I was just thinking…

I think I would like to work for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. I would probably need a PhD, though, and by the time that happens, who knows what they’ll be researching.

A post of some substance? Perhaps?

I haven’t been writing here much, and for no good reason, so for that I apologize. The last few weeks have been busy while not being especially productive. I need to remedy that.

I had a good meeting with my adviser two weeks ago in which I told her that I’m planning to leave the PhD program. She was quite kind and receptive, and said that she agrees that this is the best decision for me right now – and not for lack of skill or intellectual ability, just because I’m driven in a different direction right now. I need to get my stuff together for a CAS application this week.

I weighed myself yesterday after yoga and apparently I’ve lost 5 pounds? I’m not sure how, as I’ve been delinquent on both the gym front and the eating better front, but apparently what I’ve done is making a difference. I went to yoga yesterday for the first time in a while, and it was good and challenging, and I was able to do things I haven’t done before. That’s the case almost every time I go, which leads me to believe I should just go more often. Now that it’s nice enough to ride yellowbike, I’m hoping to get there (and the gym) more often.

We’re off to Boston for spring break in a few days, which will be great. I don’t know what all we’ll be doing other than hanging out with Sonya and Jason and kicking around, but I’m excited about visiting a new city with SB.

Just had brunch at Escobar’s, newly open in the ever-expanding downtown Champaign area. Let me tell you – if SB and I had taken the apartment affectionately referred to as “Basil Does Chicago”, we would’ve been here all the time. The food was fantastic without being overly heavy or grossly filling, which is something I really appreciate in a brunch. I’ve heard it’s quite loud in the evenings, but it was quiet and lovely for brunch with friends.

Right now I’m at Cafe Paradiso, ostensibly working on my syllabus for Leigh’s class, which has turned out to be every bit as great as I’d hoped. The class – not my syllabus. For this assignment, Leigh wants us basically to put together a syllabus for a class we’d want to teach. I really feel like I don’t know enough about anything to actually teach a whole course, so I’m reusing/rethinking classes I’ve taken and worked with. It’s an interesting challenge.

I stumbled across this article this morning. It’s all about the economics of PhDs – rather, it’s about the total glut of PhDs on the market, in comparison with the relative lack of growth in demand for PhDs in tenure-track jobs. It’s not a happy thing.

I should be doing work-work, but right now I can’t wrap my head around it, so I’m going to write here for a few minutes.

I had a long, good, helpful conversation with a friend last night that really helped me to examine a lot of my questions, struggles and frustrations with the program. She told me about her own experience being heavily courted for the program, and how it immediately wasn’t what she expected or wanted. She’s now in the dissertation proposal phase, and feels it’s really too late to turn back, but encouraged me to deeply consider my options both here and elsewhere, and not be overly swayed by other people’s ambitions or goals or plans for my own career.

Every hour that I spend in class leaves me feeling more frustrated, angry, and confused about why I’m here. I am, as my friend said, learning more about my interests by doing my job than I am (or would be) from sitting in classes where I’m told how other people think my job should be done. I’ve had a fundamentally awesome working experience since joining the program in 2005; my experience in my courses has been much more mixed. Some classes have piqued my interests, and others have left me wanting to bang my head on a wall. When I first weighed my options – PhD or professional job – I was sold on the idea that if I went straight into a job, I would miss out on the opportunity to do interesting research and to continue to learn. That has not been the case – though I do know that my job situation is somewhat exceptional.

In all honesty, I feel like I’d be better able to do my job if I weren’t trying to pursue this degree. I’d be able to be a better partner if I wasn’t stressed out all the time about classes. I’d be better able to take care of my body if I didn’t come home from work completely drained with a pile of reading ahead of me. I remember calling my mom at about this time last year and crying with frustration because my body was manifesting a bunch of stress-related problems – and she said that I might just have to make the choice between getting a PhD and being healthy.

I don’t know what I’ll end up doing in the weeks and months to come, but I’m thinking long and hard about all of this. Last night’s conversation left me in a place where I think I’m comfortable with whatever I decide. There are a lot of things that make this decision difficult, but most of them aren’t related to the program or the degree at all, and those are things I need to keep in mind as I weigh my options. Thank you for your patience, friends.

So the big news of the day – or, rather, the big news of five days ago, except I was too busy to find out – is that my house sold. Unfortunately it sold at foreclosure, not through a realtor, but the point is that it is gone. This is such a blessing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that despite the discrepancy (mostly interest and fees) between the payoff amount and the sale amount, the bank doesn’t intend to pursue this debt. My credit is pretty messed up, but the good news is that it can only get better from this point. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Today was the first day of class for me, and I’m hoping this will be a better semester. I certainly hope so, at least. In my introduction in one of my classes, I laid out pretty much all of my insecurities, explaining that I wasn’t sure that I’m in the right place, but I’m trying to learn what I can to apply back to the work I’m really passionate about. I said that I’ve thought about quitting more times that I’d actually like to admit – and the professor was unfazed. So, I’ve got that going for me.

Between bouts of stressing out, I had a couple of nice conversations with friends, and I spent the evening on the couch with a beer and Julie and Julia, which I enjoyed. SB and I had a quiet weekend, but this week we’re back to opposite schedules, with him working late and then reading later, and me up early for work. I hope we can work out a schedule for the semester that will allow time for work and exercise and homework and meals and that will put us in bed at the same time on occasion. We’ve been living together for the better part of six months, and I’m afraid I’m terribly spoiled.

It is no secret that I’ve had a hard semester. I was initially signed up for four classes, but I dropped two within the first month of school, shortly after I took my full time job. The two remaining classes represent the last four credits needed towards my masters, and the first of two required courses towards my PhD. Saying that I’m struggling in these courses is an understatement. Saying that I hate my courses wouldn’t be an exaggeration. With a few weeks left in the semester, I’m trying to pull my stuff together to finish up two courses and NOT drop out of grad school. I am so burnt out and discouraged right now – and I hate it.

A year ago I was so excited about the possibility of continuing on in grad school – and now the PhD program seems like something to which I’ve shackled myself. I love my job, but right now things are very stressful, and having to come home and keep working makes getting up in the morning and doing good work even more difficult. The easy solution, of course, would be to drop out. The better solution, I think, is to keep going, get through the rest of this semester, and then take it easy for a semester or two until things calm down at work – while taking courses that will keep my options open even if I don’t decide to follow this path through to the end.

Before I started grad school, I had a conversation with my mom’s best friend from high school – now a post-doc at the JFK School of Government at Harvard. She shared with me a number of impressions of why people pursue degrees in higher education – beyond the stock “to get ahead in their field” sort of answer. She said she thought a lot of people did it to prove something, to assuage feelings of inadequacy, or to do both by accomplishing something they never thought possible. She said she pursued her PhD for some of the above – and to be better equipped to do her part at “saving the world”. I don’t know if I really know why I’m doing this – besides the feeling that I’m not done growing in this area.

Last week, following a particularly awful day of class and work, I had a crying fit after burning the pancakes I was making for breakfast. It was yet another “you’re a big screw up” message in a long week of the same, and it was just too much. I told SB, between sobs, that I just want to help people, and that I didn’t understand why it had to be so hard. Is pursuing a PhD going to help me with this goal? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.

I’ve spent this afternoon brainstorming on one of my final projects – a large paper due in a couple of weeks. At the beginning of the semester, around the time that I really started getting frustrated and discouraged, I got into an argument in class about organizational schemes. We were talking about the rise of the alphabet as a standardized means of organization. I wanted to know why the alphabet, whose alphabet, and why not something else? I made the caveat that perhaps I was thinking too 21st century – I’m used to tools like del.icio.us and connotea, which use the alphabet but rely on user-input tags for organization. This led me to wonder about other historical organization schemes, which led me to the Cotton Library. Right now, though, I’m trying to fill in the intervening centuries, and I’m not sure where to look.

This has been a very difficult semester for me. It’s my first as a PhD student, though I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes. Expectations are higher at this level, though the work isn’t substantially different yet. I know I should be doing more – I’m expected to be doing more – but I’m really struggling to find the motivation to do the bare minimum. Am I in the right place? Yes. Am I working on interesting things? Some of the time. Am I pursuing the right goal? I really don’t know.