Did not finish


This isn’t about running*. This is about my education and career path.

I’m leaving my doctorate program.

I won’t complete the proposal process and the rest of the dissertation. I won’t walk another stage at graduation and get hooded. I won’t earn a doctorate in education. And no one will be calling me Dr. Mosqueda for the novelty of it before I tell them to stop because it sounds ridiculous.

This wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve been thinking it over for the past five months. I cried a few times and stayed up too late considering the pros and cons. I’ve done both simultaneously.

  • Pro: I can go out and find a full-time job and get started on that career thing.
  • Con: The job market sucks right now and higher education is definitely not recession proof.
  • Pro: I already have a good chunk of the proposal written. I just need to write an introduction and flush out chapters 2 and 3, literature review and methodology/theoretical framework, respectively.
  • Con: Once I propose and advance to candidacy, I still have to recruit students, interview participants, transcribe interviews, analyze the data, and write up my findings. I like interviews and analysis, but I hate transcribing. Paying someone to do it is not cheap.

And so on.

My decision didn’t come down to a rational and orderly list. I went with my gut (funny how that makes itself known when running too) and decided that leaving was my best option.

The PhD will be a DNF.


I cried as I composed the email to my advisor, La Jefa, letting her know my decision. Email was my only option as I couldn’t schedule a meeting with her at the time. La Jefa is a busy woman. Maybe it’s best, because I would’ve come out of her office with puffy eyes and a red nose.

La Jefa has been supportive and encouraging as I floundered in the past few years. Although she knew I wasn’t interested in a research career, she offered me a job on her research team. That was a huge plus as the position included fee remission and grad student health insurance.

She saw some potential in me when she took me on as a student eight years ago. I didn’t live up to that potential. I hate that.


We're facing more fee hikes this year. The CA budget sucks.

I don’t regret sticking around for so long. If I would have left when I first considered it in 2006, I would have never had the chance to make some great friends, serve in student leadership positions on campus, travel across the state advocating for better access and affordability with the UC Student Association, and do some important research with talented scholars. I also would have had a much a shorter stint at [Program]. Since I’ve been there six years, it’s been enough time to see a few cohorts go through the program, excel in their science courses, try research, and become young scientists. Basically, I wouldn’t have seen firsthand that [Program] really works.

I almost forgot I owned these books

If I would have left in 2009, the second time I considered it due to financial issues, I would have never had the chance to be part of a great research team. I got to present at conferences in Chicago and Toronto, went to Michigan a few times to hold focus groups, and learned a lot more about conducting a qualitative research study. I even got a publication in a top journal out of it (co-authored, of course). If I ever do want to finish my dissertation, I know my experience on this research team will be quite useful.


2011 GSE&IS Graduation

It’s commencement weekend. I saw photos on FB of friends getting hooded, waiting in line for the procession to begin, and celebrating their accomplishments with friends, family and their kids (in some cases). While I’m very happy for them, I felt a bit sad and envious. I should have been there. June 2012 was my degree expected term.

Even in the tough times, I thought I’d finish de panzazo (just barely, or doing the minimum to pass). I imagined myself writing that phrase in my dissertation acknowledgements or dedication. I’d get the degree, but I wouldn’t be a budding rockstar in the education research world like some of my friends. That wouldn’t matter to my family. They would still come out in full force like they did for my BA graduation. They’d be proud, even though I finished dead last.

There will be other opportunities to make them proud. I hope.

*I considering drawing out the obvious parallels between distance running and pursuing a doctorate, but I’m not up for metaphors and similes. While I’ve faltered in graduate school, I’ve managed to go from zero exercise to eking out a sub-4 marathon. Personally, the metaphor won’t work. I’m proud of my running accomplishments. Academics? Not so much.


15 thoughts on “Did not finish

  1. diana says:

    cindylu! I admire your honesty and how you stand by your decision. You’ve always been someone I looked up to, and will continue to do so! I was at the education graduation this weekend and thought about you and seeing you get hooded, but like you said, you’ll have many more opportunities to make your loved ones proud. for me, this post is a start.
    ❤ diana

  2. Wow, this post is inspiring. I’ve thought about leaving every day since I got here, and was just thinking about it tonight actually (well, it is another day after all). The right decisions are never easy, but going with your gut takes real guts. I really admire your courage to leave, thanks for posting this. Why do these [program]s sound like bad relationships sometimes? geez…

  3. Wow…what a difficult decision to make. But, you gotta do you. It’s not always about making everyone else proud. What do YOU want to do?

  4. How did I miss this post?

    Cindy, I admire that you were able to make a difficult decision like this one. Seriously, I’ve seen it happen a lot, and when it does, it always seems like it was the right decision. Personally, I came so close many times but did not have the courage to do it… and honestly, I think I would have been in the same place career-wise either way. As with running, you have to do what’s best for you and your goals — it looks like there is more and better for you out there. People who have had to make this choice around me tend to discount all the effort they put in (as “wasted”), but that’s not the right attitude.

    I’m so glad that you were able to take away everything you have obtained in your experience — you aren’t losing anything by walking away, and nobody can take your accomplishments away from you. It’s all a gain, not a loss!

  5. I got teary-eyed reading this. I have told you before that I admire and respect you as a person and a professional-even a professional student…whether you get some letters after your name or not. You are my hero.

  6. I admire your bravery for wanting to share such a personal decision. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for you to decide. I was happy just to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. I worked all throughout college because I didn’t want to take on massive debt with student loans. I also had the attitude that “C’s get degrees” Well C’s don’t get you into the graduate school of your choice either. I’m torn about what to do. I’ve taken a few masters’ courses but I’m not eager to continue. , especially when you are not guaranteed a job in your chosen field. I wish you good luck on starting your career path and be proud of what you have already accomplished.

  7. Mooch says:

    This post made me cry…. Everything makes me cry. I know you made the right decision for you. I wish you lots of success in what comes next.

  8. Hi Cindylu, thanks for sharing this. You have are the bravest blogger I know. With your words and example you continue to inspire me. Even though I did finish, I decided to stick with my community college job, and not be an academic. I am taking up running, will be doing a half marathon in August. So, whatever you do, know that you are awesome!

  9. chispa says:

    Cindy, I am sure it was an incredibly difficult decision to make but you gotta do what is best for you and what makes you happy. Reading your post reminded me of the period in my life where I didn’t think I could or would finish law school. I am proud of you and know you will kick butt in whatever you do next.

  10. E says:

    so here goes some stuff you dont know.

    in 2005 i was accepted into UCLA. and then i was quickly priced the entire fuck out by that initial 25% tuition hike. then there was another 19% one after that a few years later. the only option for someone who emancipated at 17 and had no family for help? take out sharky student loans at high rates that werent secured by the FED. and I just chose not to do it. it might have been the best thing for me.

    to be frank, i dont know how you afforded it all this time. youve been going to UCLA since we went rolling down hills that one time. been a long road and i accept your decision. but youve got like… 9011 degrees. you dont need the doctorate at this point. you and your special guy… i have a feeling you guys will be just fine.

    enjoy life, lady.


  11. -k- says:

    Cindy, I’m late reading this but wanted to join the chorus in supporting you. I’m proud of you for making a firm decision- I know it’s not easy to get there, even when you feel it’s the right thing to do. (I’ve said it before: I’ll only really know the answer to the ‘finish or not?’ question when I either write the same e-mail you wrote or have the degree in hand.) I can tell it’s bittersweet, but seen from the right angle it’s truly worth celebrating, because it’s a definitive invitation for Whatever’s Next to come find you.

    Anyway, FWIW- I’m glad you stayed in long enough to get up to Michigan, too! 😉

  12. Angela Ovalle says:

    You don’t know me, but I follow your blog after finding it by chance. It spoke to me in that I was also a Latina Ph.D. student who loves the Dodgers and who has awesome taste in music. ☺ I just wanted to tell you that I applaud you on making the hard decision to leave your program. I made a similar decision two years ago, after defending my proposal, and I know what you are going through – the disappointment, maybe some doubt, possibly regret, and now trying to figure out your future career path. For me, I also struggled with a sense of guilt that I was letting people down – people who had supported and encouraged me for years. That was the hardest thing to deal with. But you said you went with what your gut was telling you – so you made the right decision. For me, it became clear that it was time for me to leave my program when one of my closest friends said, “You need to stop torturing yourself. If you don’t want to finish, don’t finish.” It was her way of telling me it was ok, to do what I wanted, what I knew was the right decision for me. For me it boiled down to the fact that I just had no passion for what I was doing – and life is too short to waste your time on things like that. After a few hard conversations, it was behind me and I’ve never looked back. Be comforted in knowing that the people who really love and care about you do not care that you don’t have those letters after your name. They just want you to be happy. Go be happy.

  13. Hi Cindylu,
    I’ve followed your blog on and of for a while. I made the same hard decision you made a two years ago after a brilliant defense of my proposal. I was at the end of my rope, applying for research grant funding, trying to meet the expectations of those around me including my committee friends and family, and it just never felt like I was doing enough. No matter how many hours a day I spent at the library, no matter how long I sat in front of my computer, no matter how isolated I became from all human contact in order to concentrate on work… it never felt like enough. Meanwhile it felt like life was merely continuing on without me in it. Don’t get me wrong, I felt good about my proposal, about my project, but unfortunately I also felt insufficiently supported at the end of the day. Like “la jefa” my advisor and other committee members always had so many commitments I could hardly get a meeting with them. My love for learning, the love that had been nurtured so lovingly by my former teachers from the time I can remember, was left in shambles by the time I decided to leave. To tell you the truth grad school almost killed all of who I am. I stuck around long enough to feel like I had been chipped-away-at so long that recovery and healing would be a day-by-day slow process. Unlike yourself, I pretty much had to disappear from the face of the earth to re-assemble myself.

    So here are my two cents from what I have learned in my own process. I share these with you as a THANK YOU for being so brave as to write about your decision for all of us to read. I share these with you to let you know you are not alone (as is evident from the responses to this post):

    1) Be patient with yourself.
    2) It will feel weird to see friends and colleagues finish and become Doctores y Doctoras while you are still straightening things out in your head and heart (It’s ok, take a deep breath, cry if you have to, run, do yoga, anything that might help, but also know that it is ok).
    3) It get’s SOOOOOOOO MUCH BETTER!!! If you felt you had to leave the program in your gut, (mine was basically punching me in the face), you made the right choice! What comes next can seem scary as hell but it is also a wonderful opportunity for new adventures.
    4) Open your heart to the universe. Okay I know this sounds hooky, but it’s true. Just like you listened to your gut, it’s time to listen to your heart and be open. Younever know what opportunity lies just around the corner, it might just take taking a couple of steps forward and listening.
    5) What you have learned in this time MATTERS! You are not a failure, you are not less intelligent, you are indeed an amazingly BRAVE CHINGONA! It takes guts to listen to your heart and leave something you have thought would define the rest of your life.

    My hope is that these thoughts may be seeds that bloom in your own garden of “aprendizaje.”

    Much love and respect,


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