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To Ph.D or Not to Ph.D

It’s November, which means it’s time–again–to make a decision: will I continue my PhD this year?

Back in 2005, when we moved to Puerto Rico, I decided to start a doctorate degree in Latin American literature–in Spanish. I was feeling an intellectual deadness in my environment, I missed being in school, I’d always wanted to study for a degree in my second language, Spanish, and I really had no excuse not to do it: the nearest PhD program was a five minute walk from our apartment, it was an inexpensive program, and the courses were small and intimate.

I enrolled in the PhD program at Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y El Caribe, where I started developing my dissertation idea: narratives about place and identity and the ways one shapes the other in Latin American writing.  It was heady stuff and I loved it… coming home and sitting in the rocking chair in our library/office  (yes, we had a library!), reading literature and theory and discussing my classes with Francisco. I loved writing papers–I’d always loved that–and I loved forcing myself to speak up in class as the only non-native speaker in the program. I took a heavy courseload each semester and I did well in all my classes.

And then I put it all on indefinite hold.

I got sick–just as I did in my Masters program–with the egos of academe. I’d enrolled in the program for the sheer pleasure of learning– I didn’t have any plan to actually “use” my degree. I wasn’t pandering to faculty to eventually land a job in one of the few universities in PR and become their colleagues. I really wanted to discuss and debate what we were reading. I wanted to know, for instance, why we were always reading European literary theory when we could (and should, in my opinion), have been reading Latin American literary theory.

Conveniently, I had a job that made going to school difficult. I proposed a course of independent study to the dean, who declined, citing the fact that none of the faculty were full-time and that they would need to be paid extra to facilitate an independent study as the reason why I couldn’t finish my degree that way. Then we decided to move again and that was that. PhD on permanent hold.

Every November, though, as deadlines loom large, I stare down the decision again: will this be the year I decide to just buckle down, bite my tongue, and finish this degree? Francisco says I should. My friend’s dad, a Spanish professor and department head, says I should. My former high school Spanish teacher, now a professor specializing in Afro-Caribbean studies, says I should. But until this year, I’ve thought about it for a couple days and then decided no. A PhD program would tie me down to a place. It would probably require that we penny pinch even more than we already do. I still didn’t plan to use the degree. I’d have to have a schedule (gasp!). I’d have to commute.

But here we are again and it’s November. And this year, I’ve decided to do it. With a husband who has immigration issues and a baby , I won’t be doing much far-flung travel for a little while. I still love the classroom, and I do miss it. I could study all this stuff on my own, I still don’t know if I’ll use the degree, and I know that the ego stuff will continue to bother me (now more than ever, since we’re talking about Columbia and NYU), but why not finish the degree? I’ve already done two years of work toward the PhD and I’ve gathered lots of material and contacts in my travels and time living abroad to write the dissertation.

I’ve run out of excuses not to do it this year.

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