Why I left my PhD
Two years of work, and a decades long love affair has just ended for me. It sounds very dramatic. Too dramatic perhaps, but equally this feels like a very dramatic moment in my life. For those that didn’t know — I had just started my PhD in Renaissance History. I was going to be a scholar, all tweed jackets, strong coffee, and gloomy days in the great learning institutions of the world. And now I am not.
The reasons I left aren’t complicated. In fact they’re terrifyingly dull. Money, stress, and relationships. It was a gamble to start something like a PhD right now. Economic crisis, distant wars, and political turmoil here in the UK reminded my dreams — and those of many others — that time waits for no man. I am not a man who cries, and yet I find my eyes welling up now, though decades of reflexive inwardness refuse to let them fall.
Do you want to do a PhD?
I won’t tell you what to do if you’re thinking of doing a PhD. Even though mine didn’t work out, that means absolutely nothing to you and that’s how you should see it. My experience will not be yours, nor will yours be the next persons. A PhD is by virtue of what it is, unique, as is everyone who does one.
I’m not going to bombard you with statistics either. In the words of the great Han Solo, ‘never tell me the odds.’ Because, odds be damned, many people finish their PhDs, succeed, and go onto successful academic and non-academic careers. Like every doom story we see in the world, there is a positive counter. PhDs are no different and we should focus more on the positives. Generations across the ages share few things in common, but a belief we’re in the end times is one of them, and it’s because we focus too much on the negatives. We sweat the details and fret over stars that pay us no heed.
If you want to do a PhD, do it. But ask yourself, seriously, why do I want this? It was a question I didn’t fully answer because I’m simultaneously a very inward person who hates to self-reflect. If you’d asked me, I’d have said, ‘because I want to teach, to spread knowledge, to enlighten people’s lives.’ That’s true, but it’s not the whole truth.