Closing One Door and Opening Another

There was a wonderful energy on campus today. The Pit, the common area that connects our student union, bookstore, undergraduate library, and dining hall, was filled with hundreds of students queuing at booths for pizza, ice cream, giveaways and prizes, and other swag and goodies. Meanwhile, the quad was home to groups of students laying in the sun, dancing to music, flirting, playing with frisbees, or circling up to talk, eat, and celebrate.

Today was LDOC, the last day of class at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

I savored the students’ happiness, joy, and–yes–relief as they relaxed before their final exams begin on Monday. For many, today was their last LDOC as they look ahead to a well-deserved graduation. I am so happy for the soon-to-be-graduates, because this is their moment, their milestone.

At the same time, this LDOC was bittersweet.

After eight years at UNC, where I have taught some 650 undergraduate students as a graduate teaching fellow, I am moving on to new opportunities and new adventures. This morning I led my students through a review session for their final exam, and before dismissal, one of them remarked that this was my last class as a teacher. They were right. I will not be teaching for UNC for the foreseeable future–not during the summer sessions, and not during the fall. Today was my last LDOC as a graduate teaching fellow, and quite possibly, the last LDOC I will see at UNC.

It was also my last LDOC as a graduate student.

Before you congratulate me, before you bust out the champagne and raise a toast, let me clarify: I am voluntarily withdrawing from the doctoral program in Communication at UNC. For six years I have worked toward the doctorate, but over the last year I have determined, following much introspection, that the path toward an academic faculty career is not the path for me.

My decision is voluntary, and it is one that I find both freeing and intimidating. Freeing, because I can explore other career paths that will fulfill me, and I can embrace pleasures and experiences that I put off for long hours of researching, writing, and (often) grading. Intimidating, because I am entering new-to-me territory, putting to the test all the advice I have gathered about networking and job searching.

I hit almost all of my benchmarks as a graduate student: full coursework, a professional development seminar, qualifying examinations and defense, at least a dozen regional and national conference presentations, several awards and honors, two papers that I was revising for possible publication, and a hefty draft of a dissertation proposal that went through several months of preparation and revision before, early this year, I set the project aside.

I have not failed, I have not been dismissed, I have not been forced out. Simply put, my heart is not in it. My priorities and dreams changed, and my professional ambitions have shifted from a career as a professor and scholar, to a career in administration and as a professional coach.

Leaving a master’s or a doctoral program is never an easy decision, but it is a valid decision that many of us make. All too often, we stay quiet for fear of being judged or dismissed, and because of the potential for silence, we may struggle with our decision to leave, to pursue another path. I share these thoughts and feelings to push through the silence and let others know they are not alone.

I enjoyed much of my time as a doctoral student and want nothing but the best for the colleagues and friends I have made who will continue working toward their degrees. For them, as well as for my former students and all the excited bodies hustling and bustling on campus today, I wish for longevity, fulfillment, and success. In return, I hope I have their support, encouragement, and respect.

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