What would the world look like if I didn’t finish my PhD? My initial reaction, once I’ve actually allowed myself to even ask the question, is PURE TERROR. Certainly the world would end. But assuming it doesn’t go up in smoke I imagine being severely and endlessly scolded by my parents, friends, and other random people who somehow know I’ve been in graduate school since 2001.
I picture myself cowardly huddled in the corner of a room being interrogated. What are you thinking? they would ask. Are you actually stupid? Who comes so close to having a PhD and doesn’t finish it? What about all that wasted money? Are you just lazy? And so on. Actually, I can really go on with this one, but I’ll hold myself back for your sake. See, I’ve been wanting to quit PhD for going on four years, and that gives a person a lot of time to imagine the worst things people might say.
I’m already shaky and exhausted just thinking about it.
I wouldn’t begrudge my friends and family asking me these questions. It seems a reasonable reaction to such a tremendous change. The way I see it, I have relied on the support of some of these very people to get through the different stages of my academic life, and in return I feel the tremendous weight of their expectations. My mum helped me financially many times when my student loans couldn’t cover my expenses, my friends got me through the procrastination and the self-doubt, and my husband has had to live with me through it all. These people have also celebrated my successes along the way. How many different ways can I spell guilt, I wonder?
These are conversations I’ve been having on the inside for years now. With the exception of Matt (who has already won most supportive husband of the year award a few years running and his chances are looking good for another title), I have rarely gathered up the courage to actually ask the question out loud. Of course, now I’m blogging about it--when I do get around to speaking, I’m really loud.
The reality is that if I decide to leave my graduate program without my degree I’ll be asked some heavy duty questions by the people closest to me. At the end of the day I really just need to get over that. But lately, when I think about what the world would look like if I didn’t finish my PhD, I try to reframe the question: what would the world look like if I became a . . . ? I think I like this question better.