Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Almost Quit Today

Lots of people talk about quitting, or thinking about quitting academia.
I've written before how I think part of the solution to some higher ed issues is frank conversations about who should and shouldn't be in grad school. I've also written about how deciding this isn't for you is not a failure, and seeking life elsewhere, if you can imagine doing anything else is probably in many cases a bonus not a failure.

But this post is not about any of that.

I'm ahead in my program. I'm published. I have a work ethic, I network. And I am on track to finish the last chapter of my dissertation this month.

And today I seriously thought about quitting.
Just quitting.
Because I'm 39. And it shouldn't be this hard.

My truck is due for it's emissions check so I can renew my registration, and next week I start my summer gig as library/book courier long distance to Santa Fe, so I needed the three new tires the mechanic said I needed six months ago. And the AC is broken. So I made an appointment to take my truck in:
  • Fix check engine light
  • Fix AC
  • 3 new tires
A chunk of money, but certainly not expected to break the bank.
Three hours at the mechanic, and three mechanics under Baby Truck result in this- both my catalytic converters have failed which is what has caused the check engine light. There are sensors along with that have contributed to check engine light.
Total cost to fix: $3000-3600.
Mechanic said I could always just get a new vehicle.
Like it's just that easy. Like anyone could do it.

What I wanted to do:
 What I actually did.
Because $3600 pretty much empties my savings. And while logically I can rationalize that $3600/12 months is $300/month this year to keep it running for longer, and is nothing compared to a down payment I can't make and a monthly payment I can't afford, this was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
No logic. No rational thinking. Just D-U-N.

When I quit my teaching job I cashed out my retirement as a safety net. I still had my online teaching job, and felt good I wouldn't have to touch it. I was not counting on losing my online teaching job, or covering my dad's move and monthly bills. Both happened. And my savings is down to little over the $3600 it will cost to fix my truck.

And suddenly, I just didn't want to do it anymore.

I didn't want, at 39 1/2 to be struggling to live off $14,000.
I didn't want to take on more student loan debt.
I didn't want to eat crap food because I couldn't afford anything else.
I didn't want to have a quality of life where I can't afford to do anything. Ever.
I did not want to have to work so hard for so little.

Because part of the reason why this hit me so hard is that savings was supposed to be my safety net.
The academic job market is atrocious, as every one on the planet knows. So that money was supposed to either get me moved to an academic job or get me through until I got a back up plan (which was to transfer my NC teaching license to NM and teach high school). I've also started some very preliminary research about what to do if after a year that isn't a good fit, because I'll be 40 in February, and as much as I want to be a professor, I can't afford and am unwilling to sacrifice the quality of life adjuncting and being on the job market gerbil wheel year after wheel would get me.
But today it all just seemed like too much.
Today, as I sat and cried at home, with not a single person to help, or comfort or talk to, none of it seemed worth it.

The last few weeks there's been a lot of talk about adjuncts on welfare, tenure blowing up, and the unicorns of academic life being betrayed by their own insitutions.
And I wondered why I was doing this.
Suddenly quitting and getting a full time job, 9-5, forty hours a week, with benefits seemed like a really good idea. In fact, it seemed INSANE not to.
What the fuck was I doing all this for?
I have not doubted what I was doing since I started prepping for a PhD program in 2010 and certainly not since I started here two years ago.

But today, today I sat at my desk, I did the math of how the hell I'm going to sacrifice $3600 and I really, seriously, thought about quitting.
And there was no one to tell me not to.
There was no one to tell me I was too valuable to quit. I'd find a way. It would get easier. My contribution mattered.
Not only because I have no one but Nehi but also because NONE OF THAT IS TRUE.

Now don't get me wrong, I've wanted to be a teacher since I was about four. And a college professor not long after that. But today. Today none of the work I've done seemed worth any of what I've had to do to get here.

And yet, I did not quit. One, for practical reasons, a terminal degree is more valuable that not. So if nothing else I'm in for another year.
Two, I don't quit.

Today sucked. It sucked more than any other day the last two years has, and that's saying a lot.
I had to request more student loan money, that is hopefully approved, to cover this so that I still have the money in a year to move to an academic job, or figure what's next.
But I have to tell you, my back up plan, the one that's supposed to be the "only in case of emergency" parachute looks better today than it did yesterday.
The FBI looks interesting. I know they look for researchers/analysts.
The BIA looks interesting, teaching or otherwise.
Other federal jobs seem like a good bet.
And I feel confident my years of teaching, research, analysis, ability to communicate, and wrangle people would get me something.

And we'll see. They're all viable options if my job market this year is not successful.

But here's why I wrote this. I am an adult. Good with money. Work hard. Contribute to my field. Show up.
And today I almost quit. Not because of lack of skill, or lack or desire, but for the first time the cost of being a PhD student outweighed the potential benefit.

I'm not a whiner. The above story is not trivial. It's a real crisis that brought on a hard look at my life as a PhD student. And these are not stories I think we hear enough of.
Because we need to be professional. And we need to "shut up and deal." And we're not supposed to be transparent about how the sausage is made.

But these are part of the great lie to hide the narrative of what being a PhD student is really like.

So I'm still here.
Because logistically, logically, it'd be stupid to quit when the finish line is in sight.

But I've bookmarked USAJobs.com.


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