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I am currently a Master's student; the program is great and I am confident that I could get a lot from it, but I am feeling burnt out and unable to engage meaningfully with the material. 

I am thinking about withdrawing from the program after this semester, but I am curious how that would affect my chances of getting into other schools. What I would ideally like to do is reapply for a Master's program this semester, withdraw after this fall semester is over, and then hopefully resume my studies Fall 2019. Naturally, there is the potential of not getting in, and I wouldn't want to either alienate/offend my professors or hurt my chances of getting into a PhD program in the future.

I am curious about what you think about withdrawing, just in general, and also leaves of absence on a transcript. Also, how offensive is it to a professor if you withdraw from a program but also simultaneously ask for a letter of recommendation? Definitely don't want to scorch any earth here, but also don't really want to finish the program.

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I think dropping out of an MA could bring up questions and with the way admissions work, you probably want to avoid questions. Especially if your plan is to start a different MA, rather than go straight into a PhD, it would be something you would have to explain. Even if your explanation is great, it's gonna take space away from other things you could be discussing . If you need a break maybe you could look into taking a semester off and coming back later?

As for asking for LoRs, I think a professor could be annoyed by it. If you explain your situation and they are sympathetic and agree that a different program is the best thing, they might be agreeable to it, but that's a hard maybe and greatly depends on the professor.

Ultimately you know what the best thing for your career and mental well-being is better than anyone, so it´s up to you to weigh the pros and cons.

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On 10/12/2018 at 11:01 AM, mayhemily said:

I am feeling burnt out and unable to engage meaningfully with the material. 

Are you just tired? Or is the material not having as much importance to you as you thought?

if it is that you are just tired, I’m afraid that being tired is pretty normal throughout grad school.

if it is the material, then you need to figure out if there is something else that will hold higher importance to you. While I was in my MA, I had a moment where I heavily questioned if getting an MA in Lit was actually something I should have been doing. I kept looking around at the world around me and seeing it getting worse, all while I was reading and writing on stuff far removed from the current socio-political context. Ultimately, I had to come to a decision: I was either going to step away from Lit or reorient my focus and goals in Lit. For me, the later has worked and I am now grateful that I held fast; becoming an educator was 100% the right move for me as I can get at teaching critical thinking through my lecturer duties. While I do still have multiple questions in regards to my next step (am I applying for PhDs this year, am I holding off to get in a better financial situation, should I focus on getting a Senior Lecturer position and only then get my PhD somewhere flexible, should I take a break from scholarship and flex my creative impulses), the fact remains that I have greater clarity and self determination because I looked hard at if I should or shouldn’t stick to what I was doing, or even stay in my MA program.

in other words, I think you have a lot more to think about then just whether you should take a break.

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Since it seems that you just started, I have to say that it is a little ... odd ... that you are feeling burnt out already. I mean, this is really the very beginning. If you are feeling it's really not for you, then I think you should withdraw from graduate school altogether and find something else that you are truly passionate about. Yes, the academic life is grueling ... but the good news is that no one has to subject themselves to it if they don't want to! I'm not being flip--I'm just telling you to explore whatever other options are out there that might be more meaningful for you. 

As for the question of whether you can reapply for Fall 2019 ... that's something I really can't answer. I do think that it would look "flaky" to professors for a student to drop out of their program but ask for a letter of recommendation for the next year. And frankly, they will have other students to write letters of recommendation for--shiny BAs and MAs who didn't drop out and who therefore will be owed a stronger letter.  

Having said that, people do occasionally drop out of graduate school because they are not ready, and then return again several years down the road. They usually don't drop out and then reapply immediately, though. They take some time off and work and then decide what they want to do. And that's usually how they justify their return to academia--"I wasn't ready at 22, but at 28, and having achieved x, y, and z things in the professional world, I am now more determined than ever to make academia my career."

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First I want to say that feeling overwhelmed or burnt out is not unusual even if it's *just your first semester.*

It doesn't mean you're not cut out for graduate school. Perhaps your program isn't what you expected. It might also just be a very rigorous program with high expectations. I know my current program has way higher expectations/pressure in regards to coursework than my previous one, which has caused me to be very overwhelmed this semester- so you're not alone. While I am not taking any time off, I'm also on fellowship which helps with the workload. Is your graduate assistantship (if you have one) contributing to the stress? If so maybe reach out the WPA or advisor. 

If you could share your reasons for feeling burnt out (if you have a hunch of why), that might help us to give better advice, but without knowing this is what I would suggest.

Talk to your DGS.

If you are just feeling stressed or overwhelmed (perhaps there are outside circumstances that are adding to the stress- health issues, family problems, money problems, etc), they can help you with your options. Some programs allow for a semester leave of absence. I know our program had an MA who took a leave and is returning next semester.

If a leave of absence isn't available, your DGS may be able to help you strategize for keeping up (guiding you towards profs who are not as intense, helping you balance your courseloads with thesis credits, or helping you to a different assistantship that might be more manageable). 

If you're not wanting to stay in the program... I would personally try to stay a full year, unless your grades are being affected (in which case it could hurt your chances of going to a new program). I say to stay a year, because it will look less unusual than a single semester at a MA program. It would also give you a chance to see if you adjust and to take a few more classes, go to a conference, and figure out your options. Unless you have a backup plan (for $$), I would try to stick it out until the summer, after which you could reapply. If you're already feeling burnt out from your coursework, I can't imagine you have much creative energy left for applications (since most of the work will have to be done before you withdraw). Asking for LOR will also be easier a year in vs one semester, I didn't really know any of my professors well enough one semester in. 

 

18 minutes ago, Bumblebea said:

Since it seems that you just started, I have to say that it is a little ... odd ... that you are feeling burnt out already. I mean, this is really the very beginning. If you are feeling it's really not for you, then I think you should withdraw from graduate school altogether and find something else that you are truly passionate about

While I agree that the above statement from @Bumblebea may apply to some people, I don't think it's odd to feel burnt out in the first semester. We don't know all the circumstances or experiences that led to your first semester. Further, your feelings do not by any means imply that you are not passionate about higher ed. If you're not passionate that's totally ok too, don't feel bad about leaving. Further, don't feel like because at one point grad school was the plan that it's your only option. My husband took a 2 year gap between undergrad and graduate school and I know he felt a lot of guilt when he was questioning whether or not to go back to school (because for his family, not going to graduate school was a failure).  All of this is to say that in the end you should do whatever you need to feel happy and healthy, being open and honest with your department is in my opinion the best way to figure out what your options are or how your choices will be viewed. 

 

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5 minutes ago, renea said:

While I agree that the above statement from @Bumblebea may apply to some people, I don't think it's odd to feel burnt out in the first semester. We don't know all the circumstances or experiences that led to your first semester. Further, your feelings do not by any means imply that you are not passionate about higher ed

Good point, @renea--I suppose it depends on how someone depends "burnt out," and we don't really have all the information here. Grad school is indeed stressful, and the first semester can be really overwhelming and exhausting. You can also spend a lot of your first semester (or first year ... or first two years ... or the entirety of grad school) suffering from imposter symdrome where you feel like you just shouldn't be there, and that is completely normal. 

However, I took "burnt out" to mean something a bit different--perhaps bored, uninterested, and just plain uninspired by the material. And if that's the case--and if OP is truly miserable and finds it a chore to even do the reading--then I would advise them to think about doing something else for a while. But yes, there is indeed value in finishing the first year, and, for that matter, the MA altogether. It shows you're a finisher, even if you don't end up going into academia. 

I'm also probably projecting my own experiences. I found my first semester of grad school challenging and exhausting, but I was still passionate about my classes and found it hugely inspiring to be around a bunch of smart people after slogging through the non-academic workforce for a few years. (The first grad school paper I wrote felt amazing to me.) But other people sometimes have the opposite experience--they hate coursework and find it gets better when they're dissertating, doing the research and teaching they really want to do. So it's definitely a YMMV situation.

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@WildeThing @CulturalCriminal @Bumblebea @renea

Thank you for your thoughtful answers!

To clarify: I think part of why I am feeling burnt out is that I went straight into a Masters from undergraduate and I am doing my MA at the same institution. It's a great program with lots of opportunities, and my professors know and like me, but part of why I wanted to reapply was because I had really been hoping to get into a different program. I buggered my personal statement in my applications last year and got rejected, and at the time I was upset but content with the program I did get into. However, now that I have started my classes here, even though I am enjoying them, I really wish that I had deferred this program and reapplied to the program I wanted. 

Time is also of note, as I accepted this MA under the impression that it could be finished in a year, but in reality it almost certainly takes at least a year and a half, more realistically two. If the program was just a year long I would be very content to finish it, but I am feeling incredibly disillusioned at the thought of being here for two more years.

Thank you again -- don't know if this information changes your answers, but I appreciate your taking the time to answer!

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