My advisor offered me an unexpected choice this week: stay another year as a PhD student. To clarify, I’m already planning to graduate in a year or so; he means stay another year after that. “Don’t worry about funding,” he said. “And don’t worry about whether your committee thinks you ought to graduate by some arbitrary deadline.”
He made the offer because, in following an offshoot branch away from my main thesis topic, we’ve discovered something really cool. Cool enough to generate interest from local press, and cool enough to keep me motivated through the hard times. There’s more we could do here, but it would take more than one year.
I am torn. On the one hand, this is a wonderfully kind offer. I have always appreciated that my advisor—my current advisor, not the awful one with whom I started out—has never put pressure on me to go faster, and has always seemed genuinely excited by the science I could do. In his offer, I heard, “You are doing good work and I’d like you to keep doing it.”
And the science is really very cool indeed. Significantly more interesting, frankly, than the analysis remaining on my primary dissertation topic. I care about it, and letting it go seems a terrible shame.
But I’m ready to be finished with the PhD. With a bit over a year to go and some writing progress being made, I can see the end. Putting my completion date off another year feels a bit like pushing it out of reach. The farther away that date gets, the harder it is to believe I can actually get there.
And despite my advisor’s reassurances, another year would make me a very slow finisher. This is my Nth year as a PhD student, where N is a number between 5 and 10 and is also the typical time it takes for students to finish. I am on track now to finish in N+1 years, which is not uncommon. Half the students who started at the same time as me are staying for that (N+1)th year. Another year would mean N+2. Not unprecedented, but rare. I’m not sure my ego can take that.
There are also many personal matters at play. My closest friends are already starting to graduate and depart. My husband is not terribly enthused about staying in this town for additional years, although he supports my choices either way. The house we rent may not be available to us for that long, and I very much don’t want to move and then move again shortly after.
Finally, there’s the question of a second kid. I can’t let the idea go—and I know that the best time for us would be shortly after finishing my PhD. We’d like Little Boy and his hypothetical sibling to be no more than about 3 years apart, though; another year after next would be too long. It’s not impossible that I could take a few-month hiatus from research to give birth and then come back for another year, but that would mean paying for two small children in daycare, and that’s not really affordable on my grad student salary.
I know which way the decision is going on this—no—but not without a little bit of heartache.