Today was the last day of classes. I am delaying my graduation from the MA program until August for practical (=funding) reasons, but I am effectively finished with the degree and all the required coursework.
In the fall, I will not be returning for the PhD in the French department. This decision was motivated by several factors, which are too numerous to elaborate here. Basically, I have realized that this is not the place, program, or lifestyle choice for me. There are people in the program who love (Yes, love!) French, be it nasal vowels or Proust, and at the moment, I am not sure that I am one of those people.
Right before the MA Exam, I actually had this realization while watching "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," specifically, the episode about the NYC Wafels & Dinges Truck. The owner and operator of this truck-business quit his very successful, high-paying position to do something that he loves. I told the boyfriend, "I should quit grad school and drive around a waffle truck. It would be way better."
You know what? That's kind of a bad sign.
Another sign that I should probably reconsider my life-plan: I called my parents in tears and told them that I didn't want to be in French grad school anymore. My mom's response? "Yeah, we can all tell."
Here I was, just a week out from taking one of the biggest exams of my life, and I realized that I did.not.care. And on top of that? I found out that my birth mom was refusing my contact. Fun times for everyone. (The boyfriend and Lena get major props for dealing with me this semester.)
I'm sure some people are thinking, "Whiny little bitch! You don't know what it's like to have a 'real' job. Why are you complaining?" I am first to admit that I have never experienced the non-academic working world, and that academia does offer many nice perks. However, one of my biggest gripes about grad school is that your time is never your own. While I may have more downtime than someone with a 9-to-5 office job, I constantly have things like papers and the thought of research hanging over my head. Some people handle this pressure pretty well and do not let it affect them. Given that I've started grinding my teeth a lot at night, I've come to the realization that I have a tendency to let stress take over my life and make me miserable.
I have decided that it is time to seek out something to make me happier. Here are a few occupations that I considered:
- Movie-language consultant (Like the people who designed the Navi language in Avatar)
- Sub-title consultant/editor/writer
- Pastry chef (Yeah, no thanks, $4839204830242 in student loans from pastry school)
- Group Fitness Instructor
- Translator or Interpreter (The former works with written documents. The latter works with speech.)
- English teacher in Korea
In the Fall, I will be staying at the same university, but I am switching to the MA of Teaching English as a Second Language. (That's right, I will have two masters degrees when I finish.) I am looking forward to a change in curriculum, as well as a general shift in the orientation of my program. Instead of looking towards a future of conferences, dissertations, and seeking tenure, I hope to find something that will allow me to use my interest in language for more practical and personally fulfilling uses.
I held off on announcing this decision because it wasn't clear if I would receive funding from my new program. (In which case, I would have taken a year off from school and reapplied for funding for the 2011-2012 school year.) However, last week, I was offered a teaching position for one of the ESL service courses that the University offers to international students, wheee!
A caveat for all those considering higher level academia (e.g. not a terminal MA), success is narrowly defined as completing your program with a tenure-track position at a major research university. (Just ask the Chronicle of Higher Education!) Given this narrow definition of academic success, my decision marks me somewhat as a failure. Chris kindly told me that plenty of people leave grad school all the time; they are just never mentioned again. (To which I responded that I would scrawl my name in permanent marker all over the French department such that people would have no choice but to talk about me in the future...)
In fact, it was very strange to have my life plan suddenly come crashing down. When I naively entered humanities grad school, I thought that the boyfriend and I would get our PhDs, love our research, have mutual respect for each other's disciplines, and become an academic power-couple. So yeah, that didn't happen, but I'm okay with that. [Please note: Things are different in the humanities than in the hard sciences, including the amount of funding.]
As the director of grad studies said, my decision is not a reflection on me and my success. It is a reflection of the fit between me and the program. I do not consider myself a failure, and I am excited to be taking steps to make myself happier. I will not be one of those whiny products of this entitled generation who expects that my job will make me happy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nevertheless, I want to find something that I enjoy doing professionally because I think that I have a lot to offer.
Thank you for taking the time to read this very long post. And thank you to everyone (friends, family, readers, etc.) who supported me through these pretty unpleasant few months.
Bottom line: I encourage everyone who is unhappy to take steps to effect positive changes on his or her life. Do things that make you happy or, at least, not miserable. Like taking weird Asian-looking photos. (Self-racism=okay!)