Transitions: How To Cope With Quitting Grad School
Doing it once more, but hopefully for the last time. I’m packing up boxes, sorting out books, throwing stuff away, and looking to move out for one last adventure. I hate moving and everything that it entails. This, among all the reasons why I didn’t want to leave school, is the most salient excuse I had. I don’t know if it’s because I hate having to organize all my life into boxes or ask myself the uncomfortable questions such as, “Do I really need this old, moth-eaten sweater? Yeah it’s warm, but come on!” “Do I need to have a copy of Descartes in Latin? Do I even remember how to read Latin? Hell, did I ever learn Latin or just enough to satisfy the exam?” “Karl Barth? Sure, it will look great on my shelf, but there’s no way in hell I will ever have the time or patience to read Church Dogmatics.“
I no longer believe there are any strangers who read this blog, all the same I’ve been reluctant to talk about the fact that I have decided to leave academia. Not just because UChicago has rendered me exhausted, both emotionally and even physically, but because I just can’t ignore the stats and figures reported by MLA, AHA, and the facts plainly stated in articles such as Thomas Benton’s “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind,'” and even a report in The Economist or such great encouragement from Dr. Amanda Krauss and Mr. Rex at selloutyoursoul.com. Reading these reports, combined with my personal observations and conversations with current professors forced me to face the hard truth and ask the question, “If I am no longer having fun, and the chance of me getting a job are rather low, then why spend another four to six years preparing for a career that is unlikely?”
Ultimately, however, I had to look at what I wanted and what I was doing to achieve that desire. I am still discerning a vocation with the Dominicans, but as my diagnosed mental health difficulties keep becoming apparent I am no longer certain if it’s possible. If it is not to the religious life I am called then I still desire a family and, as most professors will tell you, it is almost impossible to start a family while in graduate school unless blessed with a very patient and supportive spouse. Even with such a great spouse, divorce rates are all too common among graduate students and professors. It really is no wonder that the University has been the traditional domain of consecrated celibates and confirmed bachelor dons.
Also, the demands of the academy require you to put everything second to your scholarship. This is why the most posh and cosmopolitan man in the world will end up in Kalamazoo or Eugene, OR instead of their natural New York/Boston habitat. This means that family is often put second and many academics are expected to delay having children until their 30’s and 40’s. While cultural norms tell us that thirty is the new twenty, biology still dictates when having children is optimal and when it becomes nearly impossible.
The Good News About Being A Quitter
All these family concerns are what finally made me want to quit grad school and move to Colorado. I want to be near the family I already have, which includes my ageing parents, my nephews, and my impossibly patient older brother and his wife. For the last six years I have had to live thousands of miles away from what little stability I have in life, and now it is time to try to get my roots and actually be from somewhere instead of just having another destination to travel back and forth to.
Ultimately, this freedom is the good news for all of us who have quit grad school and braved the uncertain job market. We will give up the chance for prestige and academic fame for the freedom to move where we want and to do what we wish. However, this freedom necessarily means a great deal of uncertainty, which is why many never leave the ivory tower even after years of working for $20k and no benefits. The reality is clear, but life outside of the hollowed halls of academia is a scary place, especially for someone in their mid-twenties with no job experience and a degree in a seemingly useless field like philosophy or English.
I’m moving to Colorado so I can be closer to family and the mountains I have missed so much while living in Chicago. Yes, I am scared shitless, but I’m also excited. For the first time in six years I have no clue where I will be in September; this is also the first time where I have a real choice where I will end up and what I will be doing with only the normal, quotidian circumstances dictating what I have to do with my days. I am unemployed, not at all certain of the future, and at the end of the day I’m ok with that because of the rewards of finally having the freedom to decide the course of my life.
How will I explain this decision? How do I explain to people why I have spent so many years writing and studying an obscure subject? At the end of the day, I don’t know a bloody thing, but nobody ever said I had to. Also, if I can make it through the great volumes of research and all the work it took to get where I am, I doubt that anything can be that daunting. We shall see, and you shall hear much more from me as I write this out. However, for all of you who might be reading this and about to go through the same experience and feelings, try to keep in mind the freedom you are purchasing in exchange for the small comforts of the academy.
Pray for me, my dear reader, and see if you can offer any advice. As always, I love feedback and would enjoy any observations or violent disagreements you might have.