Why I Switched Doctoral programs

A story of buyer’s remorse

Not too long ago, I was caught up in the whirlwind of applying to Ph.D. programs, waiting what felt like an eternity for decisions and experiencing the anxiety of choosing between programs that best fit my interests. Hours turned into days of deliberation, soliciting advice, and finally making a decision.

I encountered a few difficulties during my first semester — some of them familiar to most Ph.D. students and some I could never have anticipated. By the end of my second semester, it was clear that the program wasn’t the right fit for me. I won’t delve too deeply into any specific experiences, but some things weren’t lining up.

First, I disagreed with the way the university policed our language and what we wrote about. Second, my cohort and some of the faculty seemed angry, self-righteous, and lacking in intellectual humility. Third, I felt betrayed that I had applied to a Women’s Studies program that was changed to Gender Studies one year later.

The rise of women’s studies programs in the 1970s and the “women-centered” approach most university women’s studies programs and classes promoted is quickly disappearing, if not entirely gone already. The shift of women (objective) to male-centric “gender” (subjective) studies meant that I was now spending tens of thousands of dollars a year to be in a program based around hyperbolic ideology, not fact-based analysis. I arrived at the party after the last call.

Research suggests that is primarily due to systemic issues at institutions, despite the engaging narrative that there must be some deficiency in departing students. Many programs suck, but applying all over again to different schools can be daunting.

I finished two years of my schedule before I dared to say No More. And it took me a whole year to apply, get my documents notarized (the joys of being an ex-pat), sent off, approved, sent somewhere else, sent somewhere else again before I was finally accepted into a shiny new program on a shiny new continent.

I didn’t apply to another Women’s Studies program. Still, I did manage to find a similar enough program that allowed me to continue my doctoral research and saved me thousands of dollars each year in tuition. Talk about a win-win!

I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Unlike changing your major as an undergrad, changing graduate programs can be a challenge, and it’s really not encouraged.

Even under ideal circumstances, you may be required to forfeit hard-earned academic credits and some of the rapport you have built with faculty members and other students. But remember, if you dropped out, this would most likely happen anyway. The key here is to perform a thorough cost-benefit analysis, reflecting honestly on why you started the doctoral process in the first place, what you need to be successful, and what your goals are.

That said, why spend four or more years of your life pursuing a degree that you’re not passionate about?

The whole point of graduate education is learning more about the one subject that excites and inspires you. So if you’re not in a program that does that for you, and you’ve realized that another degree path does, then you should consider switching programs.

I’m literally only doing a Ph.D. because I have a passion for learning. I am child-free by choice and have the finances and drive to dedicate to a doctorate — this is my version of having a child! An expensive, annoying child who causes me vast amounts of pain and sleepless nights for 5 or 6 years.

Finally, you need to take into serious consideration your mental health.

In the end, changing programs ended up being the best choice for me.

Published by Jaclynn Joseph

Hawai’i born PhD student and university lecturer. Devourer of books, amateur historian, travel junkie and educator. A curious mind in search of the rational.

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