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.


  1. When people give "advice" they're just talking to a past version of themselves...

  2. You know, that's a good way to look at it. Also, I assume that a lot of people are projecting - like "no! You *will* get a job next year and you *will* finish the degree" - because they are so afraid that they won't do so.

    But it's just so frustrating. I'd never tell them they should drop out. Why can't they just accept that we're all different people who want different things? Ugh, so annoying...

  3. I think that people just love giving "advice" and when as Anon says they're really talking about themselves. Maybe they can't cope with the concept of dropping out. I think that their desire to express this really says more about them, than you and your decision do to what you've done. No, they can't accept that people are different..since they're probably desperate to conform and they are worried about others might think of them.

  4. The hardest part about this process (since I do have a job that pays my bills right now) has definitely been dealing with how other people perceive this decision. Even though I know that most people are just projecting when they criticize or offer advice, it's still been really tough.

    Thanks for the support. I really do know that I'm making the right decision and know that I shouldn't put as much stock in what other people have to say ... but it is very tough to spend what feels like half your conversations with other people defending what you are individually deciding to do with your life.

    Oh well....

  5. Thank you so much for your posts. I did land two tenure track jobs. I am going to follow through and see if I make tenure next year. However, once that occurs, the job search to get out of higher ed for good begins. No amount of job security could ever make me want to stay with these horrible, critical and ignorant people who talk a great PC game but have had so few actual experiences in their lives. I did keep hoping that the next program or the next job would finally end the profound sense of alienation I feel when interacting with academics. However, at 46 I have finally reached the conclusion that I just don't belong. I did not come from the privilege and the elitism. I cannot take another day of being instructed on what is the right wine, the most organic food, the best way to raise children, the best way to write, think feel--God, they are critical and self righteous about EVERYTHING. It makes me sick and I am done!!!

  6. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I cannot even express how gratifying it is to hear from a tenured professor, expressing the same doubts and feelings I have about the people I've met in academe. There have been some great people - definitely - but far more common are the self-righteous, snobby, out of touch people you describe. I just can't handle it anymore!

    As with everything else, I think that academe can be a great career if you enjoy people like that ... or if you don't care to make friends with your colleagues. But if you don't, it is simply ridiculous to think that you have to stay in academe just because THOSE people tell you it's the best job in the world.

    I've read about quite a few people who have left higher ed after tenure, so good luck to you! You may want to join the forums at to get advice and see a lot of stories from people like you, who left tenure track positions for other jobs and are very happy.

    Good luck!

  7. I found myself in this exact situation today. Ironically, the friend I was talking to is also always complaining about how horrible grad school/academia is. Yet when I said that I want to leave she snapped into encouragement mode, saying it's not that bad and that you can't predict how the job market will turn out. I wonder if this kind of automatic response comes from the fact that complaining about academia is usually bound up with a sense of inadequacy or anxiety about one's abilities, so the first impulse is to reassure you that you're not a failure. But surprisingly, it's not that I feel like a failure. I feel like I'm just not into it and maybe never really have been.