I could use some advice (Graduate school / longish)

I would like some help with this. I’m feeling a bit frustrated right now and I don’t know what the right course of action is for me.

I am currently enrolled in law school and I’m not particularly happy. It isn’t terrible; I do find some of the material intellectually stimulating. The problem is that I think I got into it for the wrong reasons. I don’t particularly want to be an attorney nor do I find legal studies all that engaging with some few exceptions. I do my work but I don’t particularly enjoy it and I can’t say I’m excited about my prospects after graduation.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that I came in believing I could convince myself to like it. I wanted to like it. It’s a good choice if that’s what you so desire. There were a number of other pressures which factored in, but I think that was a significant one.

I’ve been reluctant to change paths for a variety of reasons, but included among them is my desire not to look like a screw up or a failure. I don’t want to be seen as a quitter and this makes it hard to think about changing course.

So now I’m in law school and I feel like I’m blowing money and spending time training for something I’m sure I don’t want to do.

The thing is that what I really want to do is teach. I’ve wanted to for years. I enjoy academia and I find research interesting, but what I really would like to do is to teach. I probably should have sought out that path initially, but I didn’t and so now I’m left reconsidering.

In many respects I’m sitting here feeling terribly irresponsible because I want nothing more than to leave law school after this semester and start working my way towards a graduate program and eventually (I hope) a Ph.D so I could start teaching.

I have no certainty of actually getting into a graduate program (though it was suggested I start taking graduate courses now to boost my application) while on the other hand I am actually in law school and can count on that.

So, I’m sitting here wondering what to do. Stick with a program I don’t really enjoy and don’t particularly want to continue or take a risk and shoot for the program I really do want. Or take some unknown third option.

Have any of you been in similar circumstances? How did it work out?

On a side note: Will having been in law school and left for a Ph.D can’t against me for graduate admissions?

My question for you is why do you need a PhD to teach? What’s the draw of teaching? Any chance you could be content teaching at a level which doesn’t require the PhD?

It’s ok if the answer is that you want a PhD to teach the subject or the kind of students that you want to teach, but I’m a little afraid that the amount of time and energy one is required to spend getting the PhD may turn out to be as offputting as the law school is now.

And if all you want to do is teach, there are other ways of accomplishing that.

I think you could make worse choices than finishing this semester with as good grades as you can manage and then leaving law school. Spend the spring and maybe the summer pursuing volunteer teaching opportunities that don’t require a PhD, while you apply to grad school.

(How long have you been in law school? And what field are you interested in studying in grad school? You don’t have to answer, but it may affect the advice you are given).

It’s ok to change your mind, and change your life plan. Many people have done so, many more will do so in the future. You don’t say anything about your grades or your GRE scores (Not that you need to provide that info). Or your willingness to relocate.

I’m inclined to urge you to follow your heart, but I have real misgivings about any plan which requires a PhD to pursue it–of course, maybe that’s because I’m feeling a little dissapointed with the outcome of my pursuit of graduate education and my employment status.

First, quit feeling guilty about wanting to leave. If it’s not for you, you shouldn’t be wasting your time, money and energy on it. Academics are really good at making you feel like you are a failure for not wanting to be on their career path. So, don’t expect too much empathy from the law school faculty (though you might be surprised). If you want support for this choice, go to the forums at www.chronicle.com. That is the site for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Many people there pursued the PhD so they could teach.

You don’t say what field you want to teach and that will make a huge difference in your possible paths. However, for most fields, academic positions are very hard to land. So, be sure you really understand going in that this will be a long, hard, very-poorly-paid road. Only consider it if you really love it. You need to love doing it, talking about it, reading about it. Otherwise, you will burn out very quickly. But if you love it, it’s a great job.

I don’t think that grad programs will hold dropping out of law school against you. Plus, you can always spin it in your application letter. "I have knowledge of the legal field’ or “I learned _____ about myself”.

Well, I certainly don’t need a Ph.D to teach. That part of the equation comes more from a desire to teach at the college level where, while perhaps not strictly mandatory, does appear to be essential.

The draw of teaching? It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve done personal and group tutoring at the high school and undergraduate level and between undergrad and law school I spent time substitute teaching, again at the high school level. While I could work at that level I would rather teach in a university setting.

It’s not the time or effort that’s off-putting. Please don’t let me be unclear on that subject. I have no problem putting in the effort. Rather, my unhappiness with law school comes from unhappiness with where the degree would take me. I’m unhappy with the outcome, not the effort to get there.

That’s certainly true.

This is excellent advice and something I had not directly considered. I will certainly not be leaving school this semester (With only 5 weeks before finals it would be kind of silly to leave now.) I’m more trying to plan ahead.

This is my third semester of law school. I would like to pursue a political science degree with a speciality in American politics and political philosophy.

My GPA and scores are modest, not a 4.0 but not a 3.0 either.

Fair enough.

I think there are two separate questions here: First, do you want to finish law school, and second, do you want to get a PhD and teach. These are related but different questions, it’s possible the answer is ‘no’ to both. Meaning, you don’t have to have some grand plans to drop out a degree program, you can just get a regular old job and take your time planning your next move.

Anyhow, in my 10-year of post-college life, my impression is that bailing on a grad program is not really seen as a negative (excepting perhaps over-involved parents). Honestly, the people left behind in the program just forget you were ever there – they aren’t going to snicker about you because you’re gone, you’re off their professional radar. People in the rest of the world have a fair amount of respect for “It just wasn’t for me, I realized I wanted/didn’t want X,Y,Z”, or in your words:

They’ll only think you’re a quitter if you talk about how hard it was and how you just couldn’t get the grades, which doesn’t really sound like the case.

Anyhow, YMMV, IANAL, I’m sure some will be along shortly.

Your answers to my questions have reassured me about your preparedness to tackle the PhD program, and your awareness of the world of teaching. My own experiences do not lie in political science, so I can’t give you specific advice, but I think you can spin law school as a logical outgrowth of your interest in political science, and then confess your disapointments and explain that you are now following your true dream.

Should you fail to get into graduate school, I recommend that your fallback plan be teaching at a level which does not require the PhD, while potentially keeping your options open to attend grad school later.

The question that your grad school admissions committees will be asking themselves is why you’re leaving law school to pursue a PhD. If you have a good answer for that–and it sounds like you do–then you shouldn’t be hurting too much. On the other hand, since you don’t mind law school that much anyway, why not finish your JD? That’s going to make your application look much more attractive (and as a practical matter, it’d be tough to apply this semester, so you’re probably looking at applying next fall).

So teach law. :wink:

Poli-sci and law is a wicked combination (consider international public law, constitutional law, and history of law). Look into doing a joint degree, if your institution permits that sort of thing. At the very least, take some grad courses as part of your law degree so as to establish that you are cut out for grad school, and to make life more enjoyable for you. (Come to think of it, the best course I had in law school was an outside grad course that had nothing to do with law school.)

Although every school is different, I found that each year at law school was more intellectually enjoyable than the previous year. Although it never reached the level of intellectual rigour that grad school had, it at least became a lot better every year. For me, first year was a grind, whereas the final year was a blast.