Do I Stay or Do I Go?

Weighing the options.

May 21, 2013

Earlier I wrote about my dilemma about applying for Doctoral programs, and you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to hear how it all turned out. I eventually applied to three Ph.D. programs in Women’s Studies – just to see if I could get in.

And then? I was accepted to 2 out of 3 programs and was suddenly faced with an entirely different dilemma – what do I do now? I had spent remarkably little time considering what to do if I were actually offered a position in these programs; as I was fairly certain it was inevitable that I would simply receive 3 rejections.

This belief didn’t stem from a false sense of self-modesty, I was merely being pragmatic. My position at as Graduate Studies Officer meant that I saw the grades of all graduate students, as I performed their final degree audits. I saw the students in my own program receive much higher grades than I did, and while a final GPA equating to an A- was still acceptable – it was certainly not outstanding in comparison.  

So while my grades were acceptable, I certainly didn’t approach my applications with an overwhelming sense of confidence. However, I really enjoyed the process. Researching potential programs, preparing research proposals, receiving the advice and support of my referees was really interesting and gratifying. But then I received my acceptances and had some hard and unexpected decisions to make.

But it all seemed to come together with surprising ease. There was a clause in my contract that allowed me to request a leave from my job for the two-year residency period of the program, and more importantly, the Vice-President was willing to approve the request. I consulted with my realtor who was confident that I would have no problem either selling or renting my condo, and I had friends willing to let me live with them during my residency.  

Administratively, it seemed I would have no trouble accepting the offer(s). But I had other, more personal and emotional, concerns that gave me pause. And it was while I was trying to sort those out that I experienced some unexpected side-effects to what I had believed was an individual choice. It seems that other people were just as invested in my decision as I was.

When speaking with one individual about my quandary, she attempted to be helpful and lay out the pros and cons. (The situation would have been laughable if I hadn’t found it to be so distressing at the time). She hypothesized all the reasons I would decide to actually go, and what it would mean, and the ramifications etc. This went on for a couple of minutes and it all made good sense. And then she turned to “and if you decide not to go, it will be because...”

Insert long pause and crickets chirping.

She couldn’t come up with anything. And while she tried to gracefully cover this up, the point had been made. She couldn’t figure out any reason why I *wouldn’t* go. And why should she? She had her Ph.D., she had made the decision to pursue this life, and couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t follow the same path. And this was essentially the same response I received from everyone I spoke to within the academy. Whether they had their Ph.D.’s or not, everyone either implied or outright stated that I should; nay that I would go.

The conflict for me came from the fact that there was no right or wrong decision. There was nothing bad either way. If I went, I would have a plethora of challenging and rewarding experiences, and eventually a new credential. However, if I stayed, I would be continuing with a job I loved, supporting an aging Father who was concerned about my potential departure, and not leaving a partner I adored, and the rest of my support system.

In the end? I decided to turn the opportunities down. If you’re curious why – it’s essentially because I realized that I didn’t want to immerse myself in professorship for the rest of my life. I recognize both the difficulties and prestige inherent in the position, and it wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to embrace that as a career.

And while I recognize that this was the right decision, I am still grieving the loss. I enjoy being a student, and having the opportunity to immerse myself in study for a few years would have been really fantastic.  But I’m still hopeful that I can find other ways to challenge myself academically, without having to study for comps on top of it.

Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada

Deanna England is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.





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