Leaving the PhD

In Fall 2019, I decided to take a leave of absence from my history PhD candidacy to search for a K-12 teaching job. In returning to K-12 education after three years in higher education, I knew how important finding the right school was and I wanted to focus all my resources on my search, which resulted in interviews all over the country.

Looking back, my return to K-12 education was one of the greatest decisions of my life. After a year in the archives on a research fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and over seventy-five episodes of the Hour of History Podcast, I felt that higher education wasn’t right for me and I wanted to return to the classroom. I plan on writing more about my experience teaching here on the Hour of History blog later on, but I also wanted to share my letter of withdrawal from the PhD program at Temple. I hope this will be useful to PhD candidates who are considering walking away.

If this letter seems negative, it is because I wanted to outline the biggest issues with the PhD program in hopes that the department might make some changes. I aimed to present my experience without editorializing. The letter does not highlight how positive my return to K-12 education has been, nor does it explain all the reasons I returned to teaching.


I am writing to notify you that I am withdrawing from my PhD Candidacy in History at Temple University. Here are my reasons:

  1. I cannot put a realistic completion date to the prospectus I defended, and the first prospectus I submitted, which was more manageable in scope, was rejected by my committee.
  2. Given that I would have to finish my PhD while working full-time in order to pay for the PhD, it is not the best decision for my mental, physical, or financial health to continue with the program.  
  3. The job outlook in higher education, for people who have completed the PhD, is dismal and shows little sign of improvement in the future.
  4. In my present employment as a high school teacher and coach, a PhD would not be a vocational asset, given that my two master’s degrees already max me out on the educational axis of the pay-scale and the hesitance from secondary institutions to hire people with PhDs.  
  5. I was offered four years of funding at Temple, which is now finished. I received two and a half years of funding. One year was spent at a fellowship outside of Temple (I had to still pay tuition to Temple while not receiving a stipend, which was not the norm for fellows from other institutions), and I turned down the last half-year to search for my present employment. I had hoped to complete the program in four years but a number of obstacles created by the department including a failure to accept transfer credits, forced enrollment in extracurricular coursework, and rejected independent study courses significantly slowed my progress towards degree completion. 

Despite my exit from the PhD program, I am grateful for the knowledge I gained in the program and I am thankful for having the opportunity to work under the guidance of the stellar scholars in the history department at Temple. I wish the faculty and current graduate students all the best and look forward to seeing what interesting and important work they publish in the future. 


If you know anyone considering the PhD or struggling with it, I’d love to talk with them through their options. You can also check out conversations I had on Hour of History about finishing the PhD and the adjunct underclass after the PhD.

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