I'm finally ready to share my plans with the world. I just needed to ask my adviser and the department head for their approval first. They're both very supportive and sorry to see me leave.
I'm planning to start a leave of absence from school in January. That will give me up to a year to return to PhD studies without having to reapply. In the mean time, I can take time away to reassess what I want to do and if it requires a PhD and if I have the drive to finish the degree without wasting any more of my or my adviser's time.
I am applying for jobs in the Washington, DC, area now in hopes that I will find something I can start with the new year. I am focusing on this area because I like the city, I'm familiar with it, one of my relatives lives there, and several friends live along the East Coast.
I also want to keep the option open to pursue a master's degree in science writing with Johns Hopkins. They have a part-time evening program that I could work through while I work a normal daytime job. Ultimately, I want to communicate science to non-scientists, so this path makes sense.
It will also help me financially. Though my tuition is fully covered and I'm paid a livable salary in grad school, it still costs me to be here. I have a lot of debt from undergrad that is accruing interest. These are mainly loans with Sallie Mae, which must be run by soul-sucking profiteers the way they've handled my loans. With a job I can start paying the loans off and perhaps even take them away from Sallie Mae. I don't know how the loans work yet because my dad helped me with that. I may borrow a friend's mom to help me weed through my options. If that doesn't pan out, I may be on my own to figure it out.
So for the next two or three months I'm finishing everything I need to in order to minimize the impact this has on my adviser, who is going up for tenure this year. One of my biggest concerns is that I don't cause him a problem because he's only along for the ride this time and I'm grateful to his flexibility and understanding through the most difficult three years of my life.
I'm nervous, scared, and excited. This is the biggest departure I've ever taken from the established path through school to a career, but I truly feel this is the right decision for me right now.