Yesterday, I withdrew from the doctorate I've been working on for the past 3.5 years. I received condolences on my loss, but none are needed. This is a happy change for me.
I had come to realise that the reasons I entered the doctorate either no longer applied or were not going to be realised by continuing on. With the difficulties I had been having with my supervisor because of her inappropriate comments on my life outside of the doctorate, and her persistently unstable emotional state - swinging wildy and unpredictably from extreme praise to extreme displeasure in the span of a week - it was a relief to realised I need not continue in this abusive relationship.
Having spoken to the powers that be, I found understanding for my position, but nothing suitable as a proposed solution. It was a compromise which would see me working with a panel of academics overseeing my progress which seemed feasible. However, this panel would still include the supervisor who was causing me both mental and physical distress (I was suffering anxiety, depression, migraines, low blood pressure, increased insomnia, stress induced seizures). It was a compromise that would cost me far more than it would cost the university.
At the meeting yesterday, it was suggested that with such a short period of time until I finished, it would be a shame for me to withdraw. I explained that I felt the degree was not offering me the practical skills experiences I had hoped to develop and build on. I had been actively discouraged by my supervisor from writing and presenting papers, or attending conferences after having done these things just once - not attending and presenting at conferences meant no way to network and get the word out about my research. I had not been offered any research assistant or tutoring work.
The head of school told me yesterday that these things were not 'that important' to gaining employment as an academic. This made me laugh. I told him, I had no hope of becoming an academic, that I - and my peers - had been told on multiple occasions that the competition for academic positions was getting tighter. Although I would have a PhD, I would not have experience or publications to back it up. I would not be able to compete with other applicants.
He said there was plenty of work outside the academy, I counter that it was not necessary for creative writer to have a PhD to write or work in the field of writing. He said many workplaces require or prefer applicants with doctorates. Then we returned to square one, me not having publications or practical experience and therefor not being able to compete with all the other applicants with PhDs, anyway.
I told him I am 45 years old and do not have the time to waste on a degree that will not benefit me in the long run. By the time I graduate I would be 47, going on 48. He said there were people in their 70s getting PhDs. I said, 'But they're not working, are they? They're filling time. I didn't enter the doctoral program to fill in time. I entered to become more employable, and this degree is failing to make me so.'
He asked me what work I wanted to do, did I want to be a high school teacher? Honestly, if I had wanted to do that I would have done a degree in secondary teaching. I told him I want a job where I can make a real difference in a person's life, not sit around theorising about writing. There are swaths of industries in which research is paramount; science, psychology, even sociology. Research is not paramount in creative writing (literature, yes, creative writing, no).
Even if I have to volunteer my time to help people who actually do need help, that will be better than volunteering my time to write a thesis no one will ever read. The time to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk has arrived.
Finally, he realised I was determined to withdraw, and so I did.
I already have projects lined up. I will be launching my novel in April, and (thanks to the creative writing I did during the degree), I have 3/4 of another manuscript down on paper (or is it computer file), and will now work on finishing it.
I have completed some training to become a community educator for Guide Dogs Victoria. I have put my hand up to work on a two year exhibition in the city - also with Guide Dogs. I have signed up with a pre-employment course at Vision Australia - just to be on the safe side, because well, we are living below the bread line in this house - considerably lower than we ever have before.
I am going to approach both Guide Dogs and Vision Australia for more volunteer work in the next week.
It's all go here, and I'm already feeling so much better than I have in a long time. Already this year, just in the month of January, feels like it is going to be a great year; getting my manuscript publish, have my teeth fixed, setting plans in motion to live a life of giving.
But this year is not about me. This year is about being present for other people.