Grad school can definitely be a vicious cycle full of rejection, but there are many good things about it. After a long and tough 2017 (hurricanes, rejections and disappointments galore), I was ready to give up on grad school. I don’t mean quitting because I’m not really a quitter, but rather taking a more easygoing approach to it. I have always been so high strung and overwhelmingly compulsive about everything that I tend to forget that it’s OKAY to have fun, be young and enjoy life.
Last Winter, I made the decision to finish my PhD without the intention of pursuing academia (i.e. academic jobs). I made this decision for a number of reasons: watching many of my colleagues get rejected to these jobs that they were more than qualified for, the unfortunate ghost of adjunct professorships (i.e. making the same lowly salary as a TA with none of the health benefits) that haunts the academic job market, and wanting a life (children, a house, and a livable income).
This resolution completely changed my life outlook, plans and overall mental health. As surprising as it may seem, letting go of academia has frankly been the best thing for my research, my applications and my well-being. How do I know this?
- Setting Goals and Meeting Them: I wrote my first chapter in one semester (~4 months) and I think I did a pretty decent job. I work best under schedules, so I planned multiple writing groups, and sketched out blocks of time where I could work solely on writing. I love the research I got to do and cannot wait to do more over the Summer.
- Work/Life Balance: Last semester, I got really into setting boundaries around what was my work time and what was my “life” time. One of my friends even got me into a TedTalk Podcast called “Work Life with Adam Grant”, which I highly recommend It discusses workaholic lifestyles, emotional labor, and many other important things. I decided that, unlike other semesters, I was not going to let graduate school become my number one priority in life. I would work 9-5PM (sometimes 6:00 PM) and I would avoid weekend labor…and somehow I managed to accomplish this. I did not respond to emails after 5:00 PM, but instead I did things that I enjoyed like reading for fun, writing or just binge-watching something on netflix. I actually want to write another post about this specifically because grad school’s work obsession is frankly disturbing and beyond unhealthy.
- Grant/Fellowship/Scholarship/Job/Research Applications: In addition to writing time, I set times to work on specific applications that will help me further my non-academic (and academic) experiences. I applied to the same number of positions I do every year without expecting anything from them (I don’t think anyone wants to know the number because it’s so absurd…the amount of work that goes into these applications is crazy).
- Relaxed Outcomes Facing Rejection:.Out of [insert ridiculous number here], I received about [insert adequate number] of rejections. Now, this does not mean that I was like yay, I didn’t get this one job I really wanted, but rather helped me keep myself in check. I went in with low expectations while still managing to dedicate a lot of time to my apps. Overall, I feel proud of myself for feeling OKAY about rejection and the great work I put into my applications.
- Actually Getting Awesome Grants (WHAT?!): As I said, I went into academia this past semester with very low expectations. I did not expect much from my applications, my dissertation or even my teaching (my pedagogy friends must be freaking out ). I received a fellowship that will allow me to further the field of public humanities doing a job that is very meaningful to me. I received a research fellowship AND a scholarship that will allow me to do research for my second chapter in PARIS, FRANCE. This means that I get an all-paid expense research trip to Paris that will allow me to live there for most of the Summer!
When did it all change then?
I set out to find what I really loved and cared for in life: connections, philosophy, friendships, social justice endeavors, and celebrating accomplishments–even the smallest of them. In return, letting go of academia made me become a better scholar, teacher, friend, partner and person. I look into the details of my writing and research without becoming so focused on the general, big-picture outcome. I focus on helping my students enjoy themselves during class and understand tough philosophical concepts or complex narratives…and friends, this has paid off.
I have made space for things that matter to me and have lessened my burdens. I don’t know if this blog post might actually help anyone, but this approach has really helped me. I feel lighter and less anxious about all the things that used to burden me. I feel like I have made the decisions that work best for me and I feel incredibly content and free!