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you lucky ones


doobiebrothers

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To those who did not get in this year, and who are mourning: you are the lucky ones. Go be with your friends and families, enjoy the sunshine, if you have an alternative path that excites you TAKE IT. Doing this PhD has been a nightmare.  I currently have a 4.0 in one of the top programs in the world, I'm a graduate of a few 'big name' universities and my resume is a fancy piece of shit that looks good to committees, but if I had to do it all over again--knowing then what I know now--I would tell myself to get out of the game, and do literally anything else. I'd rather be cleaning bathrooms at Starbucks (I did it for five years, it is good, honest, physical work.) Academia is a dirty, disgusting game when played at the high (Ivy/flagship) levels; grad school life is beyond isolated, cut-throat, and competitive, and worst of all, what nobody tells you, or they tell you so much but you refuse to believe it: THERE. ARE. NO. JOBS. And the jobs that are there go to one of three types of people: geniuses (which few of us are), the well-connected in academia (ditto), the absurdly lucky (double ditto). Every single friend who is in a PhD (from schools like Yale, Princeton, Harvard, etc) told me that the first year of their PhD was the worst year of their lives. Yup. It is. Please, I beg of you, if you were not accepted this year really take a second look at your job options, your passions, your priorities, and rethink this path. See this website if you want more confirmation, or feel free to pm me--I'm very happy to do for you guys what nobody did for me last year. http://100rsns.blogspot.com/

If you want to know why I'm sticking with it, its because I'm genuinely in love with the work, and I get to do it on a high level where I'm at. But my life is fading daily, and all that there is now is the work. And honestly, I think that's what academia wants from you--a brain free of soul and bodily distractions. Its a good way to be an academic, but a bad way to be human.

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You know there's no shame in quitting. You've only sunk one year into your PhD. So take a year of academic leave, and see whether that space makes you want to come back or not. My father sunk twenty years into his academic career, and while he enjoys his new career, that's twenty years of being annoyed with all his choices that he won't get back. Often, the better part of valor is knowing when to make a different choice. I believe that, unlike my father, I am going to enjoy my PhD—I mean, do check back with me at this time next year, because I could be wrong, but I think I have the temperament for it. But if you find that any life decision is making you miserable and is "a bad way to be human", look into finding something else to do!

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Being in grad school can be difficult and isolating. The recommendations given by @doobiebrothers are worth considering, but ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you. Graduate school does give you the resources to learn more and interact with others who are as obsessed about some probably esoteric subject (that none of your friends have any interest in) as you are. And you might even get paid to do it.

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35 minutes ago, emmm said:

 The recommendations given by @doobiebrothers are worth considering, but ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you. 

I agree that the advice is worth considering--there's no guarantee of jobs at the end of all of this, academia is a hard life, and it's incredibly demanding to be at the top of your field. However, the tone of the original post is a little condescending: "I went to great schools, I'm in a top program, and I love my work. But everyone else should reconsider, especially if they're getting rejected." I'm not pretending to know what motivates anybody else, nor do I think that anybody is "lucky" if they're rejected from their dream programs. Rejection sucks, especially when there are "so few slots but many qualified applicants" (as any rejection letter will tell you). For someone to basically say "you're lucky that you were rejected but I'm in a top program" is an incredibly insensitive, pompous thing to say (especially when for many, the wounds of rejection are raw), despite that the intent behind the original post is trying to be good. 

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@nevermind -- You are right about rejection, and I agree that hearing from someone who has what you want saying it's not worth it, etc. is not going to help at all. But I also assumed the intent behind the post was good. It can be especially hard being in a grad program that is making you miserable. You know you're "lucky" to have the opportunity, which can make things feel even worse and make it hard to move on to something else (even if that might be best). There are so many variables, however, that yyou really can't generalize from someone else's experience -- yours could be completely different. So, I would never discourage anyone from going after their own goals. For people who did not get accepted this round, I would probably recommend trying again, and doing whatever possible to present an even stronger application the second time.

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10 hours ago, nevermind said:

I agree that the advice is worth considering--there's no guarantee of jobs at the end of all of this, academia is a hard life, and it's incredibly demanding to be at the top of your field. However, the tone of the original post is a little condescending: "I went to great schools, I'm in a top program, and I love my work. But everyone else should reconsider, especially if they're getting rejected." I'm not pretending to know what motivates anybody else, nor do I think that anybody is "lucky" if they're rejected from their dream programs. Rejection sucks, especially when there are "so few slots but many qualified applicants" (as any rejection letter will tell you). For someone to basically say "you're lucky that you were rejected but I'm in a top program" is an incredibly insensitive, pompous thing to say (especially when for many, the wounds of rejection are raw), despite that the intent behind the original post is trying to be good. 

What they said. The rejections this year have really taken a toll on me and the tone of the post was so insensitive to those of us who are genuinely struggling with what the next step is. For me, academic study of religion is pretty much the only thing I can see myself doing, but this is the second round of (probable) rejections despite doing pretty well in the application process (I know I've been in the top applicants at the programs I'm most interested in via my POIs). And I know plenty about the job market and about how hard the process is going to be but I still feel like it's what I need to do. The reality is that the job market is pretty crappy no matter what you're doing (I have friends in law school and med school saying the same things about their job markets). I guess what I'm getting at is consider the audience, try to remember that some of us are sincerely dealing with emotional (maybe even spiritual) issues and depression about watching our dreams fade away.

Edited by tdwightdavis
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I'm sorry to hear how difficult this year has been for you, and I do agree that it is really crucial to look into one's options. Academia can suck, as the burgeoning genre of quit-lit tells us. 

But, just to even out the stories here, I'm in my first year at a top-tier program after a couple years waffling back and forth about whether to choose this path, including a stint in 'the real world.' I love it. It is really hard. It requires therapy. It sucks your soul if you let it. But I am happy - happier than usual, even! - and I think(?) my soul is intact. I guess I wouldn't know if it wasn't...? But I've been reading the Chronicle of Higher Ed since I was a freshman in college, so I was expecting the worst, and this isn't it (yet! much time ahead).

I hope that posting this doesn't come across as trying to invalidate your experience. Academia's MO is to grind your ego into sand and see if you reintegrate in its image. And it does its job really well. It can suck. :/

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1 hour ago, tdwightdavis said:

For me, academic study of religion is pretty much the only thing I can see myself doing

Go further here - is the only thing you are able to do?  If so, you've probably committed enough to it, but if not, go do whatever else you are able to do.  Imagination and prognostication are perfectly good skills to have if you want to be a fortune teller, but not a future academic.  I don't say this to be brutal or insensitive, but rather to push the envelope on the common maxim that "if you can imagine/see yourself doing something else, do that."  I think that its excessive subjectivity has worked too much mischief and produced too many PhDs.  So, if the former is indeed true, a third round it is, because what else are you going to do?

1 hour ago, tdwightdavis said:

The reality is that the job market is pretty crappy no matter what you're doing (I have friends in law school and med school saying the same things about their job markets)

This is another sticking point for me - the job market in either of these fields, and in general is nowhere close to the academic job market, and further the humanities job market level of difficulty.  People who complain about law/medicine jobs might be having a hard time getting the job they want, but if it is a job they need, and they are a reasonably qualified candidate, they'll likely work something out.  For instance, do a search of law firms, medical offices, and hospitals in a city of your choice on google maps.  Count them up - certainly they aren't all hiring, but some probably are, and say that number is even pretty low, like 5% of them are hiring a couple of people, and you might have 50-60 jobs in a medium-sized city.  Now search for institutions of higher education, narrow it to ones that are not Capella/U of Phoenix, cut out CCs (not because they are not worthwhile, but because you don't really need a PhD to teach at them), and then look into the ones that have a religion department, and unless it is a large research university, you might have 2 profs in that department, and neither is close to retirement or considering leaving.  Further, if either of them are, the college is probably going to just fold the full-time position and hire an adjunct or two to cover the courses, because they only have 13 students enroll in them each semester anyhow.   So, there is probably a really good chance that for the same medium city there may be exactly 0 jobs.  Maybe 1 visiting lecturer, and that is probably like winning $10,000 from a scratch-off ticket odds, and if there is one regular old full-time, tenure track job in religion, that is more like winning the actual lottery odds (however, this position might be for Asian religions, or American religious history, or sociology of religion - none of which you might be able to teach).  So, while people will keep getting sick, and keep needing doctors; and keep buying houses, slipping on puddles of water in the grocery store, and trying to set up LLCs and needing lawyers - the sad truth is that no one really needs a religion professor (you may claim otherwise in an abstract sense, but I don't think you can make a utilitarian argument in the same manner).  Also, there are thousands of different jobs that a person with a B* and M* could do, and probably do well, and do anywhere!  If you take a year to learn RoR or Python, guess what - you can pick where you would like to live, get paid a lot more than even a mid-career academic, and have a trajectory that could in a year or two and with some certification have you doing pretty handsomely for yourself.  Then you can buy all Harrassowitz editions of the North Semitic languages of the Levant that you want and read them in your spare time, which you'll probably have a lot of.

I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from pursuing their vocation here, but rather suggest that the web of possibility spreads itself much wider and stronger than its gossamer strands might otherwise indicate. 

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Hey! so I wrote the post last night in a REALLY bad place, so first of all, apologies to those who found it condescending. I guess what I was trying to say, but said it in a really bad way, was that I'm not some stupid, unqualified hack (which is honestly how this makes me feel most of the time, and how I'm afraid people will think of me, or already do think of me). Before I started this program, I was a more or less happy, healthy, sane individual, with a lot of love and friendship and support. Like many of you, I honestly believed that this was my passion, and that my dedication to my field would mean something once I entered a PhD program. What I think I said really badly, but still truly believe, is that you do not have to be a martyr to this career choice. This is not the only thing in the world you can do. If you have not yet started, really walk into this with open eyes: it is the dirtiest game I, or anyone I know, has ever played. Perhaps we are the unlucky ones--hence the title of the post. Listen, I'm looking at a group of people who was where I was last year. And if anyone had told me last year how bad things would be now, I hope I would have believed them, and looked for other opportunities. Maybe all of you on this thread are truly cut out for the loneliness, precariousness, pretensions, and vicious competition that this life requires. You have my full admiration. I was very idealistic, and now I had a tough learning experience, and I think last night I wanted to share some of the lessons of the last year. Again, apologies if I did it in a clumsy way.

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20 minutes ago, doobiebrothers said:

Perhaps we are the unlucky ones--hence the title of the post. Listen, I'm looking at a group of people who was where I was last year. And if anyone had told me last year how bad things would be now, I hope I would have believed them, and looked for other opportunities. Maybe all of you on this thread are truly cut out for the loneliness, precariousness, pretensions, and vicious competition that this life requires. You have my full admiration. I was very idealistic, and now I had a tough learning experience, and I think last night I wanted to share some of the lessons of the last year. Again, apologies if I did it in a clumsy way.

I'm sorry you've had such a tough learning experience. Anybody who is looking to lead "a life of the mind" is going to be in for a brutal wake up call. I recommend reading "The Professor is In" to help evaluate if one wants to pursue a PhD (it goes into great deal about the precarious job market) and really consider if you want to play this "game" (so to speak). 

The truth is, a job outside academia can be great. They can pay well and you often have time to pick up various hobbies/spend time with friends and family. If you can find anything else that you want to do outside academia, go pursue it. For me, I don't really love what I do currently and I want to try the PhD route. FWIW, I don't love the various politics of academia either (I have two Master's degrees...and a "fancy" resume too). But if anyone is feeling lonely or defeated, I hope they seek safe and supportive channels to help them overcome that and readjust their own personal/emotional boundaries--in academia or outside of it.

Edited by nevermind
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I want to echo @sport01, and say that the OP's experience is not generalizable to how everyone experiences a PhD program. Most mornings, I wake up and count my lucky stars that I am able to read, think, write, and talk about things that interest and matter to me deeply. 

That is the point of doing a PhD. I was told as by a professor as an undergraduate that the point of doing a PhD is to get a PhD, not to get a job. Jobs are not promised you. They never have been. If you think it would be a waste of time to do a PhD if you don't have a job on the other side, then you are likely in it for all the wrong reasons. Those reasons will not tide you over when the going will inevitably get tough. But if there are books that you want to read that haven't yet been read, questions that keep you up at night, conversations that need to be had that are not—those are the things that can get you through. That is not to say that you shouldn't prepare for the job market as you go, that you shouldn't actively pursue opportunities to set you up best for when you do. But don't think that even getting a job is going to suddenly be a utopian existence: assistant professors have teach full loads, meet with students, serve on faculty committees, revise their dissertations for publication, write an entirely new book and get it published (not to mention a major article per year, at least), and so on, in order to even qualify for tenure. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Of course, you need to be in therapy from day 1; if you have a spiritual practice, you should make space for and cultivate it diligently; you should work out—you have to make sure that you maintain yourself as a human. If you don't, academia will grind you down faster than you can blink. But then again, so will the corporate world. If you've done all that and you're still miserable, then you should have the courage to walk away. Part of this is just being a grown-up, and taking accountability over your own life.

 

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For all the questioning of essentialism, inherent worthiness (i.e. sacrality), and claims of authenticity on the part of their objects of study the reasons for doing a PhD remain curiously sacrosanct among those in the academic study of religion. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

This is a great conversation, but a tough idea to swallow. Despite my academic journey (BA in Classics, MA in Biblical Studies) I've landed a great administrative job. I enjoy the work and the people, but I'm on the "wrong side of the house." I would love to be on the academic side, but you have all brought up so many great points. That 100rns blog is powerful - possibly because its feeding off our very real fears - but also because it may be helping us realize that academia has to change. 

If I leave my job and do a PhD, in 5-7 years I could be searching for a job. If I stay where I am/play the admin game - I could be easily become a director/assistant dean in that time, and possibly pick up a class to teach here and there. Is this the worst case scenario or just another strategy for winning in higher ed?

Edited by dramos2016
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I think you're on the right track to be asking these questions, and I wish I had done so myself before starting. I think your admin-game theory is incredibly intelligent, and if I could go back to last year that's probably the path I would have chosen. Let me ask you, as someone working in admin, are the professors that you meet happy/good/sane people? how are the PhD students? alot also depends on school and department, which people were right to ding me on when I made the first (admittedly hyperbolic post). It may be you will have an exceptional experience at a great school. Its just that I know very few people (maybe 5% of my circle who are doing a PhD) who are thriving in their programs.

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Doobiebrothers -- when you say that this is "the dirtiest game I, or anyone I know, has ever played" -- can you explain more what you mean by that? I want to know what I'm getting myself into and how to best prepare for those things...  I'm wanting to do my PhD for the sake of the research and creating a more robust conversation in the church and academy around my particular topic, but I'm under no illusions that I'll have a job secured afterward. So I think I'm "ahead of the game" in the respect that I'm really not doing this for the sake of becoming a professor (although I wouldn't be opposed to that), but rather, am in it for the sake of the work itself. But I'd like to know what you mean when you talk about it being the "dirtiest game" you know.... 

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I agree with most of what Doobie said. I'm also in a top PhD program in religion and much of what I imagined this life would be like turns out to be dead wrong. 

I'll just add that the excitement surrounding academic research is more rare--and much less funded--than most people think. Know that the excitement and money commonplace in the top religion departments and divinity schools is nowhere else to be found. It's easy to forget that places like Harvard, Yale, Duke, Chicago, and so on are the exception. Their professors are smart, well-connected, and, of course, lucky. As students we look up to our professors and mentors and assume that we too not only should follow the same path, but we will. "It will all work out in the end." "What else am I going to do with my life?" These are naive. But, I said the same sort of things; hell, I still do. The funny thing about the job market being so awful is it actually makes me more optimistic about the future. If I don't get a decent job, oh well. It was a hell of a ride. In any case, I have bad days like anybody else. But most days I am happy in this life. Oh, and thanks for the free therapy session <3.

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On 3/23/2016 at 0:16 AM, doobiebrothers said:

I think you're on the right track to be asking these questions, and I wish I had done so myself before starting. I think your admin-game theory is incredibly intelligent, and if I could go back to last year that's probably the path I would have chosen. Let me ask you, as someone working in admin, are the professors that you meet happy/good/sane people? how are the PhD students? alot also depends on school and department, which people were right to ding me on when I made the first (admittedly hyperbolic post). It may be you will have an exceptional experience at a great school. Its just that I know very few people (maybe 5% of my circle who are doing a PhD) who are thriving in their programs.

Thanks! And that's a good question. I've actually been poking around the last few weeks because this forum has made me more curious of what life will be like on the other side (after PhD program, once you actually get a tenure track position). For the most part, yes the people I meet are happy. But they are also tired. The grind does not stop when you graduate. Landing tenure is hard work - you have to sell yourself and write and smooze and get your name in front of the right people a lot. At least that is what I am seeing and what they are telling me. 

All that being said, I spent my afternoon combing through excel sheets and performing budget cuts. Do I want to get good at this and get paid 100k+ in 5-7 years, or go all in for the religion/history route? At this point, I don't know. 

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22 minutes ago, dramos2016 said:

Thanks! And that's a good question. I've actually been poking around the last few weeks because this forum has made me more curious of what life will be like on the other side (after PhD program, once you actually get a tenure track position). For the most part, yes the people I meet are happy. But they are also tired. The grind does not stop when you graduate. Landing tenure is hard work - you have to sell yourself and write and smooze and get your name in front of the right people a lot. At least that is what I am seeing and what they are telling me. 

All that being said, I spent my afternoon combing through excel sheets and performing budget cuts. Do I want to get good at this and get paid 100k+ in 5-7 years, or go all in for the religion/history route? At this point, I don't know. 

dramos2016 -- are you happy in your current position? as in happy doing the work you are doing, not necessarily the people, environment, etc.  does it fulfill you?  I guess I am asking because for myself, I knew if I didn't try for PhD I would always be left wondering what my life could have looked like. Even though the process of applying was incredibly stressful and expensive, I knew I would regret it if I didn't try, especially because doing the research and completing a PhD is something I've wanted for so long. So I wouldn't have felt fulfilled if I didn't at least try... But you could be in a totally different spot than I was. Having a fulfilling job seems like a rarity these days :)

Edited by gidadu
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Just now, gidadu said:

dramos2016 -- are you happy in your current position? 

Yes and no. Yes because I get to work with people I like and I get to be "in charge" of something (manage 14 part-time and 3 full time staff). 
No because I'm not using my brain in the way I want to. I have to solve problems (personnel, financial, technical, policy), but not the kind of problems I've "trained" to solve. 

It all depends on personality and taste I guess. Long term, I think I would prefer the religion route.

What about you? 

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@dramos2016, you may be in a slightly better position than some here, in that you will have the academic admin experience that you've cultivated thus far to back you up.  What I mean is that if you spend five or so years doing a PhD, and have great difficulty finding a job, you could probably combine your existing experience (it would be a bit old by then - but unlike tech or something, doing a budget or managing doesn't change drastically in a few years) with the "inside" track you developed via a PhD to find a pretty good alt-ac job. 

In the interest of full disclosure - I almost finished a PhD, which I started for all the reasons that have been outlined here (almost finished, as in half a dissertation), including that hazy notion of 'fulfillment,' and experienced many of the same things as @doobiebrothers first outlined here.  I just quit though.  I had a lot of cultivated skills that I leveraged to find a new job pretty quickly, and I realized that much of the talk of passion and fulfillment that I bought into and appropriated for my own reasoning was a pretty clever way of masking the operation of robust sunk-cost fallacy that was going on.  I don't actually regret my time in a PhD program, it was fun and interesting.  What I regret is more who I became as part of the process, and the clever excuses I employed for myself and to others as part of the process.  So, I don't blame my program, or my advisors, or that reified thing we call 'academia' because I don't thing blame is really what anyone needs.  What I advocate is something far more positive, which is just the courage on the part of anyone considering this route to be ok with saying no to the whole narrative at any point in the process.

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15 minutes ago, AbrasaxEos said:

In the interest of full disclosure - I almost finished a PhD, which I started for all the reasons that have been outlined here (almost finished, as in half a dissertation), including that hazy notion of 'fulfillment,' and experienced many of the same things as @doobiebrothers first outlined here.  I just quit though.  I had a lot of cultivated skills that I leveraged to find a new job pretty quickly, and I realized that much of the talk of passion and fulfillment that I bought into and appropriated for my own reasoning was a pretty clever way of masking the operation of robust sunk-cost fallacy that was going on.  I don't actually regret my time in a PhD program, it was fun and interesting.  What I regret is more who I became as part of the process, and the clever excuses I employed for myself and to others as part of the process.  So, I don't blame my program, or my advisors, or that reified thing we call 'academia' because I don't thing blame is really what anyone needs.  What I advocate is something far more positive, which is just the courage on the part of anyone considering this route to be ok with saying no to the whole narrative at any point in the process.

This strikes me as incredibly sound advice. I don't know that anyone goes through the entire PhD without doubting what they're doing at some point. For me, the sunk costs meant that, once I hit the ABD stage, I was determined to finish so I'd have something to show for it (and also because I enjoyed doing my diss research and writing it up at the time and didn't see anything else I wanted to be doing more). Quitting takes a lot of courage, @AbrasaxEos. Congratulations on doing it and doing it without regrets. 

Side note: I'd like to encourage you to share your perspective with others throughout the forum. This post has recently turned into a discussion calling for more senior PhD and post-PhD students to stick around and share their views with current applicants. 

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1 hour ago, AbrasaxEos said:

I don't actually regret my time in a PhD program, it was fun and interesting.  What I regret is more who I became as part of the process, and the clever excuses I employed for myself and to others as part of the process.  So, I don't blame my program, or my advisors, or that reified thing we call 'academia' because I don't thing blame is really what anyone needs.  What I advocate is something far more positive, which is just the courage on the part of anyone considering this route to be ok with saying no to the whole narrative at any point in the process.

Your point makes sense, but I wonder if you might expand a bit on what that meant in your own situation. When you say you changed, what did that mean for you? And furthermore, what do you perceive "the whole narrative" to be? I haven't entered a PhD program myself, although it's appealing, and so some of the comments in this thread that keep alluding to this idea of a false narrative, or casual comments about doctoral studies being completely different than expected are really intriguing. I'm not trying to push back, but I'm curious to hear more about how the experience could be so disappointing/frustrating/disillusioning that people would leave their program or advise others to not pursue this field. It's one thing to advise someone about pursuing a career sector with really slim professional prospects, or to warn someone of the work that it will take to excel, but the way that I'm seeing it, this is an entirely different line of argument. 

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2 hours ago, 918Philosophizer said:

Your point makes sense, but I wonder if you might expand a bit on what that meant in your own situation. When you say you changed, what did that mean for you? And furthermore, what do you perceive "the whole narrative" to be? I haven't entered a PhD program myself, although it's appealing, and so some of the comments in this thread that keep alluding to this idea of a false narrative, or casual comments about doctoral studies being completely different than expected are really intriguing. I'm not trying to push back, but I'm curious to hear more about how the experience could be so disappointing/frustrating/disillusioning that people would leave their program or advise others to not pursue this field. It's one thing to advise someone about pursuing a career sector with really slim professional prospects, or to warn someone of the work that it will take to excel, but the way that I'm seeing it, this is an entirely different line of argument. 

I think what I am talking about is the notion of your job being something that you have be "passionate" or "fulfilled" by.  I'm not going to pull punches here, I'm knocking it.  I think it is a stupid way to make a decision about what you are going to do, and usually ends up being a quixotic pursuit.  I bring it up because it is in many ways the sine qua non given for pursuing something like doctoral studies.  It becomes an easy way to willfully disregard the grim, meathook realities of employment, academia, and what these actually involve.  For instance, go and scan this and any other forum here for statements to the effect of "I know the job market sucks/I know that my chances for getting a job are really low/I know how shitty academic life, even in the tenure track often is...BUT...I'm just so passionate about this field/I would be unfulfilled by just working a 'regular' job/I love what I do so much."  My issue with this narrative is that it makes it seems like your options are to either go through the process of getting a PhD (kind of hard), getting a TT job (really hard), and then being fulfilled/passionate/etc. about it (how the hell do you quantify, or even qualify this calculus?), ~or~ doing some proletarian, workaday 'job' where you have to go in from 9-5, have to do budgets, have to manage people, etc. 

What I'm arguing is that I have passions and things that fulfill me - yes, everyone does, but I don't need to do them for my job to have a good life, and I think I could make a convincing argument that many people who mistake their passions for what they need to be employed at might recognize the same thing.  This is to say that I don't think that doing a PhD for the sake of doing it, or because you are passionate about the subject is a good enough reason to engage yourself in the process.  It is part of it, but if you aren't doing it to get some kind of employment at the end, I think there should be a careful look at why you are actually putting yourself through this process.  I say this with such conviction because I didn't examine these motives very carefully going into my program, I made a lot of excuses for myself that were built on notions of the 'inherent worth' of what I was doing.  One doesn't necessarily need to have academic, or tenure track employment in mind when doing a PhD, but if you don't why do one?  You can read every book you read in a PhD by yourself.  You all have M.* degrees, you know how to find every book on the subject you are interested in!  You can listen to podcasts, go to lectures, and even go to SBL/AAR if you want - I did this year, and it was a lot of fun, because I (1) didn't have to network with anyone unless I wanted to (2) had plenty of money to attend, eat out, and enjoy Atlanta (3) could go to a panel on post-structuralism without having worry whether it was going to somehow advance my dissertation or other research. 

I don't know if this is convincing, it just want to be a voice that says you can just do a job that you generally enjoy.  I'm not passionate about what i do during the week for work, I like it, I like my co-workers, I'm good at what I do, and I get paid a lot more money than I probably could have expected to make as an academic outside of a tenured prof at a top-tier institution.  I read Derrida, Butler, and every book I own on Late Antiquity during my ample free time, I go to SBL/AAR if I want to, and I guess I could probably even give a paper if I so desired (which i don't, because I also think these are mostly for people who need CV lines, and I have no need for such).  It isn't all about money, or about pure pragmatics, but I just think we ought to be sure we're not calling skubala Shinola.

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On March 24, 2016 at 3:00 PM, dramos2016 said:

Yes and no. Yes because I get to work with people I like and I get to be "in charge" of something (manage 14 part-time and 3 full time staff). 
No because I'm not using my brain in the way I want to. I have to solve problems (personnel, financial, technical, policy), but not the kind of problems I've "trained" to solve. 

It all depends on personality and taste I guess. Long term, I think I would prefer the religion route.

What about you? 

I'm in my last year of my MDiv, and I've wanted to do a PhD for a long time now -- since I was a kid I've loved school so much, to the point that when I was 10 years old I was telling people that I wanted my doctorate! Of course I didn't even know what I wanted a doctorate in, I just wanted one -- probably because my dad was getting his doctorate at the time and I wanted to be just like him :)

Even outside of that, though, I've always loved school, reading, writing, etc... and so many of my teachers, professors, mentors, have all affirmed my gifting in these areas, and have said I should consider teaching. I did AmeriCorps for a couple of years thinking that I would eventually pursue my Master of Education, and taught in a high school setting (mostly math and English) to "get the feel" of it. I quickly found that I didn't enjoy teaching those particular subjects (although I loved the students and enjoyed other parts of the teaching experience), and then decided to start seminary after I finished my service.

In grad school, for awhile I was pursuing two Master's, doing my MDiv and also a counseling degree, but figured out about 1/3 of the way through the counseling program that I didn't enjoy it, didn't feel gifted in it, and didn't want to do anything with it vocationally when I was done, so I quit that program and am now finishing up my MDiv and starting PhD work next year.

So, I say all of this because -- I have had so many different experiences and have been on many different tracks trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I have volunteered for a TON of organizations in teaching, mentoring, counseling, various social justice work and advocacy work, and though I really appreciate these fields and am glad for the experience and am passionate about these issues, I don't feel "called" to them, or feel totally fulfilled by working in these roles. But the one thing that has followed me, that has been the common thread/trajectory since I was a kid, was a passion for learning, teaching, reading, writing... and also thinking about theology, the church, Scripture, and Christian discipleship.

For me, I would have regretted not applying to Phd work, not only because I am passionate about the subject matter, but also because (and here I'm gonna go a bit Pentecostal), I believe that God can use this experience to make me a better disciple, and to encourage others in my social circle and in places I have influence. Maybe that sounds narcissistic -- but, my own personal experience is that if I truly believe God has led me on this path and brought me to where I am today (and I do), then there is a reason that God has opened these doors for me to do doctoral work. I didn't think I had a shot at getting in at all, and I know how slim the chances are of even the best students getting into programs. So the fact that I did makes me think that God has something in store, even though I'm not quite sure what that looks like yet. 

Also -- I'm 30, unmarried, no children, no family obligations, no ties to the current city I live in -- I literally have nothing to lose. So why wouldn't I take the shot? I'm under no illusions that I will get a job afterwards, I realize how terrible the job market is. But if pursuing a PhD is something I've wanted for literally 20 years (even though at 10 years old I had no idea what that meant, lol!), and if everything else I've pursued hasn't quite "fit" (and I've dabbled in a lot of different areas), and if all the doors have opened, and I literally have no reason to say "no" to this opportunity outside of the fact that it will be hard and I might feel miserable some of the time.. then why wouldn't I say yes? My Master's degree has felt miserable a lot of the time, but I'm still glad I did it. I'm not saying everyone should do it... but if it makes sense to try, and if it's something you really want, and if your personal/familial situation allows for it, then I don't know why not..... but that's just my own personal experience. I don't want to deny anyone their own experience and reasons for not pursuing this -- particularly AbrasaxEos's that they so beautifully articulated above, and also doobiebrother's very real challenges they've had in their program. But I do want to say that I'm perfectly okay with pursuing my PhD because I'm passionate about the subject I'll be studying, as well as the fact that my trajectory seems to have landed me here, and the people in my life--pastors, mentors, friends--have all sensed God's leading in this as well. Again, I realize that that may sound very Pentecostal of me and that's not always welcome in academic spaces.... but if I truly believe that God has led me here, then I believe that God is going to use this experience for something, no matter how hard it will be. And all that said -- if I didn't feel that God was leading me here, I would be much more suspicious of the whole thing, especially given that I've heard multiple people say that the first year of PhD work is the worst year of their lives. I'm planning on leaning on my faith a lot this year... and letting myself trust that it's all worked out this way for a reason.

That's a lonnnng response, I realize... and it's probably also not going to feel very well-reasoned to a lot of folks... but I guess I want to encourage both myself and other folks who might be in a similar situation as me.... it's going to be really rough, and I don't think we should delude ourselves into thinking that we won't have days when we wished we'd never started. And there's nothing stopping us from quitting if we really don't feel the need to continue in the future. (I have zero regrets about starting and then quitting my counseling program -- I actually think I've been able to have some great conversations with folks about not being afraid to change life paths, to quit something, if it doesn't feel right, so I'm grateful for going through that in order that I can use the experience when talking with other folks about vocational pursuits and life changes.) I just don't think the inevitability of misery is a reason to stop ourselves from trying, if this is something we've wanted to do for a long time and if we're willing to test out the miserable-ness of it all in order to come through at the end with something we're passionate about and can feel proud of. 

Hope I didn't offend anyone with this post -- if i did, that's truly not what I intended and I apologize. If I were to summarize this whole thing, I would say I have decided to pursue my PhD not only because I'm passionate about the subject matter, but because it makes sense with my trajectory so far and I literally have nothing to lose and no reason why I shouldn't. The only reason I wouldn't pursue it would be out of fear -- fear of not finishing, fear of being miserable, fear about moving across the country where I know no one and have to rebuild my community from scratch (again), fear of feeling inadequate... and believe me, these are fears I'm experiencing every day now that the reality of what I'm getting myself into has set in! But if fear is the only thing that would stop me... well, I don't want to give into it. I've let fear rule my life too many times. :)  But again, this is all my own personal experience, and everyone's experience is very different and very real. I think for every person thinking about doing this work, it's all about figuring out for yourself what you are passionate about, if you have the capacity/are in a good life stage to do it, and whether you would regret it if you didn't try. 

Much love to all the folks on this thread, I've loved hearing about everyone's journeys. <3 

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@AbrasaxEos thanks for your posts in this thread.  You bring up some sobering points that are important to think through, even if they aren't the most hope-filled.

After getting rejected from every PhD program I applied to, I am pretty convinced that I am going to end the academic journey here with a masters and start looking for a job outside of academia  / professorship.  What will bother me is that if I ever wanted to write and publish a book, not having a PhD in the field will probably limit that opportunity significantly, or at least the reach of it.  I guess my only hesitation then is: what if you are the person with the knowledge and drive to create new, important research in a specific area, yet you lack the credentials for the audience to receive it and/or for it to be implemented in the places that it should (for example, you propose a new, well-researched interpretation of the Trinity based on biblical and extra biblical sources, but it never finds its way into academic discussion or curricula because you are not qualified to introduce such a method).

I don't want to get up and speak in front of an audience at a Biblical Studies conference someday (or even a Church conference) unless I have the terminal degree in the field, as I just won't feel comfortable or qualified.  Or maybe that's just pride.  I don't really know.  

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