What should I do?


Hi, I hope I’m posting in the right forum. I’m a newbie so please forgive me if not. Anyway, I’m struggling trying to discern the right path. Let me give you some context. I’ve been in graduate school studying international relations since 2009 (so a long time now!). When I entered my Master’s program I thought I had found my true calling. I would get my PhD and become a professor. Part of the reason is that I enjoyed studying and research. The other part is that I thought I would achieve prestige and respect by getting a doctorate. Sort of like, “look how smart I am!” kind of thing. I imagine I’m not the only person in grad school with this in mind. So, I finished my MA in 2011 and I’m now a PhD Candidate (working on my dissertation). I also got married in 2011 and now we have two children. I’ve been struggling with the dissertation, and part of the reason I think is that my heart may not be in it anymore. This is difficult because my family and I have invested many years, financial resources (lots of debt), and personal sacrifices for this. I also did very well in my program and received substantial funding. It’s hard to think of just leaving it all now after all this. However, a few things have happened. Having children really changed me. To finish the degree I would have to do fieldwork abroad and leave my kids for months at a time. I don’t know if I want to do this. Also, academic jobs are scarce and I can’t just choose where to live. Right now I’m living in my hometown and my kids just adore their grandparents and cousins. I’d hate to take them away and move somewhere else far away. Lastly, I had a conversion experience and I’m rejoining the Catholic Church after many years in the wilderness. My motivations have changed greatly. I don’t see getting a PhD as the be all and end all of my life anymore. I’m having a hard time figuring out in which direction to go.


How much do you have left, one year or two? Make sure you know your options and talk to your adviser… If you have grants make sure they do not have a payback requirement if you decide not to complete your degree (many do).

If you are close buckle down and get the degree. The paper may not pay off right away but having a PhD will open a lot of doors and you will just perform better and be proud of yourself (your family will be proud of you too) for achieving it. Not getting it might linger with you for a long time and I’ve seen people who have developed regrets in this way.

Love you family and kids, they will miss you but if it is only for a short time it can be done. Skype is a great tool to keep connected.

Just my 2 cents.


I agree with this, if you are close finish it up if you can. Otherwise may God grant you discernment for a new career path.


You are so close to your Doctorate, it would be tragic not to obtain it. A PhD will serve you well all the rest of your life. I am sure you will regret not having completed it for the rest of your life.

The first thing I would do is to seriously reconsider your decision to entangle yourself with the church.

I have to suspect that your reason for embracing it may be to secure a “safe” sanctuary where your can swap your inner turmoil for a seductive sense of comfort and belonging.
But that, in my opinion, is purely self-deception—paid at too a high price.

Earn you PhD. You have almost got it. Then if you still wish to return to your church (with all the burdens and restrictions it imposes), you will at least know that it was a sincere conviction and, at best, you’ll be armed for life with the highest formal education attainable.



Thanks for the suggestions. However, Mr. Stout, I think it is strange for an atheist to be providing “Catholic Answers.” Not saying that you can’t have any good ideas, but I would refrain from the armchair psychoanalysis. My armchair psychoanalysis suggests that your intentions on this website have nothing to do with providing believing Catholics sound advice in keeping with their faith, but rather trying to convince them that their are simply confused people looking for (to you) false hope in a Church community. I can assure you that my conversion is not self-deceit or an attempt to stanch inner turmoil through religion. What you are doing is accusing me of an insincere conversion based on your presupposed notion of what religion is. You have no right.


Praying to the Holy Spirit to give you guidance, direction, strength, fortitude & wisdom in your discernment.


Hi, Thomas,

I recommend you take a look at the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.”


You can also access it through clearerthinking.org/ and then click on “Sunk Cost Fallacy.”


Complete the program and get your PhD.

You have told us some reasons why you are no longer enthusiastic about it, but the essential factor that is missing is a Plan B that you are enthusiastic about. It’s not like you said “I could finish my PhD but I got this really great job offer,” or “I’ve discovered my true calling,” or “I have this hobby that is beginning to turn a profit.” You mustn’t quit unless you have another career option that is sufficiently concrete and near enough that you can make the leap.

Your PhD program doesn’t sound so bad. Don’t assume it locks you into an academic career path. It’s not unusual for PhD students to set their sights on being a professor, because in grad school you are around successful professors whom you may admire, plus you sort of understand the academic career path, but come on, let’s try to have a little more imagination! Have others in your field obtained jobs in industry? It doesn’t seem far-fetched that a degree in international relations could be useful at a company that conducts international business, and there are a lot of them.

Don’t define your career options narrowly according to what you’ve done so far. Think of your current talents and achievements as merely a starting point for your future. Always be willing to learn and evolve professionally.

Also look at that half-empty glass and see that it is half-full.

Best of luck in your career, and God bless you and your family in every way.


Thanks for all the great advice. I should perhaps add something that complicates matters. My wife does not work. I’ve been wanting her to get a job for some time now, but this has proved difficult. My grad student stipend is only about $16,000 a year and it’s not enough to live on. Come May we won’t have any income at all if she isn’t working, which leads me to the conclusion that I will have to seek a job and give up the PhD to support the family. Hopefully she will find a job, but it’s hard for me to just bank on that given that I’ve been trying to get her out for some time now. That’s where things get really hard.


I read your post and had to respond because, although single and female without children, I have gone through a similar process when it comes to the long-term career trajectory with the PhD and deciding against becoming an academic. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is to make the choice when you have a family to support. I did end up leaving my program with a masters two years in, but had a multitude of reasons for doing this that I would be happy to discuss more over PM.

What is your wife’s background? She may be able to look into telecommuting positions if she would like a source of income that wouldn’t require her to leave home and/or local options are limited. Flexjobs.com is a pretty solid site for this kind of search; you do have to pay a fee to use it but there are plenty of opportunities. Also, perhaps she could find a position within the university somewhere? Your colleagues may know of some need that she could help fulfill.

Praying for you as you and your wife continue to find ways to support your family. :gopray:


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