Saturday, March 19, 2011

Obligatory Introductory Post

As I say in my About Me section, I am an ABD grad student in the social sciences at a major research institution in the midwest.

I came to grad school bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited about the prospect of reading, writing, teaching, and doing research. In the ensuing years, however, the excitement has disappeared as the reality of academia revealed itself to me. It took me awhile to realize how miserable I've been, but once I realized it and made the scary and life-altering decision to leave the career path I've been moving toward for nearly a decade, I've been happier than I've been in years.

I wanted to start this blog for a few reasons.

First, because I've always wanted to start a blog, but never had the time before due to the demands of my academic obligations, my part-time job, and my mental exhaustion due to balancing those two things. Now that I've eased up my academic obligations, I have the time and energy I've been lacking. So while the bulk of these posts (especially at first) will likely be about my decision to leave academia and about my job search, I do plan to blog about different things as well. I have a range of interests and things I'm passionate about, most of which have taken a backseat to my job and school in recent years. It's time for that to end.

Second, because throughout my graduate school career I have gotten absolutely no guidance and minimal support for pursuing a career outside academia -- and indeed, for even thinking that a career move like this was even possible or that I have any real skills that might translate into a job with a title other than "professor." I want to add my voice to the growing chorus of people out there who have either realized that an academic career is not for them, or who are striking out on the academic job market and are feeling bad about themselves as a result. I know how much of a help it has been for me to see that there are other people out there who have felt like me. If I can help even one other person in that way through this blog, then it will be worth it.

Third, because I've often found that writing things down and then rereading them can help me gain clarity and see patterns where I previously didn't see them. I don't have a "career" job yet, and in fact I'm researching a few options. But I think that writing my thoughts in this space might help me as well.

Finally, a few disclaimers that I think I have to clarify.

(1) My decision to leave academia should not be taken as a suggestion that I think academia is a terrible career path to pursue, or that there is anything wrong with those who choose to pursue it. I have many friends who are pursuing careers in academia and excelling at it. But I've realized that it's not for me. Just like some people want to be pilots or mechanics or doctors or gardeners and are well-suited to those jobs and some are not, there are some people who are meant to be academics and some who are not. I am in the latter category. So it's time for me to leave. Not time for everyone to leave, or even most people. This blog is about me, and it is for me and for people like me, for whom what I say might ring true.

If you love academia, then I wish you well, and am thrilled that you found what you love to do. I'm still looking.

(2) That being said, I do have some generalized criticisms of academia that I will detail here, and I stand by those criticisms. However, these criticisms should not be construed to mean that I think no one should pursue academic careers. Every job has positives and negatives, and things that need to be changed. Academia is no exception. That being said, I think that there is far too little attention paid to the negative aspects of academia. This blog is an attempt to publicize these negatives ... not to encourage anyone not to go down that road. You need to do what makes you happy ... but at the same time, your life decisions need to be well-informed.

(3) I am not doing this out of anger that I did not get a job on the academic market. In fact, as I'm sure I will write later - it was my experience with one academic interview in particular that led me to see, clearly, that I did not want an academic job unless it was in a perfect location with the perfect workload, salary, and student composition. Clearly, the chance that I would land that ideal job is slim to none. I do think that if I went back on the market next year I would get a job, somewhere. I'm at a top program and even this year, I got multiple interviews. But those interviews showed me that it's not what I want. I'm so, so, so glad I went on the market this year and didn't get a job ... because otherwise, I might be miserable.

In short, going on the market was the best thing I've done, and I'm happy I did it.

Okay. That's it for now. I might post a few other entries today, but I promise that for the time being, none of them will be as long as this one. In the meantime, I would like to encourage anyone reading this and experiencing something similar to email me at leavingacademia [at] gmail {dot} com. I'm just at the start of this process, but I am happy to offer the little bit of advice I can, or just to commiserate with others.

If you're considering leaving academia ... trust me ... let yourself at least consider your options.


  1. My goodness. This blog is a godsend in my current state.

    *sits down to read thoroughly*

    1. M, is that you? You don't have to say if it is, but I thought of you when I found this blog.


  2. I left academia (I was at a top PhD program in the social sciences in the midwest) last year and am SO happy I did so. I was lucky enough to get a job offer in the field I wanted to be in (but one that didn't require -- or even encourage -- a PhD), but I would have left regardless.

    My fiance did the same thing (though he switched careers slightly) and we would both make the decision again and again and again if given the option.