Announcement : Off the beaten path

March 18th 2013.
Today I told my research adviser I was leaving my PhD program.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, and I’ve got to thank my friends, mom and dad for their advice, support and love.

I could have gone to pharmacy school, or medical school, or law school, or gotten a job straight out of undergrad but I chose to go to graduate school at one of the top analytical chemistry programs in the world. And now, I’m walking away from it. I had been tossing the idea of leaving my program since passing my candidacy exam, but I could never bring myself to actually do it until today.

I initially came to graduate school because I wanted to be a research professor. Over the last few years, my views of the academy have changed and I’m now finding myself wanting balance above all things. I’m no longer seeking a position as a professor and as a result, I no longer need a PhD.

We are in the midst of an ‘education bubble’ in which far too many people are far too educated. Nature magazine likens the trend of higher education to a ‘Factory’. Currently, there are too many PhDs and no one wants to hire overqualified candidates in this economy. For what I aim to do, industry/real world experience speaks far more than academic titles.

Looking back, I think to myself, ‘why did I stay in the program so long’ (especially after reading this article that was published ~ 2 years ago) and now, it is so clear. I’m not a quitter, and leaving feels like quitting. I’ve jumped through most of the hurdles, teaching, coursework, candidacy exam, and now, all that is left is research. I know some of you are thinking, ‘Puja, this is you! You can do it!’, and I’d agree with you, but it isn’t what I want to do. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

While I was at the monastery, I thought a lot about my choice to leave. There are prevailing winds that have influenced my decision. First, the obvious one is the economy. As mentioned previously, this job market is not keen on hiring PhDs and so getting one will not ensure that I get a job (though, now that I have resigned from my program, some may say I’m crazy to be leaving my program without having another offer on the table)

The other factor that I can’t help ignore is that I want a life; not in 3 years, not in 10 years, but now. The innumerable hours spent in my current window-less, loud, lab environment, lacking opportunities for social interaction aren’t providing me with balance or happiness in my life. I would also eventually like to have a family that I can spend time with, and the more qualified I become, the less time I will have for family life. It is important to get priorities aligned, the sooner the better.

Finally, the ultimate realization that I needed to move on came to me when I was asked, “Why are you getting a PhD” and my reply was, “To have a PhD”. I’m not the type of person to stick around for titles, and I didn’t go to graduate school to play life safe or to go the easy route. I came to graduate school to enjoy the ride of life.

I’ve always wondered if I had the confidence to veer off the beaten path, I guess now, after much deliberation, I’ve decided that it is time that I make my own.


P.S. friends living in the Boston or San Francisco Bay areas… there is a high chance I may be near you soon! Keep your fingers crossed and contact me so we can be friends in Real Life!

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  1. Props to you for taking the plunge, Puja. It’s such a ridiculously hard thing to do, but when you’ve thought about it so much and have a clear perspective on what it is you really want, you’ll look back and realize it was definitely the right thing to do. (That’s how I feel for sure; it’s been just about a year since I told my advisor that I was going to leave, and now I’m in a job that I really like, working with people I really like, living the life I have always strived to have.)

    1. Thanks Vicki! I definitely don’t regret the decision to leave… I just wish I would have had the courage to do it sooner!
      Hopefully I can get employment sooner rather than later doing something meaningful that I love! Thanks again!

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