Trading Places
June 19, 2012 5:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I leave grad school and go where I want to go? (snowflake details inside)

(I was going to leave this anonymous, but there are enough details that the few people I know on metafilter would have figured it out anyway. I would prefer that they don't respond in the thread, though, and send me a personal message instead.) This is a complex question, but I've hit the point where I feel like, if I stay in my Ph.D. program (at a "prestigious" university), I'm going to have a horrible life. I'm going to end up somewhere I don't want to be, doing something I don't want to do, etc. I'm ABD, but I have yet to write a word of the dissertation, and I have no enthusiasm to do so. Apart from this, I'm working on a novel translation that I find engaging and for which I am being paid, but which is far from giving me an alternative career path. In any case, I will have translation credits on a novel that will out within two years from a small but relatively well-known university press. This will be my first significant publication, but it would seem to gear my career toward more university work, and I really don't think I make a good academic (teaching an artistic field might be another story). I care far more about place than about career, though. A recent trip to New York - Brooklyn, in particular - convinced me that I would be much happier there. I have family there - a brother, an aunt, and an uncle - and I love the place. I tend to have enthusiasms that come and go, but the Brooklyn one was pretty unambiguously strong, and I was reminded how much I like being close to my brother.
My major question, though, is: how do I make the move? I have a tiny bit of bartending experience, and my brother is a fairly experienced food-service professional, so that's an option. I don't particularly want to do something like writing copy for an ad company, although that's also an option. A third thought is that I take the MFA route and work my way back into universities by first getting a master's of the arts, probably in film (I feel like I'd be much more comfortable coming through that avenue than through the research/publish/go-to-conferences avenue). But this would require me contracting debt, and it would depend on my being able to actually get into an MFA.
Part of me feels like this is something that, were I to do it, I should have done in my early 20s. But part of me feels that I'm going to lose my mind (and my life will become utterly hollow) if I continue down the same path.

TLDR: How do I upend my life and move to Brooklyn? I'm smart, but I lack a particular calling. I'm relatively (to other people at my stage, i.e., ABD) unaccomplished in the field I've been training for, although I am at a well-regarded school in a well-regarded program.
posted by outlandishmarxist to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Finish the program. Brooklyn will still be there. You don't need to follow any particular life path after finishing a PhD, but you can't have a PhD without completing one.

The PhD program will only be a short period of your life. Finishing it and having the opportunities that it avails you will do more good than harm, I think.
posted by xingcat at 5:46 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nobody will force you to pursue a particular career path or do a particular thing when your PhD is finished. You can still go to Brooklyn and bartend. But you'll also have a PhD under your belt to use if you wish to use it five, ten years down the line. You go to Brooklyn now and that option will never exist.
posted by Anonymous at 5:52 PM on June 19, 2012

And given that you want to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, you definitely want your job options open.
posted by Anonymous at 5:53 PM on June 19, 2012

Have you looked at any of the alt-ac discussions that have been held here on Metafilter or elsewhere? It seems like you might enjoy considering the other places a PhD could take you, especially those outside of academic contexts. For example, is this novel in a spoken language? Is there a demand for speakers and translators in that language? If your PhD is, for example, in a social science or in political science, there may be specialized contexts where a background in both could be useful. If you're interested in film, have you looked at the kinds of jobs galleries/graphic design firms/marketing departments tend to hire for, or what skills you would need?

That said, I think you would probably be served by getting the dissertation over with. Finishing out the program in good standing will open certain doors for you and provide a certain filter for your experiences to future programs and employers, especially since it sounds like you're in a funded department. Brooklyn is not lacking in bartenders, and it seems like it would be a difficult jump from novel translating straight into poorly-paid food work. Also given all of that, are there any other cities or places that you've liked? While your family is obviously a great thing, there may be other areas of NYC or smaller cities that might suit your needs as a transition point between graduate school and Brooklyn's real estate and job markets.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:00 PM on June 19, 2012

Can you do research in New York? There are fantastic archival collections in New York and the region (Beinecke, NYPL, Columbia U.). Could you get support to work at one of these collections? That way you could rekindle your interest in your diss long enough to get 'er done, have a reason to move, and start making career connections in New York that will take you into the next phase of your career.
posted by pickypicky at 6:04 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should clarify one thing. I have no funding left. I've used it all up. The department will pay my fees next year, which will leave me health insurance, but that's it.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:12 PM on June 19, 2012

Given your update, have you spoken with your committee and your advisor at all about this? If your school has a separate Career Services department, see if you can make an appointment with someone who has worked with graduate students before. Are there any departments on campus that you could work for to earn extra money and get experience-- archives, library, supervisor, theater, various administrative departments...?
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:25 PM on June 19, 2012

I should clarify one thing. I have no funding left. I've used it all up. The department will pay my fees next year, which will leave me health insurance, but that's it.

Ah. That's different.

A common option for lots of people in your position is to find a small private high school in New York and see if there are job openings. Is there a reason why this isn't possible for you?

The other thing is to leverage the prestige of your academic background into being a private tutor. You sign up with an agency and then go "private" after a while, once you've built up trusted clientele.

Those are ways to at least get on your feet in NYC while you figure out what you want to do.
posted by deanc at 6:27 PM on June 19, 2012

Stay and get the Ph.D. Just whip it out and get it done. THEN you can take NY by storm. Also, now is the time to start looking into us government jobs, prestigious management trainee programs or any other thing that looks interesting. Use the carrot of your move as motivation to finish the dissertation.

You'll be fine, and you'll becworking toward something.

As for MFA, totally worthless and you're just procrastinating.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:38 PM on June 19, 2012

I guess I'm not supposed to be here -- but as far as I can tell none of the people advising you to just pound out the dissertation have actually written one. They're miserable (and take forever!) even when you like what you doing and have time and funding to devote to it. If you haven't started and you already want out, there's no point.

The Leaving Acadame forums at the Chronicle
The Leaving Academia advice column at Inside Higher Ed

There's also a pretty wide blog network for postacademics if you want to get a sense of what it's like on the other side. I would start with the blog roll at From Grad School to Happiness and poke around from there.
posted by gerryblog at 7:01 PM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

A third thought is that I take the MFA route and work my way back into universities by first getting a master's of the arts, probably in film (I feel like I'd be much more comfortable coming through that avenue than through the research/publish/go-to-conferences avenue). But this would require me contracting debt, and it would depend on my being able to actually get into an MFA.

For the love of god, don't do that. You'll owe a fortune for a completely useless degree (in film at least). NYC is full of people with MAs who are desperate for entry-level jobs. If you feel this is the place for you, go ahead and make the move, but don't sink money into more graduate work.
posted by pourtant at 7:21 PM on June 19, 2012

I ended up quitting my PhD one year into my PhD. I realized I wasn't going to be happy pursuing it any longer and the rewards for a physics PhD were difficult to define. (Not everyone could be a quant). In my honest opinion, advertised jobs in the paper and job boards are a pretty good indication of what's in demand. I ended up defining my next career path based off demand and my personality. I went into accounting, but I realized I was bored after three months. I switched into computer science and I landed a good job in the public sector that gives me the leisure time I enjoy.
posted by DetriusXii at 8:45 PM on June 19, 2012

Quit. If you're ABD and haven't started writing yet, you have a long road ahead of you and no interest in the research or what you can do with it? Quit. See if your school will give you a master's to signify completing your quals/proposal.

The only exception to this advice is if your PhD will be in a field that makes you very employable and which will give you more flexibility - and even in that case,you might investigate your school's rules about taking a leave of absence or being a student in absentia.

Quit and find any way to move to the place where you want to live. Gerryblog has good suggestions about fora. Just quit now, if you know you don't want to do the research or enter the academic field, assuming this is a humanities field. Quitting will force you to figure out your nonacademic first step now, rather than in a few years; it won't get easier to quit the farther you get into the dissertation, and leaving the academy is not easier if you are five years older and with a deeper investment into your field.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:03 PM on June 19, 2012

You sound like I sounded. Quit. Don't go to more grad school. Move to New York and bartend while you figure it out. Get that masters, I wish I had bothered. It makes it sound like you completed something to people who aren't in the know, which is pretty much everyone.

Congrats on your new awesome life!
posted by Kwine at 4:40 PM on June 20, 2012

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