Somewhere along the way graduate students may begin to assess their desire to complete their degree. The length of the program, the feeling of delayed rewards, doubts about the possibility of landing a tenure track position, and questions about the applicability of your degree outside the ivory tower are just a few of the reasons that prompt this assessment. During my campus workshops, I often get the question: Should I finish the dissertation?

It’s an understatement to say that this is a huge question with ramifications on your personal and professional lives. While no one can answer this question for you, there are a few questions you may ask yourself to guide your decision making process:

  • Where am I in my program? Perhaps you are at a stage in your program when leaving represents minimal risk in terms of money or time spent. I often advise graduate students to complete the necessary steps required by their graduate schools to the master’s degree on the way to the doctorate. Whether you plan to continue to Ph.D. or not, the master’s serves as a great reminder of your accomplishments and helps to mark a significant milestone in your education.
  • What’s going on in my life that might be cause for reviewing my educational decision? Let’s face it, you are an adult with real responsibilities and people to whom you are accountable. The birth of a child, a partner’s job relocation, the need to increase your income, an aging parent who requires your assistance, or a strong desire to engage in the world in a new way can all be important factors in reconsidering whether to complete the degree. Consider if a temporary break from your studies might be sufficient to help you move through to degree completion.
  • Is the degree still aligned with my interests and career goals? Doctoral programs span a good portion of our adult lives taking anywhere between 5 – 10+ years to complete. During this time, your ideas about your preferred lifestyle, career, and way of working may shift. Map out your updated career goals, interests, preferred ways of working, and lifestyle goals to see if the degree is a core requirement for getting there. This process is kind of like doing a personal strategic plan.
  • Have I consulted with a career coach and a trusted academic advisor about my options? A career coach can work with you to assess how your educational status stacks up against your career goals. In other words, they may help you determine how a doctorate may or may not facilitate your attainment of career goals. A trusted academic advisor – and I say trusted* for a reason – may help you think through strategies to complete your degree while making room for developing your new interests and nonacademic career trajectory. *I say trusted because you want to go to an advisor who will at the minimum support your career exploration and point you in the right direction for additional resources. See my earlier post on the role of faculty to help you measure your expectations for how much this trusted advisor can really help you.

A career coach can be an invaluable resource to help you think through these questions, draft a personal strategic plan and support you in developing a career transition plan. It’s important to look before you leap.

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