Professional Development

Quitting without leaving it all behind: Tosha Tsang, former Sociology PhD Student on her alt-ac career path

October 22, 2014

This article is part of a series exploring professional paths for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that make use of or leverage academic training but are not limited to traditional faculty positions (#alt-ac). If you would like to hear more about Tosha's story and ask her your questions, come to our November 13, 2014 Alt-Ac Career Cafe.

Hate your thesis? Freaking out about what to do next...or now even? Not to worry. According to Tosha Tsang, there may just be a few key ounces of career gold in your research misery if you know where to look.   

Tosha spent 7 years working on a PhD in sociology at the University of Alberta before quitting her program.

“I went into my PhD program because it was the path of least resistance. I had published an article in a top tier journal that was well received so it seemed like the logical next step. But part way through my program I realized I didn’t see myself as a professor and found I was getting more out of my graduate assistant work in libraries.  

Tosha was not unfamiliar with overcoming pain and endurance. A rower for nearly a decade, she was part of a crew that won a silver medal at the 1996 summer Olympics. Yet, four years into her program she was seriously considering quitting and decided against it in part because she received a research fellowship. Three years later she was starting to suffer and she realized she was completely burnt out. She decided she didn’t want to pay the emotional price finishing her degree was going to cost her.   

Tosha did what PhD advocates like the Thesis Whisperer say is the only thing harder than continuing forward,

“It is a hard, but brave, decision to make, and yes, it may involve disappointing yourself and/or others...but these all pale in comparison when you consider the fact that this is your only life, and you don’t want to waste it by pressuring yourself to do things that aren’t right for you.”  

Tosha made the tough decision to leave. Luckily, she was able to see that crossing the convocation stage wasn’t the only path that her program had opened up to her.

“During my studies, I worked part time in my department’s office. Pamphlets about graduate scholarship opportunities would come in from time to time and since there were only a few I would have to choose which mailbox got them. It seemed really inefficient and privileged some over others. That made me realize I had a passion to make access to information more equitable.”

Tosha completed a Master of Library and Information Studies at UBC in 2011 and now works as a Research Commons Librarian at SFU.

“I love being part of the university, and working with knowledge. Now I get to do that in a different way by helping connect graduate students and faculty with the information and research support they need. And thanks to my doctoral background, I can do this even more effectively because I know what they are going through and where they are coming from.”

Though Tosha left her PhD program, she didn't abandon it. By knowing what she loved about her research and studies and identifying the skills and expertise she had built up through them, she was able to turn a difficult career path into one she is now thriving in.

- Jackie Amsden, APEX Professional Development Coordinator

If you would like to hear more about Tosha's story and ask her your questions, come to our November 13, 2014 Alt-Ac Career Cafe.

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