I had a meeting with one of the professors on my dissertation committee. We met to discuss a draft of my dissertation prospectus, which is basically an outline/description of my dissertation. This person is my favorite professor and is the kind of teacher that I want to be someday. He's intelligent, kind, and encouraging, and he genuinely cares for all of his students. He's the only person who's always believed in me and my work.
When we sat down together to discuss my draft, the first thing he said was, "I don't like this." "This" meaning the draft that I had written. He then gave me a very detailed explanation of what was wrong with my draft. He also said that he had spoken to another member of my committee about the problems in my work. He said that I will most likely have to spend an extra year working on my dissertation.
Needless to say, I was (and still am) crushed. Several of my professors have told me that my work is not good enough. It is true that I am not a budding scholar like many of my fellow grad school classmates are. When we go to lectures that are given by visiting scholars, many of my classmates take notes and ask intelligent questions that demonstrate their understanding of the material as well as their own ideas for how the material could be expanded. Meanwhile, I'm sitting there, thinking, Duhhhhhhh.... I always feel like Homer Simpson in a room full of rocket scientists. Then, as soon as the lecture ends, I always sprint out of there because I am just so damn happy to be FREEEEEEE...at least until the next lecture.
Even though I have not excelled in graduate school, I kept at it because for so many years I thought this was what I wanted. When I was a freshman in college, many of my classmates had specific plans about what they wanted to be. They'd say stuff like, "I'm going to go to medical school and become a doctor." Or they'd say, "I'm going to get my MBA and be like Donald Trump, except I'll have a better haircut." Several of them, however, shrugged their shoulders and said, "I dunno...I guess I'll figure it out later." Three or four years later, several of them were still saying that, only by then they felt a lot more panicked because they hadn't figured it out earlier.
I, on the other hand, always wanted to be a professor. Once I finally started teaching, I liked it a lot, even though it had its frustrations and made my hair start turning white when I was still in my twenties. Teaching is the one job I've had that I've actually been good at, and I've learned a lot from the work and my students. I knew that I couldn't get a tenure-track job with just an M.A. So after working as an adjunct for a few years, I went into the Ph.D. program. And I've been struggling to stay afloat ever since.
One major problem is that unlike most of my classmates, a lot of my time is occupied by part-time jobs that help pay all the bills and expenses that my tiny stipend does not cover. I chose not to apply for student loans. A lot of my classmates did get loans, but my personal opinion is that if you're pursuing a graduate degree in the liberal arts, it's going to take a lot longer and be a lot harder to pay it off then if you were pursuing a degree in a more lucrative field. Frankly, I just didn't want to have a six-figure debt waiting for me when I graduated.
I also do not have a spouse or other family members to rely on for financial assistance; I only have myself. That's why I have to work, and as a result I have had to sacrifice too much time that should have been spent on my studies. And many of you have read about the experiences that I've had at these awful, low-paying part-time jobs, some of them where I burst into tears in front of coworkers and customers, others where customers treated me like their own emotional punching bags, and one where I was so stressed out that I developed a rash all over my arms.
But I kept working, all these years, because I thought I could still succeed at this. One thing that a workaholic hates is wasted time. Another thing that a workaholic hates even more is failure. And I feel like I have failed by not producing work that satisfies my professors, because deep down I know that they're right when they say that it isn't good enough. I feel like I have failed by needing an extra year to complete my degree. I feel like all these years I've spent toiling away have been a waste, because I might not achieve my goal after all. Maybe I should have dropped out of graduate school years ago, but it's too late to drop out now. And I think I would feel even worse if I did.
So I feel sad because I messed up in graduate school, scared because I don't know what to do, and screwed because I don't know how I'm going to support myself during that extra year when I won't have any funding from my graduate program.
Have you ever been in a situation where you failed at your job? How did you handle it?
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