Why I Probably Won’t Finish My Ph.D.

August 17th, 2010

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Probably not for me . . .

[This is one of those things that you write once so you can refer people to it over and over. If you’re not interested in my academic history or future, feel free to pass this one by — especially because it’s quite long.]

You’ll have guessed the punchline of this story from its title: it’s likely that I’ll never finish the Ph.D. in United States history that I started in 2004 at the University of Texas. This post explains why. (And don’t worry — it’s a story with a happy ending.)

What I Was Thinking When I Started

From the time that I was a boy, I always assumed that I would be “Dr. Walker.” Through about the 8th or 9th grade, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor. In my imagination, I was always a fancy specialist with a fancy label, like “otolaryngologist.” (The word virus was strong in me, even in those days.) By the time I got to college — and for the entire time that I was in college, and for many years after — I always assumed that I would earn a Ph.D. and become a professor.

At the risk of immodesty: I have the chops. I took an honors history degree — on a full academic scholarship — from UT in 1994, won a Rotary scholarship that took me to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland for my master’s degree, and later made excellent marks in the first year of the academic master’s degree program at Union Theological Seminary in New York. In all of those programs, I thrived in the seminar room and, when given the chance, enjoyed teaching. Given my professional training in expository writing and my experience in journalism, written work was my strongest suit.

It was writing, in fact, that brought me back into the fold of academia. I had left it after St. Andrews because my wife had educational goals of her own that were better served in the States, and I had left it again after my first year at Union when she and I confronted the hard realities of raising a newborn while paying New York City rents.

Even when I was out of school, my interest in history, and in intellectual pursuits more generally, remained intact. I read a lot, and I began to find outlets for my writing online and offline. Around 1999 I began to compile a real clipbook, starting with book reviews for the Austin Chronicle and the late, great online magazine Blue Ear.

My reviews for the Chron led to features, and in 2002 I finally landed a cover article with my profile of the Austin historian H. W. Brands. (He goes by Bill.) Bill and I sat down at Kerbey Lane Cafe on South Lamar late in the summer of that year to talk about his new book, his career as a writer, and his thoughts on the possibilities of a U.S. invasion of Iraq. (His main academic specialty is the history of U.S. foreign relations.) We had friends in common, became friends ourselves, and stayed in touch.

Sometime in the second half of 2003, I hatched the idea of returning to graduate work under Bill’s direction. At the time, he was still teaching at Texas A&M, where he had been a professor for many years even though he lived in Austin. (For those of you unaware, it’s a two-hour commute between Austin and College Station.) I asked him if he was in the market for new graduate students in the history of foreign relations; he said that he was, and added that he always liked taking on students who already knew how to write.

And so the Longhorn applied to become an Aggie.

How my Ph.D. Program Treated Me

Great, actually. In fact, I could hardly have asked for better. With Brands’s introduction, A&M welcomed me with open arms. I remember traveling there in the autumn of 2003 and being impressed by the personal qualities of the faculty members I met, and by their apparent interest in bringing me into the department. Once I applied, the department not only admitted me to the program, but awarded me a sizeable fellowship to cover my costs.

And then a funny thing happened: The University of Texas gave Bill a job. This new position at UT, besides offering him an endowed professorship and so on, allowed him to live and teach in the same city for the first time in many years, while also returning him to Garrison Hall, where he had earned his own Ph.D. under the great scholar Robert Divine.

With Bill leading the way, alma mater held the door open for me, and it led to two rich years of intellectual work. I took courses or conversed with a slew of fine scholar-teachers, including some from my undergraduate days (e.g., Michael Stoff and Wm. Roger Louis) and several others I met for the first time (especially Mark Lawrence, the other foreign-relations historian on the staff). I learned a great deal, made many friends among the students, faculty, and staff, and got my first regular exposure to teaching duties as a teaching assistant for Brands and others. I finished my coursework in four semesters — a full-time pace — even though I was still working 25 hours per week at my professional job for Hoover’s.

What Happened along the Way

What happened was that I made two key mistakes — imperceptible to me then, but clear as day in hindsight:

1. I shifted primarily to T.A. work instead of preparation for my comprehensive exams. This wasn’t by design, just a routine that I fell into. The extra money from T.A.-ing was handy, even after I upped my hours slightly at Hoover’s; meanwhile, the nature of preparation for comps is such that the work tends to expand — or contract — to fill whatever time is given to it.

I did compile all of my reading lists, met with my professors, and began to do the reading for comps. But I spent more time grading papers, meeting with my undergraduate students, shuttling back and forth between Hoover’s and UT, and . . .

2. . . . working on outside projects. The fact that I could write — and that I didn’t mind picking up some extra money on the side — led me to take on writing-related “icing” projects when I should have been concentrating on the cake itself. I won’t belabor the topic here, but in summary I worked on conference papers, a Texas A&M research project, and an institutional history for a professional association in the petroleum industry — all of which were fun, all of which played into my chosen scholarly field, but all of which diverted time and energy away from getting to, and finishing, the dissertation phase of the Ph.D.

Along the way, I also started taking on bigger duties (and better pay) at Hoover’s, and even started to build a little bit of a reputation as a marketer and social media professional. (Who knew that would happen?) At some point, it made no sense financially to keep T.A.-ing rather than working full-time for the company, which, I see now, increased my sense of detachment from the workings of the History department and my own degree plan.

At some point, the Big Goal — writing books — became more important to me than having the Ph.D. sheepskin. The books aren’t there yet (believe me, they’re coming), but that sense of priority abides.

Sunk Costs vs. Half a Bridge

One of the great cognitive biases that humans face is an obsession with what economists call “sunk costs.” When a nickel falls out of your pocket and into a sewer grate, that’s a sunk cost: the money is gone, regardless of how its loss makes you feel. When a baseball team gives a huge guaranteed contract to a slugger who promptly loses the ability to hit, that’s a sunk cost: the team must pay out the contract regardless of the player’s level of play, and regardless of how the management feels about the money they spent.

Our fascination with sunk costs means that we will often make poor decisions when they are in play, working from emotion rather than any logical calculation about well-being. This is what leads a corporate manager, for example, to keep giving breaks to an employee who isn’t working out. It’s tempting to want to force that hiring decision to work out, rather than taking a cold look at what’s happening now and making appropriate adjustments. It’s the same for that baseball team with the fading slugger: they’re likely to keep trotting him out there, under the non-logic that “we’re paying him all this money, so he has to play.” No, you’re paying him all that money one way or the other; now your job is to win games with the players you have; if he’s not the best player at his position now — regardless of pay — then he should sit on the bench.

The common outcome with sunk costs is that we throw good money — or time, or other resources — after bad.

The counter-argument, also common in the corporate world, is “don’t build half a bridge.” It means that, for certain projects, you must go all the way through to the finish line to extract any value from what you’ve invested. A 100%-complete bridge provides 100% utility, but a 99%-complete bridge provides 0% utility. In the same way, a half-completed corporate re-organization or half-written software program might be worse than none. Once you put in enough work, you must go on to completion.

As it stands now, I regard my Ph.D. as a sunk cost, not half a bridge. Some friends have suggested that I ought to finish the degree “just to have it,” and indeed I grant the logic that having all of a Ph.D. would be worth more emotionally than having only half of one.

And yet the bridge ought to connect you to a shore you want to reach. Which brings me to . . .

Clear Objectives

Clarity that emerges from experience is a valuable thing. Having seen academia from both the inside and the outside, I can tell you that the very best reason to earn a Ph.D. in the humanities is so that you can pursue a career as a college professor. That can be a great career to pursue, but it’s not the career that I want to pursue — at least not anymore.

There are several reasons for this. Here are three big ones:

  1. I already earn a higher salary than I would as a professor, and it’s not likely that my academic earnings would catch up within . . . oh, the next ten or fifteen years, easily.
  2. Many academics spend a long time trying to find a happy, stable place to raise a family. Lots of freshly minted Ph.D.’s go through a multi-year string of fellowships and temporary teaching posts — which can take them all over the country — before they settle into the tenure-track post that finally allows them to put down roots. The way life has worked out for us, though, my little family is already well-rooted and stable right here in Austin: all of us have good friends here, we live in a comfortable neighborhood, the kids are ensconced in good schools, and so on. So why uproot all of that to take less pay and inferior jobs en route to a maybe/could-be/someday setting that we hope would match the one we already enjoy? This isn’t to say that we’ll never, ever move, but rather that the prospect of moving around so much repels me at this point.
  3. I like all the separate aspects of being an academic, but I find that I can’t effectively juggle teaching + writing + research + mentoring + administration. I seem to lack that ability to shift gears smoothly and still get everything done.

This line of thinking brings me back to a wise thing that Bill said before I ever applied to Texas A&M: If I want to be a professor, get a Ph.D, but if I want to write books, . . . write books. At the time, I thought I did want to be a professor — what with the job security, the exposure to energetic young students, and all that — while writing books. Now I realize that I just want to write books.

There’s a fourth reason — a big one — that has become clear to me as I pondered this decision: my wife has her own career ambitions that aren’t well served by my taking however many more years to finish my degree. One of the things that every committed couple must face is the challenge of finding the right mix of my stuff AND the other person’s stuff. Jack’s ambitions and Jill’s ambitions. Her feelings and his feelings.

The AND-ness of it is the important part. If you’re not working toward that in a marriage, you’re doing it wrong. And I’d hate to do it wrong on behalf of a project — however wonderful and meaningful in its way — in which I no longer believe wholeheartedly.

What I Would Do Differently If I Were Starting Today

I’d follow one of two options — either of which I recommend to you if you’re considering Ph.D. work yourself:

  1. Punch straight through. Do your coursework full-time, like I did, but then give yourself tight deadlines for everything else, too — comprehensive exams, language exams, the dissertation, everything. Do the highest-quality job of everything that you can, and by all means take advantage of your best opportunities to write articles, give papers, and whatnot along the way — but obsess yourself with bringing the degree to a conclusion on a short timetable.
  2. Lay out a soup-to-nuts part-time plan that accommodates salaried work, family obligations, and whatever else, and then just chip away at it methodically. It’s okay if it takes even ten years to finish the degree — so long as you make regular progress. My big mistake came when I stopped making regular progress on my list of degree requirements.

Where I Am Now

Pretty happy, thank you. Sure, I wish I had my Ph.D. in hand, but not enough to undergo the major life upheaval that it would take at this point to make that happen. Right now, I’d much rather build my corporate career — and, frankly, my family’s bankroll — while writing books on the side. However long that takes is fine by me, because I’m working toward what I really want to be doing.

Now, I might return to academic work at some point, but only if the logistics for everything else — money, books, my wife’s career, family — happen to fall into place. I had fun doing scholarly work, I’m good at the various parts of it, and maybe in the future things will come together so that I can write my books and have that Ph.D. Nice work if you can get it — but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Meanwhile, I’m inhaling deeply from the crisp mountain air where my mind lives now. While stopping work on the Ph.D. did sting, more than just a little bit, that sting has worn off. More importantly, it has been replaced by the wonderful feeling that comes when you embark upon your real work.

So, that’s why I’ll probably never finish my Ph.D. The comment section is open: if you’d like to encourage me in my new path, please know that I will be grateful for any words of support. If you have questions or would like clarification on anything, fire away and I’ll do my best to answer cogently. However . . . if, by chance, you have arguments for why I should go ahead and finish the degree anyway, please, with all due respect, keep them to yourself.

Fair enough?

~~~

Coda, 22 September 2010: As I talked over my academic thoughts and plans with friends over the past many months, more than once I ran into very well-meaning folks who, rather than listening to, absorbing, and accepting my reasons for putting this project to bed, persisted in giving me their reasons for why they thought I should continue with it. Since my mind was well made up when I wrote this post, I wanted everyone to save their breath — and save me the aggravation — on that front. Thus my parting request in the original post.

Thanks to everyone who left supportive and thoughtful comments.

~~~

(Image by Eric Colton, used under a Creative Commons Noncommercial license.)

23 Responses to “Why I Probably Won’t Finish My Ph.D.”

  1. Julie Casey Says:

    As a fellow Dedman scholar who also chose the writing life (and family life!) instead of a Ph.D., I applaud your decision! You are brilliant and have many contributions to make to the world, regardless of how many letters are after your name. You are already a success, and you’ve obviously been making good decisions like this your whole life to get where you are. This seems like another step in the right direction for you. Kudos! I look forward to reading your first book! :)

  2. Tim Walker Says:

    Very kind of you, Julie — much appreciated.

    And I’ll give you a *signed* copy of that book . . . ;)

  3. Eric D. Brown Says:

    Nice write-up. I”m in the middle of my doctorate and have been wondering if its ‘worth it’ to finish.

    After this coming fall semester, I’ll be ABD but I’m having a hard time staying focused on the program. If I finish and take a full-time academic role, my income takes a nose-dive unless I do some consulting on the side (which is a real possibility in the world of information systems).

    Without the degree, I can still do the consulting work and still write what I want to write…so what will the degree bring me that I can’t have now? Three letters after my name? Sure. A credential that might mean something to someone else? Sure.

    What the program has done for me though is teach me to write. Before the doctorate, I wrote well enough but I feel like I’m a much better researcher and writer today than before I started. Is that worth the money and time and effort of the degree? Maybe. Could I have gotten the experience elsewhere? Sure.

    I will go ahead and finish the doctorate but if I had to do it again, I’m not sure I would have started it. Hindsight is definitely 20-20.

  4. Bill Church Says:

    Tim,

    You made the right decision. You’re doing great already. If you really want to interact with college students, you can always become an adjunct instructor with your masters degree. I did it for three years in Florida and enjoyed it immensely. Pay barely covers the gasoline costs, but that’s not why you do it.

    Bill

  5. Tim Walker, Sr. Says:

    Its good to know that you’ve “got your head on straight” and have thoughtfully come to your conclusions. As a man who, for most of his life, has done more of what he “thought was right” than what he “really wanted to do,” I applaud your decisions. In hindsight, I find that unhappiness came when I had stayed too long in an unsuitable situation. Tenacity does not always bring success. Sometimes its better to accept the “sunk cost,” avoid a crushed spirit, and move on. I’m proud of you, Son.
    Love, Dad

  6. Matt Thomas Says:

    “Very successful people have to acquire what I call ocular block. The ability to focus on, to the exclusion of everything else, that which is most important to their careers. Most of those obsessed stars become less as human beings because of their ocular block.” —Pat Jordan

    Jordan is talking about sports stars, but academics are no different. Kudos to you for choosing to remain a well-rounded human being.

  7. Mark Larson Says:

    Glad you’re at peace with a Big Life Decision! It’s like when you’re hiking/sailing: you get your compass bearings off by a degree or two every now and then, next thing you know you’re miles away from where you need to be. Thanks for sharing what you’ve been working through, Tim. Great stuff. Can’t wait to see what you’ll unleash on the world next.

  8. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, everybody — very much appreciated.

  9. Nelly Hugh-Jones Says:

    I had a friend several years ago who had decided to go back to school to get her PhD in English. I had a friend at the time who was trying to find tenure track work in that field, so I knew from her how hard it was. Plus, my father has been a professor for most of his career, as well as doing other things, and so I know from his experience what a snake pit the ivory tower can be at times. My grandfather was a don at Oxford, so being a professor is in my genes. But with cutbacks, tenure track jobs are fewer and fewer, and it’s a very hard life for lower pay than it deserves. My friend did end up in a PhD program, and while we’ve fallen out of touch she seems to be doing OK, from what I see on the internet about published papers and such. This is my roundabout way of saying that while you would make a great professor, you’ll be great at anything you put your mind to, and you can always go back to that PhD at some point in the future, finish, and teach as a 2nd career, or 3rd or 4th or whatever.

    No one should get a post graduate degree just for the sake of getting the degree, it’s a tool, and you need to know what you’re going to do with it. You’ve realized you don’t need that tool for your plans right now, and I think you’ve made the best choice for you and your family.

  10. Marnie Cushing Says:

    I’m behind you 100%, brother! I, too, have thought about a PhD, but realize that I love what I do, have a goal for where I want to go, and don’t need the PhD to get me there. I encourage you to get the book(s) written and continue to “make your mark” with gusto!

  11. Glenn Says:

    If there ever was a fellow that I thought would finish his degree, it is you. You made it all seem so effortless. I am glad you have come to peace. I started over in Miami because they would not accept UT transfer credit and I couldn’t finish my comps online from there. Coursework done, writing dissertation now. But I never was doing it to become a professor, only because I love the research and the challenge. Knock ’em out brother. We’ll be back in Austin for the IACP conference in June 2011. Hope I’m carrying my dissertation with me. :) Cheerio, Gl

  12. Edward R. O'Neill, Ph.D. Says:

    I think you’re confusing earning a Ph.D. with having a full-time career as a professor. They’re quite distinct.

    Many of us have Ph.D.’s and do not teach full-time: we do something else.

    The thing you’re not considering is: what benefits might the Ph.D. bring you that have nothing to do with securing a tenure-track job?

    * Ph.D.’s *can* teach–but don’t have to. This carries extra income, institutional affiliation, sometimes prestige or access to special resources.

    * A doctorate is a mark of expertise. It gives you professional credence far outside your discipline.

    * A doctorate connects you with a discipline, with a wider network of peers than you can ever find any other way.

    * A dissertation is a writing project: it has other lives beyond its power to mark the completion of a degree.

    * A dissertation demonstrates significant research in a field–research which is not substituted for by however many separate for-pay writing jobs.

    * There are many areas in which you have little credibility *without* the highest possible degree in your field. I myself work in higher ed, and I have seen careers sidetracked and cut short because someone didn’t finish a dissertation.

    * Finally, other things being equal, the fact that you did not finish a project you started can weigh against you when compared with someone else who did. Competitive as our economy is, this is a real concern.

    In short, we should all stop seeing–and programs should stop selling–Ph.D.’s as gateways to a life of scholarship and teaching under the umbrella of a tenure-track job.

    We should instead all see the Ph.D. (and similar degrees) as a very high mark of distinction which resourceful individuals such as yourself can leverage as part of an overall career strategy.

    The sad part is: we don’t train Ph.D. candidates to *have* such a career strategy. You yourself are expert at this and perhaps needed no training.

    But an extra degree is useful in all kinds of ways.

  13. Tim Walker Says:

    Dr. O’Neill–

    I’ll be honest: I’m having a hard time understanding how a person so obviously intelligent as yourself could read this . . .

    “However . . . if, by chance, you have arguments for why I should go ahead and finish the degree anyway, please, with all due respect, keep them to yourself.”

    . . . and somehow think that it didn’t apply to you. You make some good points (yes, the academy should talk up other career paths for Ph.D. students), but you also make some that have no bearing on me. For example, in my professional field — not in the abstract, mind you, but in the arena where I actually do my work and earn my living — I can assure you that holding a Ph.D. carries zero extra prestige and literally could not make a dime’s worth of difference in my salary.

    Beyond that, I find your phrasing patronizing, here:

    “I think you’re confusing . . .”

    but especially here:

    “The thing you’re not considering is . . .”

    In this post, I spent thousands of words considering the ramifications of earning or not earning the degree. Please be assured, if the post somehow left it unclear, that what you read here is only a precis of a much longer process of consideration, both in my own mind and in conversation with my wife and my supervising professor.

    I guess I should thank you for the time you spent replying, and maybe voice my support for your broader view of the worth of a Ph.D. — which I do agree is needed . . . though not by me.

    But, next time, please read the instructions. You’ll spare yourself a needless expenditure of energy and you’ll spare me a dose of annoyance that I can do without.

  14. Edward R. O'Neill, Ph.D. Says:

    Tim,

    Thanks for your detailed and witty reply. I clearly don’t deserve it. And I am duly chastised.

    Yes, I skimmed over that one sentence you quote. Guilty.

    But even if I hadn’t, do you really enable discussion on a blog and then ask people to agree? Isn’t the blogosophere bubble-icious enough?

    I’m sorry if you found what I wrote patronizing–and annoying. I truly didn’t intend either. I didn’t intend to tell *you* to re-think your decision.

    I see now that most of what you write is about you, your situation, your history and experiences.

    And yet, am I not wrong in inferring that you tell us this narrative because it has some wider implications? That you are not just sharing your story but implying some things for current or future grad students–or even faculty?

    I thought the wider implications were worth discussing: how higher ed does and does not prepare us to *choose* what we do with our degrees–and indeed, whether we finish them or not.

    To go wider–and risk your wrath–the dirty secret of higher ed in general, not just Ph.D. programs, is that career development is mostly just not on the table.

    It seems to me that careers are made, not found. Only doctors, lawyers and professors have straight career paths–and many of them wander off into interesting places. But these facts *never* came up during my liberal arts education.

    Finally, I don’t see this expenditure as needless–even if I had to color outside the lines and cause you annoyance to get there.

    Best,
    Edward O’Neill

  15. Morgan Stewart Says:

    I also tried to go back and get my PhD while raising a family and trying to pay bills. Like you, I earned a lot of praise from the faculty for my performance while there, wrote papers, was a TA, and genuinely loved the experience. But at some point I realized my dream of becoming a professor was taking a serious toll on my family, my bank account, and–well–my sanity. So I took a full-time job and haven’t looked back.

    That was 6 years ago. Sad to say, but the reality is that I already earn a better living that the top professors in Sociology–my chosen field. (Well, okay, maybe Dr. Harry Edwards does a little better moonlighting for MLB, but he’s a serious outlier.) Furthermore, I am in the fortunate position of having a lot of opportunities to pursue the career I want and where I want it. Had I finished, I would likely be dragging my family around the country and struggling to payoff debt right now.

    Sunk costs? Meh. I wouldn’t change anything about the experience even though the experience nearly bankrupted me. I’m happy with where I’ve landed and that was just part of the journey.

  16. Tim Walker Says:

    Edward — It’s fine if *you* want to discuss the dirty secrets of academia (about which I’m prone to agree with you) in some forum of your own. But this is *my* forum — my living room, if you like — and I will frame the discussion here. As for “do you really enable discussion on a blog and then ask people to agree?” . . . well, no, I didn’t ask people to agree with me, only to refrain from comment if they didn’t. Which I can do, since this is my own blog and I chose to frame and discuss things here as *I* please.

    So, while you haven’t provoked my wrath, yes, you did annoy me, and I would rather you hadn’t . . . as I made clear when I framed my expectations for comments in the conclusion of the post. While you’re more than welcome to continue commenting, in the future please do refrain from annoying me in such easily avoidable ways here in my living room.

    Morgan — Overall, I agree with you. There are things I would change, as I hope my post makes clear, but I don’t regard the experience as a waste, not by any means.

  17. Eric Wilson Says:

    I received a Ph.D. in mathematics in 2006. I spent three years as a math professor, and I enjoyed it much.

    I then lost my tenure-track job due to financial difficulties of the college, and was facing a national job search in a bad economy.

    And I realized this was a way out. My wife and I hated being so far from family. I thought there must be a way that I can work in a place that I want to work, so I trained myself as a programmer, and it’s working out pretty well so far.

    What I’ve learned from this is that as we pursue academic dreams, we slowly give up things that we value, feeling that there is no alternative. These things slowly pile up, as each decision seems reasonable or necessary. I thought that I had no option other than to continue to teach at a good school, and live 400 miles from extended family.

    Anyway, I’m always happy to hear of someone leaving academia . . . knowing that your family will be happier for it.

  18. amused Says:

    Just stumbled across this blog. Forgive me, but it sounds like you are quite full of yourself. Methinks someone is desperately trying to rationalize. And as for your request that those who disagree with you need not apply, well, that was the most telling part of all. Look inward, dear, look inward.

  19. jon Says:

    I celebrate your decision. In part because it is a decision. And in part because it makes complete sense.

    I did finish my dissertation. And it was valuable for me because I actually finished something on my own. I needed to learn that I could do that.

    The only time I use the letters around my name is when to do so helps the person I am writing a reference for. For the last decade, I’ve worked outside academia. In this world, I have the wrong degrees anyway, and none of the right ones (seminary).

    What I learned before I finished, and would have learned even if I had walked away, was how to think rhetorically. And that is what shapes my thinking and my work daily.

    You have learned to think critically and historically. And, having learned that, you are using that to make choices about how to live, and then how to shape our lives.

    I lift my tea mug to you (though I usually drink coffee, it seems appropriate to sip tea at this moment). Hook em.

  20. Beetle B. Says:

    Just stumbled across this blog. Forgive me, but it sounds like you are quite full of yourself. Methinks someone is desperately trying to rationalize. And as for your request that those who disagree with you need not apply, well, that was the most telling part of all. Look inward, dear, look inward.

    Classic example of a lot of words that say nothing.

  21. vonjd Says:

    Well, my experience with my doctorate was that it goes like a sine-wave: up and down. Sometimes you think you will get a nobel prize, then you think you’re writing all crap. What is interesting is that it won’t stop up until you handed in the dissertation. Many people shared my experience that just before (and esp. very close to) that moment you won’t believe you’ll ever make it. Now I am very happy and still proud that I have my “Dr.”

  22. William J McKibbin Says:

    One never knows where a doctoral journey will take you. In many ways, the path to a doctorate is almost spiritual. Let’s face it, a doctorate never means as much to others as it does to the one who earns one. I have degrees and diplomas from a number of colleges, universities, academies, and institutions, and I suppose I was not really ready to finish up my doctorate until I earned it at the age of 50 in 2005. All the starts and stops took a toll on my life. But, I have no regrets about eventually finishing the doctorate that now hangs here in my study, if only for my own sense of accomplishment rather than that of others. Good luck to you as you continue your journey…

  23. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks to (almost) everyone for these comments.

    A note to “amused”: I am, in turn, amused by your take on this. Full of myself? On my own blog? In a post that I warned readers would be all about me? Un-possible!

    I’ll cop to “trying to rationalize,” in the sense that I’m trying to make rational sense of something important to me. But usually “rationalize” implies trying to duck responsibility for doing things poorly. I’m pretty sure that I took on a lot of responsibility here for my own failings.

    As for looking inward . . . wow, did I write this post *so* badly that the amount of introspection that went into it somehow wasn’t clear? Really? Either I did a lousy job of writing it (which doesn’t seem likely, given the overall tenor of the comments), or you’re just looking for someone to patronize. I invite you to look elsewhere. (Or I would, if you had left a legitimate e-mail address where I might have replied to you. But you didn’t! How droll of you!)

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