Proud Dropout

When Jennifer Fowlow started her PhD program in women’s studies, her dream was to become a professor.

But by her third year, she says, she was fed up.

“When I look back ā€¦ to me it was just one big, stressful guilt trip,” says Fowlow.

“There was always another article I should have read, another book I should have gotten, more notes I should have written.”

Good for her that she had the insight, the self-awareness and the courage to quit. If “there is always another article to read and to write” is stressful instead of exhilarating, then doing something else with your life is the only thing that makes sense. I admire people who have the strength to realize this and don’t spend the next 30 years visiting their stress and guilt on everybody around them.

She should definitely be proud of herself for dropping out.

13 thoughts on “Proud Dropout”

  1. Thank you for this. I dropped out of my school and changed my major completely, and it’s good to hear that other people had to face this kind of thing, too.


    1. And good for you. I dropped out of two colleges and changed my major completely twice. And none of it was a failure. It was a victory. It’s a normal part of looking for your place in life.


      1. I also changed my major several times. As a teenager, I wanted to be a ballet dancer, so I entered college as a French literature major. I switched to English literature after a semester. after another year, I realized that I was having a lot more fun taking mathematics courses than literature courses, so I switched to mathematics. Then when I started grad school, I entered as a physics major. Then I switched back to math after a year. I got my Ph. D. in mathematics at the age of 24, in 1968. I retired a year ago from my first and only academic job.


        1. “I wanted to be a ballet dancer, so I entered college as a French literature major”: how does this follow? I am curious: why would French literature be the default choice for aspiring ballet dancers?


            1. I did not declare a French major because the word ‘ballet’ is French, as are most terms used in ballet. The reason was that I wanted to major in a humanities field, since I felt that it would be a good background for a dancer. I felt that I would almost certainly read English literature on my own, but that I needed the structure of a college curriculum to read literature in a foreign language. I also wanted to learn French, which was at the time still the “lingua franca” of international and intercultural communication. I quickly realized that I was too far behind in the language to do well, since I had never studied French at all in my pre-college days. All the other French majors had done so. I had studied Latin, but that helped only a little.

              The French I studied as a college freshman enabled me to easily read mathematical papers in French, so it was really helpful in my Ph. D. studies. In those days, to earn a Ph. D. in mathematics, one needed a reading knowledge of two foreign languages sufficient to read mathematical literature in those languages. These languages, at Michigan State, had to be two from French, German, or Russian.


              1. Those were the days! (Languages required for all study.) Thanks for the explanation: interesting.


  2. I never felt guilty in graduate school. I did all the work there was time to do while also leading reasonable life. I never really understood the people who could not relax at the end of the day knowing there was still more to read.


      1. I am, however, constantly guilt-ridden in this job. Time constraints and other obstacles make it impossible to do what I would consider the minimum for the students and for research. It is hard to understand since with what was ostensibly the same workload elsewhere I did not have this problem. I feel constantly that I am not coming through, letting people down, etc. But I see that this is not the same guilt as the guilt of those who feel they should never take a break.


  3. As someone said: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run.”
    Sometimes people keep going down a route that’s wrong for them simply because giving up is considered a sign of weakness. And yet, understanding when it’s time to quit is a virtue.


  4. I have a son-in-law who was a rising star in the banking field for several years. He was miserable until he found an opportunity to become an apprentice electrician. He has been a successful electrician for over a decade now. Changing careers at any point is great if it makes one happier, even if it involves a pay cut.


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