Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Two Types of Postacademics

Wow, it looks like after about ten days of no posting, I'm feeling quite talkative lately!

Happily, though, my thought processes have shifted significantly since I first started this blog. Rather than focusing primarily on my anger and disgust at academia, most of my thoughts these days are focused on what comes next.

What is not going to come next, for me, is another trip on the academic job market. I've been keeping an eye on the job listings in my discipline, and they are collectively giving me the reaction of "meh." While some of the other postacademic bloggers are applying (or considering applying) to a few select academic jobs, I'm not planning to apply to any. I feel no enthusiasm or even slight desire to throw my hat in the ring again. I'm just ... done with it.

It's not that I wouldn't still like to do research or teach in some capacity in the future. Even my job right now requires a little bit of each of those things, in a more informal capacity. I'd be open to a job outside academia in which I'd do research and teaching/training ... but I'm done with academia, and I have no desire to be a professor anymore. I saw what that job would entail while I was on interviews in the spring, and it showed me very clearly that unless a faculty job was at the ideal institution,* I wanted nothing to do with the academic lifestyle anymore - from the culture down to the workload. I just don't want it anymore. So I'm moving on.

But reading about a few other postacademic bloggers who are taking a partial stab at the academic job market this fall got me thinking about something I haven't seen addressed as of yet in the postacademic blogosphere ... but something that I think might be important to think about, especially since most people seeking out these blogs are new to the leaving process and have no idea how to proceed.

I think that "how to proceed" is going to differ for people based on why they're considering leaving. And I think that academic leavers can be categorized into two broad groups.

The first category contains people like me, who have really had it with academia. You've just realized that you don't like it anymore. Perhaps you're someone who could envision taking an academic job under the absolute perfect circumstances ... but in general, you're pretty sure that if you left academia altogether, you wouldn't miss it one bit. The "fun" of it is just gone for you, and you have little to no desire to do the work anymore.

Or, you know, perhaps you've grown to despise everything about academia and would rather flip burgers than write one more sentence or teach one more student.

Either way, you're in the first category. Perhaps we need a name for it ... The Dislikers? The Fed-Uppers? (As you can probably guess, my discipline is not creative writing. :)

Anyway, whatever we want to call it, category one is for people who don't like academia and want to actively and happily choose something else to do. I'm with you in category one.

The second category would be people who still love academia, but who know that their ability to get a job that pays them a fair wage in an area they'd like to live is severely hampered by the academic job market or some other factor.

This could pertain to humanities Ph.D.s who see how few jobs there are in their disciplines, or to STEM grads who aren't able to relocate every few years over the next decade for postdocs. Or perhaps you're a social sciences Ph.D. who realized a little too late that your departmental ranking isn't high enough to get you a good, tenure-track job. Wherever they fall, these are people who still love the work, but are prevented from doing it due to circumstances outside their control. So while they'd still happily and enthusiastically take an academic job tomorrow, they know that they need a backup plan because this is unlikely to happen.

Regardless of which category you fall into, I think that if you choose to leave for either reason, you are making a noble and good decision. It's not healthy to stay in a job you hate, nor is it a good idea to keep toiling away for poverty wages or living in a location you despise just because you're "still in academia." I'm a big believer that your entire life matters, and that your happiness and well-being in all corners of your life are worth paying attention to. So if you hate your job (category 1), you should try something different. If you love your job but hate every other aspect of your life because you can't make a living or have a good life doing it (category 2), you need to rethink it as well.

But I think that people who are considering leaving should think about what category they fall into before making a strategy to really get out. The concrete strategies and mental work people in each category will need to go through are probably slightly different, based on whether you could see yourself returning to academia at some point in the future.

People in category one may want to focus their job search more widely at first, to see what other career path might open up to them. Meanwhile, people in category two may want to still keep a leg in academia (while definitely having a source of income outside of academia) just in case they have an opportunity to get back in later on. I'm not sure, but it feels like the strategies should be somewhat different for each group.

This would also, I think, relate strongly to the question of "should I finish?" Category two folks definitely should. Category one folks? It's not so clear-cut.

I think that the emotional process of leaving will still be somewhat the same - the anger at the system is going to be there for both categories (either for keeping them focused on a career they don't want or for not telling them the truth about their chances on the academic market), as is the sadness (over lost time or lost opportunity). People in both categories should still pay attention to the systemic problems in academia, and will need to do some similar emotional work to get themselves through the leaving process.

But it just hit me that the strategies that we take while leaving - how far and how quickly we distance ourselves from academia, how we look for "next jobs," and perhaps even how we emotionally process the decision and  the break from academia itself - may differ significantly based on why we're leaving.

I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts on this. Am I talking right out of my rear end, or might this be something useful for current and future postacademics to think about?

*for me, a SLAC in a big city within a day's drive of my hometown, with motivated students who were not primarily from privileged backgrounds. There are a couple of places that fit this description ... but not too many. And the chances that I'd just magically happen to land a job at one of those specific places? Miniscule.


  1. JC, could you please remind us whether you decided to finish your degree or not? Reading some of your posts, it sounds like you did, others not.

    I'm a mostly category 1 person. The people are absolutely vile and this offsets any remaining glimmers of interest. I've worked in several industries and by far folks are the worst in academia. My main resistance to leaving is that it's easier to get published in academia than as a creative writer (my new love, true love), and I get a lot of joy out of publishing. Problem is, the academic stuff I've published is drab at best. Arg.

    Also, I would like to punch most of my former students (I'm not TAing this quarter) in the 'nads.

  2. Oh also (Anon 4:39 here again), it's great to read a post-academic blog from a sociology person. I'm in soc and think it is the biggest waste of time ever. Other people whom I would like to punch in the 'nads:

    --all the so-called feminist professors who treat their advisees, TAs, and RAs like secretaries on "Madmen"
    --every smug asshole grad student in my department
    --most especially the condescending postmodernists and macho marxists. extra kidney punch for the latter group, actually.

  3. First, these two comments made me laugh. I definitely know all of the "types" you describe ... plus a few more. :)

    As of right now, I'm not planning to finish my dissertation unless I will get some professional benefit from it in my future job. If it's not required (or won't result in a significant pay increase or promotion) then I'm content to just leave it be and finish up ABD, taking my MA and the skills I've gotten through teaching and independent research and be done.

    Or if I change my mind two years down the line and suddenly decide that I want to finish, then I will. But right now, I'm content to just walk away.

    Probably because I'm a category 1-er as well. I'm just done with all of it.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, JC. Kudos to you. I am in the process of setting my department's record for longest amount of time to MA (5 plus years). Actually, 4 is common, and I've heard of some 4 plus-ers. Not sure if anyone else is in my boat. Not sure if I care.

    But in your case, how and when will you know? I mean, whether the as-yet unfinished doctorate will come in handy professionally if completed? Are you tinkering with it now to keep it alive, or shelving it with the intention of pulling through in a mad dash to the finish line if someone with a wad o' cash shows interest? Confused and trying to sort this out myself, though I'm fairly certain that in my case, no one is going to say, "Hot damn! Just what we were lookin' fer! A fat, middle-aged woman with a gigantic CV gap and caregiving responsibilities! What, wants to be home at night to spend time with family? Even better. And the ho-hum state school pedigree is genuinely unique. If only she had a finished dissertation, she'd truly be perfect."

    I do know that the many Great Feminists that I uprooted my life to study with are jerks to a person, and that I haven't engaged in research resembling my personal interests in years. It's funny, because sometimes I fantasize about quitting after I stumble upwards through the MA--if I can even inspire my motley crew of a committee to feign interest in my flimsy, slipshod document* at this point--then taking my dissertation project to a creative nonfiction program, where I can just write the popular non-fiction book I want to write without having to fellate Judith Butler and sell what's left of my soul.

    *actually at first I wrote "motley crue"--if I could just get my thesis to them for approval they might end up being more helpful.

  5. HI again again again again JC,

    I know it seems like I am really fixating on you here (I swear I'm not outside your bedroom watching you sleep), but yes, I am Anon 5:16, as well as the advocate of 'nad (and kidney) punching.

    In the middle of my insomniac fugue state, I couldn't recall whether you were the "postacademic" blogger who is thinking about moving into doing an MA to train as a counselor/therapist, or if that's someone else. Found it interesting, whoever it was, but especially if it was you, since I am also considering this path, and also come from soc.

    If it IS you who is considering making this move, you might want to check out the psychology forums on Student Doctor Network. I've been haunting that site for a while now, and find it useful in many ways (informative threads, good advice, reminding myself what the psychology mindset is really like--pretty conservative in many cases).

    Good luck in any case, and Motley Crue and I will be looking forward to a comprehensive reply to my many annoying followup questions above.


    Category 1: Fuck 'Em All

  6. Ha, no worries - I really like getting comments!

    I am not the person who is considering counseling as a career - that is thedustbiter at Another Academic Bites the Dust. You should head over there and leave her a comment. Counseling is actually a career I considered early in college, but ultimately decided wasn't for me.

    As to your first comment - I actually have about half of my data analysis done. I'm not tinkering with it right now, no. The only academic work I'm doing is finishing up one paper with a colleague so that my colleague can put it on the CV. If it gets to the point where I decide to finish, my plan is to sit down and work on it every second I'm not at work until I have a finished first draft. As far as I understand it, most nonacademic entry level jobs requiring a Ph.D. will give you some time to finish once hired, so I don't see it as something I'd need to knock out in a month or anything like that.

    As to how I know whether it will come in handy ... it really seems to depend upon the jobs you're applying for. Most are pretty explicit about the required education credentials, and you can more or less judge whether you'll need the degree based on the types of jobs you're trying for. Looking for a government job doing research or a higher-level position in university administration? You'll likely want to finish. Thinking about something that might require another degree (like counseling)? Probably not.

    As for me, I'm thinking primarily about getting a job in the industry I'm working in now in my "for now" job, although at a higher level doing slightly different work. I know the industry well, and I know a finished Ph.D. won't be necessary. But if I get hired and my boss tells me I'll get a $20k raise if I finish the diss? I'll finish.

    So basically, you should get a good sense of whether a degree will be needed based on the industries you start exploring. And if you get a job requiring an MA (or whatever) in which a Ph.D. would net you a big raise? Well, chances are that that wouldn't be a big secret - you could find out by asking your supervisors, and then go from there.

    Basically, the outside world is more flexible. There are a lot of paths you can take. My biggest piece of advice is to take some time to think about what kind of work you'd like to do and figure out what you need to do to get yourself there.

  7. Thanks, JC. Very illuminating. You're fantastic. Since you like comments, I'm going to pose another question--maybe too intrusive--obviously your choice as to how detailed a response (if any) is warranted.

    The option you describe above sounds great to me--I'm just more of a slug--since not done with MA. I could probably go ABD by the end of the year, but then there would still be 3-5 years of painful, qualitative diss work and my adherence to the sunk cost fallacy would have really wiped out the opportunities which might be available to a 40-something, but perhaps not someone in her early fifties.

    So are you on a leave of absence? How does one work what you describe above? I imagine that if I left shy of the doctorate my department wouldn't "let me back in" to finish, but since I'm in the swiftly imploding UC system, maybe they'd just say, "bring us a boatload of cash, you jackal!"


  8. I'm sure it depends on the department. Ours is pretty lenient about ABDs hanging out for a year or two, still nominally affiliated with the department while paying a small fee for tuition for "dissertation work hours."

    I'm going to do this for one more semester, and then just notify them I'm leaving - however they want to classify it. But our department allows for the completion of a Ph.D. within 11 years of the completion of the masters', and the only thing you need to do is enroll for one "dissertation work hour" during the semester you're defending. So as long as I stay within that 11 year window (I have some time), I could re-activate without any hassle.

    So that's how it works in my department ... or at least, how it did the last time I checked. Hopefully nothing has changed ... not that I plan on coming back. But I guess you never know.

    But like you say, I'm pretty sure that even if I came knocking in 15-20 years asking them to take me back to defend, they'd probably let me ... as long as I had a checkbook in my hand to give them money. Or maybe I'm just cynical. :)

  9. Thanks, JC, and good luck!

  10. I'm just reading this now, after you mentioned it recently. I think I was a type 1 who tried for a long time to be a type 2 (wanted to get the PhD JUST IN CASE that perfect job came around and I could apply). But yeah -- there are so many places I feel I could be happy and use my talents that don't require the death of my soul. Type 1 FTW.

  11. Just found your blog! Type-1 here, and after becoming ABD (physical science) I went from 0 to raging antipathy towards all things academic and have since been on a covert job search trying to get the f*** out (of "Superior" R1 University).

    It's amazing how ambitious you are going in and how (for the category ones among us) cynical you come out. I could go on and on but your blog sums up most of my sentiments on academia. As for the 'nads puncher, I don't condone punching people in the 'nads but at the same time wouldn't exactly feel bad if every university admin with an over-inflated salary got a well-placed kick in the pants