Friday, June 24, 2011

I'm Still Here!

Sorry that posting has been a bit sporadic lately, all. I've been very busy with work, got sick for a few days, and have a few personal things that are going on that are occupying my mind and time - nothing directly to do with me, but some friends who are going through some really hard times right now.

I have some ideas for posts - part 3 in my "recommendations" series, as well as another post on the trend toward temporary faculty and adjuncts and a post about assumptions of privilege in academia. I'm particularly excited about the last one. My department recently sent out an email (I'm still on the listserv) announcing that the only grad students who would be recieving departmental funding to go to conferences would be those with solo-authored papers at national conferences in our discipline.

So the rest of the students - those collaborating with other grad students or faculty at national conferences (even if they're lead author), or those who elected to submit to regional conferences or conferences for other disciplines - will now be expected to foot the entire bill for travel, registration fees, per diem, etc.

And, of course, if a student is unable to foot those bills and therefore decides to not attend as many conferences, questions will be raised about their level of dedication to academia and to their work, and of their quality as a scholar.

It's one in a long line of examples I've observed in which grad students are expected to have a great deal of economic support behind them via savings accounts, parental or spousal support, or some other hidden source of income. But don't go get a part-time job to supplement your income! No way!! Then you're a lazy slacker.

The assumption of privilege is an ugly hidden aspect of grad school and academia. I'm working on writing and finding resources for a longer post on this, which will be posted soon. In the meantime, if you have any stories about assumptions of privilege that you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them!

And in the meantime ... I'm still here. And still feeling great about my decision to leave.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #7: I Want Out of the Exploitative Higher Ed System

This reason is one that has just recently occurred to me, as I have done more and more reading from dissatisfied academic and post-academic writers out here in the blogosphere.

I've mentioned before that I really had no idea of the extent to which adjuncting had become the "new normal" in academia. My department didn't use adjuncts (they had grad students to do their low-cost teaching for them), and while I had known several people who had left our department for visiting professor or instructor positions, I don't personally know anyone in real life who is teaching on the course-by-course adjunct system with no benefits and absolutely no job security. I really had no idea that there were adjuncts out there who were doing it as a full-time job (and not just for supplemental income in addition to a 9-5 job).

Since making the decision to leave and beginning this blog, however, I've learned that more than half of all college courses are currently taught by adjuncts. I've also learned that there are an entire class of people with Ph.D.'s out there who aren't just adjuncting a class on the side, but who are actually trying to string together an entire career based on traveling between multiple campuses and teaching 4 or 5 classes with no benefits, just to top out at a wage that approximates a life of poverty. Other bloggers and journalists have written about homeless adjuncts, adjuncts on food stamps, and groups of adjuncts who have been prevented from organizing together to buy group health insurance by their universities.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Few Things...

A few random observations from the past week or so ... I'll post Part 3 of my "concrete advice for navigating this search" later this week:

(1) I have been traveling a lot over the past few weeks, going in and out of town for various weddings, new baby visits, and other family and friend events that I didn't want to miss. I have to say - it's been wonderful. I've reconnected with some old friends and family, and have enjoyed my time away from Grad U and my former colleagues. My family and friends hear about my career transition and start offering up suggestions for jobs or companies I could work for ... rather than offering up their thoughts about what I "should" do or why I should rethink my decision to leave. I have supportive friends in Grad U city - definitely - but the level of support I get among people who knew me before I came to grad school has been wonderful.

It's so nice to be around people who know me as the person I am, and don't place all of their stock in what I do or don't do for a living.

Also? Being able to travel, and to relax with family and friends without work obligations and guilt hanging over my head??? Amazing. My free time is truly mine, and I'm more relaxed and happy as a result. I'm also a better friend and family member, since I can actually spend time with the people I love rather than being there physically but being mentally lost in a fog of the work I "should be" doing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Practical Advice for Navigating the Leap - Part 2

Okay, here is my second of three posts offering concrete advice for anyone considering leaving academia. As I mentioned in my last post, I really don't feel confident offering concrete advice on how to actually GET a job. I have an office job, but it's not something I want to do long-term.

For concrete "getting a job" advice, I'd recommend that you check out the Versatile Ph.D. forums, as well as the blog Escape the Ivory Tower and the old Leaving Academia website run by Sabine Hikel (again: I am not her), which is no longer being updated but is still full of great advice. All three places offer concrete job-searching advice that is really fantastic.

But as I wrote in the last post, the journey out of academia is a very emotionally fraught one ... and it seems like there is just as much of a need out there for advice on emotionally navigating this process.

And that, I feel that I can offer. Despite some minor setbacks, I've remained very positive and happy throughout the process, and am confident that I'm doing the right thing and will eventually find a good job. And I can point to some very specific reasons in my own life and journey out of academia that have helped me feel this way.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Practical Advice for Navigating the Leap - Part 1

Just today, it occurred to me that while this blog has chronicled quite a bit of how it feels to be leaving the academic life and the reasons why I'm leaving, I have not offered much in the way of concrete advice for making this leap.

To be honest, I sort of haven't felt like I was qualified to offer any advice. I haven't really left yet. I'm still living in the college town, still technically affiliated with my grad program (enrolled in Ph.D. credits, still on their website, etc.), and have not landed my big-time career job yet. I just didn't feel qualified to offer full-on career advice.

And I still don't. But what I have realized through this process is that it takes as much emotional work as it does practical (job-seeking) work to make the transition. Even if (like me) you know that you're making the right decision, and even if you're happier than you've been in years ... you will probably still deal with at least a little bit of emotional fallout if you decide to make this leap. Based on the search terms bringing people to this blog, it seems like at least a few of you are already dealing with some of it.

So ... concrete advice for dealing with this emotionally? I can offer that. Here you go.

If you are thinking about leaving academia, here are a few things that I have done that have made this transition easier on myself mentally. Most of these things don't require you to actually be leaving right now - they are just things you can do to "try out" leaving, or to give yourself a confidence boost or backup plan if you think you may wind up actually leaving academia.

Part 1 (with the biggest piece of advice I can give) will post now, with Part 2 to come later (possibly tonight, but more likely tomorrow).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Your Tuesday Funny

From a brilliant commenter at the latest post* at "100 Reasons Not to Go To Grad School," regarding the problem of unstructured time during grad school (which can leave you either never working or constantly working). Regarding the work schedule in grad school under unlimited unstructured time:

"Step 1: allow your unstructured time to run wild like a mustang
Step 2: suffer from an incredibly acute and debilitating panic attack
Step 3: regain composure long enough to get some stuff done
Step 4: REPEAT"

"Anonymous" who left the comment ... if by some small chance you also read here, you are a genius.

Readers: this is unbelievably true, and exactly what it feels like to work in grad school. You will slack off for a few days, then suffer through an insane bout of guilt, panic, and likely a crying attack or two where you will beat yourself up for being the worst grad student ever. Then you'll steel your resolve, sit down, and get a couple things done. And will pat yourself on the back.

And the next week, you'll take one evening off to catch up on reruns of your favorite show, and the cycle will repeat itself.

This is normal for grad studenting ... but not normal for real life. Just an FYI.

*If you are reading here and have not bookmarked the "100 Reasons" blog, do so immediately. And when you have time, read through the archives.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Why is it that any time I run into anyone I know from Grad U, they always wind up acting like they know better than me what will make me happy?

Half the time, I tell people about my (exciting, positive) decision to leave academe ... and they wind up telling me that I should try the market one more time! That teaching at a small college will be far different than at Grad U ... that liberal arts students are "different" ... that it's just the faculty and colleagues and students in our department that are obnoxious and apathetic and that elsewhere will be better. It will! I should just give it one more shot next year! I'll get a job for sure.

It doesn't matter if I'll get "a job" next year. What I realized is that I don't want "any" academic job. That's not going to change if I stay on the market another year.

And the rest of the time, I wind up speaking with someone who is supportive of my decision to leave academe and may even express some ambivalence about it themselves. But as soon as they ask what types of jobs I am considering and I tell them that I'm looking at both Ph.D. and MA-level jobs, their heads start spinning. "Oh, but you have to finish your dissertation. You have to. Just hurry up and finish. You'll regret it SO MUCH if you don't. And don't look for a job below Ph.D. level. You have to make sure you get a job that's worth it."

How the hell do these people know what is "worth it" to me?? How do they know how I'd feel if I landed a fun job with reasonable hours in a geographic area where I'd love to live that pays me well ... but where having a Ph.D. doesn't matter?

Let me tell you how I'd feel about a job like that ... pretty damn thrilled.

The idea that these people know exactly what I "should" do, despite barely knowing me and never having held any kind of job outside academia? It's really starting to drive me nuts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #6: I Need Tangible Outcomes

This reason is one that crept up on me, I'll admit it. I've mentioned periodically that I loved grad school for awhile, and grew to hate it only once my MA and my qualifying exams were over.

I think part of that reason was because it was at that point that the day-to-day, tangible outcomes of the work I was doing generally disappeared. I've hinted at this before, but it's time to give this reason its own post.

Well, That Makes Sense!

This post is about how sometimes, it's a good idea to listen to the people who know you best. Two stories illustrating this seem appropriate:

(1) I've mentioned a few times around these parts that my decision to look for jobs outside academia came only after I went on the academic job market and had interviews.

That's right - in this era of a terrible market, I did all the applications, did phone interviews (each of which left me overwhelmingly nervous, nauseous, and shaky), had four campus visit offers (went on three), and was ultimately offered a temporary faculty position to replace someone who was on medical leave.

When I got the offer, my stomach sank. I did not want to live in the place where that job was, and the pay was terrible, and I hated every second of my interview there. And then I'd wind up having to go back on the market the following year. Even the idea of going through this process again made me feel physically ill and exhausted.