On Monday 10th October I went for a walk with a friend around Damflask Reservoir. During the hour we spent talking in the autumn sun, I realised that I wasn’t happy, that I had not been happy for some years. I wanted to quit my PhD, and I was going to quit my PhD. I felt such a sense of relief that I practically floated home.
That being said, it was not a decision taken lightly. The Wolfson Foundation gave me a generous scholarship for the first three years of my PhD that enabled me to take research trips, purchase important books and make important progress in my research. I will not easily forget their generosity, nor their understanding as to why I needed to withdraw. It’s hard not to feel as if I let them down.
I also feel a deep sadness at leaving my research family. The Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Sheffield has been central to my life ever since I came to the city as an anxious eighteen-year-old undergraduate. The staff have inspired me with their lectures and seminars but above all they have shown a genuine concern for student welfare. As I became a postgraduate they always made me feel that my opinions and my research were of value. I can’t put into words how grateful I am to them for their support over the past nine years. I will never forget it.
In the end, however, my happiness and my mental health has to come first. It took me two years to admit to myself that the PhD was not making me happy – even though I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it to anyone, even though I avoided going into university unless I had a meeting. I always thought my unhappiness was due to something else: surely it could not be the PhD, something I had worked at for so long, something that seemed to be an inextricable part of my own identity. If I wasn’t a PhD student, who was I? What else was I fit for? I buried my head in the sand and became more and more miserable until that sunny autumn day at Damflask, when I finally realised that I didn’t have to be.
So what will I do now? The answer is: anything. Anything I want. Anything that speaks to my passions, my skills, my talents. I don’t know what that will look like yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out. For the first time in a long time I am happy, excited, and relishing the challenge.