Amanda went back to work this week. As a nurse, she works three days a week (giving her four days at home!), but each of those days from start to finish is 14-15 hours. And the days that she works are the days that I don’t have to be on campus, leaving me alone at home with our baby bumpkin while also trying to read books and write papers.
We knew this was coming. We thought we had planned. We thought we knew what it would feel like and how we would cope with the difficulty and discover grace and beauty in the midst of it all.
Except we have been in tears since Wednesday. I’ve been in tears because I am not meant to be alone for 15 hours at a time anyway, especially with a baby who needs me constantly. Amanda has been in tears because it feels completely unnatural for her to leave her baby at home while she goes somewhere else all day.
* * *
I’ve been writing a lot over the course of the last several months about my dissatisfaction with the model for graduate education in the Humanities and my intellectual resistance to the dominant strands of thought in English Studies. A post I wrote last December explained that, despite these issues, I would not be quitting my PhD. I explained that my goal was to teach college students, and that I needed the PhD for professional respect and for job security.
And, yet, I am daily discovering that research and scholarship is not my passion or even my interest. The best part of every graduate seminar I have ever taken has been the opportunity to learn something interesting and to present my perspective to others. The parts I have really disliked about every seminar has been the seminar paper with its demand for original research.
All I want to do is teach.
I thought I had solved this problem after my MA (where my thesis drained every last bit of intellectual curiosity and desire for research out of me) by focusing in my PhD on Composition Pedagogy, on teaching. But even as I am more or less successfully muddling though my graduate seminars (which study topics I care very little about, and make use of so-called Theory for which I have great disdain) and looking forward to my comprehensive exams and dissertation, I am finding the idea of four more years of research/scholarship, with teaching something I only do on the side, daunting and miserable.
* * *
It has taken me a long time to really understand my values, to settle into a worldview and work on bringing that worldview into practical existence. When close friends and family have asked me what I want to do with my life, my answer used to center on vocation (teach college students, read, research, and write), but now my answer is something like:
I want to be a good father and a good husband. I want to grow vegetables in my backyard, serve those in need, and have parties with my friends and neighbors. I want to go to church on Sundays, do good and meaningful work, and take road trips to visit family. I want to love God and love others.
While I think it is possible to have these values and do a PhD, I don’t think it is something I can do right now. I don’t think I can devote 50 hours a week for the next four years to something I completely dislike in exchange for (while a great fellowship as far as these things go) a tiny stipend.
And, especially since Amanda wants to stay home more with Ellie (not something she thought she would want to do until the time came) and wants to go back to school for her Family Nurse Practitioner degree, it seems obvious that I give up the thing that I don’t like and that requires her to work full time in order to find work that can more fully support us.
So, at the end of this semester, I am officially withdrawing from my PhD program.
* * *
When I tell people that I leaving my program, most people ask me what I will do next. The short answer: something that pays a decent salary. But the long answer is, well, longer.
I want to teach. Toward that end, I am applying for an alternative certification program that will let me get certified to teach middle school or high school English in Texas. But the program takes some time, costs some money, and doesn’t guarantee a job at the end. All the while, Amanda would have to support us by continuing the brutal shifts away from me and from Ellie.
So I plan to find some other job that is willing to pay me something decent. I have spent some time looking at staff positions at colleges and universities, teaching jobs at private schools, and jobs doing something with writing and/or editing. As one could imagine, finding a job outside of academia with nothing but academia to recommend me seems daunting (I’ll take suggestions, job offers, networking ideas, whatever if anyone has anything to offer), but it seems to be the best option right now.
But the decision to leave the PhD program had to be made separate from formulating a plan for what I would do next. Uncertainty about the future, in this case, was not a good reason for sticking with the thing that makes me miserable.
* * *
My overwhelming feelings over the past week have been sadness that Amanda has to work when she so badly wants to be home with Ellie, guilt that I didn’t plan better to be able to help her do what she wants to do, and loneliness tied to being home by myself a lot with the baby. I’ve also begun to feel the existential angst that comes with walking away from what has been my identity for so long.
I don’t have easy solutions, but I trust that we are on the right path. I’m thankful to family and friends who will continue to support us. I pray to God for strength, peace, and grace.
While things are hard now, I trust that they will get better. And in the meantime we will lean on God, others, and each other.
Pray for us?