A continuing blog series of life as an entrepreneur after leaving academia.
5 years ago I dropped out of a PhD program in Pharmacology. It was a difficult decision but a smart one. Once the decision was made, outgoing messages began:
“Hey, just thought I’d let you know, I’m dropping out of grad school to pursue a different career.”
None was harder than notifying my parents. They paid for most of my schooling, and as first-generation Americans from Lithuania in post-WWII America, they were excited to have a PhD in the family. Little did they know that it was going to be another 4-5 years for this achievement, and I was NOT willing to drudge through this process.
I invited them to dinner in a public venue to break the news. I actually had two important life-changing events to tell them about. For conservative, Catholic parents, moving in with a girlfriend pre-marriage was not very acceptable. I wasn’t sure which news would upset them more.
There we were, June 2008.
It was a sunny summer afternoon outside Chicago, IL. We met at the Corner Bakery for dinner.
My strategy was this:
1. Get there early.
2. Eat dinner before they arrive.
3. Tell them about moving in with Rachel first.
4. Dropping out of grad school second.
I sensed a storm. Heart rate was at 120bpm. Fear was present. But I was confident with my choice.
My parents walked in with big smiles. It turns out they expected me to announce an engagement. With a tone of surprise, they ask, “Where’s Rachel?”
“She’s not coming.”
“Then what’s up?” with confusion written all over their faces.
“Well, I have news to tell you. Rachel and I are moving in together.”
Adapted to the American culture of living together first, get married second, they were actually happy to hear this. Not quite the engagement news they were hoping for, but it lightened this next blow.
“I have something else to tell you.” (pause) “I’m dropping out of grad school.”
I’ll skip all the details of the next 45 minutes and provide you with a synopsis: They hated me.
It took them 6 months to fully recover and come to accept this decision. Our relationship has since evolved and we love each other now more than ever. I was and am an adult, capable of making decisions that I think are best for my happiness. At that point, they didn’t see it, but now they do.
For scientists wanting to change careers and know they’ll have to fight an uphill battle with family or friends, do it. None of it’s easy. But it’s worth it.
Reach out for any advice or questions.
@letubeu / [email protected]
CEO of HappiLabs.org (Home of the Virtual Lab Manager)