Category Archives: Grad school

Quitting vs. Moving On

The other day I was talking to someone who graduated from my program. We were discussing Comprehensive exams and he was giving me some study tips. To give some back story: Shortly after he finished his exams, he was offered a job outside of academia. It then took him about six years to complete his Dissertation. It’s difficult to complete a Dissertation, but when you’re getting paid more than $12,000 a year for 100+ hours of work per week (like most grad students), the motivation shifts. At some point in our conversation, he said that his stomach was hurting just talking about grad school and that he still has anxiety-induced health issues because of his life as a grad student.

That made me think of the many students I know in programs around the world who have left their programs before finishing. Some have failed the Comprehensive exam portion of a program, and some just had enough. They have all moved on to happy lives with amazing families working in great jobs making more money than they ever did as grad students. And from what I understand, they’re all happier. I hear some judge these students because, obviously, only incompetent or unintelligent individuals fail such exams. Others judge these students as quitters who can’t handle the pressure.


All of this made me think more and more about this lifestyle. More and more questions about my own values, strengths, goals. Over the last few months things have been “clicking” for me. As some things come together in my life, others fall away. Or maybe I let go of them.

I have been asking myself some difficult questions in an attempt to understand why I feel this strange push and pull between different aspects of my life. I am the happiest I’ve ever been. And for the last year or so, I’ve been completely honest about that happiness. Sometimes we think we’re happy or we pretend we’re happy. Still, as I’ve mentioned on the blog, there is this nagging feeling that I’ve made a mistake in following this one path instead of changing course ever so slightly. Maybe it’s just fear rearing its ugly head at a critical time when I need to keep that fear at bay.

The questions still linger even if I know I need to keep my eye on the prize. (And this all reminds me why I don’t believe in quarterlife or midlife crises: We are ALWAYS growing and learning, adapting to the path, and understanding ourselves – or we should be.)

Where do I belong? Where am I today? Where do I want to be tomorrow? Who do I not want to be? What do I value? What do I not value? Why does it hurt so much to find out people are not supportive of me because my values are not their own?

What are my goals? Today, tomorrow? In five years or ten? What do I consider my strengths? What do others view as my weaknesses? What lights a fire in me? What makes me drag my heels?

Moving on or quitting? – a Puttylike perspective

A few months ago I posted the following status update on Facebook:

Moving on from the thing you’re doing today is not quitting. Moving forward instead of committing to something that makes you miserable is not giving up. Your goals and values may not be mine or hers or his. Often we continue along a path because it’s what people expect of us, or because we are afraid to change directions knowing people will criticize, judge, or ridicule. But ultimately, we each know our Truth and “what you think of me is none of my business.”

In March, I read this post on Why You Shouldn’t Finish What You Start.

Not knowing your end point is okay as long as you listen to yourself (and not the specialist bully inside). Although having a “Why” can go a long way towards motivating productivity, I don’t actually believe that you must know your exact end point before beginning. A lot of the time we don’t know how the dots will connect, or what we’ll truly get out of an experience, until reflecting back years later. In these circumstances (well, in all circumstances really), it’s important to listen to yourself and trust your intuition.

A little while later, I read this post on the same site: The Fear That Lurks Deep in Multipotentialites.

We default to the most punishing option to avoid seeming weak. That fear is everywhere. It’s like the air we breathe. I have examples beyond counting, not only in my own life, but the lives of clients, friends, and family. We operate from this place of fear and it cudgels us mercilessly. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can recognize the fear-based reaction, recognize how it dehumanizes you, robs you of your sovereignty. You can choose to respond from a place of discipline and self-knowledge.


I’ve been reading Puttylike for some time. This blog resonates with me almost every week. I think I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, or I’ve at least shared some posts via Twitter. I identify with some aspects of the term multipotentialite.

According to Wikipedia, a multipotentialite refers to: “An educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. [Multipotentialites] generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions, they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.”

I like Emilie’s definition much better than the one above. I do not view myself as particularly gifted in multiple domains. It’s more that I’m interested in those domains and want to pursue diverse interests. I certainly consider myself talented in certain areas, especially those that involve service to others. But I do not feel like a specialist despite being a Doctoral student.

A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both). Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers. When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.

While I may not really be a multipotentialite, I have been thinking about the two aforementioned Puttylike posts. There is a lot of pressure in the world to finish what we start. If you don’t commit to something, you’re a quitter. Funny, I’ve written about commitment here on the blog before, too. I made a commitment to grad school, remember? Sometimes we make a commitment and it’s the best thing we could ever do. Other times, we commit for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we commit to something and it leads to something beyond our wildest expectations. It nudges us toward a new path, albeit one that leads us very close to our original goal.

Fear and boredom

Today I can say with some certainty that the fear of seeming weak (or inferior) is a major driving force in my choice to finish my PhD. Maybe it’s driven me just as much as not wanting to let other people down who’ve helped me get to this point along that chosen path. I also know that my love for learning, my love for psychology and making a difference still peek out from underneath all the fear now and then. Usually it happens when I’m conversing with those outside of academia though, or at least, in contexts where the knowledge can be applied. I continue to brush aside my intuition that tells me I would be feel more at peace pursuing a different career path. That path is one that does in fact incorporate my love for helping others, understanding human thought and behavior, and solving problems.

I also see it from another perspective. I remember being restless before grad school. I was in a stable job, making decent money, doing something that was actually somewhat enjoyable. But I wasn’t challenged. I wasn’t living up to my “full potential,” whatever that means. I was bored, maybe. I know part of the problem was that I was depressed, surrounded by people who were not good for me, and I hated living where I was living. I also know I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life. So I chose the opposite of easy, right? I found something that could make me fail. Utterly fail.

But I have kept going.

Sometimes we know when we’re punishing ourselves. We know when we’re moving along the wrong road or a road that makes less sense in our bigger picture.

Sometimes it’s not quitting to choose a new path. Sometimes we have to move on.

Have you ever chosen the more punishing path?

Emilie said: “… it’s important to listen to yourself and trust your intuition.”

Shanna said: “We default to the most punishing option to avoid seeming weak.”

Shanna also asked if her readers ever chose that more punishing path. Have you? Do you identify with the term multipotentialite? If you do, I’m sure Emilie would love to hear from you. I’d like to hear from you, too.

Robert Nagle’s Straight Talk About Grad School

I will finish my PhD coursework in about five weeks. (Yay!)

People keep saying, “You’re almost done!” Or they will ask, “How much longer do you have?”

I say the same thing every time: “Well, I still have my Comprehensive exams this summer. It’s an 8 hour written exam followed by an oral exam. Then if I pass those, I can start on my Dissertation, but most people don’t finish it in a year. And I still have to get published in a journal to meet my requirements. It’s hard to say when I’ll be done, honestly.” Then, of course, I start feeling the anxiety take hold and the person standing in front of me is either annoyed, confused, or both.

I’ve talked a bit on this blog about feeling as though I don’t belong in grad school. I keep moving forward because the light is more visible at the end of the tunnel now. Plus, I know it’s what I need to do to  get the kind of job I want. I am so thankful that I will not have to be as present after this semester. I am ready to move forward. I am ready to finish grad school. Obviously every discipline, every program is different; however, there are are some common themes to many Doctoral programs.

I have read many articles and blog posts about grad school over the years. Probably hundreds by now. This is, by far, the one that captures almost everything I would want to share with others before pursuing a PhD. It definitely summarizes many of the articles I’ve read and it touches on some thoughts I’ve had myself the last four years.

Straight Talk About Grad School – Robert Nagle

I highly recommend reading through his lengthy post if you’re struggling in your own Doctoral program or if you’re considering pursuing a PhD program in the future. It contains updates as recent as this year. I also think it’s beneficial to read through some of the comments and the original articles he cites.

Do you have any advice you’d give someone who was thinking of pursuing a PhD?



{Stephen Fry “Language” – Kinetic Typography by Matthew Rogers}

I had to relearn how to use language in grad school. In college, I studied Psychology and Sociology. Both programs were housed in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (the “soft” sciences, whatever the hell that means). As a grad student, I live in the College of Sciences (the “hard” sciences, again, whatever the hell that means). Now I use concise, minimalist language when writing papers and research articles. I went from writing 30 page papers in college to writing 10 page papers in grad school. It sounds easy, but parsing down your language into the most essential components was a challenge. I lost my ability to be a creative writer when I became a scientist.

This blog was my way of bringing back some of that creativity. I discovered quickly that I was terrified of making a mistake. Friends would judge me if I didn’t use a comma or if I misspelled something or if I said “boldly go” instead of “go boldly.” No one would take me seriously if I made a mistake. Granted, I make them all the time. Mistakes are part of the editing process. Blogging is scary in some ways because once you hit Publish, it’s out there. It may remain in a subscriber’s Reader with that spelling error for eternity even if I change it on my blog. I misspell things, I forget commas, and I certainly don’t follow all the rules. I get tired of following the rules here because I follow all the rules in school and at work. Others are constantly editing my work, just as I am constantly editing theirs. It’s part of the learning process. It’s part of academia. It’s part of creating quality work as a writer.

Stephen Fry wrote incredible articles, sketches, and podcasts about language. Have you seen the Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry sketch The Subject of Language or read Fry’s Don’t Mind Your Language article? If you haven’t, go watch the video and read the article now. You will not regret spending time doing either.

I am the first to admit it: I’m a snob when it comes to grammar and punctuation. It really comes down to knowing the difference between things like “it’s” and “its” and knowing in which contexts it is most appropriate to use punctuation. As Stephen Fry says, you need to “dress your language up” when you are at work, in school, or in other situations that require certain etiquette. If a student sends me an email without punctuation, it shows me they don’t care. It is difficult to take someone seriously when he or she doesn’t use punctuation or spell check in a professional or academic setting. I mean. Come on. Really?

But at the end of the day, sometimes we just need to write. Screw the critics and the rules and just write. Write what you feel and write what it is beautiful regardless of whether the structure of your sentence is perfect. Like Fry says, no one would ever read Oscar Wilde or Shakespeare if we judged “good” writing based solely on following the rules.

The next time I want to judge or criticize someone for breaking the rules of language (outside that “appropriate” context), I am going to write a love letter in which I boldly turn nouns into verbs. The next time you want to edit someone’s personal blog or short story or thesis or email because the writer broke the rules, please pause and take a deep breathe. Pull out a pen and paper, and write a letter to communicate something beautiful and heart wrenching to a loved one. When you finish writing it, read it out loud, and tell me if it drips off your tongue with passion and longing. If it doesn’t make you sweat or blush to hear your own words? You’re doing it wrong.

Also, I can’t wait to find all the “mistakes” in this post down the road.