I have a big, messy question about anxiety, student debt, grad school, loneliness, and employment. Here’s the crux of it: Should I go back to my PhD next year? If not, what should my plan for the next few months be?
posted by The Art of Sockpuppetry to education (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 25, I've just finished my second year of a PhD in the humanities at a well-regarded Canadian university, and I'm unhappy. I’m really bored with my studies, I’m sick of being poor, I don’t want to deal with the academic job market, and I want a regular 9-5 schedule. I’m also pretty lonely: I like most of the people in my program, but I don’t feel like I fit in, and I’ve failed to make any close friends. My partner lives several hours away from me, and apart from him, I don’t really have anyone in my life right now. I feel like a loser and a failure.
My first year in the program (2010-2011) was completely miserable, and I knew by the end of it that I wanted out. So I asked the administration if they would let me leave with an MA, and they said I still needed to fulfill certain non-negotiable requirements. So I came back this year to finish up my MA. I wanted to use this year to get my resume in order and smoothly transition into a job, but it hasn't gone that well. I’ve taken a couple of internships, done some informational interviews, researched a ton of career options, applied for some jobs, and volunteered, but none of it has resulted in a job offer. My career counsellor says that my “hit rate” is excellent: I’ve gotten some interviews, and I haven’t sent out that many resumes. And some of the jobs I’ve interviewed for have been really competitive: In one case, I was picked out of 120 applicants for an interview. In another case, I was picked out of 1100. But I think I’m pretty bad at interviewing, and I still don’t have a job.
Mostly, what I do is worry. I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. Everything about job hunting makes me anxious, and the inescapable talk about the economic crisis isn’t helping. When I wake up in the morning, I immediately start worrying about finding a job. At night, I need a few glasses of wine to fall asleep, because I’m worrying about finding a job. It’s been a constant stressor for the past year, because I’ve told the administration I want to leave, so now I feel like I’ve forced myself into making the leap before I’m ready.
Even though I’m unhappy, I am seriously tempted to return to grad school next year. I earn a stipend from my program - it’s laughably meagre, but I can eat. And I owe 20k in student loan debt from my undergrad degree. While I’m in grad school, I don’t need to make payments, and it doesn’t accrue interest. (If I don't return, it starts accruing interest in September.) And, to be fair, my second year was somewhat better than my first: I found a better apartment and made some acquaintances, which made things more tolerable. Maybe I can make other incremental improvements, and third year won’t be as bad as second year?
On the other hand, maybe it's time to just make the jump. I'm 25 and I'm anxious to start a career. This is a good time to leave, since I've done enough to earn an MA, but I haven't started a dissertation yet. And if I don't leave now, what's to stop me from anxiously drifting through the program for another 2 or 3 years?
Part of the problem is that I don’t respond predictably to my anxiety - sometimes it spurs me to action, and sometimes it paralyzes me. So I’m worried that if I drop out, I’ll just spend a lot of time sitting at home, completely depressed and bored and paralyzed with fear, while my loans rack up interest. Or I’m worried that the only job I’ll be able to find will be horrible, and I’ll be stuck with it for years.
On the other hand, I made my first cold call a few weeks ago. Then I made some more, and landed an interview. That’s a big deal for me - I’d never been able to do that before, it was too scary. I want to start doing a round of cold calls every week, and I think I can - though I’m still kinda terrified.
Oh, and I’m getting back into therapy, don’t worry.
So.... I guess my question is: Should I ask to go back to grad school next year? If not, can you help me formulate a plan for the next few months? And how do I find the courage to face the unknown?