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should i quit my PhD? - LONG!

(7 Posts)
Brodicea Fri 22-Nov-13 12:07:24

I've been working on the PhD (Cultural Studies) part-time since 2009, with a one term interruption in Autumn 2012 due to a terrible spell of Social Anxiety. I upgraded from MPhil in the Summer of 2012 and am now meant to be writing-up. I'm currently 16 weeks pregnant and about to move to a new city.
I feel so sick and tired of my topic, so drained and dissillusioned with the process and academia in general (I work part-time in admin at another uni so I kind of know how stressed and pissed off so many academics are) that even receiving an email about the PhD, or the uni makes me feel like I'm about to have a panic attack.
Everything was going really well with it until after the upgrade. In the upgrade panel they suggested a few different approaches to sharpen the theory, but basically upgraded me because I had done so much work and research.
Each year we have a progress review panel so in the 2012/13 panel, they ripped me to shreds saying it would never pass in its current trajectory. So, back to the drawing board, I came up with a new theoretical approach, with some help from my supervisors. However, I am now finding it incredibly dull and very far removed from what I wanted to do. My main supervisor suggested I return to the case studies and write them up so at least I had the research 'findings' done and they'd helpe me negotiate the theory.

I'm finding:
- the more I do, the less I actually know if there is anything worthwhile to say in the thesis.
- I hate writing academically, and I find I can't even put a sentence together any more. My upgrade was so much better written than anything I have done since.
- I know I don't want to be an academic in the usual sense, although I have toyed with the idea of being a research assistant and getting into research from there
- I hate my topic, the cultural moment for it has passed, I don't care any more
- I hate all the narcissism in academia, the cliques and the reliance on networking messes with my Social Anxiety
- I love other areas in my life so much more like creative writing and music!

- I've put in all this time, and gathered all this research - what a waste!
- I'd feel like a failure sad
- what the hell else will I do but stay in office jobs? (I would actually like to train as an archivist)
- With a baby on the way I would be limiting my prospects and probably remain as intellectully frustrated as I had been before

I had thought I'd suck it up, get it finished and written and think about what to do with it afterwards, but I'm finding each bloody word so hard going that I wonder if I should just quit? I had an email from one of my supervisors today and I just felt sick.

dotty2 Fri 22-Nov-13 14:30:57

Sorry to hear you're having such a tough time.

I am in the process of writing up (full time - have done three years and am now in the first term of my writing up extension) and today I am really, really not enjoying it, but I have my ups and downs. I am in a related field to yours and am writing something which relates to my former area of practice. I like the empirical stuff - my interviews, my fossicking in archives, but more or less hate the theory. I have, I hope, done just about enough of the theory to get by.

Some random quick thoughts (not much time now), which may or may not help

-PhDs don't have to lead to jobs to be worthwhile. I don't think I necessarily want an academic career either. Maybe separate thinking about your future career from thinking about the Phd and whether to finish or not? Would seeing it as an end in itself and a worthwhile achievement in its own right help? Definitely separate your achievement from all the narcissism and nonsense - you can have something to say without being part of that.

-Read something that you really like and that's written in a voice you can relate to, and then write a paragraph or two in a similar style yourself. You have to find an academic voice, it's true, but there's no point aping a style you think is absurd.

-You do have something to say - it's just that you are too close to it to see what the interesting/revelatory bits are.

-If something was worthwhile, the cultural moment for it never really passes - you just need to find a slightly different lens - e.g. why did that seem so pressing then, what did it say about the times?

-You're pregnant! You're about to move house! Both these things are stopping you thinking clearly, cut yourself some slack.

Really have to get on now, but happy to chat more later. Hang on in there.

Brodicea Fri 22-Nov-13 15:19:01

Thanks dotty those are some good points. I'm going to take a couple of days then read something I like and then have another think - I may get back to you!

dotty2 Fri 22-Nov-13 15:21:33

Sounds like a plan!

dotty2 Fri 22-Nov-13 18:30:15

I felt like I should add a further message because when I clicked on 'Threads I'm on' this read rather badly. 'Should I quit my PhD?' 'Sounds like a plan!' - come to MN for friendly, supportive advice...grin

Brodicea Fri 29-Nov-13 09:29:59

Ha Dotty, you big meanie wink

One resounding phrase that keeps going around my head is 'this one life' - I'm just not sure if I want to spend another moment spending my time on what feels like a largely pointless exercise. Since I decided I don't like academia the 'carrot' has gone.

I used to be in a band, and I miss music so much. I guess I feel with the baby coming that I should be doing what I enjoy in life - putting out music on soundcloud, maybe performing again, seeing friends and relations, going for Sunday lunch instead of studying alone in my room, earning more money in my existing OK career (work part-time ATM).

The things that stop me short now, are thinking about what I have found out and how I can communicate it to the world. Would a blog be lame, or self publishing? Would it help my credibility as an amateur if I did have a Phd?

The sytle I love is Walter Benjamin, I love his writing, but it just doesn't tick the theoretical boxes my department seem to want. Maybe I can blather on about that in some other sphere.

I'm going to talk it through with a few people over the weekend, think about turning in my next chapter and maybe ponder over the festive period. I'm on a January intake so I'll have to commit to re-enrol then in any case...

dotty2 Mon 02-Dec-13 10:21:35

'This one life'. Mmmm. That's a very powerful thought - maybe if you've really got to the point where even another minute seems a waste of it, then it is time to call it a day. In general, though, I think people tend to regret things they've given up, more than those they've stuck at, but of course it's not an absolute rule.

I have a friend who has worked ever since graduating in various commercial sectors utterly unrelated to her (niche) academic interest, but who did a part-time OU PhD and who manages to keep a toehold in the academic community by giving conference papers, writing book reviews and occasionally publishing papers. I suppose it's her hobby, in the same way that some people can do music or sport to a very high standard but not see it as a career. So it's not impossible.

Can you find some more recent theorists who respond to Benjamin in an interesting way - and see if there's one that doesn't seem alien to your ways of seeing and thinking? Just a thought - I'm using some writing by Paul du Gay where he draws on Weber as a way of being able to use some Weberian concepts without (I hope) seeming theoretically naïve.

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