Whenever conversations about me leaving my PhD program arise, I tend to say the following things:
- It wasn’t the right program. It wasn’t going to help me get to where I wanted to go and I realized that what I was trying to accomplish and the way I was trying to go about it were not in sync. I could not have been the first person trying to “fix” our school system. There is a reason that those before me have not succeeded in any way that has been truly impactful. I would soon learn about Horace Man, the Prussian model, and The Carlisle Indian Industrial Institute. I would soon reflect on the timeline of education in the United States and come to conclusions that I won’t go in to detail about here.
- It wasn’t the right location/school maybe. Midwest winters and predominantly white college towns were just too foreign and uncomfortable to me. No way I could suffer that for 5-6 years.
- My internship wanted me to complete a task that I didn’t believe in. (Deliver a racist and classist assessment to a student to determine if he’d be able to transition from his school for students with behavioral and learning sturggles into a …normal(?) school.
- Now, it should be said that me aiming for a doctorate degree was all about membership and credential. I never cared about the process of being in grad school. I merely wanted the end result because that would make me an authority on a subject. I’d appear more credible and it would be easier for me to navigate certain spaces and eventually open a school. None of that was necessarily true. It was just my assumption. Of course I know now that none of that was necessary. Plus, that attitude or mentality is just not good fuel for being in grad school. My motivation or morale was never going to last that long as I had been burnt out on the meaningless trophies that come with ending a new tier of education. Again, it was all about membership, the access. Never cared for the journey. It is commonly said and joked about how gruesome and life draining these programs already are. What I’ve experienced is the tendency to make light of a culture of severe stress and mental fatigue which I think is sick and not okay to accept as the status quo.
Sure, being in the right program and not being exposed enough to my people were real problems that affected my choice to unenroll but that’s not the whole story.
I also withdrew because I was experiencing severe depression and suicidal ideation. It was crippling. My ability to focus on or commit to the work was shot. I also didn’t believe in the work and it didn’t interest me. I thought some assignments were, for lack of a better word, dumb. I felt everything was underwhelming. But also, the depression. How could I focus? How could I be motivated? How could I be interested or successful in anything with worsening attention deficit, some untreated and unspecified reading difficulty, and worsening bipolar with anhedonia all hitting me at once. That’s why it was the coldest winter ever.
I had also made a promise to myself at the end of my junior year in undergrad. I had decided that I was going to grad school BUT if the experience was the same underwhelming routine that undergrad and the prior 13 years of schooling was, then I would leave. I couldn’t take that process anymore. Wasn’t feeding me.
So yes, I only wanted a PhD but didn’t really want to be in a PhD program. Yes, the town was just too white and too cold. Yes, the program didn’t align with my ultimate mission. And also, my mental health plummeted to a crippling place.