Feeling ambivilant about my PhD program. Should I apply for this job?
April 29, 2015 7:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm finishing up the second year of my PhD program. This is a particularly stressful time in the program--I'm finishing my coursework and should be ABD in a couple of months. I am planning on making a decision at the end of next month whether or not I want to keep on. But I just found out about a great job opportunity with a nonprofit organization I like and have a relationship with and I am really really qualified for. So now I'm wondering...would it hurt to apply?

It's been a pretty rough 2015 so far and I am growing more ambivalent about an academic career. This may pass as I get to focus on my dissertation, or it may not. Who knows?

So far, I have told no one in my department about my mixed feelings about continuing. Some people at this nonprofit may know some people in my academic department (in particular, my adviser). Would this raise some red flags within my department or at the nonprofit? Could my adviser or someone else in my department possibly find out if I applied? Is applying just a terrible idea at this point if I am still technically a PhD student? Would the nonprofit even take my application seriously?
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total)
FWIW, I have a friend who took time off grad school and was able to successfully return. YMMV because he's kinda brilliant (and in a field where academics tend to bail for more profitable industry).
posted by maryr at 7:18 AM on April 29, 2015

It depends if you can do your PhD part-time.

The chances of getting any one job you apply for are absolutely minuscule - you are usually competing against at least a thousand other applicants. So of course it doesn't hurt to apply. That's like asking whether, because you're interested in going on an expedition to the Arctic, it's worth going down the road to the bus stop.

In the event you did get the job you applied for, then if you could continue your PhD part time according to the rules of your program, you could potentially have both.
posted by tel3path at 7:18 AM on April 29, 2015

Oh, and the organization you apply to shouldn't talk to your current employers, but in practice there's no guarantee that they won't.
posted by tel3path at 7:31 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since you sound ambivalent about an academic career itself, I would strongly consider bailing sooner rather than later. If the job market in your discipline is as bleak as most of them are, then you'll have to fight tooth and nail just to maybe get a crappy job doing something you're already not that into. (Worse yet, you could follow in my footsteps and fight unsuccessfully for years to get such a job.)

If this job is calling to you, I would gun for it. Ultimately the decision to leave is personal, but as anecdata, I've known a lot of people who have left PhD programs and a lot of people who've stayed. None of the people who left have regretted it, while many of those who've stayed wish they had left a long time ago.
posted by Beardman at 7:36 AM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm finishing up the second year of my PhD program. This is a particularly stressful time in the program--I'm finishing my coursework and should be ABD in a couple of months.

Bzuh? ABD means you're about to be done and all you have to do is write the thesis--what kind of PhD program has you nearly done after you finish required coursework at the end of your second year? That just on its own sounds sketchy to me, and I'd flee that program like hell.
posted by sciatrix at 7:42 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Apply for the job. Start talking to your advisor about what your post-PhD life will look like.

Best case scenario: you get the job.

Worst case scenario: you don't get the job and continue in your PhD program, now with a non-academic resume and job search materials already begun. Then, when you finish your PhD you are well set up to apply for other non-academic jobs if you so choose.

Really worst case scenario: you don't get the job and they mention to your advisor that you applied for the job. You have a frank conversation with your advisor about not being sure about an academic career and can double down on either job search outside academia, or get down to dissertating. Your choice there might be dictated by how your advisor feels about your non-academic job prospects (if they're angry, it'd probably be best to focus outside academia).
posted by ChuraChura at 7:47 AM on April 29, 2015

(Sciatrix - some programs, like mine, have you continue from a MA right into the PhD coursework/quals/proposal defense so you can get it done relatively quickly as a PhD student. I was only pre-candidacy for a year and a half after I started the PhD, because I'd already done two years in the department as a Master's student. Not necessarily sketchy!).
posted by ChuraChura at 7:49 AM on April 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

We're just talking about applying here. I've never regretted applying for a job; I have always regretted the great jobs I didn't apply for, wondering what if? I'd save this question for if you're offered the job.
posted by resurrexit at 9:25 AM on April 29, 2015

ABD means you're about to be done and all you have to do is write the thesis--what kind of PhD program has you nearly done after you finish required coursework at the end of your second year? That just on its own sounds sketchy to me, and I'd flee that program like hell.

Hahahahahaha. I love that you think "all you have to do is write the thesis" is some simple easy task that you just bang out quickly! Hey, maybe in some fields, who knows? (Lucky bastards!) FWIW, in my discipline the coursework portion was 2 or 3 years depending on prior experience, and then you were ABD, so on a pretty similar schedule (and it is a top program, not at all sketchy). The crazy talented/fast people would then finish the thesis in maybe 2 years at a bare minimum--far more common was 4-5 years, especially if fieldwork was involved. I imagine these things vary quite a bit based on humanities/social science/hard science and also the specific program.

Anyway, I would take a really serious look at the job prospects in your field and in your specific program. As in, what specific jobs have grads from your program gotten in the last year or so, and are those jobs you want. If it's not looking so hot, DEFINITELY apply to this job. If so, then you have some more thinking to do -- I still don't think it hurts to apply, but maybe try to do it a bit more on the DL.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lol, I love that you think I meant doing the whole dissertation there vs. writing it up. I'm used to disciplines where writing doesn't happen until you have data to write about, where ABD means that you have the research squared away and completed and all you are doing is writing it up--which is a monumental task, but not on the order of three additional years! I had never encountered PhD students past the coursework stage but before they have a significant amount of data amassed referred to as ABD before.
posted by sciatrix at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

ABD just means you've passed your comps. In Canada, your PhD may require you to do one or two classes. You can certainly finish your classes and pass your comps before you've finished gathering your data. I know a bunch of field biologists who front-loaded their projects like that to the tune of four more years after ABD. That's why ABD isn't necessarily useful or significant in some fields.

Definitely apply. Even if it turns out your not interested in dropping your PhD, it's nice to think about alternate plans. I literally had a plan to become a nanny for my sister-in-law in case I dropped out. My friend had semi-complete plans to become a goat farmer. We both finished and have gone on to postdocs. Sometimes the dreams help you though. Also examine your mixed feelings - better to fall into a new position than to burn yourself out and fall into nothing.

That said, your advisor will probably find out if you apply given he/she has personal relationships with the non-profit. It depends on your field, department, and advisor if this would be a problem. I've had some bosses who would have/did give me a great recommendation even though they were worried about my ability to finish. And on the other hand, I've explicitly told someone interviewing me that my supervisor didn't know I was looking for other positions. These were all academic-related positions and I got them and finished my degrees. But it was a struggle sometimes.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:16 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

ABD working at nonprofit here!

Would this raise some red flags within my department or at the nonprofit?

No. In my experience, PhD students apply for jobs all the time (at least in my, rather employable, field). They sometimes get job offers. They sometimes leave their programs for said job offers.

If you're close to getting a job offer, would you want your adviser to provide a reference? If so, you will have to tell them at some point. This would very likely damage your research/adviser-advisee relationship, but maybe not. (It really depends on the adviser.)

To figure out of this is a good decision or not, you should probably think about how long staying to finish up the thesis would take, and how doing so would affect your future income stream. (If you're in the nonprofit sector, probably not so much [unless it's a research organization explicitly valuing PhDs]: nonprofit salaries are sort of "capped above" and you won't really need a PhD to get into the highest band.)

FYI, I'm in a slightly different position, because I left my program without a job offer (for circumstantial reasons), and I had a pretty hard time getting a qualified job at first. (Too much education, not enough job experience, the economy wasn't doing that well at the time either.) That said, once I got the chance to show I can deal, it's been pretty smooth sailing.

Some final thoughts: Do you have experience working at a nonprofit (this nonprofit)? Can you deal with the politics/bureaucracy that you will undoubtedly be subjected to? Do you have people/professional skills? Can you dumb things down for unsavvy audiences? You don't need any of these skills to succeed in school/academia (and you may be quite sheltered from these things as a grad student), but I cannot emphasize enough how much of this you'll need to survive in most nonprofits.
posted by yonglin at 4:57 AM on April 30, 2015

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