Over on Tenure, She Wrote today, Rotem Ben-Shachar writes,
I wondered if her description of her lack of passion is a defense mechanism she uses as a reason to leave academia. […] The more we have at stake, the harder and more personally we take failure.
She is referring to her friend, a fellow PhD student who expresses like but not love for her (the friend’s) research. The story is in the context of a broader message about implicit gender biases and how the stereotypes about men and women affect the ways that each group responds to setbacks. She goes on:
So do we try to convince ourselves we are less invested in our work to protect ourselves from future disappointment? Is it easier to believe that we are simply not as passionate in our work rather than confront that fixed mindset of ours, that we simply don’t have the innate ability to do the work? And how do we truly decipher to what extent passion and to what extent self-defense mechanisms characterize our feelings toward our work?
THIS. This is why the question of whether or not I might like my field of study again poses such an obstacle to deciding whether or not to leave academia. I don’t like my research now, but have I really lost interest or have I simply spent years constructing a defense mechanism to protect myself against future failure? After all, if I don’t like it, then won’t hurt so much to see the other students in my year graduate before me. It won’t hurt so much if my committee tells me I haven’t made enough progress. And it won’t hurt so much if I decide that I need a job where full-time means 40 hours a week instead of one where it means twice that.
This is why when a therapist says to me, “Are you listening to yourself? You seem really unhappy in grad school,” I immediately start backing away from the suggestion to leave that I know is coming. It’s not that simple.