-disillusioned with academia
-i am not enjoying grad school at all
-i am not enjoying grad school at all
-hate grad school
-i can't handle grad school anymore
-i don't think i can survive grad school
-so depressed in grad school
Anyone who's ever run (or thought about running) a search like this ... you aren't alone. There are many more of you out here, trust me. You're not the first person to feel this way. Hell, you're not even the first person to feel this way this morning.
I thought that some of my readers might be interested in a comment left by reader "noelynoely" on an old post. I wanted to bring it up to the front page today because it's buried pretty far in the archives, but I think more people than me could benefit from reading it. Noelynoely provides further evidence that you're not alone - that there are other people out there who didn't like the academic life. And more importantly, s/he provides evidence that there is life and fulfilling work outside of grad school, even if you can't see a clear path forward at this very moment.
noelynoely sounds like me - a grad student who enrolled because s/he wanted to teach college, but never fell in love with academic work. Like me, s/he thinks that leaving was the best decision s/he ever made, and felt the relief and uptick in happiness immediately ... and ultimately found a way to keep teaching without dealing with the academic nonsense:
I was a graduate student in a biochemistry/Microbiology program. I hated it from the start, the research was confusing the advisers were all very unhelpful. I changed research labs and advisers 2 times because I thought maybe I just got stuck with a douche and that I could maybe find a better lab...however, every adviser I worked with was just out there for themselves. Everyone was just wanting to get published and to hell with everyone else. I would go home crying and depressed multiple times a week. The only thing that kept me just a little happy was being able to TA a undergraduate class.
I never had any idea what I was doing; I hated reading research papers that I really did not care about and I was not interested at all in my research project. I looked forward to weekends and nights when I could be at home and away from the school. My advisers and other professors I would talk to seemed so interested in their topics and everyone seemed to think they were so much better than everyone else because they had their PhD; everyone else (even undergrads) were beneath them. I kept telling myself that in a few years this will all be over and I would have a PhD.
The only reason I went into graduate school was because I wanted to teach college students; however, had I realized how horrible it was I never would have applied.
The only reason I stayed in as long as I did was because I feared what others would think: they would make fun of me for being a quitter, my family would think I was stupid for not being able to make it, the other graduate students would think that I just couldn't make it and I would again be classed as being lower than them.
As soon as I dropped out I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I am so much happier now and am a high school teacher. Everyone that I know that is still in graduate school always talks about how depressed they are and how they cry a lot. It really doesn't matter what others think, all I know is that leaving my PhD program was the best decision I ever made. I am no longer depressed and actually look forward to everyday.First, I agree completely that leaving was definitely one of the best decisions I've ever made. The work made me miserable, and that misery and depression and stress has disappeared since I left. As I've said before, I firmly believe that while the academic life might be right for some people, it is most definitely not right for everyone ... and it was most definitely not the right life for me.
But I'd like to speak to the last two paragraphs of this comment in particular. First, regarding academic colleagues saying that they are always "crying and depressed" at work, and acting like this is normal. Do not misunderstand: regardless of what fellow academics might tell you, it is not normal to be depressed and cry all the time while you just try to get through your day's work. Trust me. I don't love my job right now, but I sure as hell don't cry and have panic attacks on my way in to do my work. I don't know a single person who has ever felt that way about their job - and the one friend I can think of whose job stressed her out so much that she'd cry the night before she had to go in swiftly quit that job and got a new one.
Crying and being depressed all day at work is not the norm, and it should not be acceptable. Instead, it's a sign that something is wrong and needs to change. People outside of academia generally recognize this, but inside academia? Being depressed and stressed to the point of physical exhaustion is viewed as a badge of honor instead of a warning sign. That is so, so, so messed up.
As to noelynoely's worries about what other academics would think if s/he left? It's sadly true - the academic folks you leaving behind probably will talk about you behind your back and call you a quitter or claim that every nonacademic job in the world is awful, mind-numbing, and pointless. It's something that most of us who have left have gone through, and it's something that academic leavers will be going through for a long time. It's even beginning to show up in the comments at the 100 Reasons blog.
But, okay. First, you are not "quitting" anything. You're changing careers. If someone leaves their job at a bank, do other people belittle them for "giving up on" banking? No. They're (rightly) viewed as changing jobs, not quitting. And changing jobs is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Screw that "quitter" nonsense.
Second, why are you listening to a bunch of people who have probably never held a job outside the Ivory Tower when they tell you what the outside world is like? They don't know. There are millions of jobs outside of academia. Certainly, you'd find some of them dull as doorknobs ... but not all of them. It is just simply not true that "every job" other than academia is boring and mind-numbing. You have to realize that.
But more importantly, you cannot let people at your old job (remember, that's all academia is) get you down. If you were working a corporate job and decided to leave, and your coworkers at Big Corporation, Inc. started talking about you behind your back when you tendered your resignation ... would you decide that you should probably decline your new job and stay at the job you hate, just so that they would stop talking about you? Of course not. You'd leave and never look back at those catty jerks. There's no reason you should treat academia any differently.
Yet with academia, we wind up thinking that we're doing something wrong when others question our decisions - even strangers or colleagues we barely know. Rather than acknowledging that academia is a toxic environment for us, we start feeling like there's something wrong inside of us. And other people are way too happy to tell us how wrong we are for not loving the job as much as they do.
I call bullshit on that. As Pi writes here, it's YOUR talent and YOUR life that is being discussed, and only you know what you want. You can't let what a bunch of insecure, immature people who haven't set foot outside of academia for years or decades tell you what you should do with your life ... especially if they don't know you very well (if at all). If you decide to leave and your colleagues don't support you, then the blame is on them for being catty, bad "friends." And if you ask me, it also says more about their insecurities than anything about you.
And as noelynoely and I (and many others in the postacademic world) can attest, there are good jobs and meaningful work and kind people outside of academia. Don't let a bunch of people who haven't been in the "real world" in years (if ever) tell you otherwise. Don't let their insecurities make you second-guess what you know is right for you.
Finally, I'd like to highlight a comment left on the page I linked to in the post noelynoely commented on. I believe the commenter over there has also commented over here ... and I'd like to highlight something she wrote at PhDTips on September 13th.
She wrote about a conversation she had with her husband during one of her academic low points:
HUS: You believe that this is all there is, right?What an insight.
ME: Well, yeah.
HUS: So why are you making what little time you have on this earth miserable?
Seriously ... it's a valid question to ask yourself. If you're miserable and depressed and are spending hours every day working on tasks that make you miserable with people you can't stand for money that doesn't pay your bills ...why continue? Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, why would you waste the time you have left on earth this way?
I'm not where I want to be yet, career-wise. But I can tell you that I am no longer miserable. I'm a million, billion, gajillion times happier than I was at this time last year. I have free time, I am paid a fair wage, and while I'm not doing the most groundbreaking job on earth ... I actually help people at work every day with what I do.
Maybe my academic friends would say that this kind of happiness is less important than churning out some manuscript for an obscure journal that no one will ever read. I disagree.
Happiness matters. And dammit, I'm happy now ... and refuse to apologize for it.