Step Away from the Ivory Towers

Dear Internet, I'm withdrawing my (funded) acceptance to the University of Ottawa's PhD in Political Science, and I don't feel bad about it at all.

Firstly, academia is very isolating. While I love that my peers and professors in academia greatly enriched the quality of discussion in my life, I was unable to maintain a healthy balance this past year. Despite my great GPA, the months of September-May saw me shrivel to barely a shadow of a former socialite. Even now writing my MRE, I'll go stir-crazy after a full day or two without talking to anyone; I do not want to spend a few years like this writing a doctoral dissertation.

Continuing on the theme of balance, I also learned that academia is like slimfast for an artist. You feel like you're creating something of value, but largely the process is one of people pleasing and meeting expectations. I am thankful that I have come to define myself as a thought producer, but working outside the academy allows me to pursue social change through creative resistance initiatives alongside the academic work of my choosing. I don't need an institution or an expectation to solicit my contribution to public discussion, and I've rationally chosen to work outside the confines of doctoral coursework and research.

Studies in critical social sciences make you a weirder person. If they don't, I'm pretty sure you did it wrong. The personal growth my graduate studies at Brock and Carleton Universities facilitated still astounds me; I was like a kid putting glasses on for the first time. There is a moment of self-awareness that feels like the proverbial other side from which there is no return.

Because of the way I now understand the world, I finally have the language to describe my experience. I've got the weltschmerz; we don't have a word for it in English. It's German for world-pain, and it means the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that some one's own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world. There was a recent publication stating that activists' brains are actually different because they identify injustice as illogical.

Life gets hard because I've spent years studying injustice. Once you understand the nature of power and oppressions, their operations can't just sink into the background of your life anymore. Every moment is bathed in lapsed logics of oppression. To survive, we create our own realities to live in, often rejecting dominant discourses of order. We strike our own floating balances between selfishness and selflessness one instant at a time.

So life planning comes down to a really weird question: how can I make the most difference and go the least crazy? I've always wanted to be a lawyer to help people who couldn't help themselves and translate ideals of justice and environmental responsibility into law. Finances are the primary barrier to my legal education, so I can't even plan to attend for a couple years, but I choose this struggle.

My choice to pursue academia was a lot more selfish than selfless. I wasn't preparing myself to be the most effective agent for change; I was guaranteeing myself a a comfortable place in the Canadian class structure. I even began to commodify my own ideas. I would guard myself from sharing certain ideas I'd developed in areas I still hope to publish in. I don't want a career that encourages me to keep my ideas about social justice to myself until I can present them in the appropriate form to reap maximum benefit.

A PhD was the easy path, not the right path. I'm happy I recognized this before beginning. Now, I'm on the coast-to-coast job hunt for a gig that will let me pay off some student loans, submit a few publications, and write the LSAT.

Wish me luck,