Sunday, February 24, 2008

Graduate school plans, a review

The process of transitioning from a master's program to a PhD program has been a bumpy one for me. Officially, I'm listed as a PhD student here at B.A.U. despite the fact that my master's thesis is not complete. At this point I have completed more than enough credits to be done with classes and preparing for my qualifying exams. My thesis has been lagging for a number of reasons. (I'm trying to convince myself that this isn't a sign of my lack of suitability for an academic career.)

1. Last year I agreed to work with my adviser on a long term project and take part of the analysis to create my thesis. This cause no end of trouble because (I later found out that) we fundamentally disagree about what kind of analysis should be done with that data. Then the data collection process wasn't very successful.

2. I have had all sorts of bad luck and family issues in the last two years: a broken foot, relatives in need of care, a stolen car, my grandfather dying, Beorn's cat disappearing.
There has been some confusion about what discipline I want to be in and what degrees was pursuing. This was my fault. When I started, I thought I would pursue a dual degree in "hairdressing" and "head studies" because there are jobs for "hairdressers" outside of academia, which would have taken me 31/2-4 years, so really I'm exactly on schedule. (Right, right?) I always felt that I ultimately wanted to teach and so might want to pursue a PhD, but I didn't communicate that very clearly to either my professors or friends and family outside of academia. I think Beorn understood, but other people not so much.

Last year, when it became clear that my Adviser and I weren't meshing, I started thinking about who I might get to advise me on a PhD project. I met with professors from all over the campus looking for a good match, but while several people were encouraging about my project ideas, none of them seemed appropriate considering my degree will be in "head studies" and none of them come from closely related disciplines, so Beorn and I started thinking about applying to other grad schools.

I could stay at B.A.U. because things seem to be looking up for the "head studies" program here. Its interesting how many people seem threatened or upset by my choosing to leave. Friends from my cohort make pressuring comments, despite the fact that I rarely see them, and they know I have good reasons for leaving. Professors here keep emphasizing how great other professors here are (I think will little actual knowledge of the person in question.) Friends and family outside of academia mainly seem puzzled. They think I should be done already and start making money. They are probably right in one sense. Pursuing a PhD doesn't make much sense financially, but I'm surprised, because these are people who didn't choose their careers/jobs for their money making potential.

I understand not wanting a friend to move away, particularly one who you see frequently, but I have a feeling that many people just aren't comfortable with my decision. Either they don't see the value in pursuing an academic career or they are uncomfortable with my dissatisfaction with the current program. In my mind, if I'm going to pursue an academic career, I need to pursue it full force, not settle for a program that doesn't suit me.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Think really long and hard about the issue of whether or not you fit in your grad program... Anastasia has been having more than her share of "challenges", probably because of "fit" issues...

Breena Ronan said...

I know, Anastasia's situation makes me acutely aware of the importance of finding a good fit. My current boss (who is an excellent professor and adviser) said people usually lose no more than one year by changing programs, but there is an important difference between a good year and a miserable year.

ArticulateDad said...

But, also be sure what it is you wish to pursue. Think as clearly as possible about what you mean by "an academic career" for instance. Get on top of what it is you wish to do with your time and energy. Remember that the statistics DO apply to you. Know what you wish to do, then you'll be able to pursue it, with or without a faculty appointment. If you are unclear, you may find yourself either with a faculty post that leads you on a leash, or no faculty appointment, and little sense of what to do next.

I know of which I speak. I'd hate for you to spend the time and effort pursuing the PhD, only to find yourself (like I did me) floundering for a few years post-PhD trying to think up which way to head.

Breena Ronan said...

Good point. I have spent some time figuring out where I fit in terms of disciplines and what types of academic appointments I'm interested in pursuing. At B.A.U. most of my friends are actually academic staff. I wish I could find a reference, but a study following up with PhDs 10 years after their degrees found those with staff jobs actually had the highest satisfaction. The statistics are precisely why I think I have to do everything I can to better my odds, including finding a stronger program and adviser with better connections.

saxifraga said...

I think sometimes it's just difficult for people to understand why others are going or doing where/what they are not. I've had some similar "strange" reactions to my leaving current postdoc workplace half way trough for a faculty position. For the outsider this would seem like an easy choice, but my colleagues seem to be sad to see me go and had hoped I would somehow migrate into a permanent position here. It is of course nice to experience that people don't want you to leave, but it's also a bit difficult when one's friends and mentors don't understand one's reasons for doing something else.

k8 said...

I agree with the above poster - sometimes when you leave a situation, those who stay take it as an affront (whether they mean to or not). It's as if rejecting that place/program is rejecting something about them. Not that it is a rejection of them, but they might unconsciously see it as a commentary on their choices.

But, do what is best for you. It sounds like you've thought through this and considered the options/possibilities.

Anonymous said...

i know what you mean about the family thing, and their understanding why you would want to go to more school and not just get a job already. i agree with all, and as k8 said, you have thought it through, and trust yourself, other people's concerns from in the program are probably not thinking about what will be best for you, and you are. take care.

AS said...

"In my mind, if I'm going to pursue an academic career, I need to pursue it full force, not settle for a program that doesn't suit me."


graduate said...

Your situation complete mirrors my current situation. I have selected to leave the program; I will be graduating with my master's in may. I am having trouble with my advisor, as well (disagreements on the analyses, etc).

Selecting to leave the program was a very difficult decision to make, but all the stress was seriously affecting my health. Leaving is a very brave thing. I know people will question or be upset that you are leaving (I am getting the same reaction from people), but it is your life and your happiness is the most important thing!

It is a lot easier to just stay in the program and be miserable. It is much more difficult to make the decision to leave, you are brave. I am glad that you are leaving, it sounds like the right thing for you!

Happiness is not found, it is created!

Maude said...

i agree--you need to go where you feel comfortable. i agree, too, that it's much braver to decide to leave than it is to just stay. that's not to say that if you do stay, you're a wuss. what i mean is that you do what's best for you.

good luck.

"fits" and advising issues can really suck and break you down. good luck.

Alyson Nez said...

So, what happened to your Master’s program? I think the problems from the people around you can really make things harder when working on phd dissertation or MA thesis project. But, I would be good to know that they can also help make things easier because they can be an inspiration and at the same time a motivator in life.