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"I hope you are prepared to explain yourself." This is a phrase I have heard more than once from the individuals in academia who are more ready to abase than they are to praise or respect your decision.
Why stay somewhere you don't feel fulfilled? We live this world that is trending in self-help, supporting living the life to the fullest, meaningful interactions, building self-worth confidence, doing what you love. So why then, in academia, is it a crime, an act of shame, a depiction of flakiness, lack of drive, inferiority, to do the same?
I left undergrad thinking I knew exactly where I wanted to end up. One degree in environmental studies and biology later, working at two aquariums, in one lab, but also spending my non-academic time working in recreation and athletics and what do I have? Well let me tell you, because I am prepared to explain myself and I won't be shamed for it. I have two incomplete master’s degrees at two different schools, one with failing grades because I left after the drop deadlines and one with a lovely high average before switching into the department I am now in, still succeeding but actually enjoying my time.
You hear about it all the time, you get told by those working on campus in healthcare that the majority of students they see are graduate students, struggling staying with advisors for the sake of finishing, or because they are scared. All for what, a degree they didn't enjoy getting and might not use? I used to struggle with this story, having one program I knew I didn't like almost right away, and the other one that didn't have that realization until a year after starting, a placement and an advisor who I should have seen as red flags from the beginning. I was afraid that people I went to high school with would be like “you haven’t finished yet?” or “you switched again?” I worried that people, because of a degrading advisor, would say, “she has no commitment,” “she can’t stick with anything,” “Academia isn’t right for her,” instead of realizing that this school of thought is a minority in the real world. So what if I didn’t finish something I started? What has always been more important to me is that I value my choices, and consider my own wellbeing and life course, not some standardized path and set of choices someone else thinks I should follow.
What’s more is that, through all those years of working in recreation and athletics on the side, I realized I valued and put more effort into those experiences more than what I was pursuing in academia, so why shouldn’t I focus on what I like to do in my spare time for school> Fast forward almost four years into my master’s degree, and I’m finishing in recreation and leisure studies.
I started over again. I know there are so many grad students struggling with this life, and you need to hear this. You can start over whenever you want, study what you love, not what you think you should at the advice of an old prof or your family, and take as much time as you need to, to get those meaningful experiences studying, solving problems, helping create change. It’s worth following your gut, not your textbooks. How you carry yourself is more important at the end of the day than how many transcripts you have to submit, or how many times you need to explain your decisions, it is your life and story, own it.