bad decisions

09Feb08

What do you do when you finally allow yourself to accept the fact that you made a bad decision about the graduate school you chose to attend, particularly when it’s too late to fix the situation?

I should never have come to this institution for graduate work.  My work straddles a few regional, national, and thematic fields which the faculty here covered extremely well at the time I was making the decision.  But my advisor was on leave my first year, the potential four faculty on the crucial geographic region where my work focuses vanished, and scheduling problems made it impossible to take the thematic courses I needed as well as the third geographic focus I intended to have.  A more prepared student would have realized the problem before it spiraled out of control and set up reading courses with professors or found out what courses nearby universities were offering (and by nearby I mean about an hour and a half away).  But I wasn’t that student; I had no idea what I should have been doing and no way of knowing that I was headed down a disastrous path.  Needless to say, qualifying exams were an emotional and scholarly disaster; I passed but I can’t talk even remotely intelligently about one of my fields, a field that I will certainly have to teach.  This week, I found out that my advisor is teaching a course that is critical (I repeat, critical) to my work and my eventual teaching during a semester when I will be doing research and there’s no way I can or will return just to get this material.  Today I found out that a course I was going to sit in on this semester that would have given me more thematic coverage just got cancelled.  I don’t think it’s possible for things to have gone any more disastrously and since I came to graduate school with so little previous knowledge about my field(s), I really desperately needed to be in a program where these vast gaps got filled through six or seven related courses.  And yes I know that I’m training to be a scholar so I should be teaching myself this stuff and I agree.  But when there are five major gaps to fill and only about two and a half years left in my program (years when I’m researching and writing a dissertation), it’s hard to see when or how I’m going to get this done.

There’s also nothing I can really do about the situation:  I’ve devoted too much of my time to quit now.  I have a dissertation topic that I like and I’m about to embark on my research trips.  The course work phase of my life is done.  But the longer I’m here, the more I realize how much I don’t know and how much I need to know and should already know.

What makes this all worse is the fact that I always knew that coming here was best professionally but not personally.  Even though I knew the other school in question was a better personal fit, I made the decision to come here and remained happy about it because the professional payoff seemed so obvious to me.  Now that I realize the professional payoff hasn’t materialized, something I’ve subconsciously known for a while but never wanted to admit, it makes the fact that I’m unhappy here a more bitter pill to swallow.

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3 Responses to “bad decisions”

  1. oy. that really sucks. I don’t have any advice, just sympathy.

  2. 2 whitheramp

    ah, i didn’t know you were feeling like this. not to downplay the problems you mentioned, which i think are serious and you’re right to be concerned. But the fact remains that you’ll have time to pick up the slack. someone we both know just got a job in a field (science studies) that he’s read in, but by no stretch of the imagination would he say he’s an expert (he definitely didn’t do an exam in the field). and it’s a pretty good job at a large research uni with a phd program. he’s in anthro, not history, and there are differences of course, but it’s at least one example of someone who has been pretty successful without actually being a specialist in the field he got hired into. so, i think there’s always room to go, especially for those of us who haven’t been working in the same field for the past 8 years, undergrad through grad.

  3. 3 thefrogprincess

    whitheramp, you haven’t missed anything. i felt like this during exams but it had died down afterwards. it’s just in the past day that this came back. we should have coffee sometime soon to discuss!


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