June 29, 2009 at 9:12 am (school, this and that, writing)

I am going to take a few minutes to be frustrated about something.

I really don’t understand what the heck is up with people trying to tell me it’s a bad idea to leave grad school, causing me to have to endlessly justify my decision over and over and over again and making me feel increasingly vexed about my choice. I don’t see really what the difference is between grad school and any other job– you work, you get paid (kind of), you deal with co-workers. In fact, grad school, and academia, to those who aren’t in love with the culture, is even more of a hassle than other jobs. Just like anything, it is fun for people who love it and annoying and terrible for people who wish they were doing something else. And for me, grad school has been interfering with my other goals and aspirations, and I don’t desire to work in an academic department. Or deal with writing papers. Or deal with department politics. So what is so terrible about leaving? I can go back if I want to. When I got my Bachelor’s degree I graduated with one of the top five GPAs in my entire graduating class. My GPA for my Master’s is a 4.0, and though I haven’t gotten my grades from this summer I assume I’ll have around that for my year of Ph.D work. I have fantastic teaching evaluations, professors who would write me letters of recommendation. I’m not leaving with my tail between my legs, failing my classes and skulking away because I can’t teach. I’m leaving because I want to leave grad school, I’m not enjoying it and I want to do something else for a while. My “family of choice” thinks it’s a good idea, as does one of the biggest deal professors at FSU, an awesome person who has guided me with the combined skills of a mentor, a father, a professor, an advisor, and a friend, thinks that my decision to try something else for a while or maybe forever is an awesome idea. I have another friend/professor who thinks I am following a “calling” by leaving and maybe that’s the case. It certainly feels right to leave. Why can’t everyone else just see that?

There is some sort of weird stigma with quitting school, as if choosing to leave an expensive, high-stress environment with uncertain payback, that I don’t enjoy, and don’t want to do for a living, is crazy and must mean I have some sort of psychological issue or some other tragedy. As if I am failing as a person because I am leaving. Any job has opportunities, but most people who quit a job because they feel unfulfilled aren’t met with “but you might have been promoted!” or “But you might have gotten a raise!” or whatever. Usually people who quit a job are met with “Congrats, awesome! Such great opportunities await you!” But with quitting school you get the concerned brow-furrow and the personal questions. “Is everything OK?” “Are you sure you want to do that? You’ll lose so much work!” “Why just give up now?” Let’s take stock of things for a moment: I have one year, and not even a complete year, of Ph.D work. I have a Master’s degree, which of course in this day and age is the consolation prize of degrees, chump change instead of a respectable effort. I dislike the elements of academia that are unfortunately its defining characteristics in this day and age. So where exactly is the tragedy?

And so I have to go through the whole rigamarole over and over again: I’m too mentally exhausted at the end of most academic days to write, and I want to take a few years to try my hand at the writing thing. As a grad student I never have time for other things I love in the world, like painting, cooking, writing, knitting, whatever. I have to do those things on breaks instead of frequently. I want my evenings and weekends to myself again. I don’t enjoy writing papers. The fields I work in are currently dominated by academic trends I find unproductive, disingenuous if not (occasionally) downright despicable, and uninteresting. 

Grad school was an awesome experience for me. I can parse academic writing. I have boss research skills. I can read (to some degree) ancient Greek. And I am going to use those skills, hopefully, to write. I know it is an insane crazy dream and I will most likely fail at it, but I don’t want to look back at my life one day and say “I really wish I had taken the time to try the whole writing thing. I had an opportunity and I squandered it.” So that’s what I’m doing. I feel fine in this decision, except when I have to endlessly justify it to everyone I’ve ever met. So everyone just leave me alone!



  1. Raechel said,

    What kind of jerkwads are telling you it’s a bad idea!?

  2. molly said,

    Grr! No one important. I’m just tired of people in general looking at me like I’ve had a miscarriage or something when I tell them I’m leaving school– the round “o” shape of the mouth and all the “my goodness!!!” attitude and all that. I’ll tell you the tale laterz.

    Who cares? I’m reading “Hounds and Hunting in Ancient Greece” right now and it is an amazing tome filled with completely ridiculous information. And guess what?! I was never assigned it in a class, I’M READING IT FOR PLEASURE BITCHES!

  3. Selena said,

    Well, I hate to play the “Tallahassee” sucks card, but I think it is the town. I have dealt with immense guilt in not being in school anymore. When I didn’t automatically apply to grad school, my professors turned their backs on me, and a lot of friends did that Stepford Wives “Oh isn’t that quaint” thing. Co-workers constantly think its weird that I’d read anything for pleasure, and always assume it is for a class, and that I should be going to school for anything I express interest in.

    The view of people here is foggy, they are either here to earn degrees or make babies (no offense to anyone doing either). I wouldn’t take much stock in what they think. Besides, your support group, both family and mentors, know you are making a decision for all the right reasons.

    I haven’t advanced a lot in my writing career, but I don’t regret these five years one bit. When I think about the fact that by now I would be spending all this time making up bullshit about Symbolist Art in some thesis, I’m really relieved that I’m channeling all those words into my own imagination and interests. I think you will be too, after all is said and done.

    So, fuck them. Good for you.

    • molly said,

      Ha! Yeah. I think it’s awesome you’re trying the writing thing rather than grad school, I’ve always thought that was super-neat.

      But it’s totally shitty when professors do the “Oh. . .” thing when you don’t want to go to grad school. I didn’t want to go right out of college and my advisor (who was batshit mad anyways) basically told me to stop bothering her, which really bothered me and turned me off of the idea for more time than I probably would have by nature. Then, when I was finishing my Master’s, I had a different professor give me the cold shoulder after I told him I was leaving grad school instead of getting a Ph.D. We were out at a bar (the whole class, long story) and he went around asking people about their plans and after I said I was leaving he didn’t say a word to me the whole rest of the night. What the heck is up with that? I can’t imagine ever discouraging a student from doing something he or she wants, but I guess I’m not a professor, just a lowly ex-graduate teaching assistant.

      BAH! Reading for pleasure is awesome. They’ll be all like “if I had been nicer she would have thanked me in her famous novel and I would finally be cool” when we get published.

      • Selena said,

        Thanks! Yeah, as regards the professors, I’m not sure if they feel betrayed, like they just put in all this work and now some ungrateful child is going to go squander it, or if its really they think that they’re such hot shit they only have time for those kids that will help them continue to be hot shit. Who knows…it is weird to know it is a phenomenon though. I sort of thought I had really offended my professor.

  4. John said,

    It’s always amazing to me when people think it’s a bad idea to take time between degrees. Only six years out from my undergrad, and I have been through at least twenty different subjects about which I’ve thought “yeah, that’d be fun to study” and then discarded them. God only knows what would have happened if I had gone straight into whatever Master’s program I thought sounded good when I graduated- though my undergraduate record indicates that I probably would have failed a bunch of classes, left town in the middle of exams, and woken up a few days later in some other county with no shirt and an empty bag of Sunchips for a pillow. But maybe I just lack the discipline needed for a career in academia.

    • molly said,

      Isn’t that what your Myers-Briggs said about you when we did them back in the day?

      • John said,

        Actually, I was an INTP (Introversion Intuition Thinking Perceiving) with a moderate preference clarity in all four categories. I don’t know what any of that means, but there’s a great “Funky Winkerbean” comic in the booklet that explains it.

        • Raechel said,


    • Selena said,

      Ha, sunchips for a pillow. Something about your tone tells me you’ve really done that.

      I don’t know what the rush is either–I think people still think they’re going to die at 30 and we’ve got to get ALL this stuff done, and earn money super fast, etc. etc.

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