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ABD, Left Academia, Still Finishing Dissertation...Now What?


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Hello (and I'm sorry in advance for the length of this, I am new to these posts and their format),

Mine is the story of someone who longed to be an academic but found, far into graduate school, that academia was not the right path.

I loved classics and Roman history from childhood and excelled academically. Pursuing a Ph.D in something to do with Rome was never something I really questioned. I took 4 years of high school Latin. I attended a small, local liberal arts school on a full scholarship because at the time I was not prepared to move far from home or go to a big university. In hindsight, my mistake was not to look at graduate programs back then. I would have found out about MA and Ph.D language requirements. My undergrad did not offer any language classes. I thought (wish I'd known about Post baccs at the time!) the only path to the Ph.D was a History degree with a Roman focus. I found a school that would accept me with the high school Latin and which promised to help me fill the language gaps. I also got full funding, which has been a blessing.

I did well through coursework but struggled with Latin. I have taken full coursework in it and every translation is still a struggle. I only continue with it because I love the Roman people and if they spoke and read it then I want to keep up with it. I somehow managed to pass my Latin exam on the first try. I still don't know how I did that. I took an 8 week intensive course in Greek and immediately forgot all of it. Greek was far worse than Latin for me. My department only requires one language, but I know that to be competitive on the job market, I'd need Greek, French, and German or another modern language. Considering how much I've struggled with the languages, I don't know how I could ever master the others. I'd be pretty much useless on the always competitive academic job market.

Long story short, I passed comps and became ABD. Only then did I have time to stop and think about what I really wanted out of grad school and life. I realized that I had just been running from assignment to assignment and just been miserable the whole time. I was burning the candle at both ends. I would get up at 5 or 6 am and go to bed at 1 or 2 am. It wasn't sustainable. I took a one year leave of absence to figure things out.

I did have a plan B. In undergrad and during a gap year before grad school, I worked at a state historic site and a national historic site. I have a background in American history museums because of it. During my leave of absence, I worked two temporary museum jobs and was much happier than in academia. Seems like a happy ending right?

Right now, It doesn't feel like it. I just finished the second temporary museum job and am now job hunting for a permanent job. Leaving a graduate degree in Roman history and looking for a job in American history museums probably looks pretty weird to a hiring manager. My skill set in research and variety of museum skills are helpful, but it often feels like I am a square peg trying to fill a round hole. American History museums want more research skills specific to whatever time period of US history the museum specializes in. The few museums in the US with Roman objects in their collections tend to want an art history background rather than straight history.

My question then becomes, how do I move forward? Do I keep applying to jobs (I am getting interviews) until I find something? Do I go back to school for another degree like Museum Studies, Art History, or both? I have long questioned whether more credentials (and debt) would help me in this situation. Perhaps only time will tell?

Oh, and I'm still trying to finish the dissertation. 

All the best and I appreciate any input.

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