Choosing a different path

Friday evening a Twitter friend announced she was officially leaving her MA program.

It is a courageous and difficult decision to leave academia, and particularly to leave mid-program. So much time, money, and effort has been invested in the pursuit of a degree, yet so much more investment is still required. Is it worth it? The answer isn’t easy.

To those who choose to leave for a different path, I want to say: Academia, like banking or plumbing, is not for everyone, and it’s ok if it’s not for you. You are not a quitter if you leave. There is no shame in finding a different path that is more rewarding and better suited to you.

Your well-being, health and happiness are more important than any degree. If your degree is not giving you that, then look for a different path. Without health and happiness, what is your degree worth?

Leaving doesn’t mean you don’t care about your field or discipline. It doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to still contribute if you wish.

It’s such a shame.

But she was so close to finishing!

He just couldn’t hack it.

Why on earth would she quit now?

I heard he quit after just one semester!

To those who stay, I want to say: Please think before saying things that suggest shame or failure when someone leaves your programs. Others are listening and internalizing what you say. From faculty, fellow student, friend, or onlooker, comments that suggest it is the leaver’s “fault” they “couldn’t make it” contribute to an unhealthy culture.

Framing it is a the leaver’s fault also obscures the role that academia as an institution may play in that decision. The system is far from perfect, and many good scholars with excellent ideas get forced out or flee from toxic departments before they can realize their goals.

So yes, I applaud those who take the brave and scary step to leave their programs because they know it’s best for them.