Dropping out of my Ph.D.saved my life part II

Wow did yesterday’s post get a lot of conversation going! That was amazing, thank you all so much for commenting! Sharing my drop out story was awesome, felt good. But I wasn’t totally honest. I dropped out only after trying to move programs because my supervisor died.

Ok, let’s back up. So I’m flaming out in my first year of the program and I go to the head of the graduate program and tell her that I am taking a leave of absence for medical reasons. I confide in her and tell her that my supervisor has been bullying and demeaning me and I tell her I want to quit the program essentially because I’m a total fraud who can’t hack it. Do you know what she said to me? Bullshit. She said, “Janet, this isn’t about your abilities, you’re amazing. You need to find a supervisor who will support you and help you get this done if that’s what you want. Don’t quit because of someone else, quit only because you don’t want to do it for yourself anymore”. Wow. Powerful words. So I said to her, ok, I want you to supervise me, can you do that? And she said yes, just change your topic so that it’s in my area of expertise.

So I did. I had a completely new topic (same general theoretical area of expertise), a new committee of advisor, and a comprehensive list. If you’re like what the hell is a comprehensive list, in the second year of a most social sciences Ph.D. programs, students have to pull together a comprehensive list of readings, do the readings, and then write the mother of all exams on them. Once you’ve done that successfully, you can move on to actually write the damn thing. So I had pulled myself together, I was moving forward with a new topic and a wonderful supervisor. And then she died, one day, of a massive brain aneurysm. It was the second loss I’d suffered since my mom died eight years before. It was horrible, I was devastated. And then I realized, it was over. My academic career died with her. I only had two years of funding left, no supervisor, no ability to do my comps and I fled the province.

But even then, I didn’t totally quit. I tried to go back to Queen’s to keep going (foolish). Tried to get a new topic (even more foolish). Tried so hard to cling to the idea that I was my work, my life was my achievement. Failure, even at this point, wasn’t an option. But it was already done. And the downward spiral really started at that point. This was 2003 and into 2004. I can’t tell that story yet, I’m not ready. But if you are wiling to share, please tell me in the comments, how did you survive a big failure? What made you walk away from something so hard? What helped you to leave? What did you learn? I’d love to know. xo Janet

Published by Janet Gwilliam-Wright

Feminist and queer. Professional teller of truths. Slayer of personal demons.

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