parents, and family offered me love and support, and they have since I started making this decision.
I laughed, and I cried, and I wondered what to do with my life. I read a whole book in one sitting, something that had nothing to do with Work. I started re-vamping my resume and combed through online job ads. I talked to friends about my decision.
Somehow I feel free, freer than I have in a long while.