I have a colleague at work who sometimes drops by my office, to bounce off ideas or simply to ask for advice. As we are the only two Asian women in the English department full-time faculty pool, it’s understandable why.
This time, she swung by my office after an afternoon English committee meeting we both attended, and even though she apologized for still keeping me from going home, I waved off her apologies, saying, “No, no, I’m fine. Go ahead.”
She’s currently going through a PhD program in Rhetoric, being (if my memory serves me right) about a couple of classes away from finishing her coursework and then taking her Comprehensive Exam. But in her current class, she felt the odd-one-out — the only Asian woman, as well as being a part-time grad student since she was working full-time. In defending a position that she had in her class, she realized that everyone went silent and just looked at her, as if they had never seen such a phenomonon before.
To say the least, it was unsettling for her.
I could commiserate, and I did. “Sometimes, all you can do is smile and nod,” I said. And then I related the story of a fellow doctoral student of mine who, after completing all of the coursework and passing Comps, had turned to me one day and said, “I don’t want a PhD anymore.” Then she dropped out, in order to pursue her dream of being a documentarian of women’s issues, heading towards Washington DC to do so.
That was over seven years ago.
The story was a response to my colleague’s musing, of why she was even going for her PhD in the first place. Career-wise, she didn’t need it, as she already had a full-time and secure teaching position in the community college. Really, she just liked being a student, taking classes that piqued her interests and flexed mental muscles that weren’t taxed on the job. But juggling classes and work was tiring her out, and in-class graduate politicking was the last thing she needed.
And so I related the story of my friend, the doctoral dropout, and gave pretty odd advice from a PhD — that it was okay to drop out of the doctoral program, if that really wasn’t what she wanted to do.