Does it help to be PhinisheD when we’re all so PhuckeD?

Given the terrible state of the job market, and the fact that only a fraction of us are actually going to get academic jobs, postdocs, or even a job where you need to have a PhD, why bother finishing at all?  [See also my post on whether it is true that a PhD is a strike against you for employment at community colleges.] I’ve even been starting to wonder whether I should create a version of my CV where I leave my PhD off altogether, just to head off the criticism that I’m over-qualified to be Ryan Gosling’s personal assistant.  (I’m not, Ry.  Dream job!)

I don’t have an answer for any of this, but it’s one of the things that I want to think about.  It doesn’t matter for me personally, I should say in full disclosure, since I finished last June.  And I finished and filed my dissertation in part because I really believed my advisors when they attributed my crushing disappointment on the job market last year (80+ applications; 2 requests for more information; one MLA interview, no call backs, no phone interviews, no flyouts) to the fact that I was ABD.  Then this year, NADA.  So there goes that theory.

I have a great many friends, however, who are starting to look around and think, why bother finishing? And I’ll be honest, there is a part of me that appreciates this: it sort of feels like solidarity.  A good friend called me “the poster child” for everything that’s wrong with the system: I’ve worked my ass off for a decade, have stellar publications, and a great teaching record. I’ve taken every opportunity to better myself– including attending summer seminars and institutes– and I’m having to hang up my hat regardless.  I’m not bitter. In fact, in a sick way, I kind of enjoy being everyone’s cautionary tale.

But should I have bothered to finish?  I should have, yes, but only because by the time I figured this out, I only had about a chapter left to write.  If you’re a chapter or two away, and you have funding, or can write in the evenings and make it work, then maybe you might as well sew it all up.  But if you only have a chapter or less in the can, you’re staring down the barrel of the teaching time-limit, or you’ve already decided that this isn’t for you, then, honestly, why kill yourself to finish something no one is going to ever read?  The truth is, I didn’t really feel any kind of satisfaction upon finishing, I just thought: ‘oh, great now comes the hard part.’  And let me tell you: turning the dissertation into a book IS the hard part.  Writing a dissertation is like cutting out and hauling a block of marble from the bowels of the earth to the light of day.  And as soon as you finish your committee hands you a nail file and says, “great, now carve it into the Venus de Milo.”

I thought I would have the energy to do this when I pictured myself teaching at a Research One institution.  Now that my vision is shifted, and I’m picturing myself writing copy 9-5 for an entertainment conglomerate or teaching a 4/4 at a community college, I’m starting to wonder: who thought it was a good idea to lug this stupid rock up here, and why is it in my living room?  A monument to my wasted, irrecoverable twenties.

I guess it will all be worth it I find it opens doors on the non-academic market.  But right now I’m worried it might just weigh me down.

One last thing: for those of you who are abd and thinking of leaving, here’s another place to commiserate:




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