Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Turn and Face the Strange

This is a serious entry, guys.

(Well, aside from the David Bowie references.)

Two weeks ago, I withdrew from school. All the doors are still open for my eventual return, but, really, I don't intend to go back.

Maybe this isn't as serious to you all as it is to me, but, let me tell you, to me it's the end of the world. It's terrifying. I have been a student all my life. All. my. life.

What will I do without homework? What will I do without teachers? What will I do without constant validation of my memorization test-taking abilities?

(I'll take the LSAT and apply to law school, that's what.)

I had always thought that I wanted to get a Ph.D. and be a professor. I am a child of two Ph.D.s who learned to crawl up the steps of the MIT library; I agreed to go to BYU for undergrad because I knew I could go elsewhere for grad school; I always envisioned myself building a career of reading and thinking and, if I had to, writing. I didn't know anything different, I couldn't imagine anything different.

And yet, over the past two and a half years, I have grown steadily more unhappy in grad school--though there were some good times, there were more than enough bad times to balance them out, and, in general, a sense of unease, discontent and, eventually, boredom, lingered over my graduate school experience.

I know everybody hates grad school; that's the way it is. And yet, if I'm so unhappy at it now, how is the end result any different? Do I really want to suffer through another three or four years of this pressure-filled, stultifying environment only to get a $40,000/year job doing exactly the same things, only this time with tenure on the line? Do I really want to go to conferences and force myself to attend talks that bore me or talk with colleagues that irritate me? Do I really want to talk, think, eat, breathe linguistics, linguistics, linguistics all the time? Do I really want to spend my life in trivial arguments? Do I really want to publish or perish? And do I really want to work 16 hour days, to put my time, mental health, family life on the line, for language change? In sum, do I really believe my work is worth it?

I've been mulling over these questions for a long time now, almost a full year, and no matter how many variables I've toggled in my environment--fewer classes, no classes, teaching positions, research projects, whatever I can change--I find myself coming to the same answer: no.

I went to grad school for some of the right reasons and lots of the wrong ones, and, though I don't regret that decision--I got a free master's degree out of the deal, after all, plus a husband, a home, and, most importantly, the sure knowledge that academia isn't the right place right now--I would regret the decision if I stayed, if I let myself be dragged along by the system, writing each chapter of my dissertation just because it's there, or just because there's funding, or just because I'm trapped in the culture and can't think of anything else to do.

So I left. And here's where I consider myself very lucky, because I found something else to do. I got a job. A good job. I don't know if I'll love the work itself, but even if I don't, it's a job that pays well, or at least better than grad school, a job where I work with interesting, smart, dynamic people, a job that gives me unbelievable benefits and perks, and, of course, a job with pretty serious confidentiality agreements, so, uh, don't expect to see much discussion of it around here.

(Curious about where I work? Let's just say that it starts with F and ends with acebook.)

Sometimes when I think about how much my life has changed in the last year, my head spins and I want to reach through a time portal and shake my January 2009 self by the shoulders, just to warn her about the change that's about to come--brace yourself! Take some deep breaths! Hell, take a nap--in a year or so, you'll deserve it. At this time last year I was a single graduate student living in Oakland, riding a bicycle to school and dressing in jeans and T-shirts; this year I'm a married Facebook employee living in Berkeley and taking a work commuter shuttle to work and dressing in…well, okay, I can still wear jeans. At least I have something in my life that isn't ch-ch-ch-changing.


Genavee said...

I'm a big fan of plans and freak out when I have to deviate from a pre-established course. So, I really admire your courage to step back and do what's best for you, even if it isn't the plan. Good luck.

Oh, and your new job sounds way cool.

Braden said...

That is awesome. Congrats.

Th. said...


Congrats on getting the job. Hope you likes it.

Xan said...

Congratulations are in order. And I think God's been doing a lot of the "you can go for the PhD since that's your plan, but wait! Here's something shiny and different! A-HA!"

Good luck with your new job, and don't sweat the no-academia thing. You'll rock whatever you do.

the onion said...

1 part grass is always greener about my own condition, many parts jealous. congrats.

Thora said...

So, does this mean you'll post on facebook more often? Or are employees of faceboook too meta cool and professional to waste their time?

I think it's great that you realized that you didn't want a Ph.d. for the right reasons for yourself, and didn't let yourself be pressured into just continuing along with it just because you had a abilities. I went into undergraduate with the plans for a Ph.d., and I knew within a couple of years, that wasn't what I wanted (so I was a really early washout). I knew that for myself, I felt like I had nothing to say in academia, via papers. At least not anything that people wanted to listen to.

Although, reading this did comfort me on one aspect - knowing that Avram is still getting his doctorate for the right reasons. After all, it's one thing to read about someone who isn't your financial providor realizing their previous life path wasn't right. It'd be another thing if my husband had this moment. Thankfully he doesn't - because I suppose someone has to go and be the (wo)man, and teach impressionable young people.

Meanwhile, you get to do whatever linguistical (or not?) activities for Facebook, and corrupt impressionable young people. Sounds fun.

Kwo Ling said...

Mmm, Facebook will cover the cost of about a month and a half's childcare. How very generous of them, and again it is the most generous offer out there in the US ::considers moving to Europe again:: Although I think FB is of the devil, congratulations (and I do enjoy your blog).

Steven said...

Hurray for breaking free from academia! I got my Master's mostly for financial reasons and had absolutely no desire to continue further. I could never understand why people would stay "in the lab" year after year watching others getting great jobs and generally getting on with life while they dinked around on their PhD. Real life is way better.

So um, yeah, I don't have a Facebook account, but hopefully we can still be friends.

sassparilla said...

So I still blog-stalk you because I love your thought process and how you articulate it. What a brave decision -- and I'm sure a hard one.

I have a friend from high school, Itamar, that works at Facebook. I only know that, well, through Facebook. Haha. Not sure how big the office is, but tell him hi if you see him :)

Jennifer said...

That's awesome. Definitely a big change, and I've never known you when you weren't a student, but you've been doing the school thing long enough. Congrats.

FoxyJ said...

I went through the same thing last year and know I made the right choice because I have never felt one regret from walking away from my PhD program. It was fun and I still like some aspects of academia, but it was kind of refreshing to realize that it was not for me and I should stop feeling guilt that it wasn't. And congrats on getting a cool job--it's even better when these things work out like that.

Minnie said...

I'm so proud of you! It takes a lot of courage to make a change like that. Good luck with your FB job--the confidentiality agreement doesn't apply to cousins, right?

daine said...

The fact that I learned about your new job from a google blog instead of your facebook profile might be reason to get you written up at work. Be more careful in the future.

Do you think you could try and convince Northwestern to refund all of my money and give me my master's degree for free?

Congratulations on the change. I guess I'm still a bit shocked to hear you of all people speaking ill of academia. Now I've seen everything.

Good luck on the LSAT.

Petra said...

Genavee--I like having plans too. Luckily, I like imagining them way more than I like sticking to them, so an occasional deviation won't kill me.


Th.--Thanks! I like it so far...I hope that continues.

Xan--Man proposes, God disposes--something like that, right?

onion--the academia grass is still pretty green, frankly, when I have to wake up at 6 every morning.

Thora--yes, I'm pretty sure that's what it means. Employees of Facebook are even more addicted than the rest of us, trust me. Oh, and in terms of providing financially, I think my husband is pretty darn delighted I left grad school, given that I'm suddenly making twice as much (literally) as I was before.

Kwo Ling--hi, and welcome! And actually, it's even more generous than you think: Facebook gives 4 months paid parental leave (for men or women), plus a $4000 bonus to reimburse baby expenses, plus then they subsidize the cost of childcare. It's almost as good as moving to Europe!

Steven--Of course we can still be friends. To be totally honest, I'm not the biggest Facebook believer ever, it's just a great place to work.

Petra said...

sassparilla--I blog-stalk you too! Now that we've admitted that, maybe I'll start commenting over there more often.

Jennifer--Thanks! I've never known me when I'm not a student either:)

Minnie--uh, sure it doesn't. If I want to get FIRED, that is.

FoxyJ--Actually, reading about your decision is part of what inspired me to have the courage to actually leave; knowing that someone else out there that I highly respect could make such a decision made me feel much better about the whole thing (and like much less of a failure).

daine--I'll give Northwestern a go...I am pretty persuasive. Really, though, I'd just have to persuade someone to give you a Javits--wouldn't two in the family be nice?

Oh, and I'm pretty shocked to hear myself speak ill of academia too, trust me. It's a weird new mindset, this whole "anti-grad school" thing.

mfranti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mfranti said...

Congrats on the new job!

I'm jealous.

Zillah said...

congrats on the job, and congrats on being aware and brave enough to quit something that wasn't right for you.

Snoop said...


From grad books to THE book. No surprises here. Way to go!

This post reminds me of last spring break, walking out of Claire's house. I can't believe all that has happened since then!!!

You rock, of course.

I don't care about that confidentiality crap, I wanna hear some juicy gossip of what goes on inside that book. Seriously.

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