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Chemistry

Monday, March 19, 2012
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Dear Miriam,

I'm a female Ph.D. student in chemistry.  The boy I like is a dance student, which is a totally different thing.  I always figured I'd meet someone in my field.  A masters in chemistry is as good as a Ph.D. for getting a job.  Is there any point in my finishing my program, or should I just fall into a life with this boy and see where things go?

Signed,
Chemistry, not chemistry

Dear Chemistry,

I think you might be getting ahead of yourself. You say you like this boy, but not that he likes you back or that you're dating. Having a crush is a great, thrilling, potentially heart-breaking rite of passage, and one that you should embrace. But until it's more than a crush, don't make any life decisions based on this guy. Start by getting to know him a little better and getting a sense of whether or not he's interested in dating you. Try to enjoy the process of getting to know each other without worrying, at least for the moment, where it's going to lead.

Also, my sense is that if you're so willing to change your educational trajectory based on a crush, maybe you're looking for an excuse not to finish your Ph.D. If you say that your job prospects are as good with the Ph.D. as without, then consider what your ultimate goals are. If you can accomplish those goals without the Ph.D., then see if you can take a break from your program and test out the job market and potential positions in the field. If you find you're happy with your new direction, dropping out of the program is a reasonable next step. But you might find that you miss the camaraderie of your department and the certain luxuries that do go along with being a student. You also might realize that you have larger life goals that include the Ph.D., and that it's worth sticking with it.

Coming back to the boy, this boy, or anyone you get involved with, may or not be in your field, and it's great that you're realizing there are dating prospects outside of the lab. Dating people who you may someday have to compete with for jobs or funding can be detrimental to your relationship and career, and academics notoriously have a difficult time finding jobs in the same cities as their partners. If you do end up dating this dancer (or anyone outside of the chemistry world!), be sure that you give equal importance to his career and interests. Dating someone in a totally different professional realm can be refreshing and educational to you both, but only if both partners' careers are valued equally. (Of course, stay-at-home parents is another topic altogether, and anyone who chooses to stay home should be valued, too, as long as the decision is mutually beneficial and agreeable to the couple.)

Finally, if you decide to stop pursuing your Ph.D., be sure you are making that decision for you and you alone. In twenty years, you will both regret it if you say to your dancer (or lawyer or musician) husband, "I'd be a doctor now if it weren't for you."

Be well,
Miriam

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