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SpaceCowboy

I Really Don't Like Teaching. Should I quit my PhD program?

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I'm doing well in my program, finished up my masters and now have PhD student status. But I really hate being a TA. I don't get anything out of teaching (except a lowly paycheck). It's not the most unpleasant job I've had, but it's not inspiring or satisfying. I basically fear the upcoming discussion section every week. I don't really care about helping students. I just do my job because it's paying my rent and tuition. Most of them like my classes (according to the feedback surveys) so at least I seem to be covering up my misery pretty well. 

I just wish that I could devote my time and energy toward research and writing instead of dealing with confused freshmen. Seeing how clueless the incoming kids are makes me feel like a hamster running around in a wheel - all the work I did before means nothing. It doesn't build to anything. It's not cumulative. It's like the building gets knocked down every semester and you have to make a new one. That's not fun for me. 

So my big question is if I hate this part of the job why stay in a PhD program that isn't preparing me for other job opportunities? And my program definitely doesn't make any effort to prepare us for any jobs outside academia (even though they exist). 

I like the idea of getting a PhD and I like learning and writing. And if I continue I could get a grant to go do field research abroad (which is what drew me to my field). But I do not want to work in education. I find it completely soul-sucking and it's like a little part of me dies every week. 

 

This kind of misery could only only be justified for a 6-figure paycheck, and even then for only a short period of time. Clearly I'm probably not going to get that as a professor anytime soon, if ever. I'm struggling with this because I love having summers off and find it ridiculous that anyone works a job where they have to work in between Christmas and New Years. But maybe that vacation time where I can't afford to go anywhere anyway isn't really worth it. 

Edited by SpaceCowboy

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Teaching doesn't set my soul on fire, either. I don't mind it...but it's always "just a job". There's a narrative out there that people are supposed to feel warm fuzzies while teaching, that it is inspirational/rewarding work, yada yada. Reality is different for most people. 

It will really depend on your field what the alternatives are for you. In the sciences for example it isn't difficult to find non-academic positions. If the only thing you can do with a PhD in your field is teach in academia...then it would be a good time to reconsider your career choices. 

If you want to continue in the program then you need to put a bit of emotional distance between yourself and the teaching job. You can't make the students understand, appreciate or enjoy what you are teaching them. Don't waste huge chunks of your time fine-crafting expert lectures or detailed feedback on assignments when a "70% competent" output could do. You're trying to ensure that these freshmen gain an entry-level understanding of your field (or at least the majority of the class who want such an understanding). If they appear clueless then take some time to explain to them how to learn & study. 

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What field are you in? In my field, there is very little connection between the reason for obtaining a PhD and TA work. There are so many things you can do with a PhD that do not involve any of the stuff you do as a TA, so to me, saying that you don't want to get a PhD because you don't like TAing is like saying you don't want to eat breakfast because you don't like pancakes. 

Others above already mentioned non-academic careers being different from TA work. This is certainly true, but even within academia, there are positions that will let you avoid the things you don't like about TAing. 

First, depending on the field, there are staff scientist or researcher positions where you will not be teaching at all. You'll just be paid to do research.

Second, even if you end up in a professor-type position, not all of these positions will involve teaching work that is like your TA experience and the other aspects you don't like. I think teaching a course as a professor or the instructor of record is pretty different from being a TA (but I can only be certain of this for my field). All of the things you describe here are something that a TA mainly has to deal with (in my field). As an instructor later on in your career, you will have your own TAs that are paid to deal with the things you dislike.

Finally, I don't think this realisation about yourself is bad and on its own, it definitely does not rule out the sense of completing a PhD. Many people don't know what they want when they near the end of their PhD, but to figure that out, it's good to know what you don't want. From this, it sounds like you can safely rule out teaching-heavy positions (or even teaching-only positions) for job prospects post-PhD. This is good to know! This is not a reason to stop the PhD program (at least, not a good reason on its own), now you know that you just need to focus your efforts and energies in the many different aspects of being a PhD student and aim for career goals that actually interest you.

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@SpaceCowboy , FWIW, I currently work at a boutique architectural/structural engineering consultancy. I have previously worked at the R&D lab of a multi-national consumer and business electronics firm. If your comments reflect accurately your general mindset towards work (rather than the late-night blues that stalk all graduate students) I don't think the private sector is going to be a good fit for you unless you can find ways to embrace the value of what you're doing in the here and now, to seize moments for self-improvement and skill development, and to have respect for the 'end users' of your work product.

Good employers are not merely looking for skills to do a job with minimal to no training, they're also looking for "can do" / "team player" attitudes. You don't have to be a "rah rah go team" kind of person (I most certainly am not), but a "what's in it for me?" approach isn't going to get you very far unless you're a revenue generating machine. Even then, the Powers That Be will harbor doubts that may limit your opportunities for growth.

IRT your current program, if you think you're going to end up in the private sector, use the requirements for an outside field to develop skills that will make you a more competitive applicant. When identifying these skill development opportunities, you should be mindful of how AI and the IoT are going to change the way work gets done over the next two or three decades. 

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@SpaceCowboy I do encourage you to take a good look at going into academia in your field if it means that you would be the instructor of record and expected to design and implement courses for students, even if you only lecture and your TAs do most of the "on the ground" work. I've worked as a TA for some professors who don't care very much about teaching, and I (as a TA who loves teaching and would be happy doing that for the rest of my life, even outside of academia) found it difficult and saddening to work with them. A course taught by a professor who doesn't care can be lackluster, and the students can get a bad impression if the prof behaves like a distant god by standing up to lecture and then leaving everything else (including unpleasant or drudgery-type tasks) to the TAs. I'm not saying that you should quit the Ph.D., but I'd urge you to seriously consider other job options at the end of the process and start preparing for those eventualities now, as your choice to teach without getting something positive out of the experience would affect many people beyond yourself.

 

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I'm glad I found this thread... I'm in my last year of my PhD program, and this is exactly how I feel. Maybe it's because of the class I'm teaching now (more advanced course geared toward juniors/seniors), but I just feel like I'm wasting my time teaching students when all they want is an A from me. There was a point where I really loved teaching though. I do have a lot of things to offer to my students. As a first in my family to attend college, I'm passionate about mentoring my students. However, I think I lost my passion for teaching. Also as a female who's in late 20s, I find that I have to work harder to establish my credibility and authority than my male peers. And dealing with parents... Ugh. It does feel like my students are my customers who I need to please. Do you think it's because I'm not in a right university? It's a good school, but it's in a rural area and lacks diversity. Perhaps, things might be different if I'm actually a professor rather than an instructor? I feel like I owe my advisor to become a professor (they trained us to be one), but I'm not sure... I would love to work at places like Google, but I know getting a job there would be harder.   

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48 minutes ago, morningdew said:

I'm glad I found this thread... I'm in my last year of my PhD program, and this is exactly how I feel. Maybe it's because of the class I'm teaching now (more advanced course geared toward juniors/seniors), but I just feel like I'm wasting my time teaching students when all they want is an A from me. There was a point where I really loved teaching though. I do have a lot of things to offer to my students. As a first in my family to attend college, I'm passionate about mentoring my students. However, I think I lost my passion for teaching. Also as a female who's in late 20s, I find that I have to work harder to establish my credibility and authority than my male peers. And dealing with parents... Ugh. It does feel like my students are my customers who I need to please. Do you think it's because I'm not in a right university? It's a good school, but it's in a rural area and lacks diversity. Perhaps, things might be different if I'm actually a professor rather than an instructor? I feel like I owe my advisor to become a professor (they trained us to be one), but I'm not sure... I would love to work at places like Google, but I know getting a job there would be harder.   

I think it's important to realize that you owe nobody anything. I think it be a disservice to pursue something that you're not interested in. On another note, working at Google may not be as hard as obtaining a TT position. Google said that they receive 130 applicants on average for each position. Some TT positions receive more than 500 applicants for one spot. However, someone has to get the job at Google and someone has to get the TT position.

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@Warelin Yea, that is also true... Trying to turn my CV into a resume will be fun. Also, when you are applying for a job at Google, you are competing with a lot more people all over the world than ABDs and/or professors. Hence, Google has this referral system, but I don't have that kind of connection either. I also feel like I will regret it if I don't have at least one year of experience as a professor. I mean that's why I'm getting my PhD. When I'm an actual professor, that's when I will definitely know if this job is for me or not. I'm also in a job market right now, and if I don't get a job this year, I guess that will be another sign.

Teaching is tough. It takes a lot of time to prep, grade, and guide students. It certainly has good moments when I see sparkles in my students' eyes, but sometimes, I'm losing that sparkles in my eyes. Maybe I'm just having a tough teaching day this week. Thanks for reading!

Edited by morningdew

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This is a good discussion. I started teaching in the summer, and it was an unmitigated disaster.  I HATED it!!!!  And it showed.  My student evals weren't pleasant, even though my students did really well, grades wise.  But I hated getting up in front of people, and it was exhausting, and I didn't know how to handle it.  I thought I would like it.  I like tutoring, and my dad is a phenomenal teacher, and I have a habit of wanting to be just like him.  But I didn't like it, so I had a crisis of conscious there.  Luckily, although they did call me on the carpet for my poor SOIs, my department head and adviser were both encouraging and understanding.  The did threaten to me with having to teach more if I didn't get my evals up, but I probably needed that. 

This semester I feel much better about my teaching, and I like my students more.  I am also learning how to project more confidence, and I've noticed my students have become more respectful because of it.  Hopefully my student evals will show improvement, haha.

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Here's the thing about teaching undergrads. I think most of us in PhD programs were the same type of undergrad - the person who wanted to learn for learning's sake, who visited office hours, who did all the reading and studied and cared less about the grades than the subject matter. So I think it's a struggle for some of us when we teach, because we expect all of our undergrads to be the same thing and are disappointed or disheartened when the students just want an A.

But the vast majority of undergrads out there are not like that. Those undergrads are in the minority. Most undergrads are taking the class to fulfill a requirement, or because they think your class is an easy A for pre-med requirements, or because they're tentatively exploring the major but unsure whether they like it or not. So for me, I had to try to find the intrinsic motivation in teaching regardless of whether the students were grade-grubbers - which, quite frankly, I came to understand. These students are under insane amounts of pressure to maintain high grades for all kinds of ridiculous reasons. I also had to find the place to meet the students where they were at. Very few of my students in intro statistics, for example, will ever go onto getting a PhD in psychology or even doing research. When I told them how much I made doing statistical consulting, though, their ears perked up. When I kept talking about all the positions they wanted to work in the field that required or recommended some quantitative facility, they kept listening.

I don't think things will be different as a professor rather than an instructor, not really. There are always going to be students who just want an A, and students who are generally uninterested in the subject matter but need to fulfill a requirement, and so on. It's unrealistic to expect most students to pay rapt attention to our craft.

BTW, @morningdew, you don't owe your advisor anything, much less your career choices. YOU are the only one who has to work that job, not your advisor or anyone else. I left academia and ended up as a researcher at Microsoft. I love my job and I am so, so glad I left academia. Ironically, it was not because I disliked teaching - I actually love teaching, and I miss teaching undergrads. It's because I hated the way we did research in academia, and I wanted to do more applied research.

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I think if you hate any part of your job it`s not your job! It`s only about hating because any work has to bring a pleasure. Only such kind of work can make you happy and then you will earn money anyway!)B)

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