Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why I said NO to my PhD

I went to university to become a journalist. At first I was just interested in politics and knew that whatever I would be able to do with that degree would be something I liked because I love politics, I love analysis and I love writing. These passions then lead down a different path because if you have them and are also very good at them sooner or later the question comes up if you even want to leave university. I was always a good student but I never expected to do as well in university as I did. Hence, doing a PhD was never on my mind until I realized that I am really freaking good at what I'm doing, and that I probably wouldn't even have to "settle" on becoming a journalist. Instead, my prospects looked like I could pull of writing on a much higher level. From that day on I had one goal, and one only: getting my PhD!

For two solid years there was no plan B. The PhD was very much in the making, and when I accepted Glasgow's offer for my MRes I had embarked on the path to my doctorate with no turning back. I had chosen Glasgow only because it gave me the best chance to get my PhD: world-class uni, the best uni in all of Europe for what I was hoping to do my PhD in and a degree path that was putting me on the ESRC shortlist. A yes to Glasgow was a yes to my future in education. I hated every second of being in Glasgow and thought about dropping out but when I got a chance to work with Prof Stephen White, one of my absolute role models, I thought it had all been worth it. Twelve months of misery seemed like a reasonable price for a chance to work with a hero in Russian Politics. Little did I know that this experience was the first step to my change of heart.

The methodology training of my Master's sucked and I started to realize what being a researcher meant. I whole-heartedly blame bad teaching for making me question whether that was still what I wanted because now that I have done my own learning after the course I know it would have been completely fine. The pivotal moment of change came when I had worked on my thesis for four month, pretty much without supervision, feeling as insecure as ever about what I had written and then something happening in International News that marked my entire thesis as irrelevant immediately. Four months out the window really hurt me, professionally and emotionally. Naturally, I began to wonder what would happen if I wrote my doctorate for years and similar things happening. I decided that I'm not a strong enough person to get over that should it occur. In fear of such disappointment my desire started to crumble.

The real reasons were of a private matter though. To this day I would love to do my PhD and I will not leave this planet without one. However, my path was leading to America where I was going to go to school. While I had always planned to return I suddenly realized that meant permanently saying goodbye to my family. I'd be able to see them again but not take part in their lives. If my sister had kids I'd never know them. I would always be working. Worse than not seeing my family was the reality that th US would have sent me back to school for at least five years as opposed to three in Europe. That automatically meant no dime to pay back a mountain of dept for at least five years, no dime to be able to get married for at least eight years and no dime for a child before the clock runs out. With that PhD my career would always have been my only priority and while it's by far the biggest part of my life I'm not willing to sacrifice everything I want for personal gain for it.

Now I will probably still end up being 35, single, poor and without a child even without my PhD but I have given myself the option of dreaming that it might go differently. I have since regretted my decision a hundred times at least, especially since my assumption that it can't be hard to find a job if they offer you a PhD in the States was completely incorrect. Unfortunately, my academic references don't transition well in the job market, especially in this country. Employers don't care I am freaking amazing at academics. I would change my mind because I still want to do a PhD just as bad as last year but the reasons that opposed it haven't changed, and now I'm yet another year older and further away from having a husband and a dog to come out of it in time to have both. So personally the PhD just wasn't right now but hopefully it will be one day. My dream of having a Dr on my tomb won't fade that easily...

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