Grad School Quittas: What To Expect When You’re Quitting

If you find this post by searching for resources for quitting grad school, welcome. FYI, I’m collaborating with other post-ac bloggers to create a catch-all website for those in transition out of academia and you should check it out, too. We have also edited a collection of essays about leaving graduate school, available for $2.99 for all e-reader platforms.

Read on. You’ll be fine.

“I kept looking for clues and for permission. I wanted stories about graduate students in anthropology who had left their programs. Where did they go? What did they do? How did they do it? I did not find these stories. Here and there, I found books, articles, and websites that helped me and I have included them in my essay. In the end, I had to make my decision, for the most part, on my own. My narrative, a collection of personal essays on my time in and my leaving graduate school, is the kind of writing I searched for during that last semester, the kind of narrative I did not find. It is a narrative that is by no means complete but is one that explores the numerous things that shaped my journey through graduate school and my leaving.” (Viola Allo, Leaving)

I mentioned the other day that I quit grad school. I thought I’d talk a little about what it feels like when you do that. As Viola Allo writes in Leaving, there aren’t many stories that really go into how it feels and what it means to quit. There are advice columns; questionnaires; discussion boards. There are summative reflections about whether or not leaving was a good idea, but not often do you find narratives that walk that line and admit to the strangeness and ambivalence of life after grad school. I hope my entries on this topic can console or offer help to some poor bastard googling “should I quit grad school?” in the middle of the night. Sometime, I’ll get into my experience as a student and what led me to leave (and almost leave, a dozen times before). But right now I want to tell you about what it’s like to sit in this space of having quit but not quite being gone.

The first thing I did when I decided to quit was sob loudly on the phone with my sister. I was sitting in my daughters’ unused bunk beds (we’re still in transition there), with the window open to the frigid January air. The wind cooled my chapped cheeks. I’d had an awkward and uncomfortable confrontation with my adviser. I was embarrassed and upset. I knew I wanted to quit but I was afraid to even say the words aloud. It took three days to be able to simply state to my husband, “I want to quit grad school.” Not “I think I want to quit” or “I’m considering leaving” or anything that softened the reality of what I was doing. If I stated it in the subjunctive, someone might trick me into coming back.

And almost universally, people will try to get you not to quit. OK; that’s not true. I’m exaggerating. People will react in one of three ways:

1. Fuck yes, finally, grad school sux, this is the best decision you will ever make.

2. Dear God, don’t quit, try this, try that, change programs, take a break, talk to your adviser, reconsider; if you could just pull together a committee, take your comps, and write a dissertation you’d be done and you will be so glad, don’t live with regret, don’t quit, don’t quit.

3. I support you in whatever you decide.

Let’s make that four ways.

4: I’m thinking about quitting (or “I wish I had quit”), how did you decide, how did you talk to your adviser, here’s my situation, what should I do?

Almost everyone will try to work their own issues out through your decision-making. Any conversation about you quitting grad school becomes a conversation about the other person’s grad school experience. Not on purpose; grad students aren’t universal dicks, it’s just such an intense, taboo, personal topic that it inevitably becomes about Grad School and What Grad School Means. People will project on you, argue through you, define themselves with or against you. Sometimes these conversations are really helpful, illuminating, and significant in the same way good talk therapy is. Sometimes they suck.

So be ready for that, my late-night googling friend. Your peers and mentors are especially likely to want you to re-invest yourself in academia in some way, in any form, just as long as you don’t quit. And you can’t blame them; anyone quitting throws into relief all the bullshit and chicanery that makes up grad school life. As Dorothea Salo writes in “Tales of a Grad School Burnout,”

“Graduate school can be a very isolating experience, and failing graduate school is worse; failures are pariahs, often because those who aren’t failing are justly terrified of failure and need to believe that they are different from those who fail.”

The less well you know someone, the more judgy they will probably be. Your close friends and colleagues know you; that one guy at the departmental Happy Hour will want to lecture you about what you should have done or why your experience is so vastly different from his pragmatic, insightful approach to academia. The worst are people on anonymous boards. Fellow quitters will judge you for your idiotic decision-making, foolish illusions about what grad school would be like, and generally make you feel like the failure you are convinced you are. Do not. Do not. Do not go to internet boards to discuss quitting.

Some people will step back from you as if grad school quitting is catching. You might get invited to fewer parties, if you ever were invited at all. (This isn’t a problem for me; I had already alienated myself by having kids.) There’s a saying in recovery groups that when you sober up, you are like a puzzle piece and your shape changes. People have to learn new ways to fit with your new shape. Some people will accomodate that; others will not. You don’t need the ones who aren’t okay with that change.

Fellow embittered grad school quittas (not to be confused with Flagpole Sittas) will rejoice in your decision and you will probably spend hours talking shit about grad school and all the bullshit and how it’s an evil Ponzi scheme and how deluded the entire Ivory Tower is. And some grizzled dozenth-year-super-senior dissertators will also be happy to sit down with you and do a post-mortem on your grad school career.

“Graduate students are the worst.”

This is totally fine, and you are all totally right. But it oversimplifies things, and it allows you to sidestep the painful reality of your own complicity in the bullshit, how enmeshed your own identity is in the bullshit, and all the people you know and care about who still live in that world. So, enjoy this, but understand that it won’t ultimately help you feel better about yourself or the complicated experience of grad school and grad school quitting.

The people who love you the most and understand the best will be fine with whatever you decide. Most of them probably have no idea what grad school is like, anyway; they will probably have an easier time understanding quitting school than they ever had understanding what you were actually doing in grad school. I checked in with my parents, my in-laws, my kids, my husband, my sister, and numerous friend-colleagues before I gave myself permission to quit. It amazed me, but it really was true: They loved me for who I am, not for what I do. They would still love me, even if I quit graduate school.

Quitting is thrilling. Think of the books you will read. The marathon you never ran? Check. Think of the creative projects that have lay dormant that you can now take up: finish that half-knitted shawl, start that podcast, join that improv group. And the TV: MY GOD THE TV YOU CAN WATCH NOW. I gave my students extra credit to carry stacks and stacks of books back to the library for me. I went through my personal book collection and got rid of any book that did not bring me joy. I listened to a wonderful podcast from the Freakonomics team about the Upside of Quitting. I signed up for a writing class and decided to write only about things that were messy, subjective, and fun. I bought a domain.

I was running errands a few days after quitting: I’d just wrapped up a class, and our family needed some staples for dinner and the girls were out of pull-ups. I rushed pell-mell through through the aisles of Target with this sense of fear and worry.  I had been frantically trying to calculate the unit price per diaper in the baby aisle, and I couldn’t get my thoughts straight. “OK, so the Pampers are on sale but there are only 63 per box whereas Target brand is regular price but hey, there are 71 per box but is that actually cheaper and I need to figure this out and get out of here and why math whyyyyyyy” Then I realized, in an orgasmic epiphany: I have nothing to do. I have no need to hurry. I have nowhere to be.

In that moment, I was doing exactly what was necessary for that day. Getting food to nourish my family; taking care of our daily life. Determing that in fact, that is a damn good deal on paper goods for my children to shit in, and stacking green boxes in my cart. THIS IS MY CALLING IN THIS PRECISE MOMENT. I felt euphoric. I practically kissed the checkout guy. “I’M GREAT!!!” I crowed in response to his routine greeting. I was living in the expansive present, the beautiful nowness. I was liberated from that constant feeling that there was something I should be doing, some project I ought to be working on, some CFP or proposal or chapter or reading I was avoiding while doing anything un-grad school related (even though I barely ever did those things, anyway). In grad school, you have no free time. But now I am free!! I AM A GOLDEN GOD!

But, freedom is terrifying. Freedom is formless. I’m so used to the stress, the pressure. I feel like I need to be doing something, anything, more than whatever it is I’m doing. Even though I’m plenty busy with teaching, meetings, cleaning, and parenting, I’m convinced I am not doing worthy work unless I’m maxed out and exhausted in every way.

Although I want to enjoy the little things, the quiet and still moments of joy with my children, I am often grouchy and irritable. There’s terrible whiplash when you go from grad school time to regular time. You invent enormous tasks to undertake. You feel a need to fill the void with something as comparably Significant and Meaningful and Important as grad school, like Writing (not just an article or short story; but a novel, an opus, a play) or Having Another Baby or Getting a Real And Important Sounding Job (something other than “customer service level III”). Newly turned from the womb of grad school, we flail like newborns, seeking those firm and reassuring boundaries. We squint in the bright light and turn away, grunting.

As difficult as it is, I am trying very hard not to fill the void. I am resisting the urge to replace the work and stress of grad school with new work and new stress. I am forcing myself to adjust to regular time, regular life, the quotidian rhythms most people take for granted. Grad school drills from you the ability to stay in the present. You are always having to think ahead: from coursework to comps, from comps to diss, from diss to book, from book to tenure. Do you ever savor the moment in grad school? I can’t think of a single, quiet, triumphant moment. I don’t want to miss out on those any more, so I am sitting in this discomfort and letting my body and mind get used to the expanse. I’m closing the laptop instead of obsessively refreshing my inbox. I’m avoiding job postings. I’m thinking about today, not tomorrow or next year (ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES I AM AWAKE AT 4 AM THINKING FUCK). But I trust that this will pass. I trust that by this summer, I’ll be able to sit on the porch in the evening and just listen to the cicadas and talk to my kids about what kind of brains cars have and which Gabbaland character is their favorite, and be totally there. Even if it’s a Tuesday. If I can learn to love interminable, free-form anxiety and endlessly deferred gratification; if I can take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt for the sake of a nearly worthless degree; if I can sacrifice time with my luminous and extraordinary babies for the sake of scholarship; then I am sure that I can learn to love my freedom.

166 Responses to Grad School Quittas: What To Expect When You’re Quitting

  1. I love this post. Congratulations. :)

    • Thank you, Emmy! I made broccoli cheddar soup because I couldn’t get that cauliflower recipe out of my head (and my fam is just not into c-flower, unfortch).

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  3. I love this entry and I sure as hell hope that I was one of the people in the 3rd category of reactions. :) Love you, lady.

  4. CONGRATULATIONS! this post is brilliant, honest, complex, truthful, and enviable.

    i only wish that back when i’d voiced my desire to quit, someone had said to me, “i will support you in whatever you decide.”

    <3 kats

  5. to borrow your words, luminous and extraordinary. thanks for writing, opening this whole can of worms and calling it what it is. you’ll be listening to those cicadas sing and savoring it in no time.

    i know i was in the 4th category, so thank you also for listening in the midst of your own struggle. even now, i’m reading in the middle of a class and continuing the convo in my head! and, i always thought i wasn’t invited to anything b/c i didn’t have kids! must not have been much going on. :)

    • Thanks, Marie — I think we all have internal dialogues about why grad school accepts or rejects us and what others’ motives are. I’m always glad to listen to you and glad you weathered the comps storm with grace!

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  7. I didn’t quit grad school. Sure thought about it a lot of times, but ultimately, I defended a dissertation that neither nor anyone on my committee particularly cared about by that point and went on to a research career of banging my head against a wall trying to convince journal referees that the subjects I found remotely relevant were also of interest to anyone else. I never did find an audience for my research. And when I resigned my tenure track position to take a full-time post teaching at a community college, I was very very happy. And I’m sure I freed up a faculty line for someone else whose burning passion to do research was a far better fit for that line. Win-win.

    So it took me longer to drop out. I neither regret nor particularly endorse the path I’ve followed. Some of my current colleagues have those magic letters PhD; others don’t. But figuring out what isn’t working for you and moving on is a good, healthy thing. Congratulations on making a decision that seems to have worked for you, and best wishes. Also, thanks for this fascinating blog. Whatever you are or aren’t studying, you’re clearly a writer with something to say, and making the world a better place by sharing your writing.

    • D., thanks for your thoughtful comment. Jen and I both teach in community colleges and really value that work, so it’s great to read that you found a position and love your work. Thanks for saying my writing is good, that means a lot to me.

  8. D, I’m so glad you’re reading! I think what I wanted most when I was struggling in grad school was for somebody to say, “look, there are a lot of options. Here are some different paths you might want to pursue, and here are the first steps on those paths.” Maybe that’s asking too much? It just all felt so one track, like if I didn’t stay on that road I was just going to be left in a ditch in the wilderness. People find our blog every day by googling some version of “i want to quit grad school” — and i dont know how helpful finding this blog is, but if nothing else, I hope they realize that the world outside grad school isn’t actually a desolate landscape of shame and isolation. It’s okay to let go, move on, find a different path. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to see that.

  9. Pingback: 4 Roads Not Travelled: What I Should Have Done Instead of Going to Grad School | mama nervosa

  10. I think you are particularly right to say “Almost everyone will try to work their own issues out through your decision-making.” I quit one program, and felt like quitting was the most taboo thing you could do as a grad student. Get into transgressive sexualities or heavy drugs? Nah, that’s great! That’s subversive! Quit? What??? It forces others to confront and legitimate their own experience. I get that some people love it, some people thrive in it, whatever. Some of us just don’t.

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  13. What a fantastic post. I love it! I’ll write up some of my own thoughts about it and link my readers to your blog later this week.

    In the meantime, congrats on having the courage to leave, and welcome to the postacademic world. It’s lovely out here!

  14. Pingback: Google Diaries: We know you quit grad school. | mama nervosa

  15. I loved your post! I am one of the late-night-google searchers. The books, running a marathon, and unfinished knitting project (in my case a baby blanket) all apply to me. I have been considering dropping to a masters for some time now and I can honestly say reading your post made me feel more comfortable about my decision. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Pingback: Moving Out of My Grad School Office & My Academic Home | mama nervosa

  17. Great post! And indeed wonderfully written. My story is a bit different but in many ways also the same. I finished my PhD (just defended this month) and I never questioned my desire to finish and defend. I actually LIKE my work and my diss (a rare unicorn of grad school?) and I wanted to see it through. But I also had a child before finishing and even prior to getting pregnant, I was heavily questioning the traditional academic route that was to come post graduation.

    Having my daughter and finishing while living away from campus brought up a host of questions regarding how I wanted to structure my life after finishing. I knew I wasn’t going to go on the traditional job market and I had no desires (although some regrets, maybe in a different life? One where I wasn’t a mom?) about not throwing myself full force into the academic profession after graduating. I don’t have all the answers but I do know that I love being a mom, that I want to be with my daughter as much as possible, that I love writing and research and am still interested in my scholarly work, and that I enjoy teaching and would love to do it again at some point. What I don’t want is the stress, the paralyzing stress, that you so adequately describe. I don’t want to teach a 3-4 load, have to attend a ton of meetings, advise students, pour out research and writing, and get home exhausted with no joy or desire for those moments on the porch with my family and the things that truly are the most important to me.

    So I guess the thoughts you raise are not just specific to grad school but to the traditional academic track in general. Thanks for a great post and a space for talking about this.

    • Thank you so much! I agree that this discussion could include anyone getting out of academia at any time, not just GSQs (we just happen to be two GSQs). I love your blog!

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  19. My responses from people tended to fall in one category,

    “Congrats! I’m happy for you!”

    I’m not certain what to make of that, haha!

    • That’s what I say to people. It’s on par with how I react to the news of engagement or a birth. I really do think it’s a great thing!

  20. Lauren and Jen – thanks for your posts, as they reaffirm my own decision to step out out of the academic track, two years ago! Fully funded, I decided to leave right in the middle of the recession, but before my university cut that funding for graduate students. After searching for and then landing a minimum wage library job in Asia, I’ve now landed a professional job with benefits, and I’m looking forward to it. I wish you — and everyone who reads these posts — the best in life without PhD!

    • Thanks, Celia. It’s always great to have more ex-academic success stories for our late night googlers. Good luck with your new job!

  21. I am definitely the late-night Googler who is frantically wondering how to quit graduate school, and your post just gave me so much confidence with my decision. I’m glad to have that reinforcement that it’s not a failure, just not for me. Thanks so much for writing this!

    • KiKi,
      Congratulations on your decision. I think you’ll find it marvelously freeing. Welcome to the GSQ club!

      Lauren

  22. Thank you so much for sharing this! I just left my place in a graduate program, despite the pleas from friends and family to stick it out, and could not be happier. Your post does a wonderful job of describing how I felt throughout my entire grad school experience. I look forward to relaxing evenings instead of cram sessions and all-nighters.
    Goodbye, grad school; hello, life!

  23. Yes. YES. Thank you so much. I am that person. I have been googling “quitting grad school”, “how you know it’s the right time to quite grad school”, and the like all night long. This post is my guiding light right now… it spoke to MY SOUL. I too have a child and have felt as though I am not giving her the type of mothering she deserves. NEVER living in the present, when ,oh, the present is SO DAMN PRECIOUS when you have littles. I can’t thank you enough for writing this. Every word you wrote was true (OMG YES: laying awake at night thinking FUCK), and you are a brave person for putting this out there. I only hope I can be as coherent and eloquent one day to write a post like this. Maybe when I stop crying into the phone to my mother, stop mentally beating myself up and worrying what people will think of me, and stop feeling the PTSD-like effects from reliving meetings with my committee… maybe then I’ll be able to talk about quitting grad school in such a meaningful, TRUTHFUL way. Until then, I will bookmark this post and read it over and over again. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

  24. That was a fantastic read. As an undergrad I was in a research program for first-gen, low-income students and took someone’s advice to “Never quit. Don’t leave unless they make you.” So it came to that. Leaving with a terminal M.A. was worse that planning to quit because I would have liked to spend a few months of my teaching assistantship focused on the job hunt. I got an M.A., but I’d rather have a job and a few years in grad school to talk about.

    After finishing coursework I wasted a year and a half of my life trying to get approval from an advisor who would never really give it (and when he did I often found out he had just skimmed what I read). On the PTSD-inducing day of my diss proposal defense they elected to have me leave with a terminal MA and suggested that there was no stigma and I could restart a Ph.D. elsewhere. At that point I had bought so thoroughly into the idea of the tenure-track four year college lifestyle that I’d equate the shock I experienced to that of someone who survived a major trauma. Luckily I also felt that fulfilling sense of freedom that comes from the late night musings about what random things it would be possible to do with bountiful time and energy if not for the treadmill of academia. So it turned out I couldn’t imagine spending more years tied to it all, and now I’m collecting ideas from friends and family for my next crazy adventure, planning to have kids, make money, buy a house, etc., but I deeply admire the wisdom (and restraint) involved in not immediately filling a new calendar with a new opus.

    • Jen,
      My husband went through a similarly shocking and painful rejection from his PhD program 5 years ago. I think it is a different situation to be pushed out rather than opt out, but the result can be positive. He certainly makes more money than I ever will! Keep us posted on what you decide to do — we are always interested in guest posts from grad school quittas. I appreciate your perspective as a 1st gen/low income student, too. Chin up — welcome to the bright side!

      Lauren

  25. Well that was easy. I googled “how to quit grad school,” came straight to this site then sent the Dean of my MFA program a withdrawal email, and am now headed to bed!
    I’ve known for a while that the more courageous and noble thing to do would be to quit, but once I got down to the last semester it seemed foolish to do so. It’s not.

    Thanks!!

  26. Wow. This is just what I needed.

    I’m that guy; the one searching “Should I quit gradschool” in the middle of the day at work (the middle of the night is spent struggling for sleep) because I’m at a point where I’ve started to lose interest in my concentration (Community Development/Urban Planning) and I care less and less about my classes. I think all of this started when my advisor asked me to prepare a topic for my thesis, saying, “Think of a topic that keeps you awake at night….”

    And that’s when it hit me: nothing about my major inspires me to the point of insomnia. I lose sleep thinking about a lot of things, but community dev never crosses my mind beyond class time.

    So here I am, debating whether or not I should join the “Quitta Life” or persevere despite my gross disinterest. I definitely have the reaction 1 folks who think I’d be happier quitting or starting a new grad major and my parents are probably the reaction 2 folks who would rather I stick to it. While your article hasn’t prompted me to jump up and free myself from academia, it certainly has given me the feeling that quitting isn’t necessarily a mark of failure. Thanks!

  27. I read Viola’s article in its entirety and her and I have a lot in common when it comes to pursuing graduate studies in Anthropology…so thank you for including her in here. I guess my question is- how do you know when you’re 100% done with a graduate education? I left an MA program in Anthropology this past February. My circumstances for leaving were very similar to what I have read in your posts and others… Though I had the added stress of a natural disaster which occurred during the first week of classes. And I mean that quite seriously, the National Guard was called in for the worst flooding that the area had seen in the history of, well, ever. I was quite literally reading Emile Durkheim’s “On Suicide” for one of my classes by candlelight for a week. I can laugh about it now, but you can only imagine how I was feeling then aha. But I digress. I am working on reapplying at the moment (for PhD this time around) but I do have my doubts. Am I applying because I feel guilt for leaving? Am I some sort of glutton for punishment? I’d like to see this as my second shot at finding a better area/school/advisor but I’m also afraid that I’m deluded. Some days it’s difficult for me to know exactly what I’m feeling…I’d really like to follow my heart but I’m also afraid that I’m going to be that person who is going to leave AGAIN. It’s scary. Thoughts?

    • It’s a good question and there are probably a million different “right” answers for each person. I think if you know EXACTLY what you want to research in your PhD — I mean, you know the method, analysis, subjects, etc — and you have some tangible sense of how the PhD will mean a very real gain for you professionally (preferably in dollars and cents) in both the academy AND without… then MAYBE it’s the right thing? Do you have a personal drive to get the PhD?

      I mean, I was terrified to leave grad school when I quit the first time. I really didn’t know what to do and wasn’t in much of a position to do anything beyond clerk at a grocery store (that’s what my husband did when he first quit grad school). Grad school felt safe and was safe, although (as I’ve said elsewhere) I simply was deferring dealing with a lot of stuff. I found a better program and better advisor but that did not solve my problems. Ultimately, grad school wasn’t worth it for me. I left a second time with a much better sense of work prospects within and without the academy, and with a sense that anything would be better than treading water and gathering debt.

      It’s ok if you go and then quit. It really is. I think it’s tempting to chalk all of this up to some grander narrative but it really may be that you need to try it before you know, and that’s ok. Just be thinking about the many roads through and out of graduate school that you should be open to, regardless of where they take you or how you get there.

      • Lauren, Thank you for responding. :) I really do feel that I have a personal drive for the PhD and that my research goals are clear. At the same time, my greatest fear is exactly what you stated: “finding a better program and advisor” but still having “unsolved problems”, whether they be academic, personal, financial, etc.
        I’m also worried because, I’m a very honest person. I love to research and write, and when it comes to school I always find a way to get very passionate about the topic(s) at hand. Unfortunately, more than half the time, my honesty and passion was not appreciated in grad school. I felt that smiling and laughing made me look “irresponsible” to my advisor. I have a pulse..weird, right? =P Other times, I started to wonder if I had to start “BS-ing” to get ahead. I chose not to, but the temptation was there.
        On the other hand, I’m 23 with no kids, no boyfriend, and my debt from undergrad isn’t astronomical. It feels like a good time to reapply given my circumstances and feeling more “ready”. I know what it feels like to be holed up all day with 5 books to read, papers due, little sunlight, and feeling unsure of myself- yet I still want to reapply. That’s got to mean something. And like you said, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I go again, discover that it doesn’t work for me and then retreat? Or it works out fine?
        Thankfully, with the Bachelor’s that I have now (Anthropology, Art History, Museum Studies) I’ve been able to find work as an Assistant Collection’s Manager at a local museum. It’s not perfect (what job is?), but the pay is decent and the museum is well funded. For a long time I thought that I might want to get an M.A. in Museum Studies (it’s what I consider the “easier option” for myself) but I probably wouldn’t receive any funding (not worth it) and I just don’t love the practice of Museum Studies as much as I love Anthropology.
        But there I go again writing books on comment boards…really I just need to sort things out in my own head somehow. I’m sure I’ll be back on the boards in March when I’ve made up my damn mind =P.

  28. Hey, I’m a googler too. I’m actually not a grad student, technically, but I am a research technician who is taking courses on the side. So it’s basically the same lifestyle. I have a bachelors degree, a long term research project that is my responsibility, and courses to stay on top of. I get no sleep. I am constantly depressed. I try desperately to maintain my main hobby, which is playing music. Sometimes I get paid for it, and it’s often a fulfilling moving experience that i cannot fully enjoy because work is always in the back of my mind. I feel passionate about the project, but I am angry about it, too. I set out to do this work because I wanted to publish a paper in this field. But I really would rather play music. I think academia is sucking the life out of me. It’s making me worse at music and it’s killing my health. I refuse to give up my lifetime hobby just to have more time to devote to research. There are other things in life besides research for fucking crying out loud.

    I’m not an English student so my writing isn’t nearly as eloquent as those above me. I am also angry, and my finesse with the written word diminishes significantly under that circumstance.

    Thanks for giving me space to vent. Hopefully I figure out what I want to do. I don’t know how far off I am from a paper, but I may end up jumping ship before it happens and that makes me sad.

    • I think anyone quitting feels sad/angry about the dreams that have to die along with quitting. I still have pangs for the diss that might have been, or the job I could have theoretically had if I’d been able to finish.

      Good luck, Marie. I feel for your situation and hope you find a way to be happy and healthy again, soon!

  29. I am one of the ones who stumbled across your blog by googling “quit my PhD program,” which I’m about to do. I am so sad, so devastated, and so relieved. I go from feeling like I can finally breath to jagged bouts of crying. I can’t believe I am doing this; I want to stop myself, but I do think it’s probably the best course. My husband thinks it is and so does my good friend…but they don’t understand. Neither of them has even been to college. My older children were so proud of me; my extended family were too. I had a huge cheering squad, but, again, I always felt like they didn’t understand. I felt alone. I never felt comfortable in my department. I loved teaching; I will miss it so much.

    I have a full time teaching job at a local magnet high school waiting for me. The principal is a friend of mine, and I know some of the teachers there. I left teaching high school to pursue graduate studies. I even got two huge fellowships. I was so proud when I got the news that I was going to receive the fellowships. I really thought I was somebody for about 10 minutes.

    There are very few jobs in higher education where I live, and I wasn’t about to leave my family. I have all of my degrees (2 BA’s, 1 MA) from the same university (the only one in town), so there’s no way they would ever higher me as anything other than adjunct. We have one community college and one state college, and from what I hear, they aren’t even hiring PhD’s. It seems so smart to take this high school teaching job. It will mean more money for my family and so much less stress for me. I like teaching high school, and this is a great school. But I feel like such a failure, like all the negative inner voices with which I’ve had to contend for so long have won. I know that years from now I will tell myself, “I should have stuck it out and just finished.” A few months ago, I was moaning about grad school, and my husband finally yelled at me and said, “Just finish! Stop this constant back and forth, up and down. Just do what you need to do and finish!” I am at the point of taking my quals, and I don’t know if I would pass them, and I don’t have a good dissertation topic. I with I could “just finish,” but I just don’t see how.

    It feels good to know that this high school wants me. I would be teaching AP Lit and comp classes, so similar to what I’ve been doing as a GA. I would have my life back, plus some extra money to actually live it. I don’t understand why I can’t stop crying.

    If you have any thoughts, I’m open. I have been reading everything on your blog, and I do appreciate the humor. Your blog lets me know that life will go on… I just want to stop feeling so crappy.

    • Cyn, I sympathize completely. I felt much the same way. It sounds like you have an amazing situation in which you know you can move on to meaningful work that you will enjoy. But leaving is emotionally devastating, for sure. Quitting isn’t failure but it feels a lot like failure. I personally can’t recommend therapy highly enough. And maybe do some writing yourself? We’d be happy to have you guest blog here, or maybe you should start your own blog about leaving. And feel free to drop an email any time if you just need to vent. lauren@mamanervosa.com

  30. Thanks, Lauren. This was initially an email to you, but it bounced back. I think that your suggestions of therapy and writing are both excellent. I would like to continue to express myself as a Quitta here if you’ll have me.

    • Cyn,

      Thanks for letting me know about the email address. I’ll have to look into that. Websites are such a pain. You’re welcome as a quitta!

      L.

  31. Lauren,

    This is so perfectly how I felt when I took a year off from PhD study. . .I didn’t know who I was without an institution around me, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to be “just a mom”. . . I realized funny things, like the startling fact that I had no personal email address, for example. (The crisis of creating a non-.edu account was terrifying!) Though I decided to return to grad school, your post resonates so, so much with my own quitta experience! I will be sharing with friends/fam who thought I’d lost my damn mind for a while. Thanks, girl! :)

  32. I am this poor bastard, only I googled crying in graduate school. I’m less than one year in and regretting every second. I’m on my way out to the to the medical field.

    I am looking forward to the days of freedom

    • April,
      I’m sorry you’re crying in grad school. What a terrible thing to be compelled to google. I hope you find a path out quick and can start googling “amazing things to do with free time and money.” If you ever want to share your story, we are happy to have guest posts! Welcome to the bright side.
      Lauren

      • Thank you so much. I just received a terrible review of my powerpoint/data that has led me to have vodka for dinner I’m putting a career focused plan together that includes time off Because its time to switch gears. I’ve always been a strong woman but this totally breaking me down.

  33. I guess I’m one of those late-nite Web-surfers, huh? I’m glad I found this post. Very honest and forthcoming. No sugarcoating. Some harsh language thrown in for good measure, too haha. I’m finishing up my first semester of grad school now, and I can’t say what exactly is up, but I haven’t quite dug it. I got back into undergrad for a year to do some passion project work I missed out on when I pursued my original degree, but decided to do something more useful and relevant to that degree. So here I am, only one semester into grad school and totally uninterested. Not sure whether to go back to just working or continue on. It’s not that I think the non-grad world is a desolate landscape, but I have no idea what I would do otherwise. Also, it doesn’t help that most of my best college friends are on their way to finishing or have finished a graduate program, making me feel like the odd man out. Anyway, thanks for writing the post. Feels good to say this and hear from others in a similar situation. There are some great points that I’ll take into account here on out. Oh, and the Freakonomics podcast and episode about quitting are amazing!

    • Nick,
      Good luck making your decision. I think a lot of people are in your situation and just stay in school because they’re not sure what else they’d do. I think spending time thinking about your options and learning about careers and other possibilities is smart. I’m glad you liked the Freakonomics show! I found it tremendously reassuring.

      Lauren

  34. Thank you. I have just learned about a major backstab (I’m not exaggerating) by my advisor in a well-respected Ph.D. program, and I am considering quitting. It is difficult at this stage to admit this to myself, and the phrase looks strange on the screen, as if coming from someone else. Your post does a great deal to help normalize this odd, scary time for me.

  35. Great post Lauren! Thank you. I sent out my notice of intent to terminate my studies for an MSc program on Friday. I struggled with making the decision for the first two months of the program. I knew something wasn’t right after the first month. I’m paying full price for an education by “teachers” that are highly invested in their own research, and an academic title that has marginal pay off compared to the real-world that compensates for the creation of output. And I already have all the tools and skills to create that output! After realizing that the difficult time I have making decisions, commitments, and promises is part of the reason I landed into such a “prestigious”, high cost/risk, graduate program, I had to put my foot down and say “No-I’m not going to live my life on autopilot”. I do believe that saying “no” in this way is a very difficult speech act, especially when so many people predicate our identities on conforming to what they thought they knew or wanted to believe about who we were or are. But, we need to live our own truths.

    So, I’m in this odd ambivalent space you spoke about. I’m living in a foreign country, waiting for my advisor to respond to my email message. I told myself for 8 years I wanted to do this thing. I never evaluated seriously the kinds of tasks that come along with doing it, and the kinds of tasks that are excluded from the realm of possibility once it’s done. But, I’m awake now, and I’m excited to allow myself to try something new and explore where my passion will take me. Thanks again for the blog. I’m reading for support now.

    • Dan,
      Thanks for the comment and congratulations to you. We are working on a bigger post-academic support project over at howtoleaveacademia.com that might helpful to you during this time. Hang tough and welcome to the bright side!

      Lauren

  36. Thanks for a fantastic blog post. Like many of the readers you mentioned, I’m a googler. When did you know that it wasn’t just fear of failure you were feeling, but the need to quit your program? I have been struggling to decide what to do since I was in my MA program at a different school, but found some comfort in the program by the end and went on to a great PhD program. I’m in my second term and feeling more anxious and unhappy than ever before. How do you know when it’s appropriate to quit because the work is not right for you rather than quitting because you feel like a soon-to-be-discovered fraud?

    • Jean,
      I think for me it was a combination — (1) it doesn’t matter how smart or high achieving you are — how much of a NON-failure — failure is almost guaranteed. So it has nothing to do with who you are inside, or how smart you are, or your intellectual potential. (2) Do you want to work for the next 10 years in a world that perpetually makes its members feel inadequate? You deserve better.

  37. I know I’m late to the game here, but this: Grad school drills from you the ability to stay in the present. You are always having to think ahead: from coursework to comps, from comps to diss, from diss to book, from book to tenure. Do you ever savor the moment in grad school?
    That is so totally right. And it’s what makes me feel like my life is dwindling away from me while I’m constantly playing catch-up. Thanks for being honest.

    -Sincerely, a midnight googler :)

    • Thanks for the comment, Kayla — it’s never too late to be a quitta! A year into my post-ac journey, I can say that I have recovered a lot of my ability to be in the moment, appreciate now, and be content. It’s so wonderful to be happy with what I’ve got rather tahn constantly worrying about what I lack. I hope you check out our How to Leave Academia website!

  38. Stacie Nicholls

    Hey,

    So i’m from England and I guess our Grad School is different from the US Grad School. However, i’m in a similar position. I did my undergraduate LLB degree in Law at University. I then stayed on to do a Masters in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. I’m in that place now where like you, i’m ringing around every person I know asking if it’s ok to quit.

    I struggle from Depression and Anxiety and the Masters is so hard…it’s made my life unbareable. I can’t sleep, I have no days off, I have no money, no social life…i’m so unhappy.

    So I am a 9pm googler looking for ‘should I quit my Masters?’ and I stumbled across your article.

    Thank you so much…it made me smile a lot and although i’m still uneasy about quitting, I feel more comfortable about my decision. :)

    • I don’t think making a decision to quit makes you feel immediately better, but it will come with time. It’s definitely a process. You’re not the only one, and good luck in whatever you decide. Check out the How To Leave Academia website, too — there are some resources specifically for UK folks.

  39. Hi I loved your blog. I am sitting in my windowless office in graduate school right now. My adviser gave me a semester long project that is in reality almost impossible and wants it to be done already 3 weeks into the semester. I don’t know what to do I am totally fucked and I think my PI might fire me soon because this project is not done. If I quit I wouldn’t have any of this crap to worry about. I could be a normal person working 9-5….I don’t know what to do. If I quit not I will still get a non-thesis masters….advice?

    • Geez, Joe, that sounds like a really tough situation. My first suggestion is to contact your university’s ombudsperson and talk to them about this situation with your PI to get some perspective and advice. I would also talk to your school’s counseling service about what sounds like a very stressful situation.

      Quitting is great, but it will not solve life problems, and it brings its own stresses into the mix. Instead of quitting to run away from something, try to think about what you want to move towards, and then ask yourself how grad school fits into that goal. This is what I would say to a friend, anyway. I can’t tell you what to do with your life, I can only offer serious sympathy for a fucked situation and tell you that there’s life on the other side. Keep us posted.

  40. This post has helped me more than you know. It’s nice just to know that this feeling and these thoughts are not unique. I admire your ability to write this and I hope this helps more individuals struggling with their path!

  41. This is my favorite blog post of all time. I reread this whenever I’m feeling freaked out or at sea. Thanks for this!

  42. shawnacgutierrez@facebook.com

    I first want to say THANK YOU for writing so honestly. As many others have said, I feel like you took my thoughts and made them make sense. My situation is a tad different, I’m currently nearing the end of my first year of my masters program in Social Work. I’m 22, married, and do not have any kids. I’ve been very lucky to have my grandfather willing to pay for my education, but it’s leaving me feeling suffocated now. After graduating summa cum laude as an undergrad, I planned to go to cosmetology school because I felt that was my real passion. My grandfather was disgruntled and the fear of making very little money loomed over me. I then decided that social work is what I should do! MSWs can make $50,000 a year, and I love people so no brainer right?! So, after a tad bit of groveling at my grandpa’s feet he offers to pay for my first year of grad school! Unfortunately, although i have good grades, I’m now back to wishing I had pursued cosmetology, and on the verge of dropping out of grad school. I just don’t have the passion I thought I would. I’m done living my life hailing academia, completing useless assignments, and paying for an internship that takes up two possible working days. But how do I say that to my self-righteous grandfather that loves his money more than family and believes one who does not complete what they started academia wise is a failure? This shit sucks and I’m totally in a pickle
    ! Anyone have any suggestions, uplifting words or hallelujahs?!

    • Explore options for cosmetology school? Maybe you could swing something part-time? I wouldn’t base your life choices on your grandfather’s preferences, although I know money matters. I think cosmetology could be creative and fun and much less depressing than social work. If you don’t love it, is it worth it?? Good luck!! Regardless — you’re not a failure for leaving something that isn’t working for you. Listen to the Freakonomics podcast on “The Upside of Quitting.” It will shift your thinking on this.

    • Social Work is something YOU need to love. My old coworker is studying to do it now, and its all she talked about for YEARS. I understand feeling bad because your grandad paid for it, but at the end of the day it’ll be YOUR career and YOUR life, Make the best decision for you.

  43. I’m a late night googler here! I dropped out of a MS program after a year of post-bac work, 1.5 years of full time school, then another 1.5 years of part time school (and work). Now I’m in a PhD program in a somewhat related field (started in August 2012) and quickly decided to drop down to “just” the MA. I have good grades, 6 weeks of a tough semester left, then only 1 required course, 1 elective, and a thesis for next year. I could potentially take both classes in the fall while working on my thesis and leave as soon as I’m done with the thesis during the spring (presumably). But I hate it here. I’m (clinically) depressed, anxious, don’t really have friends, and am about 1000 miles from family and even further from all my friends in the first grad school city.

    I have a bunch of debt from the first program (I was only partially funded and obviously there for awhile), though my current program is fully funded. I feel so torn. Who would want to hire me after quitting 2 grad programs? And what if I eventually wanted to go to school again, in something career specific (not the humanities field of my BA and current program)? I don’t see why a job or school would want me when I’ve quit very far into my programs (75% of the first and 50% of this one). I just feel so stuck!

    Also, even though I’m depressed and anxious, that’s nothing new. I’ve been dealing with these things my entire adult life (I’m in my mid-20s), so it’s not going to magically be better if I quit again. I really don’t know what to do.

    • Just to clarify, I hope you can see the numbers as 1 point 5 + 1 point 5 (not 15 years full and part time in my last program). The font makes it look like 15.

    • That sounds really tough, K. Do you see a counselor or anything? I sympathize, having quit 2 programs myself.

      • Yeah, I recently started seeing another therapist and just got back on an SSRI (stopped because of too many side effects outweighing the benefits). I’ve had trouble finding one I like here in the new city- my last therapist is a tough act to follow. I think I’ve decided to take a break from my program and work back in my home state. It’s really doubtful I’ll come back to finish my master’s here though. Thanks so much for your website giving me the courage to make such a hard decision!

  44. What a lovely post! It helped me feel better about my decision to quit, which took a week in to make (instantly an awful fit) even though I’m giving it a full year. I have trouble fitting in, hate my coursework, my professors are uncaring and unsupportive, my lab is in constant danger of being shut down for funding issues, and I miss my family. My friends. My boyfriend. I miss my LIFE! Rushing in Target to do the math resonated with me. I miss time to just do nothing and unwind.

    Thank you for making a scared soon to be ex grad student feel better at 4a. :)

  45. How can I justify any employer that I decided to quit grad school. This is my biggest concern……

    • Please believe me when I tell you that they aren’t going to care. You don’t have to justify anything. You can simply say you wanted to pursue other opportunities. It’s not a blight on your resume to have left grad school. Most people do leave grad school. Most people think grad school is nutty. It’s not a dealbreaker. Hang tough!

  46. Thanks for this! I too was one of the late night googling “should I quit grad school?” I was in the master’s program and although I do not have children yet, my husband and I have had the worst argument we’ve ever had. He supports me going to school but still wants me to spend time with him and help out around the house some. I spend so much time researching, reading chapters, doing quizzes, writing papers I have spend little to no time with him or my family. I also bring home very little about a hundred a week from a part time position. I love the area of study and want to find a job in the field but I think I started for the wrong reasons. My parents wanted me to go back and I had doubts I could do it in the first place. Intense eight week classes, hours of research and writing paper and450 hours to complete for field placement. Only two weeks left and I have quit. My advisor and professors have begged me to stay but I don’t see if being worth it if my marriage can’t stay intact with the lack of time we spend together and the financial responsibility he has. Fortunately, I have stayed on with my field placement after a person quit part time. My supervisor has left and buy another place and said I could also work there for her part time. I also have a PRN position too. So I am hoping to land something full time soon and get my marriage on track.

  47. Thanks Lauren!

  48. I am so happy to have read this… yet so sad because I cannot have the freedom to quit. I am almost done with my MA and with only 4 months to go… I cannot pull the plug. I can’t get the job I want without the degree. I hate this stress. I’ve gained weight and have terrible bouts of sadness and anxiety. I crave that freedom so badly. I literally feel like I’m dragging my feet. Your post has given me a silver lining though – the feeling I’ll have when it’s all done! Just taking it one day (and sleepless night) at time.

    • Roxy, good luck in the final countdown. I hope you are seeing someone, or even have a support group to get through the last leg of the race. Hang in there!

  49. Thank you so much for your honesty and compassion (I’ve read the entry and the comments). I myself am trying to decide whether or not I should stay. It’s hard to know because grad school is such a difficult process; it really breaks you down, but you hold on thinking that once you get to work on whatever it is you want to, everything will be okay. You can’t go on how it feels because it is uncomfortable for most. I have been in the program for three years now, and I still don’t know. And it’s simply easier to keep going along with the path, rather than figure out how you feel and whether there is something more to your unhappiness than “fatigue” and difficulty.

    Anyway, thank you again for your (lucid!) thoughts on such a difficult period. I wish there were entries out there like this, but I readily agree; people want to draw the line between you and them (for the people who decide to stay), and I believe those who leave just want to forget the difficult chapter. Here’s to those who remember and share!!

  50. I’ve been searching for something like this for a long time. I started to work towards a MA in Higher Education Administration in January. It’ s an online program through my university and I’ve hated it since the beginning. I find it difficult to keep myself motivated about a subject I have zero interest in. I’ve worked at this university for 4 1/2 yrs (3 as an undergrad & 1 1/2 as a full time employee) and I THOUGHT I wanted to work my way up the ladder. There wasn’t really anywhere to go in the first department I worked for (biological sciences) and I knew the only way to get a better job was to get my MA. Around the same time that I started grad school, I did get a new job in another department, the Honors College. The job is exactly what I thought I wanted to do… Only now I hate it. I’ve learned the hard way that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I enjoyed working with the faculty members on a daily basis and learning about their fascinating research and I miss that so much now. But back to grad school. I’m studying Higher Education Administration and I feel no connection to the material at all. I can honestly say, I do not care at all about what I am learning. While working in biology I was introduced to entomology and it really got my attention. I purchased some textbooks and slowly started to teach myself. It will probably only be a hobby of mine (I’m not sure if I would want to pursue it fully) but that’s the thing: I’m not sure. To me that means I could be sure one day & I don’t want to limit myself to something I hate just because I’ve already started it. I’m 23 with no kids or boyfriend and I really just want to explore my options and see what else is out there. Right now, the classes I’m taking are keeping me from doing these things. I cannot go insect collecting with my friends because I have philosophical papers to write over the history of student services… It just doesn’t seem important to me. And I do not have to have my masters to continue doing my job or even move up in the university; especially with the position I have now. What it all boils down to is that I’m confused as shit as what I want to do with my life. I keep struggling with the question “Should I just keep going and finish?”. I’ve noticed a lot of my classmates are fairly older than me and have established careers in their universities. It is clear they need the degree to move up. My parents and friends are supportive of me quitting because they’ve seen how unhappy I’ve been. I would like to talk to my advisor but seeing as I’ve never met the man I feel like he will judge me severely. I just don’t want to regret spending my early twenties on something I’m going to hate for the rest of my life…

    • Jessica,
      At best, he won’t care (this is highly likely). At worst, he judges you, but who cares? You don’t have to deal with him ever again. Sounds like you have all the right reasons to quit this program. Let us know when you are free!
      Lauren

  51. This is amazing. Thank you for this!

  52. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in May, and immediately started graduate school. My thoughts were more than slightly juvenile in thinking that most of my energy would be spent in a laboratory preparing samples, but now I am enrolled in a PhD program and don’t know if I should stay or go.

    I’m also in an engineering graduate program, which I don’t think I want to continue into academia and I’m thinking I may not want to be in research altogether….
    Is it wise to decide in the first semester to or not to decide to continue?

    I made this decision almost blindly, and now I’m feeling embarrassed, confused, frustrated, and defeated. The past two weeks have probably been the most stressful and discouraging times of my life.

    • Hang in there, Braden. I think you can quit at any point you want to. If you didn’t go into it informed, and pretty much hate it, and it doesn’t lead you to a career you really want, then why are you staying? Whatever you decide, I wish you peace of mind very soon.

  53. Thank you so much for this honest post, it is so refreshing to know that I am not alone for wanting to quit graduate school. I just finished my first year, and it was literally the hardest thing I have ever done. Ironically, it was not because of a horrible PI, mine is actually really helpful and nice. It was my own self-pressure, my paranoia, and that same feeling of “I’m not getting enough work done unless I am completely exhausted and worn to the bone”. I created a fictional PI in my mind, one who is clocking in every minute I spend in lab, and one who thinks that I have done nothing all year, even though chemistry produces no results 95% of the time. So, my misery has been my own doing, and I realize now that no matter how much I try to change, it’s not going to happen. I will always be paranoid and miserable as long as I stay in grad school.

    So the kicker of it all is that my husband and I are having a baby in about 5 months, the one thing that I have wanted my entire life. And I know for sure that once that precious baby is here, I will hate grad school even more than I do now. Financially, quitting will not be the best option, but my husband is fully supportive of me raising our child instead of having panic attacks over my research. It hasn’t been decided yet, but just knowing the option exists has given me this inner peace that I hope to have all the time someday. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

    • Congrats on the baby, Autumn, and good luck with your decision-making! Sounds like you have some good insight into whether or not you are cut out for the kind of work grad school will ask of you. Good luck!

  54. I want to thank everyone who has shared a story here. I’ve been following this thread for a long time because I have wanted to quit for six months (or more). I’m 23, unmarried, without children (but I have a boyfriend) and I made the final decision to quit my expensive, ritzy “brand name” graduate program. Not only did I acquire the debt of four undergrad years in one graduate year, I found myself reciting info that the profs were talking about in class. I got As in classes that I didn’t read the books for. Not only that, the subject I claimed as my interest in my “statement of purpose” isn’t what I want to do now at all. I find myself looking at law schools and CPA programs WHILE I’M STILL IN SCHOOL, and I finally woke up yesterday and said “Enough.” I don’t have a plan, and I refuse to continue to squander money to try and figure it out in school. I’m terrified but thrilled that I’m choosing to exit this portion of the rat race and struggle my own way, because I’d rather struggle in a path I choose than continue to beat my head against the wall trying to make a brand name graduate degree fit me. I already feel a huge burden lifted off of me.

    • Congrats, Melody — welcome to the bright side. I wish you luck. Check out HowToLeaveAcademia.com for tons of links and resources as you start this journey.

  55. Thank you! I truly enjoyed reading this.
    I decided to leave grad school. I am a mom of a 7 year old and my husband works 60+ hours a week. The only question now is, when should I quit? I wish I could quit today. I am so miserable and summer child care is extremely expensive and I feel like its a waste of money because I am miserable in grad school to begin with. I could wait 1-2 semesters and leave with a terminal masters. I feel like it might not do much to help me when it comes time to look for a job. Should I quit now or wait to take two more courses to qualify to get the terminal masters from a department that doesn’t have a masters program? (They give the masters to those that quit or are not worthy of the PhD)

    • That’s a really tough call. I did a similar thing with my first PhD program and took the terminal master’s, but I didn’t have kids at the time and I’m glad I did because it has helped with employment. However, it all depends on your field, how sustainable your current lifestyle is, and how beneficial the MA would be for you (how many doors it would open in terms of job/salary). Have you talked to a counselor about it? Or just a trusted friend? Hang in there!

  56. Dear Laura,
    Thank you for your responce! My field is science, and to be honest an MA would do nothing for me. I’ve spoken to multiple advisors, professors and friends that are currently working. I would go into a tech position and be getting paid as a bachelors degree. I think it also looks bad too if the department doesn’t have a masters program, they will automatically know I quit the PhD program.
    I am hoping if I go into teaching it would be helpful.
    Wish me luck. I don’t think I will last much longer.

  57. I feel like I am repeating what has already been said here plenty of times, but it is so comforting to read this post along with all the comments. It’s clear that in many ways grad school sucks, and most of us who are dissatisfied are keeping ourselves miserable due to pride.

    I’ve only completed one year of grad school and am completely burnt-out with it already. My second semester kicked my ass, and it took almost half of my summer break before I started feeling like myself again. I had forgotten what it was like to have fun and not worry about deadlines. Now that I am only one week into my second year, I am filled with doubts. Initially, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I wanted to become a therapist, so I decided to pursue a MSW with a clinical focus. My passion for all this keeps fading. I feel like my heart isn’t in it anymore. I feel like a fake. I feel lost. I don’t know what I am doing anymore. But out of fear of looking like a failure or a quitter, I feel like I am forcing myself to complete my internship and this program. I keep telling myself I am determined to get my degree, but for what? Maybe clinical social work isn’t my passion. Or maybe it still is. I don’t know. My heart is telling me that I need to head down another path, but I am too stubborn at the moment to listen.

    I commend all of you who have had the courage to walk away from grad hell. I suspect that nearly all grad students have secretly had their doubts about what they are doing and why they choose to stay, but few are brave and wise enough to realize that they made a mistake and need to head in another direction. Congrats to you all, and thank you everyone for sharing your experiences so that people like me don’t feel so alone in this!

  58. From “a poor bastard googling I the middle of the night”- literally me last night as I try to decide wether to withdraw from my part time MA due to health problems- Thankyou for this honest and hopeful post xx

    • You’re very welcome. Please check out How to Leave Academia for more resources and support. Our e-book is coming out very soon. You are not alone! Good luck.

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  61. I’m really glad you wrote this and that I found you. I’m dropping out of grad school tomorrow morning….less than two months into the program. It is nothing like I expected it to be and nothing like I was led to believe it would be. I feel very out of place and overlooked. I am nearly 42 and the oldest of the students I am in class with is 28 or 29. They live in a different world. It’s a world without car payments or insurance payments or full-time jobs or sick family members. They have time to immerse themselves in that world and I do not. They have time to prepare papers for conferences and I do not. They have time for reading groups and guest lectures and I do not. They don’t understand my life and I’m too old to live their lives. Regrettably, the program is geared to them and not me. I want to get my masters degree because it will help me professionally, but I don’t know if there is a place for me in that world. It makes me sad.

    • Jason, I’m sorry you feel so alienated in your current program. There may be other options more appropriate to you if a master’s is really important to your professional progress. You might have better luck at an evening/PT program, or even online. Regardless, I wish you the best of luck and wish grad school accounted for real adult lives instead of catering to the carefree. Good luck.

      • Thank you, Lauren. I’m looking at an online program (from a real school, not a “corporate” one). It seems to be better suited to my life and my needs. But, I’m definitely going to do better research this time.

  62. Lauren,
    This is such a great post! I am one of the midnight googlers and am strongly considering quitting my master’s program. My research is going nowhere, I feel so depressed all of the time, and it is starting to affect my health. I am just so nervous about talking with my adviser about it because I cry in very stressful situations and I am scared that I will just fall apart when I tell him about quitting. Do you have any advise for how I can handle this hard discussion? Luckily my husband and parents support my decision fully, but I guess I am also concerned what others will think… and I know I shouldn’t care what others think, but it is still hard not to care. I just thought my grad school experience would be different and I have been unhappy for quite some time. Thanks again for the wonderful post! It has really helped to know that others have gone though this struggle also and I am not alone.

    • Alyssa,
      Thank you for the kind response. I really sympathize with your situation. I was a total wreck between deciding to quit and actually quitting. You might find these entries at How to Leave Academia helpful. How much do you feel you “owe” your advisor? Do you have a close personal relationship? I sat down with my advisor about a month after deciding to quit, when I felt less raw. Jen emailed her committee and that was that. My only recommendation is to talk to him when you have firmly decided you are not staying, and to phrase it as a final decision rather than something you are exploring. Otherwise, you may get attempts to persuade you to return to the fold, from him or from others.

      You are BEYOND not alone. Think of yourself as bailing from the Titanic early on. You’re saving your own life. GOOD LUCK and keep us posted.

      Lauren

  63. I am in a similar situation. I have been working on an MA for the past four years part time. I should have been done last year, but the death of my mother-in-law completely derailed me. I got pregnant a few months after. Now I am facing going back to work full-time next week. I now have the “baby daycare guilt” in addition to the “just finish your thesis guilt”. I could probably write some half-assed thesis in the next two semesters. Or I could quit stressing myself out and enjoy being a mom/employee. Should I do it? Or should I just keep fighting to get it done? This is one of those “I am so close, but so far away” scenarios.

    • As always, I can’t tell you what’s right to do with your life. I just ask you to consider how you want to spend your free time when you’re not at work. And hang in there — your baby will do fine at daycare, even if you don’t! :)

  64. Thank you for sharing. It’s good to know you are not alone!

  65. I am trying to decide if grad school is worth all the stress I am under. The thing that is really hard for me to justify to people is that I’m doing really well: I’m not quit halfway done and still have a 4.0 GPA. But I am HATING every minute of it. Also, I’m in grad school to be a Speech Pathologist and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be a Speech Pathologist anymore. The more I learn about this profession the more I think it’s a bunch of crock. Most of the studies I have read have concluded that trained volunteers are as helpful as we are. So, yeah. My husband doesn’t seem that supportive of me quitting. I’m 31 and won’t be having kids for two more years if I continue with this program. I don’t know what to do.

    • Liza,
      This sounds really stressful. I can tell you feel kind of hopeless right now. All I can say is, I can’t imagine continuing a program I’m not halfway through for a career I think is BS. Have you talked to a counselor through your school? Untangling the personal, family, and professional issues can help a lot when you are trying to decide what to prioritize. It really sucks that your partner isn’t supportive of you quitting, but at the end of the day, you’re the one living through the courses and aiming for a career that you don’t want. What other careers could you pursue? Maybe if you have an “exit strategy” it will be easier to get your partner on board (which is so important!). I wish you the best of luck. Keep us posted on how your decision-making goes!
      Lauren

  66. Just another quitta

    Thank you so much for this post! I recently made the decision to quit pursing a humanities PhD after dealing with a lot of departmental and personal issues. I’m sure just like a lot of departments out there, mine was tiny and the professor was mentally and emotionally abusive to their students – in fact, we had a bit of uprising that turned the dept upside down (but that’s another story for another day).
    My question to you and the rest of the quitta community is: how do I fend off job interviewers who want me to finish? I have decided I still want to work a general area of the humanities within which my discipline lies. Although I’ve been very clear in my recent job interviews about the fact that I’ve quit, a lot of the time, I get the “but you’re so close, just finish” and “if you want to continue in this field, it would really benefit you to finish” etc. (btw these are also from people w/out PhDs). I want to say that I’ve finally been brave enough to walk away from this abusive situation, how dare you ask me to go back! But, I have to answer with tact and politeness, and hope they give me the damn job… What should I do? Also, I am ABD and there are too many years unaccounted for between me getting my MPhil and now, so I can’t just say I got the MPhil and am now in the job market. I’d appreciate any advice or please refer me to other sites/readings that might be helpful! Thank you!!!

    • How do you fend them off? Just tell them you’ll consider that option when you’ve established your professional footing and then once you have the job, beg it off. I mean, if they are going to hire you without finishing, it’s a moot point. Then they’re just giving you advice, which you can take or leave, and leaving it is fine.

      Yes, it is hard to go on the market with what seem to be “empty” years, but surely you did something during that time — research, teaching — that was valuable and is marketable. If you believe they are empty years, your interviewers will, too. howtoleaveacademia.com has tons of great resources on this. GOOD LUCK! Don’t let others cast aspersions on your personal decisions. You made the right call for you.

  67. Lauren,
    Finally getting back to you on your previous comment. I guess I don’t feel like I “owe” my advisor, but I just feel bad about wasting his time and funds… I am currently writing an email to him about the frustrations of my research but I am having troubles finishing it. But I know once this is all behind me, I will feel so much better! It’s just a scary step and I am still confused about what to do. Thank you again for your blog and your support :-)

  68. THANK YOU for this POST. I am exactly the fool of which you speak~ the late night (and in this case mid afternoon) phd grad student snooping around websites…blog posts ANYTHING I can find to help me decide whether or not I should DROP OUT of grad school lol. And at times I find myself wondering,” well I DO have a masters degree!?!” Isn’t that enough for a decent life?! Then I find myself saying…OMG…I should write a book when I drop out called “PhD DROP OUT & FINALLY LIVING MY LIFE ON MY TERMS!” God… I’m one hot mess right now but one who so looooves learning! If only I could get rid of what I feel are internalized fears of failure and stop drinking the “you’ve got to be perfect to succeed” Kool-Aid EVERY bloody grad school so eloquently STUFFS down our throat, nose every cavity quite frankly! Hmm…I’m getting angry again…maybe I need to go read another peer-reviewed academic journal to see if can actually get this diss proposal done (or should I go shopping or volunteering at my nearest social change organization.) UGH! Decisions decision…flagpost or drop out in the making…one thing I know is something’s got to change!

  69. This is a great post, and has been such a refreshing perspective! I’ve been on the fence about quitting, my future, etc., and while I don’t have a huge amount of trouble doing what’s best for me (once I figure out what that actually is), I’ve been surprised by the reactions of some of my fellow grads and grad friends when I mention quitting. It seems that even talking about life outside of school inspires this fear and angst that is somewhat out of proportion.

    • Krista, thanks for your comment. I have definitely experienced that weird, almost superstitious reaction from other grad students/profs when the topic of “quitting” comes up. You might check out the How to Leave Academia website for resources and information as you contemplate your future. Whatever you decide, I wish you the best of luck.

  70. This was an amazing post to come across at the point in my life! I really appreciate you taking the time to write it! I am in my last year of a doctoral Psychology program and I am struggling. Everyone keeps telling me “you are almost there! Light at the end of the tunnel!” But I don’t feel that way. I still have to apply to an internship, interview for one, hopefully get one, spend a year doing that, do a post doc, and then hopefully get a job that helps pay off all my debt? WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF?! I am depressed, not motivated to do anything, and feel the least like myself than I ever have. The worst is that any time I try to bring it up to anyone they are like “you are just having a hard time, you will be fine, you are always successful, don’t quit or anything!” However, it does feel like a huge, scary thing to have made it through to the end and then to decide to quit. So, I am rambling, but what I am trying to say is thank you for giving me a different perspective!

    • Kiely, you are definitely not alone in your questioning! I hope you find the resources at How to Leave Academia and other post-ac sites helpful as you weigh your decision. Thanks for your lovely comment and best of luck.

  71. Oh my! Again, I want to reiterate how thankful I am that a post like this one exists! Thank you x 1000!

    I have my M.S. and moved to start a PhD program. I am in my 2nd year and struggling a lot. The environment is very traditional, and some of my professors say openly sexist things to me. The institution I am at probably shouldn’t be accredited, because even accessing financial aid is a hurdle. Just last night, I finally had the courage to tell my friend over-the-phone that I want to quit. I’m disenchanted with the whole process and immediately felt a sense of freedom (and terror) in saying those words. I just don’t want to be going into debt so I can be insulted constantly. Then, I think of all the knowledge and book-reading I’m missing out on to read sub-par text books. Honestly, my ego is not so in need of a stroke that I’d stick around just for three letters after my name, because that is LITERALLY all I’m getting out of this experience.

    However, my current fears are (1) Paying back my student loans and (2) Finding a job and how to adjust my resumé. Any advice?

  72. Thank you a million times over. I’m finishing my first and last semester of grad school, and I am that middle of the night googler, and your article has brought me peace. Thank you.

  73. Hello!
    I had some similar experiences with graduate school. I left graduate school without finishing. I found that there were many challenges associated with leaving early and have decided to write a book about it. I created a survey that would be really beneficial if you were to fill out. Its not too terribly long, and I would appreciate anything you have to contribute. The survey is here: http://goo.gl/kWxpdv

    Thanks!

    • Bryan,
      That’s cool. You might be interested in our work at howtoleaveacademia.com — you also might include some kind of acknowledgement in your survey that let’s people know/asks their permission to use their stories in your book.

  74. Thank you for the post! I just quit grad school yesterday for so many reasons, but the bottom line is it’s what I wanted. I mulled over the decision for months. Finally decided to start looking for jobs and what do you know?? I was actually qualified for my dream job: Science Teacher! It’s only been a day but I’m happier than ever. I start my new job Monday and it’s what I’ve dreamt of. My advisor wasn’t thrilled and a few harsh words were said, but if it is what makes me happy than efffff that. For anyone who is thinking about leaving, ask yourself: “Why do I want to leave?” If your answer has anything to do with making you happy then do it. Everything happens for a reason. It took me moving halfway across the country and starting grad school for me to realize my true passion. Don’t fret fellow drop outs. The world goes on!

  75. I am so grateful for this post! I have been contemplating quitting grad school and have had so much guilt about it. I work full time and somehow thought that I would be able to manage a full time design Grad Program on top of that, but reality has been hard to swollow. I have had so much guilt about quitting since getting into this particular program was a long time dream. I’ve experienced first hand some of the ‘reactions’ you mentioned (even from my fiance whose attitude has been ‘I wish I was working full time and able to go to Grad school. You are so lucky’). I haven’t pulled the trigger on quitting yet, but am contemplating it very seriously and it helps to know that others out there have made the tough call and lived to tell about it.

    • Justyna,
      Good luck with making your decision. I know that for many, the reality of grad school doesn’t match up with the fantasy of it. You might also like the resources at howtoleaveacademia.com. Good luck!
      Lauren

  76. Lauren,
    I just want to thank you X 1 000 000 for this post. I am so tired of feeling like a sobbing idiot and people telling me that quitting is the easy way out. Your post confirmed that I am not a sobbing idiot and quitting might be healthier for me than remaining in grad school. Anyway, thanks again and thanks to everyone for their comments. I’m glad I’m not alone in this crazy world of grad school.
    Tamara

    • Tamara, never alone. Welcome to the sobbing idiot/happy quitters club. Hang in there — and check out How to Leave Academia!

  77. This post saved my life. Thank you.

  78. I had to quit! Basically, they said I was not good enough to hang in, so I was given my walking papers. I have contemplated every possible aftermath avenue, so as not to appear defeated, demolished and dumb. Thank you so much, as you have expressed many of my sentiments, precisely. Mostly, I am struggling with redefining myself-finding an identity for this “formless” creature that seems not to fit in a particular mold, wishing desperately for a well-defined path and the invisible hand to march me along. Again, thank you!! Really, just a confirmation of my belief in art and the human shared experience, which I believe to be more beneficial than an obscure journal article, laying in wait for someone to scan and paraphrase for the convenience of recycling an idea.

  79. Thank you for this post. You have no idea.

    Sincerely,

    Some poor bastard googling “should I quit grad school?”

    • Sara,
      This is terribly overdue, but I’m glad you found this helpful to you and I hope you are feeling more confident about your choices moving forward. Be sure to check out HTLA for resources — our e-book about quitting grad school is available at amazon.com for $2.99 and is (IMO) great for people in the decision-making stage.
      Lauren

  80. Beautifully written! I went on the internet to look for “permission” to quit my PhD, and I found it here. I’m now more convinced than ever that I want to spend time getting to really know my 15-month old son, and groundbreaking (not!) discoveries on the effects of job satisfaction on job performance will just have to wait :-)

  81. I love you. Thank you. I “quit” two days ago, and I’m still in the emotional backlash. I don’t think I’ll ever be SURE my decision is 100% correct because, well, you know, what might have been and all….but I DO know that finishing the PhD won’t add as much to my life or the career I now desire (different than when I started the journey), and it was becoming just a relatively-useless, bloody-minded endurance trial. It was killing my spirit. Even though I feel like a quitter right now, maybe I need to learn that it’s OK just to be plain-old-non-PhD me. I was ABD and one-hundred pages into a dissertation that I had no desire to finish, and I do not like (read: HATE) the field now and have no desire to do research in it. I’m teaching now (again!), and I love it, and OMG FREE TIME! Plus, I can write what I love. I might pull a second Master’s degree out of it. Meh. Conflicted, tired, exuberant, and squashed all at the same time.

    • Amy,
      I love you, too! Congratulations — I know it’s so confusing. It does get easier. Sounds like you are getting out of a really lousy situation.
      Lauren

      • Thanks, Lauren. I’m still having semi-panic, and I woke up a couple of times last night thinking about it. The litany of “I’m lazy. I don’t finish what I start. I am a failure” was running through my head. It’s amazing how much power the idea of the PhD can hold and how worried I am that I’m “ruining” something. I’ve always done the “next right thing,” and that’s meant lots of school, but I’m ready to make some independent decisions and do what makes my heart happy–that would be the “right” thing for once. I’m fortunate to have a job and stability (I can’t imagine how hard it would be to quit otherwise). Also, I have a supportive family and diss supervisor. Still, though, I wonder when the self-recrimination will end….

  82. I am thinking on quitting my M.S in engineering. I’ve been having suicidal thoughts. My heart hurts. And I have every single minute talking about engineering problems, that I don’t give a damn about. I didn’t want to do this particular engineering, but there were no adviser to do this one. I wish I could get back to my own country and become a stripper. But I’m getting old. And somehow I have to settle in. So I’ll keep going. If my heart bursts or lungs collapse from excessive smoking, so be it.

  83. My post doesn’t make any sense. Oh well.

  84. This was a great blog. I will be quitting. I am tired and life is passing me by. I took a summer semester off and loved it. I was able to truly “see” things, such as flowers, the beautiful blue sky, as opposed to rushing past, racing against the clock, juggling school, work, and family. My brain is cluttered with research that I honestly don’t care about anymore and I am burned out; tired of researching, reading and writing. I am constantly afraid of “doing nothing” even though I have a career. I have somehow convinced myself that loving and living life is not productive. I am choosing to get out of school and get into life. Thank you for your honesty.

    • Ceecee, this is a late response but you are welcome, and I hope you find my blog here and the How to Leave Academia site valuable. Good luck!

  85. I cannot tell you how much your blog, and this particular post, have helped. I made the decision to quit about 6 months ago, although it was a few years in the making. Yet I still haven’t completely come to terms with what this means. Academia defined such a big part of me for so long that it’s been a shock, both for me and those around me. Gradually, I am coming to terms with my new life and I’m missing grad school a bit less everyday. But I turn to your post whenever I start to doubt my decision to quit. Thank you SO much for writing it. You have no idea how much your words help.

  86. I am contiplating quitting, but life is stressful all around me. My parents say I should just put up with it, and the stress will pass. My wife goes back and forth between supporting whatever I do, telling me to just find a new lab to do my phd work, or telling me that I can’t quit until I find another job first, because we need the income (even the measley $900/mo right now helps). And in this economy, she’s right; the longer you’re without a job, the harder it is to get a new one.

    But I’m seriously thinking of leaving. My PI wants me to work from 7am-10pm mon-fri and weekends (over 100 hours per week!). I want to leave work by 5 or 6 and spend the rest of the evening with my kids. My PI has no concept of what it is like to have kids, she even thought it only takes a few minutes to put an infant to bed (and after which I could get back to work)!

    I feel lost.

    • JD, so sorry to hear you’re struggling. I wish you the best of luck in finding balance, peace, and strength to make the choices that work for you and your family.

    • Like you, I felt trapped with no way out. Obviously, I can’t tell you what you should do, but I can tell you that taking decisive action felt so much better than sitting in paralysis. I wish you the best and hope you can find someone neutral to talk to so you can work this out. GOOD LUCK!

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