Friday, July 17, 2009


By all accounts, I have been through some serious shit in the past year or so. It has drastically changed who I am and what is important to me.

I have decided to put off grad school indefinitely. At least, grad school for a doctorate.

"What??? WHY?? WTF is your problem, JLK???"

It's actually quite complex. My first response to this question is that I just don't give a shit anymore. Yeah, psych is still really interesting to me. But all of the bullshit I have to go through just to get to do it? Fuck that. I've got better things to do with my time and energy.

Academia is not like other jobs. Psychology, especially, is incredibly competitive. If you want to, say, become a lawyer, you get an undergrad degree, get into law school, and when you graduate you take the bar and become a lawyer. Same thing with becoming a doctor. Or just about any other job in the world - you study your shit, then you go out and do it. That is not the case with academia and definitely not with any branch of psychology other than clinical.

At some point during my tenure at my MRU, I lost sight of what my initial goal was - to teach in community college where relationships are meaningful, professors have control over the content and schedule of their courses, and where differences can be made. I was so dazzled by the thought of being "important" in my field that I forgot what my entire purpose was - where my loyalty lies.

My desire for a PhD was all about ego. I have always railed against the idea of becoming too specialized, too focused on one or two tiny aspects of a field as a whole. I think this practice, particularly in psychology, is detrimental to the progress of the discipline. But I wanted to be "Dr. JLK."

I was also incredibly selfish. My husband is not an academic, nor will he ever be. I never really thought about what it would mean to drag my husband and eventual children all over the country in pursuit of grad school, post-docs, adjunct positions and hopefully at some point a tenure-track professorship.

Please keep in mind that I am not judging anyone who has made the decision to pursue academia regardless of family status. I'm just not a person who is willing to do it.

Truth be told, if Yale called me up tomorrow and said "We made a huge mistake - we'd like to admit you for this fall" - I would go. But I am not wasting another second of my life trying to prove to some unknown admissions fucknut that I am good enough to slave for them for 5 years. I won't do it. It is utterly masochistic and I don't want to be part of a system that arbitrarily decides who is worthy and who is not.

Being separated from my husband last year combined with his being gone this year for the military has forced me to re-examine my priorities in life. My marriage, my family is more important to me than anything else in the world. I hear these stories about academics who live apart from their spouses, who have to keep 99 balls in the air just to keep their family functioning. Fuck that - it's not for me.

I can spend my life trying to make a difference in my field - trying to be important to strangers and to get my name in future textbooks, OR I can spend my life trying to make a difference in the lives of people I care about. To be an important influence on them - even the ones I haven't met yet.

No one, no matter how much he or she may have loved her job, ever says on their deathbed "I wish I had spent more time at work."

Nope, it's not for me. I won't lose another fucking second of my life to the pursuit of something that is fueled (for me) by ego and a desire for recognition. I have a good job. I have summers off, 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, I work from home, and I have all the freedom I could possibly ask for. Sure, it's boring. But it allows me to have a life outside of my job.

I may go for my master's so that I can teach. I know I'll get into any program I apply to at that level. I'll have my babies and raise them the best I can. And maybe when they're grown up I'll want to go get my PhD.

But I will not waste another second of my twenties trying to get somewhere that I'm not currently wanted. I am not being defeatist, I am not giving up, I am not quitting. I am recognizing that it's just not fucking important. I am nearly positive that continuing on the path I initially set out for myself will result in much more regret in the long-term.

And I have more than enough regret in my life already.


Comrade PhysioProf said...

JLK, I commend you for making what you have determined to be the best decision for you and your family. Congratulations on reaching clarity on this!

I can spend my life trying to make a difference in my field - trying to be important to strangers and to get my name in future textbooks, OR I can spend my life trying to make a difference in the lives of people I care about. To be an important influence on them - even the ones I haven't met yet.

Without in any way denying that this is the case for you, I would like to point out that for some of us in academia, this is not an either/or proposition, and we feel very comfortable that we can achieve both of those things.

leigh said...

without sounding TOO totally jaded and assholish, i have been working 18-hour days and spending time in various parts of the country, practically not sleeping at all, while under extreme duress and in a state of very poor psychological health. for three fucking letters at the end of my name.

and my boss says to me, this is just the beginning. i need to start expecting MORE from myself.

i gotta say, in the past 8 weeks or so, i have more than once wondered if doing this shit is worth it.

congrats on getting back to what is important to you on a life-satisfaction level. everyone's priorities are different, and we all grow in our own ways through our own experiences. you've learned a lot of important things about yourself lately. the key is to pursue what makes you feel validated, and happy.

i hope blogging has contributed to that somehow. :)

Hope said...

I was all set to be supportive, but then I read this: Truth be told, if Yale called me up tomorrow and said "We made a huge mistake - we'd like to admit you for this fall" - I would go. And I have to wonder, if you’ve decided that academia is not for you, why go get a PhD at Yale? Do you think that if you graduate from Yale, you’ll have the world at your feet? Let me assure you – the answer is no. I work with scientists who graduated from the best schools in the country – Academia did not come banging on their doors. It’s a struggle all the way through, regardless of where you go. If you’re not sure that you want that life, then fine, don’t get a PhD. But is this truly a decision that you’ve made for yourself (and your family), or are you letting a group of admissions offices make it for you?

I have a friend who made a similar choice many years ago. Now, 10+ years later, he regrets not taking a second crack at schools the following year. Perhaps you should re-examine your motives here.

I understand that this is a really tough situation, and whatever you decide, I wish you all the best.

PhizzleDizzle said...

It sounds like you've thought about this deeply, and the decision makes sense to me. I wish you the best!

JLK said...

@Hope - It's not about the fact that it's Yale. Or anything. That comment is addressing the fact that I would not let an opportunity pass me by if is presented itself. But I'm tired of sacrificing the present for an uncertain future. I love my field. Had I been accepted to grad school this time around I would probably feel differently. But I just feel like not only should life NOT be this hard, but it doesn't have to be.

I might (probably will) change my mind in the future. And if that happens I will deal with it when the time comes. It's not that I don't have the desire, the willpower, or the ability - it's that I don't see the point of the sacrifice. As I said - graduating from med school and passing the boards means you get to practice medicine. Getting a PhD in psych doesn't mean you get to do a goddamn thing except add some extra letters after your name. You can be the best person in your field and still have a hard time finding a job. Phil Zimbardo, the Man in my opinion, has an entire huge group of people who have no respect for him whatsoever.

Earning that degree, making those sacrifices, guarantees me NOTHING. I've spent too much time trying to convince other people of what I am capable of doing. It might just be my rebellious streak talking, but I feel like I'm exhausted from trying to prove what I'm made of to people who don't want to pay attention to what matters.

As CPP mentioned, not everyone has to choose. But I feel as though I've been forced into a position where I do have to choose. And I will choose human love and relationships over a piece of paper any day of the week.

But as I said, if some school (Yale or otherwise) came to me and said "We really want you here" I would never, EVER turn down that opportunity, because it is what I love.

But after having nearly completely sacrificed my marriage for the sake of academic success that got me nowhere - I won't do that again.

Candid Engineer said...

I'm glad that you've been able to reach a well-thought-out decision regarding all of this. Hopefully, it will put your mind at ease. Go and do whatever it is that makes you and your family happy. :)

scicurious said...

I'm where Leigh is right about now, or a few months behind. I've spent the last FOUR YEARS questioning every day whether or not it's worth it. To me, it is (I think, well, ok, maybe...crap...). But I'm not everyone, and we all have to make the decisions that are right for us.

So GO YOU. It's a decision, not something about giving up or failing or whatever. When you have many paths to chose from, the concept of all but one being a failure is ridiculous. You've made the decision that's right for you, and that's what matters. w00t!

Field Notes said...

I hated it at the time, but I am proud of the fact that I stuck it out and got those 3 letters, even if I do not end up using them in a professor role. I too, realized that kind of life was not what was most fulfilling right now. For a while I thought it was a waste to have slaved away for years to get those letters only to 'not use' them. My point is, you may yet change your mind, like you said, and realize that sometime down the road it will be more worth it.

You have to be ready to accept the years of slavery. No matter where you go, which program you enter, what kind of school you teach/research at later, it WILL be an uphill battle, a soul killer, and an exercise in humility.

You have to REALLY want it to succeed in the end.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog today and read this post. I received a PhD in a psych field a decade ago and left academia soon afterwards for many of the reasons you outline. Rarely a day passes where I do not wonder about the wisdom of that decision, but I have never concluded yeah or nay. I would love to be a professor, and I'm certain I'd be far better than most, but whether it is worth the politics and the never-ending jumping thru 'good enough yet?' hoops is hard to say. Most of my friends are professors now--I envy them and they envy me....

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