Saturday, March 19, 2011

Resources for Those Considering Leaving Academia

One thing I want to make sure to do, even if nothing else, is create a list of resources that I've found helpful during this job search process. I will constantly update them and categorize them as appropriate, so check back regularly for updates!

If you are planning to leave academia, you need to buy these two books. Don't hesitate for a second:
"So What Are You Going to Do With That?" - Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius
I've heard great things about this book, and some of the advice in it didn't apply specifically to me since I've kept one leg in academia and one leg out. But it was still a great book for showing me examples of people who have left academia, for giving advice on identifying skills, writing resumes, and potential industries to explore. And most generally, just for giving me assurance that I can do it. It's a quick read, and will be particularly helpful to those who haven't left academia in awhile and/or who are having trouble identifying what skills they have. Really, though, regardless of your situation, if you are leaving academia for the real world, buy this book.
"What Color is Your Parachute?" - Richard N. Bolles
This book is not targeted at people with advanced degrees or people leaving academia, but I really do think it's a great resource for those looking to leave academia. It's targeted at people who are changing careers or looking for their first career job, so the book has great strategies for (1) looking for jobs, (2) networking and interviewing, and most importantly for those leaving academia (3) how to identify your skills and what job will make you happiest. It is not touchy-feely and it does not sound like it's written by a life-coaching cheerleader. It is a practical, useful book. In short, buy it.

Blogs/websites (continually updated)
Escape the Ivory Tower
Generally, a great resource. Mostly covering the "mental" aspect of this process - identifying why academia may not be right for you, profiling people who have left, etc. I recommend signing up for the "Myths and Mismatches" e-course. It is free, was helpful, and since it ended I have not received any spam or further communications from them, so there's no need to be concerned.
After Academe
A blog by a former adjunct professor who abruptly quit and took a secretarial job outside academia while planning his/her next step. The writer has a lot of great insights into the bleakness of the academia job market, the changing nature of how universities use professors, and about the reality of adjuncting. S/he also discusses his/her new job in detail, both positives and negatives.
Worst Professor Ever
A blog by a former professor. Includes a great deal of criticism about academia, encouragement and resources for translating skills into outside jobs, and often hosts insightful interviews with former academics who have left the ivory tower.
On The Fence
A blog for people who are ambivalent, having no luck on the academic job market, or are just considering leaving. Includes guest bloggers and some great insights into the nature of the job market and the nature of an academic career (good and bad).
100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School
Exactly what it sounds like. A constantly-growing list of things that aren't so great about grad school in particular, and academia in general. Some will ring true with you, and some won't apply to you, but the whole list is still worth a read.

Articles (one-time pieces posted at news sites)
I won't talk about these in depth, since they're relatively short reads. Trust me, they're worth at least a click.
11 Things to Know - Sabine Hikel, Inside Higher Ed
Because, A Manifesto - Anonymous, Inside Higher Ed
So You Want to Go To Grad School? - Thomas H. Benton, Chronicle of Higher Education
Just Don't Go, Part II - Thomas H. Benton, Chronicle of Higher Education
Is Graduate School a Cult? - Thomas H. Benton, Chronicle of Higher Education
Deprogramming from the Academic Cult - Margaret Newhouse, Chronicle of Higher Education
Don't Drink the Kool-Aid - Sabine Hikel, Inside Higher Ed

Message Boards/Forums
Versatile Ph.D.
Formerly the wrk4us listserv from Duke (see below), a community of people who have advanced degrees (MA, ABD, or Ph.D.) who are looking for careers outside academia. It's targeted toward the humanities and social sciences, but the content is not exclusive to them. Hosts panel discussions with people working outside academia, and has a very helpful and supportive community of people on the message board who are happy to provide support and advice. 
Chronicle of Higher Education - "Leaving Academe" Forum
Exactly what it sounds like - a forum of people who have or are planning to leave academia. It's not tremendously active, but I have found looking through the archives to be very helpful in terms of emotional reassurance and practical advice.
Wrk4Us (archive)
The (now retired) site for the wrk4us listserv that became Versatile Ph.D. (see above). I was never aware of this until it had been retired, but the link above provides information about what it was, and the links on the right side of the page provide transcripts of archived discussions. I've found several of them to be very helpful when thinking about possible career options and looking for network contacts.

More General Resources I've Found Helpful (no specific links):

  • Contact your department's alumni who work outside academia. I have found the alumni of my program to be amazingly kind and helpful. Don't hesitate to ask them for additional contacts or for help with resumes, advice for getting interviews, or advice for finding job postings. Also, don't forget to send thank you emails for any help they give you.
  • Tell everyone you know about the types of industries you're considering working in. You never know who might have a cousin or friend who works in the industry. Any contact is a good contact.
  • I haven't explored this in detail yet, but multiple people have told me to update my profile on LinkedIn, which I did. I still haven't explored it thoroughly, but thought I'd pass along the advice. 


  1. Hello. I finally made the decision to withdraw from my PhD program last week, and it feels as though a huge weight has been lifted! The utter elation I feel tells me this was the right decision. I have a good part time job, and can easily find more work....I'm excited for all of the things I can now add to my life that I didn't have time for previously. I can't believe how much I bought into the mentality that I NEEDED a PhD to be happy and successful - which is what several professors have indicated over the course of my academic career. And I believed that.

    I am really starting to see what an unhealthy world academia is. In my program students are treated as inferior and not shown the same amount of respect as prof's peers. I'm sick of being treated as less than equal, and I'm also sick of being evaluated! When will I ever be good enough? Never, in grad school, it seems. So, my main reason for leaving was my mental health. The real world calls.....

    Anyway, I am so grateful to have come across this blog! I look forward to reading through more of your posts. The ones I've read have been very validating and have really helped me to see that there isn't anything wrong with me for not being a good fit for academia, and that it is okay to move on with my life now.

    Thank you!

  2. These are wonderful resources, to which I would add this one:

    I have read many of these articles and your blog posts before, JC, but I've decided to read through the whole thing post-by-post, as I've gotten to a point in my grad school career where I really feel trapped. Here's hoping for some clarity and, eventually, some action. :)