Why I Dropped Out Of Graduate School

In the spring of 2019 I achieved the goal I abandoned over a decade prior: I achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree from Temple University – Japan Campus; a degree in two fields I actually enjoyed. These fields were the inauspicious areas of Communications and Psychology. As fruitless as this endeavor may have appeared to those living on the outside of my brain, I already had a solid background behind me as a disabled veteran with a certification as an Electronics Technician through the Department of Labor. After years of doing what was necessary for my survival, I was finally in a position to take a chance at something that I was passionate about.

Although it frustrated me when I had school faculty demanding my respect despite my GI Bill paying their salaries, I was excited to finally bring an end to the recurring nightmare in which I returned to university and failed again. I had to prove myself wrong.

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During my last two semesters, I learned of a quick Master’s program that I could complete within’ six months to a year, which I thought would be a neat addition to my resume. Within’ five months I had tossed nearly everything I owned and was living in Manila with my then girlfriend, now wife. Yet again, my life’s trajectory had redirected itself abruptly and I was forced to respond to the aftershocks.

Although my time as a graduate student was brief, I can still proclaim with confidence that the core of academia involves catering to the whims of PhD’s. This was at the root of the mental breakdown that concluded with me opted out of academia altogether.

At first I was ecstatic; our first lesson involved discussing how absurd the rules that structure the English language are. After a while, I grew frustrated. It became clear that my frequent tardiness was taken as an affront to my professor. I wasn’t in the military anymore, why was I putting myself in a situation where I was meeting the arbitrary niceties of somebody I felt should have seen me as an equal? Why wasn’t I forging my own path? Why was I still wasting my precious time?

I began to feel truly out of place amongst my peers. They – as a collective – were composed primarily of English teachers that were there simply to further their careers. I started wearing a dress shirt and jacket to blend in; I hid my tattoos. Many of the men had sacrificed autonomy to stagnate in the safety of Japan. They had married Japanese women and were only qualified to teach Japanese people how to speak English. I didn’t belong there, I had a story to tell.

I stopped wearing my dress shirt, I came into class drunk. I dared my professor to kick me out. He told me to let him teach the class. Even at the graduate level. It was more important for me to keep quiet.

I gathered from the texts I was reading about language acquisition and education theory that most academics in the area I was studying (TESOL) were simply redefining pre-existing models for the sake of obtaining a PhD and achieving tenure. The fact that I had to devote my time to meeting the expectations of a PhD instead of attempting to make any meaningful contribution was untenable. The cognitive dissonance was raising by body temperature and I would often wake up feeling my body vibrate.

I thought of the things that happened to my sister, the things I had seen, the safety I hadn’t experienced. These were things the walking dead around me couldn’t understand. My time in Japan had come to an end. I was ready; I was terrified.

In many ways, academia mirrors the the worst parts of the military, which drove me out of that organization. In the military, this type of structure served a purpose, as bloody as it may have been. To the contrary, universities are an artificial structure that have devolved into a cash-grab.

I came in my final day. I needed to express myself. I was silenced one last time, this time by a “peer”. I told him I didn’t care what his opinion was screamed at for being honest. I was done.

Most researchers aren’t geniuses, they’re simply the delivery boys of narcissists that fancy themselves geniuses.

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