Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Few Links and Comments...

Hey all,

I'm feeling somewhat lazy and unmotivated tonight, and can't seem to put a substantive post together when there are bad movies to be watched on cable and some job listings to surf through. So instead, I'm going to just be lazy and drop you some links and my own comments on some things other folks have written, with the promise to finish up at least one of the more substantive posts later this week.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Thursday Funny

This comic made me laugh, but also provided some humorous backup for my earlier observation that the idea that you can read and think and write about anything in academia is misleading. After the first few years when you're more or less allowed to explore a wide variety of areas in your field, you're expected to specialize ... and often to specialize in a direction that is consistent with what your advisors are doing and what the "hot areas" in your particular field are. The Ph.D. Comics folks are pretty observant about the reality of academic life, so trust me ... this is basically spot-on.

It's worth noting that since leaving academe almost six months ago, one of the hobbies that I've rediscovered is my love of reading. Like many grad students, over the past few years as I worked on my dissertation and other research projects, I had basically stopped reading for fun. Simply put ... if I had time for reading, I needed to be reading research in my field to keep moving on my dissertation and research.

Now that I'm done, though, I've been reading for fun like crazy. I've devoured mystery novels (my personal favorite), sci-fi novels, historical fiction, and a couple of biographies.

I've also finally gotten around to reading a few books from within my discipline that I've had on my "to-read list" for years. These are books that aren't related to my substantive research interests, but nonetheless came from the social sciences and were on topics that I found very interesting ... but again, that I had "no time" to read since I had to work around the clock on my own research. But now I have the time, so I've finally gotten around to reading a few of those books. And most of them were terrific. Interesting, informative, well-written, and engrossing. You could almost say that I've fallen back in love with my discipline - the breadth and scope of it - through leaving it and being freed from the constraints of what I'm "allowed" to read and think about.

Who knows - maybe I will even drift partially back into writing and thinking about the research in my discipline in the future ... but in a lower-pressure setting like a blog or perhaps a little bit of freelance writing.

But regardless, I'm done reading/researching only what my dissertation advisor or tenure committee wants. I'm rediscovering that freeing "life of the mind" that I was promised when I applied to graduate schools.


I'm back in town now, and will have some more substantive posts up in the next few days. I think my brain is still struggling to recover from travel, wedding festivities, and catching back up at work. In the meantime, I see that there are still a number of folks finding this blog through Google searches indicating their misery with grad school and academia. Trust me ... there is life on the other side.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekend Plans

Hello readers!

I'm going to be heading out of town for a few days this weekend - a dear old friend of mine is getting married in my hometown, so my partner and I are heading back for the wedding and to see some old friends and family.

I'm very excited, for a number of reasons ... first, I love weddings. Second, I love my hometown and seeing my family and friends. And third? For only about the third time since I moved away nearly a decade ago, I won't be bringing any academic work home with me when I head out of town.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The "Next" Job v. the "Forever" Job

In comments over at Another Academic Bites the Dust's place a few days ago, thedustbiter and I were discussing the emotional process of leaving academia, and how it can be difficult to remind yourself that once you leave the structured path of academia, you're looking for your next job, and not necessarily your forever job.

Here's the thing. As grad students and early faculty members or postdocs, we're (by default) being trained for a forever job. In other words, a tenure-track faculty position that is assumed will become permanent after about 6-7 years. There is really no such thing as an entry-level faculty position. Sure, an assistant professor is considered to be more entry-level than an associate professor and so on, but your responsibilities and duties will generally remain about the same throughout your academic career at that college or university.

And sure, there is some mobility in the profession - many faculty do move from one school to another throughout their careers. But even if you switch schools, you'll still typically be a faculty member with similar teaching/research/service responsibilities. You won't be leaving one set of duties and obligations for a completely new set.

So when you leave graduate school, you are expected to immediately search for your "forever job". You may switch between university employers, but as long as you work your rear end off, you are told that you will be employed in that capacity, as a faculty member, for the rest of your career.

Monday, July 18, 2011

You're Not Alone - Part 4

This week's search terms bringing people to this blog ... now with commentary!

"guilt about leaving academia"
Why be guilty? Do you think your department feels guilty that you're so miserable that you want to leave? I doubt it. There's nothing to feel guilty about if you are miserable at your job and want to leave. As long as you leave in a respectful way (don't abruptly quit in the middle of a class session, notify your advisors, don't burn down the building on the way out), why should you feel guilty? Your department will go on without you. You can still find ways to teach and do research. Don't feel guilty for making yourself happy.

"about to begin graduate school, depressed about money"
It remains to be seen if you will have enough money to survive on. But there's nothing wrong with wanting to make enough money to survive. Grad school can make that very hard. There's nothing wrong with admitting that, or with doing something to make your financial situation better.

"grad school depression and anxiety"
I recommend that you check out this post. I don't think it's an illusion that a lot of people start to "feel crazy" when they start a grad program. I think graduate school causes mental distress for a lot of people.

"does not having a faculty position make you feel like a loser"
Not at all. :) On the contrary, I feel like I dodged a bullet, because I think I'd be miserable in 99% of faculty jobs. But everyone is different ... so you should carefully consider your options and think about what you want. But don't buy the academic line that a faculty position is the only job worth having. That might be true for some people, but it's certainly not true for everyone.

Presented without commentary:
"hate my dissertation topic want to quit"
"hate my research program and advisor"
"graduate school guilt"

You're not alone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Follow Me!

Not surprisingly, I do a lot of reading around the blogosphere and around the internet more generally about academia, higher education in general, and on the process of leaving academia. I often read things that I think readers of this blog would find interesting/useful, but usually wind up not linking to them since I can't always come up with an interesting post to expand upon whatever I read.

I thought about implementing a weekly link round-up, but I'm not always the best at bookmarking links and saving them for later. So instead, I decided to join twitter. You can find me over there as @leavingacademia, or just follow the link on the left.

I most likely won't be terribly prolific, but I will link to my new posts as well as to anything that I see around the internet that I think readers of this blog would enjoy or find useful.

In the meantime, if any of you are on twitter already and think there is an account I should follow, post it in comments or let me know over there. Have a great weekend!

Myths About the Academic Job Market

I'm sure that many of you reading here also read After Academe's excellent blog; however, today I am urging you to go over there immediately and read the most recent post, entitled "5 Myths About the Academic Job Market."

As I wrote in comments over there, this post should be required reading for all aspiring and enrolled graduate students. The simple fact is that these myths are widespread (if not universal) in academia ... and while they may seem harmless and innocent to perpetuate, they are not. If you ask me, they are at this very minute contributing to damaging the futures of hundreds (if not thousands) of promising young students who work their butts off in graduate school, sure that all of that hard work and dedication will lead to happiness and success in academia.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

This is Your Academic Job Market...

It is July 14th.

I just received an email from the chair of a social science department at a regional university approximately 3 hours away from where I live right now. This email was addressed to about 15 people (presumably all ABDs or adjuncts) from universities ranging around the Midwest, based on what I can see. (I am very glad that the sender did not understand the BCC function of his/her email so that I could see exactly who gets these emails.). In this email, he is "inviting us to apply for this exciting opportunity at Regional Public U's Department of Social Science this fall!"

This "exciting opportunity" is a VAP position to replace two faculty members going on sabbatical. The teaching load is 4/4, and it is a one year, non-renewable contract.

The job starts August 15th, with classes commencing August 29th.

This is not the first email of this type I've gotten, but it's definitely the one that has come latest in the year. And it has left me equally rolling my eyes, laughing at my desk, and lamenting the state of higher education staffing that has caused this kind of position to be described as a "exciting opportunity!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Academia HAS Taught Me...

Today, I had a meeting with my boss where we discussed my impending shift to "official" full-time work. I've been working more or less full-time for quite a few months now, but since I was still receiving paychecks and health insurance from Grad U, I didn't have a need to take the benefits he offers up until now, since I could afford to miss a few hours on the job here and there and didn't need the health benefits.

But that's about to all change, so we met today to discuss the impending official shift in my job status. As a nice surprise, I actually got a small raise! (Imagine that, being rewarded in terms of a salary increase for work well done...that is certainly not typical in academia).

But more importantly for today's post, during this meeting my boss was very, very open about all of the qualities that I have that make me an employee he was thrilled to bring on board full-time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #8: Endless Criticism and the Quest for "Perfection"

I've been working on this post for awhile, but can't seem to make it crystallize around a really salient take-home point that's any catchier than "I'm tired of the endless review/criticism cycle and quest for an unattainable level of perfection in one's academic work." Man, how jargony is that???

But yeah, that's how I feel. It's not that I can't handle criticism. I'm just damned tired of the never-ending cycle of reviews and criticism in academia, and of the quest for a level of perfection in one's work that is impossible to obtain. I'm tired of the expectation that academics have to treat every piece of criticism from any source with reverence. And I'm tired of the mythical notion that any work one produces will ever (or could ever) be perfect to all readers.

Even though I can't come up with a catchy title for it, I'm saying it: I'm tired of the work cycle of academic research - its criticism and its unrealistic expectations.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

You're Not Alone - Part 3

The blog has gotten a little spike in traffic lately - apparently, partially from spammers for online graduate schools (talk about missing the mark...), but also from quite a few more google searches than normal.

Here are the search terms bringing people here this week:

-Dissertation hate my topic
-Why am I so miserable in grad school
-Academics are snobs
-Frustrations in grad school
-Leaving academic life
-Happy with leaving graduate school
-Miserable graduate school 

Just your occasional reminder that if you are here reading these posts, you are not alone with what you're feeling. Just because there aren't a ton of people out here talking about this publicly (or in your department) doesn't mean that you're the only one who feels this way.

Have a great day, everyone!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I've been meaning to post this for awhile, but kept finding other things I wanted to write about related to the decision to leave academia.

But sometimes I think that just a simple affirmation - a simple reminder of how it's okay to make a decision to take your life in a different direction - is needed.

So I give you one of the dedications from a co-author of the invaluable book* So What Are You Going to Do With That? When I was newly into my decision to leave academia and was dealing with some very fresh emotions and concerns over my decision, I ordered this book and sat down on the same day it arrived to read it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Infographic on Getting a Ph.D.

Wow ... here it is, all in one place - the REAL story of what the Ph.D. experience is like for most of us.

Look at this, and decide for yourself if these tradeoffs are worth it for you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Practical Advice for Navigating the Leap - Part 3

Alright, so as I've written before, I don't feel qualified to offer advice to people reading here who are leaving academia and are looking for concrete advice for getting a new job. I do have a job outside academia, it's true ... but it's one that started out as a part-time job just to supplement my income - and I didn't even have to go through typical channels to get it. So I'm still a little clueless about how to get the next "career job" after academia. I'm learning and working on sending out resumes and networking, but I haven't figured it all out yet.

What I have been doing, though, is handling the transition emotionally quite well. As virtually everyone who has left academia knows and as has been documented on post-academic blogs and forums around the internet, this process is very emotionally challenging. We're told, as academics, that we are doing the most important job in the world and that anyone who chooses to leave is either deficient or making a tremendous mistake. Add to that the social isolation that many academics wind up in, and you have a recipe for some serious second-guessing and emotional upheaval if and when you choose to leave.

In the previous two posts, I detailed some concrete things you can do to keep yourself feeling emotionally stable as you decide whether you really might want to leave academia ... as you "test the waters."

Now, for this third part, I want to speak to those of you who have made the decision to leave - before or after you complete the Ph.D. - and are now feeling elated, terrified, and a bit unsure of what to do next at the same time. (These three categories of emotions, as far as I can tell, are very normal).

So, here is my practical advice for those of you who are reading this, but who have not yet landed your dream job outside of academia as the Director of Widget History at the National Archives of Widget Manufacturing. :)

Sure, some people land their dream nonacademic job right after leaving. But for a lot of us, there is some lag time between letting go of one dream and thought process and moving toward another. And while I haven't completely unraveled how to navigate this gap in terms of gaining the career job, I genuinely do feel happier, more relaxed, and more excited about the future than I have in several years. And I can point to several concrete aspects of my life right now that have left me feeling so emotionally great (save a few low points) about this process. So, I offer my practical advice for remaining calm and emotionally healthy as you step out of the halls of your academic department for the last time.

Here you go. Warning, this post is very long ... but I felt like it had to be. Hopefully you will find it useful and can look back at it later when you're feeling emotionally iffy about the process:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Structural Problems in Higher Ed? What Problems??? Welcome to Grad School!

Just got an email from my department chair at Grad U, announcing that they have officially admitted a full cohort of students to the program again next year. This, during a time of budget cuts, shrinking class schedules, and shrinking stipends and assistantship opportunities for students ... as well as an era boasting a job market with few offerings and a system of higher education where more than half of all college-level courses are now taught by adjuncts.

But they admit a full 16-student cohort again, with an excited email talking about "how much important work these new scholars will be doing for us!"