Mohsin Zeb explains why he decided not to finish his PhD.
Some time ago I wrote a piece detailing my disillusionment with university. Specifically, I laid out why a doctoral program is an unwise investment in terms of time, money and career progression. Save in the hard sciences, a doctorate confers no real world advantages over a master’s degree, and indeed may even be value diminishing as a person becomes too specialized and pigeon holed professionally.
At that time, I thought I would stick with it through to the lesser research degree, the MPhil, but alas – thankfully – I motivated myself to withdraw from the program. This piece intends to offer a firsthand insight into the world of the PhD student, showing just how fruitless a proposition it can be unless one is absolutely obsessed with the field of study. I like political science, I did a masters degree in it and am glad I did. I realize now that the masters program represented both the extent of my interest in political issues and further, the limit of how long I am willing to trudge through a program of study.
First, the notion of picking a subject and writing 100,000 words on it is not daunting; in a year of enrolment I had 37,000 words written and received satisfactory progress reports. It is merely mind numbingly boring. To delve so deep into a topic strips it of its enjoyment. You start to hate the subject and avoid it, avoid news coverage, magazine articles and anything else to do with it. A MA program, with its 12-15,000 theses is fine. It’s a detailed study, but over soon enough. The same topic for 4 or 5 years is unthinkable to anyone with a life or other interests.
Secondly, PhD students are some of the most boring, stuffed shirt, “biff and chip” type of people one will ever meet. I am a man who enjoys all manner of things, politics and intellectual pursuits- yes, but also sports, film, just kicking back and hanging with friends. My fellow PhD students would discuss political theory when we were supposed to be relaxing. None watched boxing or cricket; none knew a lick about pop culture. It’s a horrible, isolated world of limited people. No wonder fifty percent of people drop out. I could not bear to be stuck in that world for a prolonged stretch.
Thirdly, when charged with teaching undergraduates as I did, one finds that university is designed to be a bastion of controlled, liberal group think. If you criticize stupid students for not knowing a thing, they whine and cry and you get called up. Such an atmosphere does not help learning; it only produces a stream of conditions youngsters who all think alike. Try challenging the status quo or getting your students to think about things from a non liberal perspective and the bricks fall down on you. University is supposed to be a time where one expands the mind; it has instead become a place where minds are conditioned to thing a certain way.
Fourthly, I had personal reasons. Academia is fine and a good, rounded education a prerequisite for being a productive member of society. Two degrees have provided me that foundation. Now, in my mid 20’s, I seek life’s material comforts. I want a career, a house, a family and more paper then I can possibly spend. Money makes the world go round and I want in on the party. To roll with 200k large in the backseat of my car is my new ambition. Academia is fine, but when a man reaches his mid 20s, he should be set to take off and handle his business. It was once said that being (relatively) broke is childish, and I’m quite grown. Research shows that years lost in PhD study represent an income loss which may never be made up, it is much worse to lose prime years in the narrow minded world of political science departments.
So here I am, free of the constraints on my freedom of speech and thought doctoral programs bring, free to pursue a more fulfilling life in a world with people much more interesting. I tell the world to study, get your BA and your MA, but if you want to preserve your sanity, call it a day at that point. I can’t vouch for hard science departments, but in the social sciences you are expected to conform to the ‘right’ views. I cannot be a puppet; it would degrade me as a man and as an intellect. I may one day return to pursue further taught graduate study (not for years, but one day), but never again will I flirt with the claustrophobic world of academia.
My eyes are open to the reality of political conditioning, to the lost opportunities that doctoral study represents and to the beauty of being free to say and think what I want. I got out 13 months in, and hopefully, a nice four fee figure rebate check will come my way soon. So I lost nothing of note, a few thousand in currency and 13 months, in return I learnt so much about the university system, myself and my love to true freedom.