Monday, January 7, 2013

Should I Quit? Definitive answers here!

Just kidding. Sorry. We can't tell you if you should quit. We truly wish we could be an Academic Magic 8-ball and give you that confirmation you're looking for.

It's all in the mind renske herder via Compfight

The collaborators of this website have gone in circles over how to answer this question. Should you quit? We all grappled with it in different ways, for different reasons.

Below, we'll link to dozens of articles and essays that ask the questions should you quit, why should you quit, what are good reasons to quit, etc. Then Lauren wraps it up with a few thoughts.

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Reframe your concepts of "leaving," "quitting" and failure with our article here. There are tons of great reads that will stoke the fire of your indignance and make you feel like less of a chump (you are not a chump, but you probably feel like a chump).

This May 2012 article from The Guardian discusses reasons that Chemistry PhDs -- especially women -- decide to leave academia:

The participants in the study identify many characteristics of academic careers that they find unappealing: the constant hunt for funding for research projects is a significant impediment for both men and women. But women in greater numbers than men see academic careers as all-consuming, solitary and as unnecessarily competitive. Both men and women PhD candidates come to realise that a string of post-docs is part of a career path, and they see that this can require frequent moves and a lack of security about future employment... Women more than men see great sacrifice as a prerequisite for success in academia.

Karen Kelsky @ The Professor Is In assures us that "IT'S OK TO QUIT":

What starts out as an inspired quest for new knowledge and social impact can devolve into endless days in an airless room, broke, in debt, staring at a computer, exploited by departments, dismissed by professors, ignored by colleagues, disrespected by students. It is ok to decide that’s not what you want.  It is ok to make another choice.  There is life outside of academia.

JC has written an entire series called "Reasons I'm Leaving." She also did a more academic, less personal, series called "A Sociologist's View on Leaving" that's worth reading as well.

Julie Clarenbach has a lot of suggestions for weighing this important decision in "How can you tell if you should leave academia?"
Get rid of the shoulds. If you take a break from telling yourself what you “should” do, what do you WANT to do? Does anything on your to-do list sound fun? We spend so much time learning by watching in this career that it can be hard to notice what we need to make this work for us. Maybe your colleague can grade four papers a day and get them all done efficiently, while you really just need to set aside five hours in front of Glee reruns. If that’s your way, having “grade 4 papers” on your to-do list every bleeping day will likely make you want to stab your eyes out. And that will affect everything else.

You “should” serve on committees, you “should” contribute, you “should” teach a certain way, you “should” write a certain kind of essay — what happens if you drop the stories?

(Dropping the "shoulds" was huge for me.)

Grad school made Caroline Roberts puke. No, really. Stress is no joke: it really can destroy your body and make you crazy. It doesn't really matter if you "should" be stressed out. You just are. It's not weakness. Caroline also has some amusing and very helpful reactions to a bunch of advice columns that focused on grad students here.

Bottom line: only you can know if it's time to go. From my personal perspective, I think any reason is a good reason to quit. I don't think you need to hit some magical threshold to have a "good enough" reason to quit. It seems like a lot of folks consider quitting for a long time, and then there's a "straw that broke the camel's back" that pushes them into actually quitting -- a missed deadline, a rejection letter, a disappointing interview, a conversation, a revelation. I could say "I quit grad school because I had a disagreement with my advisor," but it was really so much more than that: years of accumulated stress, debt, fatigue, and frustration. If you want to quit, you can quit. Really. You don't have to justify it to anyone except yourself.If you're considering quitting, and are stressing out over should I, should I, I challenge you to flip the script: ask yourself why you should stay. What's keeping you here? What are you getting out of academia? What's the reward? You might be surprised how short that list, how flimsy.


  1. I am asking myself this question: Should I quit grad school? But I have reasons to stay. I already quit and abandoned a dissertation 5 years ago. Then I started over again, I had the worst experience of my life, and my finished thesis was rejected. A year ago I started in a new PhD program with a new topic, and I am unhappy. The past experience of the rejection is too hard for me, and I cannot get over it. I feel like a loser, I have wasted the past 6 years in grad school, I have an empty resume, no recommendations, and I don't know what to do with my life. At least, if I finish this PhD program, I can say that I achieved something, although it took long.

  2. Lucrezia,
    I guess it depends on how you balance out sunk costs versus opportunity cost. If you feel like the PhD is worth it to you, emotionally anyway, then by all means, continue. But when you graduate, you may still be in a situation in terms of experience, recs, etc. You could use your time to explore new interests, build experience, or get new skills. Just a thought. Either way, best of luck to you.


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