Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are We Failures?

Last week, while trying to drum up ideas for a new post, I was scrolling through the archives of the old Leaving Academia site. This post, which discussed the feeling of failure that often accompanies the decision to leave, gave me some inspiration.

Now that I'm almost a year past my decision to leave, I haven't been caught up in the "what ifs" and the worries about whether I'm making the right decision. My job right now isn't ideal, but it's fine for the time being ... it pays the bills, I can tolerate the work, and I like my coworkers. It's fine. I'm no longer panicking about finding nothing but misery outside of academia ... because I'm fully out here now, and I'm not miserable.

What still pops up, though, are the occasional feelings of failure when I talk to former academic colleagues who question or second guess my decision to leave. I still occaisonally get questions about why I'm not going on the market again*, about how I could possibly be fulfilled in nonacademic work**, and about whether I will find a job that's "worthy" of my academic credentials***. And the feelings of failure still crop up (infrequently, but occasionally) when I run across a snarky comment on some random internet site from an academic type who snipes that grad school dropouts just "couldn't cut it" and are thus failures at the one thing that matters.

So let's break it down. Are you a failure for wanting to leave academia or drop out of grad school???? Does this mean that you just "couldn't cut it," and that if you'd stayed in academia you'd wind up in the perfect tenure-track job and be blissfully happy? Is the only thing standing between you and utter happiness your lack of dedication to an academic career? In other words, are you a failure?

In a word, no. No no no. Absolutely not. Not in any sense of the word.


First of all ... as myself and all of the other postacademic bloggers listed on the blogroll to the right have written many, many, many, many times ... the academic job market is broken. Very broken. There are more candidates for fewer jobs, and far more VAP and adjunct positions out there than tenure track jobs. Sure, it's possible that you could land a tenure-track job if you go on the market. Obviously, some people do.

But the odds are stacked against you these days. When you're one of 400 people applying for a single position, chances are good that you are not going to get it. When five years of terrible job markets mean that half of the assistant profs out there are looking to change jobs, the chances are good that lowly ABDs are not going to be hired over assistants.

But that doesn't mean that you're incompetent or stupid or that you did anything wrong. It's just numbers.

And if you do go on the market, but all of the offers that you get are for adjunct or VAP gigs that you don't want to take? That's okay. You don't have to take a job you don't want. And you shouldn't be ashamed for not wanting to take a job that would leave you in poverty, with no job security, or living somewhere where you'd be miserable. And if you don't want to take a temporary job, that is also completely and totally understandable. It does not mean that you're a failure. What it means is that the academic hiring process is failing its candidates.

Now, onto the bigger source of anguish and sense of failure over leaving ... the reaction you'll get from other academics, either in person or via things you'll read on the internet.

You absolutely WILL get pushback when you decide to leave. Your decision will be second guessed ("well, if you just take one more stab at the market..." or "things will get better once you're not working with that advisor anymore..."). You'll read comments from anonymous internet commenters who allege that people who quit were idiots who couldn't cut it. Some people just won't know what to say, and will stare blankly at you, unsure of how to talk to a nonacademic. And a few people will probably make snarky comments about how you just "weren't serious enough" or some such thing. Other people (parents? advisors?) will tell you that they're disappointed that you left. The specifics will vary based on the people you know and how you describe your decision to leave, but it'll happen.

And if you're like most people, those comments will make you feel like shit, at least momentarily. That academic guilt sets in, and it sets in quick and violently. (I recently talked to someone who quit halfway through her first semester, and she talked about how much of a failure she felt like for deciding the program wasn't for her. After half a semester! How messed up is that???)

But here are a few things about those academic folks who make you feel like a failure. (1) They are operating from within a closed system with a very strong culture that tells them that a t-t faculty job is the best job in the world and that all other jobs are boring, mindless, and soul sucking. (2) In addition, they've internalized the message that being miserable/depressed/overstressed is normal, and is a sign that you're successful. And (3) they likely haven't even considered that other work environments exist, or that there might be some people (like me!) who find the academic life unbearable and just want something a little more predictable and sane. And finally? (4) They may have absolutely no idea about what the current academic market looks like, since it may have been decades since they've looked for a job themselves.

Also, the academics who are implicitly calling you a failure for jumping ship for a nonacademic job?  Most of them have probably never had a job outside academia. Or perhaps their last nonacademic job was that one summer during college when they worked as a cashier or as a mail clerk in a huge corporate office. It's fine if they disliked those jobs, but keep in mind: their ideas about what a nonacademic job is is at best limited and dated, and at worst based on absolutely no real-world experience.

Let me restate that. These academic folks who are telling you that all nonacademic jobs suck and how you're making a terrible decision have likely not been in a nonacademic job in years or even decades, if at all. And if they were, it was probably a somewhat entry-level, menial job that they held long ago. Their experiences are in no way indicative of what the nonacademic world looks like. So you have to learn to ignore their criticism. It'd be like you criticizing life as an astronaut working on the space station. You just don't know what it's really like, so you can't intelligently criticize someone who chooses to do such a thing.

So as we talked about last week, your academic colleagues are not wrong that some jobs are menial and boring and soul-sucking. But they are absolutely, positively wrong that all nonacademic jobs are like that. A nonacademic job does not mean you've "failed." It just means you want something different for your life than they do. Try to keep that in mind.

Also, remember that lesson that your mom taught you when you were a kid and the other kids teased you. People only tease/insult/belittle you when they're insecure with their own choices. Seeing someone leave (and reject the "you must work 24/7 in academia or you are a failure" mindset) makes them question their own choices. So they lash out and make you feel like a failure in order to make themselves feel better. Rather than confronting what you're saying (that academia has flaws and/or that the academic job market is not wonderful), they cut you down in order to reassure themselves that they're harder working and dedicated and that therefore, everything will work out for them.

They will get a tenure track job. They know that academic work is the most important work ever and everything else is pointless drudgery. They are not making a poor decision with their lives. Being depressed and crying all the time is normal, and a sign that you are working at the most important and meaningful job in the world. Anything else cannot be true, or it means that they have made poor decisions that they will regret. It must be that you're just a failure who couldn't cut it. See, there's no need to worry!!

It's not okay, but it's a logical extension of what they learn as an academic apprentice. Their ideas are right, and academia is holy, and anyone who questions them or does things another way should be met with derision or criticism.

It's part of the culture ... the culture, importantly, that you are trying to escape. So just let it roll off your back.

It's easier said than done. Believe me, I know. But you have to. Just ignore the haters. They're not thinking clearly, and they're certainly not qualified to judge your life and your decisions. You know what you're doing, and you know why you're doing it. Just be grateful that you aren't still operating under the myths and misconceptions of academia v. the real world anymore. Laugh at the deluded grad students if you must, and just move on with your happy and fulfilled life.

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Answers:
* Because I realize now that an academic job wouldn't make me happy.
** I'm fulfilled in nonacademic work simply because I grew to hate academic work so much that anything else seems good in comparison.
*** As long as I can pay my bills, can tolerate my job, and feel like I'm helping other people through my work, I'm fulfilled. I don't care what credentials a job needs or what title it has.

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Ed. Note: If what you read here or elsewhere on this blog resonates with you, please check out our collaborative website, http://howtoleaveacademia.com. Or if you have a few dollars to spare, download our new e-book full of support and advice from fellow postacademics ("Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia).

You are not alone, and we are here to help!! - JC (1/5/14)

28 comments:

  1. After an Ivy-league PhD in Political Science, I spent 12 years in decent tho non-tenure track positions due to a two body problem. I recently left academia to join a startup in an unrelated field, and although the pay is low, the energy is great, the idea that I'm doing more than publishing articles (that on average 5 people read) is intoxicating, and I don't miss political science at all. I should have quit years ago, and now admire all the people who left the PhD program even before finishing because they had the guts to follow their intuition. Do I miss the summer months of slower pace? yes. Do I miss anything else (pompous colleagues, whining students, endless meetings)? Nope, not a bit. Good luck!

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  2. I think it's easier to feel good about leaving when you're at a program with a high attrition rate. Hardly anyone leaves my program, so of course I feel like there's something wrong with me. On the other hand, someone told me the other day that Pompous Advisor X boasted to advisee A that he didn't even bother to read advisee B's dissertation until 20 minutes before the defense. So advisee B finishes and gets to brandish her PhD in everyone's face. But it's meaningless.

    I'll repeat that. It's meaningless. All of it.

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  3. I think that its hard to leave a programme ...ie leave a process that they find familiar and everyone accepts as 'norma' is that its challenging what's deemed to be conventional/the norm. Why? One is essentially challenging the status quo and most people don't like their status quo to be questioned, let alone challenged.

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  4. Have been taking sporadic breaks from my final paper assignments to read this blog, and it comforts me. I'm in my first semester of a demanding program - #1 in my field, Ivy, so you'd think theoretically well-poised for the job market but...no way. Somehow all our recent graduates have had exclusively VAP positions in the last 2-3 years?? I keep thinking about quitting, but try to push those thoughts out of my mind because I only just started. Like you, I worry about what people will say and how I'll be viewed, and I almost wish I hadn't told anyone I'm in this program. I'd resent so much being told I "couldn't cut it," because I was recently told by the dept chair that I'm doing well at this point in the semester, something I would not have been told if I were the worst person in my program. Like another poster, relatively few people drop out of the program, though, and the ones who do are never mentioned by anyone ever again (it's almost scary). I think they just don't want to give people any ideas or suggest the possibility that people are unhappy with the program - because the faculty's careers ultimately depend on the graduate program existing! The people who continue the program just aren't being honest with themselves about the job prospects, and I don't understand how they avoid thinking about the likely dismal path that awaits them after graduation. Honestly, I think they just consider the prestige of the degree enough to keep them going - it's like climbing Mt Everest or something. They think it'll sound really cool to tell people when it's finally over, never mind how pointless it seems during the actual process or what's waiting for them on the other end.

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  5. "The people who continue the program just aren't being honest with themselves about the job prospects, and I don't understand how they avoid thinking about the likely dismal path that awaits them after graduation. Honestly, I think they just consider the prestige of the degree enough to keep them going - it's like climbing Mt Everest or something. They think it'll sound really cool to tell people when it's finally over, never mind how pointless it seems during the actual process or what's waiting for them on the other end."

    Yes, yes, and yes. The people I know who are continuing are the "just don't think about it" types. One's wealthy, and the other is so far in debt that s/he feels that it'll only be worth it if s/he walks away with the prize.

    Nobody I know outside of grad school even reads. So there's no cool factor there--they leap right over "wow! that's impressive!" to, "so what are you going to do with that degree when you're done?" And all I can think to say is, "probably nothing whatsoever."

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  6. What a great series of comments - thanks, all!

    I agree that it's far more difficult to leave than to just keep on keepin' on and stick with what's familiar (your program). And for a lot of people, it is far easier to just keep going and reassure yourself that everything's going to be okay. Frankly, it's probably mostly due to the fact that I've had one leg outside of academia (in my part-time job) for so long that I was able to do it.

    I get it, but it doesn't excuse people from second-guessing someone else's decision, you know? It's so frustrating. And since we're told that the only thing that matters is what other academics think, those of us who want to leave can wind up feeling like we're making a huge mistake, just because those other academics don't understand.

    And I agree that thinking people outside of academia will care what you've accomplished is silly. My nonacademic friends and family have been impressed with the fact that I taught college. Actually completing the Ph.D. or doing any research is completely irrelevant to them. My nonacademic friends keep saying that I "was a professor but am now doing something else." There definitely is no "cool factor" to completing the Ph.D. ... for me, at least.

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  7. Thanks for writing this. I'm considering dropping out of my masters program (near eastern studies). It's good to hear someone say it doesn't mean I'm like a total failure at life.

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  8. I stand by everything I wrote in this post - if you leave a graduate program or academia in general, you are not a failure. You're just changing careers.

    But I'll add that after leaving, I'm happier than I've been. If in some grand cosmic calculation I am objectively "a failure?" I'll take being a blissfully happy failure any day over a miserable success.

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  9. I have quite a different situation. I was admitted into a program in which there are no "available" spots for me in any labs. Am I being forced out?

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    1. It's hard to say ... I wasn't in a hard sciences program, so I'm not sure how work assignments are typically handed out in such programs. Are other students in your program not provided a spot in a lab? If there are, then I'd think you aren't being forced out - but you might want to consider whether it's worth staying.

      If you're the only person with no spot in a lab, then you might want to make an appointment with your department chair or someone similar, to see what is really going on.

      Good luck!

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  10. I am finishing a 4 yr psychology degree and to become a psychologist (in Canada) I would have to spend at least another 6-7 yrs (I don't have the funding) plus write and pass a certification exam in addition to an internship. I have got straight A's in my natural science and science based courses, then when it comes to psychology classes, I have found them much harder even though it is considered a "soft" science. Becoming a psychologist is not easy and costs quite a bit out of pocket for not very good of pay (I don't like racking-up debts). For all the young people out there, please choose something that gives you a job faster, for guys, do carpentry or something. School is not the be all end all!

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  11. It is always scary to do something different from what others are doing, but I have found in my life that it also leads to the most fulfillment. I come from a family of people - especially men (and I'm a guy) - who are terrified of disappointing others and obsessed with what others think of them. I had that disease for a long time, but I finally had to get rid of it in order to be successful and happy in life. I think a lot of people in academia are hyper-aware of what others think of them, and I suppose that part of that is that academia is a field where people are constantly being evaluated by their colleagues. It's much more so than when I was working in a non-academic field. All of that obsessive peer evaluation can be draining, but I think for some people, it can also get to the point that they forget who they are because they've spent so much time to please others. This phenomenon occurs in other very large bureaucracies as well. However, if you want to be happy in life and lead a life that expresses who you actually are as a person, you have to be willing to do something for which others will judge you. I suppose for me, I learned how to do this from a very young age, because my mother had a pretty extreme case of bipolar disorder and my parents got divorced when I was 3 years old. I was a minority in my very small community in which I grew up for several reasons, so I had to let go early on of the fear of disappointing others - my life itself was considered a disappointment just by dint of its basic features, so I had to learn how to occupy that marginal space.

    For what it is worth, taking chances leads to enormous rewards, or it can. It also involves risk, which really terrifies some people. But a bit of calculated risk in life can be a great thing and it can keep us on our toes. Just do what you know to be right in your heart - the times I neglected my own desires and compromised those to do what others expected of me were the times that I felt least happy. I eventually got out of all those situations, but it wasn't easy. That happened for me when I chose my graduate program not based on where I actually wanted to go but rather because of where others expected me to go - I chose to stay in state for graduate school rather than leaving the state because my family wanted me to stay close. And I eventually found happiness in my graduate program, but not without a lot of regret that I didn't attend a different school.

    You don't want to live with an excessive amount of regrets - they eat away at you like a cancer that won't go away. You'll never regret trying something, even though it may not have the outcome that you expect. Go with your gut in all cases, even if it doesn't immediately work out. Definitely have a plan in place, but some things are givens in life: you have to pay your bills, you have to provide food and shelter for yourself, and you have to try to save money if you can. But beyond that, the rest is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer about what you should or shouldn't be doing, there just are choices that you make. Have a plan in place, and know that you'll have to pay your bills - but beyond that, do what you know is best for you. Why waste time and energy doing something that isn't right for you? Especially when there's a monetary cost involved - do you really want to be spending money on something you don't really want?

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  12. I am very comforted to find this blog post. I am in my first semester of grad school, and I basically hate everything about this point in my life. I'm in a dangerous city with a severe lack of identity (I came from the gorgeous Appalachian mountains), the professors lack personality and do not connect with their students, my advisor doesn't have time for me...etc. etc. I was not all for getting my masters in the first place, but I was offered an assistantship position and thought I would give it a try.

    But once I arrived it seems the faculty are all caught up in their own research and publications and have little time to devote to teaching or advising (a part of their job). The campus overall has all this red-tape and rivals, and a lack of environmental awareness, which is the complete opposite from my undergrad. Nothing is meeting up to my expectations.

    Right now, I'm struggling with the fact that i'm so overwhelmed with stress that I can't think straight. I don't know if i'm just running away because I don't want to do it, or if it is because this department just isn't the right place for me. I keep getting a gut instinct that I am not in the right place. I like my assistantship (I work at the campus sustainable garden) but I could get a job at a community garden anywhere, and is it worth spending all this time and being miserable and stressed during a time when I should just be growing as a person and taking in life?

    I don't know. Is leaving graduate school because I want to live life a bad choice? I need advice.

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    1. Hey there! Thanks for reading, and I'm glad that you found comfort in my blog. That's what it's here for! :)

      As you probably know, no one but you can possibly know what you need to do in order to be happy. I don't know if you should leave, or if you'd be happier in another program or not.

      I will say that some of the things you describe - advisors not having time for you, faculty being more caught up in research than in advising or teaching - is all very, very similar to what almost everyone describes about grad school. It's also very similar to my experience.

      The simple fact is that (at most schools) professors are judged based on their research output or how many grant dollars they bring in, not based on their teaching or advising. So they place more emphasis on the research than on anything else. That's great for them, but it can definitely leave grad students out in the cold if you will need some help.

      I'd also say that some level of stress and feeling overwhelmed is normal when you first come to grad school. But if you are SERIOUSLY miserable and not enjoying anything about what you're doing in school, then no ... there is nothing wrong with deciding to leave. It is not a bad choice. Because if you stick it out and go on to get your degree and maybe an academic job, what you're doing now is going to be what you will be doing for the rest of your career. The research, teaching, and working with other academics is what the job is. And if you already hate it, chances are that you might continue to hate it.

      So ... I can't tell you what to do. I will say that your experience doesn't sound atypical. And I will say that if you do decide to leave, that's perfectly okay. You only get one life, and you have to live it the way you want - not the way that other people expect you to.

      Good luck!

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  14. Thanks for writing this article. I have decided to drop out of my Master's program (Communication and Culture. I have been attending part-time but require more practical knowledge than theoretical. I am already in the field and love it. So, I am leaving to pursue a certificate at a local art school in digital media studies which reflects my career aspirations. But, there is always this little voice in the back of my mind telling me that I might be viewed as a failure for not continuing. Maybe one day I will return when I am in the grad school mentality.

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  15. Thank you for writing this. I am currently in my first semester at grad school and, as one of the above posters is experience, have been seriously put off by my experiences here. Problems I had outside of academia seem to have been compounded to the point where I am beyond burnt out at this point. Even simple tasks are really tough to do now since they all seem so tedious. Currently I am do decently, but I know I wouldn't be able to maintain even this. Working in a different environment, as I have done in the past, had tedious moments, but seemed much more satisfying.

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  16. I attended a small reputable liberal arts college and had much success. Shortly after graduation I enrolled in a teaching credential program to become a high school teacher. After three semesters of mind numbing tests and subpar courses I became fed up and quit the program. This was combined with a poor job market for teachers so I left and petitioned from a part-time to full-time job at UPS MAKING 27.00 an hour. It's a little physically challenging at times but after working 8 hours a day I actually have time to read, exercise, spend time with family and friends. Most importantly I'm not bogged down with whiny teachers and college instructors who are not completely honest about the prospect of find a position. Reading this blog made me feel a lot better knowing that though I'm not in an academic environment anymore it is far from being the end of the world.
    Thanks.

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  17. I too am beyond burned out and the masters program literally sucks the life out of me considering that I have 4 little children and a husband. I have made the decision to leave despite the fact that I know I will encounter some critics most of who I don't want to disappoint because they are family but I have to do what is best for me and my immediate family.I am so glad I found this article because I know that the fears I have are not unfounded. Additionally, I can't stand some of those graduate Instructors who think they hold the key to a happy and successful future.

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  18. I'd love some advice as well. I'm a 2nd year in grad program. The first year - my advisor hit on/flirted with me. Enough to make me uncomfortable. The 2nd year - it became that my work wasn't good enough and that he'd have to add an additional semester. We got in fight and I took the next year off to calm down. During this year - I finally wrote the Dean of Students to tell her all the problems. I asked to do my final year via distance. My advisor was just taken off my committee when I did something stupid. I sent an fake email asking my advisor about the distance option. He wouldn't give my email a straight answer so I said something rude. They then traced the email back to me. I think I might be suspended. I'm so upset merely because I endured 2 years of this guy and now...I'm in trouble. (I take blame for my own actions but no one seems to be checking in on him) I'm losing my hair trying to decide what to do and I did hire a lawyer.

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  19. Thank you for this blog. I am a GRA in a MSW program. One would think there would be much happy collaboration and joyous singing. One would be wrong. Immature backstabbing children create a toxic environment. These are social workers? I, for one, cannot bear to think that I have less than 7 weeks before I have to face these people again. It is, for me, one more year in a minimum security prison.

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  20. I left a Master's program at the beginning of my second semester (in February 2012) and I am still consumed by guilt, especially now that my classmates have graduated. For the past month or so I keep saying to myself, "Wow, that could have been YOU". But the truth is, I was completely and utterly miserable and it's all too easy to gloss things over in hindsight.

    In my first semester I had to deal with 2 natural disasters (extreme flooding and horrific damage both times), living with my roommate from undergrad (mistake), and trying to keep up a long distance relationship with my boyfriend from undergrad (mistake #2). I also realized one week into the program that I hated the incredibly bleak and grey area, that my advisor wasn't going to provide me with the right intellectual connections and that I had probably jumped the gun by starting my graduate education having just turned 22. Phew.

    Interestingly enough, life has gone on. Because of my undergraduate museum training I was able to land a full-time museum gig at a nice institution. Even where I am working now I feel as though I am "undereducated", but I am slowly learning to tell myself, "Hey, you're not a failure, now shut the hell up and savor the god damn day you've been given and learn to love life".

    In all seriousness though, I am now taking a graduate course (in the field of study that I went to graduate school for) and I am beginning to realize what my potential may be for my future graduate studies, if I do decide to go back. Honestly, I think that confidence, motivation, and a deep understanding of what you want to study go a long way. No, it doesn't eliminate the elitist assholes or academic politics, but a sense of personal clarity is an amazing thing to have and I'd rather figure it out now rather than later.

    I do hold onto hope, however false it may be, that perhaps I will be able to go back (in whatever capacity). Maybe that's evidence of just how strong the "academic hold" can be, or maybe I really do love it and just needed time away to find a better academic situation for myself.

    Who the hell knows...anything could happen at this point.

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  21. Just wanted to say thank-you for this post. Kinda needed it today.

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  22. Thank you for your very thoughtful post. It's been nearly 5 years since I left my doctoral program to pursue a non-academic research career. While the decision was absolutely one of the best ones I've ever made, the guilt and anguish associated with the "failure" of dropping out still creep up at times. It is reassuring to hear from others that life, indeed, does go on, and that life can be a whole lot happier when one goes on a path that best matches where someone's heart truly is.

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  23. I just ran across your post and I'm glad to hear that there are others who feel good about their decision to walk away from grad school. I returned for a bachelors in marine biology at 34 and graduated at 40. I enjoyed that entire experience and never regretted it. After relocating, I found it necessary to shift gears and went into a grad program that was only loosely related to my field. I am in my first semester and realized about a month in that I absolutely hate it. The subject matter is part of it but the main part of it is that I am bone tired of the attitude that you have to sacrifice life to be successful and I just flat out refuse to do it anymore. Life is meant to be lived. I have been thinking about why I returned to college in the first place. It was to make a difference in the world by educating people about the need to conserve and protect our natural resources, and by doing it myself. I can do that more effectively by applying my skills and knowledge rather than spending my life behind a computer or doing research on a single question. So, I opt for happiness instead of another diploma to clutter my wall. I'm not saying that I will never go for a higher degree but it will be on my terms and allow me to retain what I consider sacred - life and happiness.

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  24. I'm just finishing up the first semester of an MA/PhD program in a behavioral science. I spent so long wanting to get to the place I am in now that I've completely forgotten whey I wanted this to begin with. My undergraduate institution didn't have the subject I wanted to study which made me want it even more. I had this lofty dream of becoming a professor and being Dr. So-and-so and becoming an expert in something. But I don't think that's enough. Of course, I'm fascinated in the subject but ... now I've set myself on this path to make it my entire life.
    Now that I'm here I finally see what the environment is like (a little soul-crushing and a lack of human empathy all around), and worst of all the market. The last two graduates from my department who have similar research interests as mine ended up with corporate jobs because they couldn't find anything worthwhile in academia. I understood that the market wasn't good when I was applying, but I though it wouldn't matter. If I Ioved it, it wouldn't matter.
    But now I don't know if I even want to do this anymore. Who is my research helping?
    I just discovered that there is a clinical application of the subject I study. It intersects with my current research quite a lot. It would require a clinical MA and I could go into practice. I'm seriously considering stopping after my MA here and pursing the clinical MA for a career as a specialized health practitioner. I think it would be a very meaningful career where I would apply what I have learned at the current MA program and directly help people with physical and behavioral disabilities, especially young children.
    And most importantly, my mother is getting older and her health isn't the greatest. She's living in near poverty back home with no retirement plan. My dad is gone and my brother is an artist. While I know he would drop his art instantly to get a better paying job for my mother if something happened, I must do something. While I know it's different for everyone, and my mother encouraged me so much to be where I am, I feel so selfish. I feel like I need to make wiser career plans, not just for me, but for my family.
    I am not so much afraid of people looking down on me in my department. I am worried about the logistics of this. In order to get into the clinical MA program, I would need three letters of recommendation from professors. I don't know if anyone would be willing to vouch for me after I told them I was ending my studies at the MA level. This is really my only concern. And I can't just ask around. Once I make the leap to end my studies at the MA, it's done. I can't go back. I have about a year to figure this out. Wish me luck.

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  25. This blog has helped me so much in my decision to leave my MA/PhD program. I felt all of the above and though I struggle with feelings of guilt and failure, I know for certain that I made the right choice. I'm not going to rehash all of the reasons why I left, but the post above really resonated with me. My family lost their home and has to live with relatives; these financial difficulties coupled with other traumatic events have completely broken my family. Though my family supports my dream, they don't understand that it will take me years before I would find a decent paying job after getting a PhD. Shoot, even I did not realize it in my idealism and zeal until a year into the program. What good is a title if my family is still homeless? My department did not help much with the below poverty-level wages and lack of communication and TA training. I was so depressed for so long; I was ready to leave for so long but the fear that I was being somehow selfish to my family and a failure made me force myself to endure a little longer even though I was performing terribly in my seminars and I absolutely hated many of my rotten incompetent students.
    Now I feel better than ever; the guidance and comments here have had a tremendous influence in making me sane again. It killed me to think that the choices I was making could possibly hurt my family and I felt the enormous weight of responsibility that I felt stuck between two places. The difficulty of taking the plunge to leave academia made me so severely depressed, I started binge-drinking just to get through the day.
    Now I can't wait for life outside of grad school even though my professional future is uncertain. However, there is nothing like the feeling of relief and conviction when you know you've made the right decision.

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