So, I ran across this old post on a sociology blog, where sociology faculty offer some very sensible advice for people who are considering leaving graduate school. I thought it would be useful to people reading here to link to and write a bit about this post.
Obviously, this post will be about how I, personally, view and relate to each of their points about when to quit. But I advise everyone reading to think about how you feel about each of these points.
I'm going to address this post in 4 separate posts over here, so that you aren't reading a 40 page blog entry. Here's part 1.
First, what I appreciate about this post is the fact that the author does not cut down or insult graduate students who might be thinking about leaving. He doesn't even allege that such students can't cut it or aren't smart enough. Given the negative reactions that a lot of academic leavers have gotten from established faculty, this needs to be commended.
Anyway, onto the post itself. The author lists the following five factors as the advantages of an academic career:
These points are very true. Academia is one of the few places where you are freely available to work on almost any topic you're interested in. Although, as I've written before, this freedom will be somewhat limited to a narrow range of topics that you are free to explore as deeply as you want, at least until you get tenure. If you focus on 18th century European history, you aren't going to be able to easily turn around and start writing about the post-WWII area. If the bulk of your research is on domestic violence, you aren't going to find it easy to do side projects on adolescent peer groups and another on higher education in Eastern European countries."You get to be part of a larger scholarly and intellectual community and work on cool ideas.""You get to decide the topic of your work."
So the "cool ideas" bit is true, but if your idea of "cool ideas" involve exploring a wide range of ideas on a wide range of topics, this isn't necessarily available in academia until after tenure.
"You get to work with smart people and young people."Also very true. Academics are smart, and college students tend to be young. However, as I've written before, don't be mistaken ... academia is not the only place where you can interact and work with smart people.
As for young people - they are found in places other than college. You can volunteer as a Big Brother or Big Sister, or as a coach or youth group leader. If you love college kids, you could always take a nonacademic job in a university, or work as a tutor. Adjunct a class at night in addition to your day job. Go see if you can get involved with student programs at the local college. Kids are pretty cool, but they are found everywhere.
"Professoring is a well regarded position."Again, this is true. Being a professor is a respected position. But then again ... so is being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a successful business leader, or a member of the clergy ... and a million other occupations that are out there.
Also, what good is being "well regarded" if you hate your job?
If you love academia, stay in it. If you hate it, don't stay just because you want a well-regarded job. You can be respected in a lot of different professions.
"Compared to most industries, the faculty have extremely stable jobs that will support a middle class lifestyle."This is very true, although with the important caveat that your starting salary will likely be lower inside academia than outside (unless you're a rockstar who lands at a top R-1 program), and it will increase more slowly over time than outside academia, unless you get a counter-offer that you can use for leverage to get yourself a huge raise later on.
Tenure-track positions are stable, and the pay is nothing to sneeze at. But make sure to do some research on the average salaries in your field and at the type of jobs you're considering applying to. I got a rude awakening on salary from one of the schools I interviewed at because I didn't do that type of research. So ... if you're sticking in academia, do your research. (We're good at that, right? :)
Parts 2-4 will come out over the next couple of days. In the meantime, I'd think about how you view each of these positive aspects of academia. Would you be happy with the average faculty salary at the type of school you're applying to? Are there other places you can envision fulfilling your desire to write or to work with young people?
These are all things I wish I'd considered before I got to this phase ... it would have saved me a lot of heartache.