Monday, July 07, 2014

PhDing When You Could Be Doing Something Else

Was doing some reading "for fun" last night and suddenly had the thought "I could have been reading Kierkegaard and Augustine for the last five years if I'd really thought about what I wanted to study for the rest of my life!"

Anyway. Life is long, hopefully, so there's time yet for that sort of thing, maybe. My bedside stack of books right now is Kierkegaard, R.R. Reno, the Book of Common Prayer, Stephen Prothero, Garrison Keillor, and, finally, John McWhorter who is at least a linguist.

The warning of Paul Matsuda's 2007 blog post, which I've quoted here before, still rings in my ears:

If you feel like you are sacrificing something else when you read and write in your field, entering a Ph.D. program may not be the right career decision. If you have that much discipline to complete the degree requirements without really enjoying the process, you might consider choosing from many other career options out there that don't require a Ph.D. and that you might actually enjoy.

He's right, of course. I am sacrificing something else. But how can anyone who chooses a vocation do otherwise than to sacrifice something? And frankly, I'm shocked and a little saddened by how little the people I know in my field seem to read of anything but applied linguistics.

My point though, or the reason I've taken a break from fretting about the chapter I'm reworking right now, is just this:

The dissertation really is the loneliest, saddest part of doing a PhD. I can see why in Europe you just start with the diss, and get on with it as quickly as possible. None of this mucking about with learning and teaching and thinking a lot. (No offense, European academia.) I've been trying to write this damn thing for the better part of two years. Every day I move a little closer to being done, and the distance left to go often feels insurmountable. But I know that soon I'll be done, and this won't be hanging over my head any more. There'll be other things, sure, but it's nice to remember that every once in a while, you do get a choice. Three years ago I chose this dissertation; next year, I'll choose something else.