This week, a good friend of mine said No to academia.

Or at least: Not so fast. Faced with a choice between taking a sabbatical year from her teaching position to go full-time in the doctoral program she’s been taking classes in, she ultimately chose to stick with her students, to maintain some control over the classes she chooses to take, and to protect what precious little time she has with her husband.

I’m so proud of her.

I did my best throughout her decision-making process to be a sounding board, to ask the right questions, to avoid muddying the waters with my own ambivalence (with which she was already very familiar). She talked to a ton of people and did a lot of soul-searching, and she was able to make a decision that a lot of us haven’t been able to, to tune out the siren song of Taking It All The Way.

Another of her good friends is currently applying to law school. Law school, which right now makes the job market for PhDs look reasonable. Another of my friends has a husband who absolutely hated his Masters program and was miserable all the while- and has just accepted a spot in a PhD program at MIT, because it’s MIT, and he got in. I came back to my program for another year, mostly out of inertia and lack of immediate alternatives. We’re all, on some level, pursuing surface legibility. And while I enjoy aspects of what I do and really enjoy the people I work with, I also feel ashamed for not having been able to call bullshit and get out when I know better.

It’s not going to get any easier. I’ve applied for a fancy writing fellowship for next year. My program would be thrilled if I got it. I’ve recently had multiple unrelated conversations in which the possibility of working at a highly prestigious West Coast school was suggested. My professors would be happy, and the very thought sends my husband into a fit of excitement about the job opportunities that would await him in that area of the country. There is a trajectory being established for–though not entirely by–me, one that is in some ways very appealing, and it’s tempting to open myself to those possibilities (long shots or no).

But. I’m at an R1; I see how my professors live, and I know how many hours they sleep. I don’t want it. I’m trying to write the paper that is my last requirement for advancing to candidacy, and rather than being energized by the opportunity, I’m frozen by the thought of what’s at stake. I don’t want seven more years of that.

We’ve just bought a house and I’m dying to make it mine and ours. We plan to try to start a family soon. I’m thinking about who I want to be as a mother and who I am as a person, and I know there’s not enough of me to go around– not without going back to the days of chronic migraines, of wearing myself down so far that my body throws itself into depression, and not without my marriage taking hits that my husband doesn’t deserve.

Hence the shame: I know myself and what I don’t want (and even some of what I do!), but I keep rolling along waiting for an external force to assist me in opting out, whether that be denial of opportunity or a natural stopping point such as.. finishing a dissertation. (Seriously, would I go so far as to write a dissertation just to be “allowed” to “quit”? It’s sick.) So when I say I’m proud of my friend, I mean that I sincerely admire what she’s done. The lesser parts of me are as jealous as they are proud. The rest of me is going to do what it takes to forget about all of this, get the damn paper out, and finish the semester, because that’s what the Me of 2011 does.

Que el 2012 me traiga sabiduría y firmeza.


One response »

  1. But if you do stay, do work at an R1, they are the easiest by far. Much more flexible scheduling, much less work. The difference in publishing requirements between R1s and others are not that great, and there’s a lot more other work in the others – and worse library access.

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