Raising a Blended Family

To Ph.D or Not To Ph.D.

on March 27, 2011

*warning… really really REALLY freakin long post. barely TTC related.*

….that is, indeed, the question.  I mentioned this in my post explaining the switch to TTC using C’s womb, but, well… there’s so much going on in my head, I really need to get it all out on paper (er, computer?).  This is a very hard, very stressful question for me to answer. I am a year and a half into my Ph.D. program, about 5 months out from taking qualifying exams, not quite a year into lab work, all courses completed, and everyone (workwise) assuming I’m still going for it (boss included).  To those in my family and friends circle, it is common knowledge that I am shaky-at-best on whether or not to continue this thing.  I am getting lots of mixed opinions, which are welcome… but still mixed.  For instance, I have one super supportive friend in a very similar situation to me, family and life-stage wise, who told me to do what makes me happy… and if a Ph.D. isn’t it, then find what is.   I have yet another friend in med school who is adamant that I not give up.  C just wants me to make whatever choice will make me happiest in the long run. And as for me? I have no idea what to do, much less what I want.

Part of the problem is my general feeling of inferiority lately.  Grad school has just beaten. the. crap. out of me, so far. From what I’ve read, this is pretty normal- but I think I may have a bigger inferiority complex than most, given that I came into the program with little hands-on lab experience (got in on my academics, which, note to self, DO NOT HELP YOU when you are trying to learn to be a microbiologist), and also given that my PI (PI=Boss) and a postdoc in my lab both have a penchant for being very rude and demeaning to me, in particular (other grad students have made note of this to me, so I know it’s not just me perceiving it), and finally, given that I’m the only girl in the whole lab.  My inferiority complex is making it really hard to sort out what’s real versus what’s not (did I really suck at that experiment? or did I just think I did? etc), which absolutely doesn’t help with the decision I’m trying to make.

But even with all of this making me feel so “inferior” and useless, lab-wise,  I could still keep fighting for that Ph.D…. except, the thing is, I’m not really sure I want to anymore.  When I think of what I want my career to be, chasing tenure doesn’t come to mind.  I’m not interested in being faculty at a university- not interested in the endless dance of research and grants and more research for more grants.  Working in someone else’s lab? Sure.  But in general, I think I have a pretty big case of underachievment that makes me question my need for this damn Ph.D. in the first place.  Why put myself through all of this if I don’t have to? This is the question, indeed.

Of course, the other part of the argument is that I’m already here. I’m in, I’m learning, so why not? I’m fully funded, have a stipend and health insurance, so why not stick around, try to pass my quals, and see what happens?  Why go out and get a job when staying the course (at least until August, when my quals hit) is the easier thing to do in the meantime? Maybe my feelings will change if I successfully pass the quals, if I can just get that much further on my path to a Ph.D- maybe all these feelings about not wanting this are actually coming from a scared place, instead of a logical, rational place.  I think know that if I were being completely honest, I would admit that at least some of the feelings are derived from my fear of not passing my quals- a fear of failure.  A very real, legitimate fear (case in point: I asked my [rude] PI straight up the other day if he though I would pass my quals.  He laughed in my face.), but not one I believe is reason enough to not even try in the first place.  And if that were all it was, that fear… I would say I have to take them, I have to try.  Even though I am worried, that alone wouldn’t stop me.  But I also stand by what I said about my career goals above- I do not want to run my own research lab.  So where does that leave me?

I guess this is the point where I mention my alternatives- at least the ones I’ve been able to figure out.

Alternative #1: Quit now.  Get a job.  Actually, let’s reverse that… get job, THEN quit.  Ignore fact that getting a job might be difficult, especially since boss isn’t likely to shell out a reference letter just so I can ditch him. Sigh.  From here, I can maintain status quo and just keep on workin’, or I can apply to the Master’s of Public Health program at the same university I go to right now.  I should note, when I applied for my Ph.D, I also applied to (and got into) several public health programs. I’ve always had an interest in public health- but the Ph.D. was fully funded, versus the MPH I’d have had to take out loans.  Ph.D. it was.

Alternative #2: Wait, take quals, and hopefully pass. This would give me an automatic Master’s degree, which would mean if I master’d out (left with masters but without Ph.D), any jobs I applied for would be higher paid than if I quit now and went in with just a B.S.  I would have a stable paycheck at least until August, and possibly November if my quals get delayed until then (due to a lack of me generating data, due to my lack of lab skills and also slight lack of motivation). The downside is the possibility of not passing my quals- I will then have wasted time between now and August/November working towards something that wasn’t meant to be in the first place, when I could have been on track with another job already and have submitted applications to the MPH program.

Alternative #3: Apply for public health Ph.D. program. This is a possibility but frankly not likely because I feel udnerqualified for that program- I have NO public health experience, and if I’ve learned anything in my current program, it’s that prior experience is crucial and I really shouldn’t push it.  One of my main regrets right now is not getting my master’s before I went into a Ph.D.

Alternative #4: no freakin’ clue.

So anyways… this is where I’m at right now. Lots of worry and agonizing over this decision. I have days where I want to march into my boss’s office and tell him I’m quitting, and days where I want to stick it out.  I want to make a decision but I want to make sure it’s the right one… I don’t want to end up in this same place a year and a half from now.  So I’m not entirely sure where to go from here, but I do know that something’s gotta happen, soon. A decision needs to be made, mostly for my own peace of mind.  I would like to know where I am going in life and what my path forward is.  I really need to feel that stability- I need it for me and for my family as well.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re a champ and thanks for reading.  This has all been swirling around my head for weeks now, and it really felt good to type it all out… even if it is the middle of the night and I should be sleeping instead. I promise more optimistic, less worry-filled posts in the future here soon, and no more ginormously long Ph.D. posts. Thanks again for reading!!!


12 responses to “To Ph.D or Not To Ph.D.

  1. zunzunbobo says:

    i feel like you just wrote my brain, except mine isn’t about microbio.
    i have a lot of thoughts about this, but i’m going to collect them so it’s not the longest comment in the history of comments…

  2. X says:

    Before reading very far, I was thinking of Alternative #2, probably mostly because you are fully funded and it gives you more time to decide what to do. Also because you are already in the program, so even though it might be miserable, it might be worth getting quantitative evidence (per quals) that you can or cannot do this before saying you are done.

    (I did wonder, if you leave the program are you responsible for any of what they have funded so far?)

    That being said, it IS important to decide whether or not this is a degree you are getting for you and for your life goals or if it is more because that was either the next step or it was funded or it sounded fun to get a Ph.D. And if you truly believe you will be miserable for the next couple years, it’s probably better to figure that out now than to live it.

    Is there any way to get out from your current boss and work with someone else? I know that’s not how programs generally work but maybe a little encouragement and support would be all you need.

    End really long comment.

    • lezbemoms says:

      Haha I don’t mind long comments. Ummm let’s see:

      I’m definitely leaning towards taking my quals and then seeing. I don’t know if I’d be responsible for funding (eek!), but I think not?

      Also, I can’t really switch because my boss has sort of poisoned the waters for me, per say… he blatantly threw me under the bus for a few things on my committee meeting, and I’m pretty sure he’s told my whole department that I suck as a grad student at their weekly meetings. So switching isn’t really an option. 😦

      You are definitely right though, that I need to decide if this degree is worth it to me or not. That’s an ongoing debate in my head… I’ll let ya’ll know the results. 🙂

  3. Pomegranate says:

    I don’t really have any of my own insight into this, but I know my brother first switched grad schools after a year and then finally quit his second PhD program 3 years in and went to law school instead, at the same university. Not sure what your field is, but his was organic chemistry. He’s a patent lawyer now. I know he has no regrets about quitting, even though he spent a great portion of the last 2 years unemployed and looking for work (which he’s finally found).

    Good luck making your decision.

    • lezbemoms says:

      Thanks! It’s good to know there are people who have decided to quit and made it through okay. That helps reduce some of the “fear of the unknown” anxiety that comes with thinking of quitting…

      • Pomegranate says:

        I don’t think he sees it as “quitting” so much as choosing a different path that was more suited to his personality. He’s very social and hated being isolated in the lab. I think his research ended up stalled because he just wasn’t into it. He did get a Master’s degree for his efforts.

        And I don’t know why I said organic chemistry. That was my mom. His was something else in chemistry, don’t remember what. I am the English major in a family of scientists!

        • lezbemoms says:

          That’s what I’m hoping for too… a master’s degree. I’d have to pass my quals though in order to get it. And that’s good that he didn’t see it as quitting and that he made changes based on what would suit him better in the long run… Ultimately, that’s how we all should make our decisions, no? I think maybe my own use of the word “quitting” stems from fears that perhaps other may see it that way.

          PS… don’t worry about the chemistry part… I’m a biologist, and so to me all the different types of “chemistry” are all the same anyways. 😉

  4. Jen says:

    Tiff is currently a Ph.D, student (ABD) and she had many of the same thoughts. They do beat you down and tiff considers a lot of it academic hazing. She was ready to quit mid-program (hers sounds much longer- 3 years of fulltime courses, 2 years of internship and now a year (hopefully the final year!) of dissertation but I refused to let her quit. She has worked really hard and I know for her, she would have regretted quitting in the long run. Would you regret quitting or feel okay moving on? I think only you can figure it out but think about the long run and that might help your decision. Btw, nice to meet you!!! Thanks for coming over and introducing yourself.

    • lezbemoms says:

      I don’t know how I would feel yet about quitting… I have always been an overachiever and quitting has never before been in my vocabulary! But I’m pretty miserable with this… so we’ll see.

      Nice to meet you too, thanks for the comment!

  5. I would lean towards the “stick it out till you get through the quals, then see where you’re at” path, myself. I feel I should warn you that this may in part be due to my own sense of inertia (I’ve been working for several years now in a job that I’m fairly ambivalent about, but it’s a fairly steady paycheck and health insurance, so here I still am.) But that aside, it seems like that will give you a more objective sense of where you’re really at, and hopefully will provide you with a Master’s. At that point, if you still want to leave the program, if it’s still making you unhappy and will lead to a career you don’t actually want… well, maybe you should give leaving the program some serious thought.

    Just my thinking, for whatever it’s worth.

    • lezbemoms says:

      It’s worth a lot! Thanks for the perspective… this is still an issue I grapple with daily, but for now I’m pretty much doing as you have suggested… staying put. Why give up a paid position and insurance when I don’t yet have to? Unless something really really drastic happens, I’m pretty sure I will be here at least until my quals are over, for better or for worse.

      Thanks for the advice!

  6. […] on the Ph.D. Well, it’s been awhile since I wrote that post about whether or not to continue with my Ph.D. or not.  Since then, I have done a lot of thinking, rationalizing, and frankly- soul […]

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