Positive retrospection


I have really wanted to write about this particular part of my life for a couple of months now, and also wished to write some kind of “2014 in review” post before the end of the year. So, this is both. This was the most difficult decision I had to make this year, but also, eventually, the most freeing. Without further ado:

At the end of October, I chose to leave my graduate program.

After two and a half ridiculous semesters, under a year shy of graduation, I withdrew from my classes and abandoned all the work I had already completed. And while I’m not here to justify my choice to anyone, I’ve never really written about it in this kind of detail, so at the very least I hope you get something – anything, really – out of this extended rant/vent/thing. (I did.)

(Quick disclaimer: I still believe online education is incredibly valuable when executed properly, as I had experienced in the past. I don’t regret choosing this program, because there was no way I could have known any of what ended up standing in my way would happen. This is just what happened to me, and how I chose to handle it.)

My favorite professors during undergrad were equally knowledgeable and approachable. They recognized that students needed to be able to see them as someone more than a lecturer who provided information that had to be memorized for an exam, as people just as complex and interesting as their students. Beginning with our shared enthusiastic interest in the subject matter, I developed meaningful relationships with these professors, and ended up with strong, personal letters of recommendation for graduate school.

Once I started grad school, I assumed that most – if not all – of my professors would share this same pride in their work and be more than happy to inspire their students to better themselves throughout the program. But in this program, I found for the most part that the opposite was true.

Most of the professors seemed unfamiliar with the coursework, and gave only vague responses (if any at all) to students’ questions about assignments. They weren’t able to answer questions about the lectures because, in most cases, someone else had recorded them years before. As a result, they were unhelpful and didn’t seem to care about anything except finishing their grading before the semester ended.

And to put it bluntly, when I say “most of the professors,” I mean all of them I had except one, from whom I was lucky enough to be able to take two classes. She helped contextualize assignments by providing links and analysis of current events, and eagerly answered e-mails within hours. I got the most out of my time in the program from her, if that wasn’t already clear.

My grades in all of my classes were great, and I could have finished my degree with an A average. But that’s not the point. In the end, I wouldn’t have truly learned anything. And when it comes to this degree, in my chosen field, it wouldn’t have been enough in practice to show off my good grades and expect them to get me somewhere. My aptitude as a student – being able to absorb information and effectively study for exams – was the only thing getting me through the program.

The idea of dropping out – or withdrawing, or leaving, pick a term – was terrifying at first. I would have been receiving my degree in May. I just had to hold out a few more months and it would have all been over. But, I mean, that’s just it. A few more months of professors ignoring my pertinent questions about assignments? A few more months of them skimming my papers and giving me a good grade without comment because it looked like I might have tried hard enough to earn it? A few more months of insecurity, both with the program and about my future prospects?

I realized very quickly I was more terrified of finishing this degree having learned nothing than of having to regroup after withdrawing. The choice was clear.

Right now, I’m back to looking for work in about the same capacity as I was during my year off. I don’t know how much weight a year-plus of master’s degree coursework will have on my attractiveness to potential employers. But, not to repeat myself, that’s not the point at all.

What’s occupying my mind as I write this is how damn proud I am of myself for having the courage to identify the issues with this thing I’d put over a year of my life into and to make a life-changing decision based on that. I learned a lot about myself in the week or so it took me to make the call, and I have no complaints about how it turned out. I know I am a better person for it, and I can absolutely take solace in that.

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