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blog Escape the Ivory Tower and the old Leaving Academia website run by Sabine Hikel (again: I am not her), which is no longer being updated but is still full of great advice.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.

I previously discussed how much writing a "skills resume" has helped me, so if you haven't seen that post, I recommend checking it out and doing a skills inventory of your own.

As for other things you can do to ease the emotional fallout of leaving, I have some other recommendations. Note that any of these can be done whether you've already decided to leave or are just considering it as one possibility of many. But in my experience, they can help you make the decision and ease anxiety. Here you go:

Read PostAcademic Blogs
If you're reading this, you're already here and likely reading other post-academic blogs and message boards as well. But still, I feel compelled to say - don't stop. There is safety in numbers, and seeing that other people are experiencing the same struggles and feelings as you can be immensely liberating. So keep reading about the experiences of others who have left, and periodically check back when you feel doubt about what you're doing. You can start with my resources list, or just Google around until you find more affirmations of how you're feeling. There are a lot of us out here, and you aren't the only one going through this. 

Take a Break
Not 100% sure you want to leave yet? Thinking that it might just be a phase, and you'll miss academia and want to go back?

Take a break. And not just a day. Give yourself a few weeks or a month (at least) off from any academic work. Don't respond to anything other than the most basic emails. Don't work on your research. Tell your advisor you're out of town. If you can, maybe take an official leave of absence. Pretend that the university has shut down for a furlough month and that you're forbidden from doing any work. And just ... do other things.

The only way you'll ever know whether you really want to leave is to figure out how you feel when you aren't doing the work anymore. And the only way to figure that out is to not do the work. So stop for a while. Stop until the academic guilt wears off and you can think clearly about whether you really miss the job ... or if it's just the guilt that makes you feel like you have to continue.

I did this, and my happiness - no, elation - at not working on research (while still working at my part-time job) made my decision clear. I needed to go. I didn't care anymore.

Scan Job Listings
Once you know what transferable skills you have (from doing your skills resume), it can be emotionally helpful to scan nonacademic job listings, just to see what jobs you could qualify for with your skills. No one is saying you have to apply or that you have to leave; however, I have found that simply doing job searches outside of academia in cities I'd like to live in has been tremendously emotionally helpful. There are a lot of nonacademic research and writing jobs out there, a lot of jobs in which you'd come in contact with kids, and a lot of other jobs you probably haven't even thought of that you could do and love doing.

If you're feeling discouraged, give yourself a few hours to look around, and to really see that you have options.

See a Therapist
Okay, we're grad students, so many of us are doing this already, right? Well, if so, don't forget to talk about the possibility that you want to leave with your therapist. They can likely offer great advice, or at least give you feedback on whether your reasons are valid or whether it truly seems like you want to leave.

If you aren't currently seeing a therapist? Well, I'm not one to say "everyone needs to see a therapist," but I will say that it's helped me immensely. And I will also say that if you really leave, the chances are good that you will want to talk this process through with people. And if all of your social contacts are academic types, they may make you feel worse about your decision rather than better. (And if you have social contacts who are not academics, they may get tired of you rambling on about academia all the time. ;) I advise seeking out outside voices to talk about how you're feeling. A therapist can be one excellent outside voice to talk to.

Make (Social) Contact with the Outside World
See above about seeking out outside voices. I know that everyone in the world is not as social as I am; however, I cannot underestimate how good it can feel to see people living happy, fulfilling lives outside academia if you are considering leaving.

If you have an easy time making friends, go out and make some who are not in academia. If you find making friends on your own to be difficult, then try joining a club or volunteer group to make it easier to come into contact with people outside academia. If you're immensely shy, try finding a place to make friends online.

Just make sure that before you listen solely to your academic friends and decide unequivocally not to leave (because they will likely tell you that every other job is "boring" and "unfulfilling"), go actually talk to people in the real world. Compare their lives to yours, and figure out where you fit.

Part 3 will post shortly - perhaps not until after the weekend. Feel free to leave comments or suggestions if you would like to share what has helped you in your personal journey!


  1. I also think that just before you leave academia its important to work out what skills you have gained in academia and how they are transferable into the non-academic world. Why not spend some valuable time just sitting down to workout precisely what skills you've gained and how to redeploy in a new work environment.

  2. Yes, definitely - if you see my earlier post, this is basically what I recommend with writing a "skills resume." This step was so, so critical in helping me see what skills I actually had AND to give me a decent self-esteem boost. I definitely agree with you that this is a critical step to take in the journey out of academia.