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?
My goal is that all grad students and PhDs understand that they have both career options and the tools that they need in order to access the options as needed or desired. So before making what is a huge decision with long lasting ramifications for both your personal and professional lives, consider applying the following questions to your individual circumstance:
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 or not you plan to continue to PhD, 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.
In lieu of dropping your educational goals completely, consider whether a temporary break from your studies might be sufficient to help you move through to degree completion.
Have I maximized the resources that are available to me only as a matriculated student? Have I created enough options for myself during my time as a graduate student to launch a postacademic job search? When determining whether leaving your degree path is the right choice, don’t forget to keep in mind that there are resources available to you while enrolled that will not always be available to you.
Resources exist such as access to internship programs and free or low cost training courses in areas important to your skills building such as Excel, PowerPoint, qualitative and quantitative data analysis tools, and methods courses. These resources certainly add to your educational pursuits. However, keep in mind that they also add valuable professional expertise and experience that will add value to your resume.
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.
If this seems to be the case in your circumstance, consider mapping 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? Such a decision should not be made lightly, and getting advise from someone who can help you see all of the variants is invaluable. 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.
While this decision is one that can only be made by you, it’s important to know your options and consider the variables in order to make informed choices for your life and career.