My PhD and Me… (Or, Why I Quit When I Did)

quit my phdHaving a PhD was something that I thought I wanted. I thought that it would validate me and say to the world: “See, I told you I was smart!” and “See world! I am someone!”. I also thought I wanted to be an academic.

I completed my Master of Arts in Communication Management as the post-grad student with the highest GPA (I was the Schultz Communication Prizewinner for 2008). I was head hunted by the University of South Australia to go into their Doctor of Communication program, so I was very flattered. I had also resigned from my job as a PR Manager, so I didn’t have a job when I started the doctorate; I thought I would make my living as a communications self-employed consultant (boy, was I wrong about that, but that’s a post for another day!)

I completed the Research Proposal, the Literature Review and was just about to go to Ethics (about 18 months in) when I decided to pull out. In the end, I found the learning too restrictive, too process-driven. As a doctoral student, one has to more or less do what one’s supervisor wants one to do. I wanted to build a reputation publishing in electronic journals: my supervisor wanted a more traditional publishing record. I had very different ideas to her about which way my journey should go, and how I should approach my topic. Having said that, my supervisor was very good and I have the utmost respect for her. And through the process, by all accounts, it would be unusual not to tousle with your supervisor!

In the end, though, I think the thought of committing to something for that length of time was actually a bit depressing. I like variety; I like learning about different topics and subjects, and I could see that a PhD would actually be a bit too narrow for me. I’d end up knowing a lot about one thing, but I’m more the sort of a gal who likes to know lots (or conversely not much!) about different things.

I’m not ruling out the possibility of me ever going back; however, I’d rather have another Masters degree!

For the record, I tell people: I was smart enough to get in, and smart enough to know it wasn’t for me.

19 thoughts on “My PhD and Me… (Or, Why I Quit When I Did)

  1. Totally agree about “being smart enough” to make the right decisions. Often, we want to seek validation about who we are in what we do (or what we can add to our names), and that’s mostly because it’s what’s expected. But, real smart folks know who they really are & what they’re capable of doing – regardless of titles & such. (says the girl who’s currently refusing to do a doctorate, but nearly done with 2nd Masters’ degree).

    And BTW, wowsers on the award. Congrats! 🙂

    1. You are one smart cookie, Shai, that’s for sure! And what I admire about you is that you have such humility and you are so generous and kind to others. Don’t ever lose that! I Completely get the Masters thing, by the way. I’d love another one… maybe organisational psychology or behaviour or something along those lines. Or maybe I’ll just tune into iTunes University more regularly 😉

  2. As a doctoral student, one has to more or less had to do what one’s supervisor wants one to do.

    This is very dependent on the field, though. To generalise, in the humanities you do your own thing; in the sciences you’re effectively working on somebody else’s idea. (I can’t speak to other areas.) That’s partly why I dropped out of the PhD I started in physics (see also: too lazy) and partly why I eventually did a PhD in a completely different area, i.e. history. I’m glad I did, on both counts! So I do agree, if the PhD isn’t working for you, quitting is no bad thing. It’s just too big a commitment to make if you aren’t sure.

    1. Thanks for this Brett. I am too much of a free spirit to do what others want me to do! When I started, I thought I could make a difference to my field (social sciences/communication) but I think I started off too big and was wanting to do too much. And all that Foucault was driving me nuts (he seemed to be the academic du jour who was drawn upon most often to frame theoretical posturings)! I guess a PhD is really about writing a book, and I was thinking it would give me the structure to do so. Unfortunately, for me it was just too structured!

    2. I agree – I just completed my PhD in Education, and my supervisors were all very ‘hands off’. And it took me awhile to finish my thesis, so I’ve had a few supervisors! But I think it is sooo important to find the right fit with your supervisor, and your mentors in life too. I sometimes think that people put too much emphasis on choosing the institution they want to go to rather than the people they want to connect with there…or at least, that was my problem! But between a) no-one telling students this and b) it being really hard to move institutions when you have a scholarship, things are made harder than they need to be.

      But @unplugged1 you are spot on – you have to be ready to sit down and not be distracted by other interesting things for a VERY long time in a PhD. Definitely something you want to wait to do, if you don’t have a clear passion to sustain you through that time. Like, I feel like I’ve been living under a rock for the past 8 years…but my research interest sustained me, you know?

      1. Thanks Kelli. I think I would have been better at it if I didn’t have to work. I didn’t apply for a scholarship (and who could live on that pittance anyway?). Unfortunately, I had a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed (I’m a solo parent) and just couldn’t take time out of the workforce for X amount of years. I envy people who can, though.

  3. sad. there are many ways of writing a phd, finding the supervisor and the method that would allow for what you want would be critical. that said, it is a lengthy commitment, mine has absorbed a quarter of my adult life…

    1. Yikes! That *is* a long time to devote to something! My Masters was a fast track course and took 18 months. Every six weeks, there would be a new subject. That was the perfect combination for me. My Doctorate was by course work, and was structured along similar lines to my Masters, but in the end the focus was just too narrow for my short academic attention span!

  4. I love that I just learned something new about you Di! I’m impressed – as usual.

    I have fantasies about one day returning to higher ed – when the kids are grown and I’ve grown up at last. Yeah, fantasies.

    1. It’s funny… I always wanted a Doctorate and to be an academic. But when I had the chance, I discovered that it wasn’t what I wanted at all! Go figure!

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