Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dissertation Desertion, or ABD for Life

Last time, I mentioned my decision no longer to pursue a PhD in philosophy. Even though I had come to that decision, it didn’t feel 100% official until I emailed my dissertation committee and informed them that I no longer require their services. I started with an email to my dissertation chair, clicking “send” and thereby terminating our relationship at 7:53 PM Mountain Time on Tuesday, August 11th. Exactly ten minutes later, I hit “send” on an email to the rest of my committee.

Game over.

Are you sure you want to quit? [Yes/No]


Save game? [Yes/No]


Though it was mild, I did feel a sense of elation after sending the emails. It is freeing. Some may think I just severed some kind of professional lifeline, but the truth is, that cord had become so tangled and wrapped around my neck at this point, it was doing nothing but damage. The future feels more open and full of potential than it has in a long, long time. They say God never closes a door without opening a window. That’s fine, but I think there are cases when an open door actually obscures your view of what other doors are already open and waiting for you.

I’ve had a lot of apprehension about how people might respond to my decision. Just consider the word “quitting.” It has such a negative connotation. Over six years ago, I wrote about this very topic—the stigma attached to quitting. The post was written near the end of my first full year in Tallahassee. It makes me wonder what sense of uncertainty about my future was already lurking beneath the surface. Anyway, my paranoia hasn’t been unwarranted. Several people whom I talked with during my decision-making phase expressed the belief that I should finish the PhD because I’ve already come so far. Some of them have made it clear that it would indeed be a “shame” not to finish now. Well, I have news for you. One of the people on my dissertation committee is a renowned and respected psychologist. He responded to my decision by asking what had prompted it. Here’s the response I sent him:

I’m happy to tell you more about my decision, if you’re sincerely curious. I’ll try to keep this brief, but doing so ensures I will be oversimplifying things quite a bit.
Midway through my PhD program, I started to become increasingly aware of the fact that I wasn’t as happy as I should be. I had loved my master’s program, so I thought I was passionate about philosophy. As time went on, however, it became more and more evident that I wasn’t that excited about academic philosophy. The thought of writing and publishing philosophy for a living was actually somewhat depressing to me. I realized that even if I were handed a tenure-track philosophy position right here and now, I wouldn’t really want to take it. That was eye-opening to me, and yet I didn’t know what to do other than finish my PhD and hope for the best.
I left Tallahassee in 2014 with the goal of finishing my PhD in absentia. Although I didn’t intend to neglect my dissertation, I found myself investing more and more time into things that I really love and care about. I had done this, just a little bit, while still in Tallahassee. It had been emotionally and psychologically rejuvenating to me then, and it was all the more so now. Like I said in my previous email, I haven’t been this happy in years. And not by a small margin. Anyway, I realized that completing my PhD would yet require many months of hard work and thousands of dollars, and I honestly couldn’t see the point. Yes, the idea of having a PhD is appealing to me, for the sake of prestige if nothing else. Yes, I had already invested much time and effort into the PhD program. (I assure you, loss aversion played heavily into my initial reluctance to abandon the PhD altogether. It has been a primary culprit for quite some time now, I believe.) But I had no desire to pursue a job that would require the PhD, and I have found myself deliriously happy as I’ve pursued and done other things. Case in point, I worked as a tour guide this summer and enjoyed it more than I can remember enjoying any moment of my PhD program.
To summarize, I no longer have much interest in academic philosophy, and I do not wish to pursue a job that would make my completing of the PhD worth the time, effort, and money it would yet require. I held on to avoid a bruised ego and out of a fear of regret, but the former seems like a poor reason for making such an important decision and the latter is no longer a concern.

And here’s the response I received from him (edited for formatting/capitalization):

It really sounds like you made the right decision. Never get a PhD in a field that you don’t want to make into your life’s work. Best of luck to you!

If this is the response I get from someone who is considered a specialist in the field of “self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, [and] motivation” (as Wikipedia notes), then I’d say I’m in pretty good shape. Not that I didn’t know that. But some of you reading this may not have known it. And now you do.

Game over.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome response and I'm really glad you are happy.