Thursday, May 10, 2012

Just In Case Anyone's Wondering...

...Seventeen months. That's how long it took anyone at my department to notice I was gone.

Well, anyone who hadn't run into me out on the town, that is. In the interest of full disclosure, I've seen a few faculty members out and about and have given them updates on my situation. But I still haven't heard from my advisor since December 2010, and at no point in the past 17 months has anyone from my department contacted me to see if I was still working on my dissertation, if I needed anything, whether I had found a job, etc. Nothing.

I purposely waited to officially notify them that I was dropping out, by the way. Since my advisor was not communicative and I still wanted to stay "enrolled" for this academic year to defer my student loans, I figured I had nothing to gain by announcing to anyone that I was leaving before this academic year. And after a few more months passed and no one had checked up on me (other than to ask me to teach, of course), I decided that I wanted to see how long it would take them to notice I was gone. Or if they ever would.

And now I have my answer. Seventeen months. It took them seventeen months to drop me a quick email to see how/what I was doing.

Let's put that in perspective: I could have carried and birthed two children during this time frame.

My department is clearly not illustrative of every department in the world, but I urge you to think about this. If your advisor wasn't checking up on you, how long would it take your department to actually notice your absence?

If I stopped showing up at my current job, it probably wouldn't take a full day for my boss and coworkers to check on me. If I didn't show up for a second day? They'd probably drive by my house. Three days? They'd probably call the cops.

Now, of course, graduate school is different than my current job ... you're not on campus every day, and you don't see everyone every day. But still ..... seventeen months??? From a department that is supposed to be mentoring you and advising you and helping you out every step of the way until you find a real job?

I mean, I know I was nothing more than teaching fodder for them, but still.......

Anyway, the full story: I was home last night relaxing, and randomly decided to check my old Grad U email to see if anything had come through that needed my attention.

Lo and behold, I found an email from one of the head faculty honchos in our department. The faculty were about to meet to discuss grad student progress, and apparently it had suddenly occurred to Head Honcho that no one had heard from me in awhile. So zie sent me an email.

The email was friendly enough - I'm not upset about them checking in with me, of course. In it, HH asked some general questions about "whether I'd found a position" (a crappy temporary academic one is what zie meant, I'm sure) and about my "timetable for defending my dissertation."

I sighed. I poured myself a glass of wine. And I wrote back a few paragraphs explaining that I didn't think I would be finishing, because I'd decided that the academic life wasn't for me. That I had found outside employment and that I was happy and feeling fulfilled. And that while I thought it was possible that I might decide to come back and finish up at some point in the future, it wasn't in my plans right now.

(Oh, and I did mention that I hadn't heard from "anyone on my committee" (read: my advisor) since December 2010. I just thought this was something that Head Honcho might want to know, although I sincerely doubt zie even noticed.)

I also wrote, quickly, that I appreciated everything Grad U Department had done for me (picture me stifling laughter here), and noted that the research and teaching experience I'd gained in school had actually served me very well in my current job (this part is true). I don't really know why I included this - I guess I wanted them to know that I don't consider myself a loser dropout ... that I'm happy that I got the work experience I did in school and that I'm going to take the stuff I learned in grad school and use it in my future career, even if I don't have that piece of paper that says "JC, Ph.D."

In other words ... I may not have the all-important Ph.D., but I don't view the last several years as a waste. The skills I gained and the work experience (yes, it's *work* experience) I had in grad school has served me well in my postacademic life, as I train new employees and have to communicate clearly and effectively in writing. I'd hate for other grad students to think that unless they graduate with that degree, their entire graduate education was a waste.

Anyway, I typed up the email telling them I was leaving and explaining myself, and clicked "send."

Fifteen minutes later, I got a response that was nice and wished me well, but said that "...we're disappointed that you went through the program for so many years but don't have the degree to show for it."

Oh, come the f*ck on. WTF.

First, who is "we"? Did the entire department confer in those 15 minutes? I doubt it.

Second, I don't believe that you're truly disappointed. Because if you were, you'd have checked in with me sometime in the past 17 months to make sure that I wasn't going to "disappoint" you.

Third, let's not pretend that you care that I dropped out. If I finished and went onto a nonacademic job, I would be a negative entry on your "graduate placement" statistics and your ranking would take a hit. By dropping out, I'm going to let you continue putting forth the illusion that all of your graduate students wind up with academic jobs and that the only people who leave for nonacademic jobs "couldn't cut it."

(I hate this, by the way ... but not enough to go back and finish.)

Finally ... did you not read my email, where I said that I'm not disappointed about not finishing? That I'm finding that the things I did in grad school are directly translatable into the nonacademic workforce? And where I feel great about my decision and genuinely don't feel compelled to finish? And how I have a job that I like?

How is it "disappointing" that I have a job that I like and am happy????????

Just because you, HH, think that people need a Ph.D. in hand to be a worthwhile person who has accomplished something doesn't mean that everyone feels that way. I do not. To steal my now-favorite quote again from Lauren at Mama Nervosa:
I’m quitting for a lot of reasons that I’ll get into later, but most of it boils down to I don’t like it and/or I don’t want to.
Some of us want a Ph.D. Some of us don't. Some of us (me!!) only wanted a Ph.D. because it's required to be a professor. Once we lost the desire to be a professor, the desire for a Ph.D. also fell away. So I moved onto something else.

But that doesn't make my life and education a waste, Dr. Snob. And it doesn't make me a disappointment.

I'm proud to say that I have my masters' degree, and I'm proud that I taught at the college level for four years. I'm proud that I am a published author, and I'm proud that I am a skilled and effective public speaker who has a lot of experience writing and delivering presentations. These skills and accomplishments make me proud, and they have made me a better employee and a more confident human being.

I will not let cloistered, snobbish, passive-aggressive, catty academics take that away from me. I am proud of what I have done with my life, and I am not sorry that I am leaving without my Ph.D. It's what I need to do to be happy. And I won't apologize or feel guilty for that anymore.

If Dr. Snob can't understand that, then too bad. But I don't have time to explain it to hir further.

I've got a job to do - one that pays me a fair wage and where I work for a boss who respects me and doesn't give two flying loads of crap that I didn't finish my dissertation. He's just happy that I'm a good employee who works hard and helps the company succeed.

When's the last time that you felt like your university felt that way about you???

God ... I am so glad that I left. Good riddance, Grad U.


  1. I can't remember if I've posted before, or simply tried to and been confused by the sign-in mechanism, but I appreciate your blog very much and this email from your dept head (director of grad studies?) puts its finger on one of the features of academic life that most infuriate(d) me.
    What bothers me most about it is not the assumption that that piece of paper, the PhD, actually mattered so much, but the sense she had that she had license to pass judgment on your decision.
    This was one of the things that infuriated me most about being an academic: the whole system seemed to be one constant process of seeking the approval of colleagues, particularly more senior ones--and of participating in the process of passing (or withholding) approval on others (book reviews, CFPs, fellowship committees, etc and etc) It started to feel like the end purpose of academia wasn't to push back the frontiers of knowledge but was actually this very process of winnowing. The whole POINT was to rank participants' abilities, not to produce important work.
    And in the end, is there anything more infantilizing than being constantly obliged to seek the approval of others? And, judging by Head Honcho's behavior, is there anything better calculated to create egregiously swelled heads??? In any other context than grad school, such a response to a simple, grown-up decision to change course would be just plain rude. Here, I'm afraid, it's just typical.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I agree entirely about your assessment of academic culture - everything and everyone is simply a commodity to be criticized, critiqued, attacked, or judged at all ventures. No one and nothing is ever - ever! - okay as it is.

      And, yes. As I've said to my partner many, many times ... in what other career would your statement that you were "going to leave this line of work to pursue something else" be met with anything other than a hearty "Good luck and keep in touch!!!"

      Every other industry accepts that people are all different and have different interests. Academia just views that as another avenue by which to pretend they're better than everyone else. Sigh...

  2. I don't know which is more criminal- that they went 17 months without contacting you/noticing you were gone, or the smarmy quickreply you got from the department head..

    I agree with Caitlin above about the way the whole thing is structured- you can't even get a, 'thanks for letting us know, we wish you the best' type acknowledgement.. there's got to be a judgement passed. well when you're high priest/ess of the cult, you don't want to see koolaid drinkers make the great escape.

    I wish you got a response like this:

    "what the what?? your adviser hasn't contacted you since dec 2010??? I'm going to call hir right now and demand to know what the fuck they are doing with their time. I'm sorry you were treated like a disposable teaching robot unit, it's unforgivable. And good luck in your future career, wherever it takes you."

    it'd also be awesome if they sent it as a telegram. but I think they stopped doing those in 1998.

    1. Ha, thanks for the comment. I would also have loved the response you suggested, but of course I knew better than to expect that...

      Your blog looks great! Give me until early next week and I'll post an intro for you. My blogroll is getting HUGE!!

    2. Yesh - there really is no need for HH acting as if they have the moral right to pass a judgement! Who on earth does this person think that they are? HH must think that they are special to have written you in that manner! Ack!

    3. thanks, JC, that would be super nice.. :)

    4. Okay, will do. Probably not til Monday, since I like to actually write up a full intro with some commentary on your posts, and I probably won't have time to get to that until Sunday.

      But I will. :)

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  4. Hi,

    I'm still an undergraduate; I actually just entered a program that prepares me specifically for graduate school. When googling databases for academic blogs (surprisingly sparse amongst a wasteland of blogs dedicated to popculture and ephemera), I ironically stumbled upon yours. I am so glad the date of the last post is current! I recently started my own blog; if you have any suggestions, I'd like to know. Keep in touch! :)