I got some traffic this weekend from a job and career advice site unrelated to academia. I appreciate the traffic, and I'm happy to have the blog linked from more general career advice sites rather than simply from other postacademic sites.
However, I was somewhat disappointed to see that at the referring link, the author of the piece noted that when looking at my blog - as well as 100 Reasons and PINYC's and a few others - readers should "glean the advice [and] leave the bitterness."
I admit, this quote rubbed me the wrong way - both on behalf of us bloggers and our readers.
Not because our blogs aren't bitter (in places). Of course they are! We're recovering academics. As others have noted, it's not altogether dissimilar to being a recovering addict or from leaving a cult. We're reorienting our entire lives and mindsets away from an institution that we've become totally immersed in, and a lifestyle that we've grown to believe is the only lifestyle and career worth living.
I wasn't disappointed at being called bitter. But I was disappointed to see the bitterness billed as something that was inappropriate or that others shouldn't be feeling. In my opinion, it is completely appropriate and natural for you to be bitter and hurt and angry when you find yourself leaving academia.
We're recovering from being sold a bill of goods from our advisors and mentors and departments that turned out to be totally false. We're navigating a career transition completely on our own, after years of being told that our advisors and departments were "training" us and were in the business of making sure we got settled happily into new careers. But as it turned out? There were few good jobs to be had ... and "training" and "advising" were only there for us as long as we were willing to keep playing the academic game. If we left, we were S.O.L.
Is it okay to be bitter about that? I think so.
Then, to add to the indignity of being treated like that by the institution and industry we've immersed ourselves in for nearly a decade, we have to contend with the comments and judgements from the people we're leaving behind in academia:
~"Don't you just want to give the market one more chance? If you get another publication, surely you'll get a job next year or the year after that."
~"Why don't you adjunct for a year and see if the market looks better next year? ...What? You won't make enough money? How dare you! We don't talk about money in academia!!!"
~"Are you really sure you want to leave? All nonacademic jobs are awful, just like the one job I had while I was in college. You're gonna regret it. Academia is the best job in the world. Everything else is soul-sucking and awful."
Anyone who judges us for being bitter? You try transitioning careers with absolutely no help from anyone, and try doing it while almost everyone in your life is questioning and second-guessing your decisions and motives and everything else. I guarantee, you'd be a little bitter.
And you know what? It's okay to feel that way. It's a normal part of coping. And since nearly anyone who links to my site from that career advice article is going to be an ABD or Ph.D. who is contemplating leaving academia, they're probably going to be a little bit bitter as well. Because they're likely realizing for the first time that they were sold a bill of goods that was false.
"Just work hard and publish and teach more and you'll get a good job!" ... is a lie.
"All of our good students get good academic jobs!" ... is a lie.
"Anyone who winds up dropping out of grad school or leaving academia just couldn't cut it. They weren't smart or dedicated enough." ... is a lie.
"As long as you love your (academic) job, it won't matter where you're living!" ... is a lie.
"Your department is here to help you land a good job, no matter what that might be or how long it might take!" ... is a lie.
"The academic job market is recovering!" ... is a lie.
"A whole bunch of tenured professors are going to be retiring soon, so there will be a slew of new academic jobs coming out any day now!" ... is a lie.
It's all a pile of lies, piled upon other lies, piled upon falsehoods and misrepresentations or (at best) willful ignorance of what academia has become.
And if you read here because you've realized that you have to look elsewhere for employment after always thinking that academia was your ticket to happiness and success, it's okay to be bitter.
Because you got screwed by academia. Yep, I said it.
Rather than realizing how much the academic system was changing and deciding to give grad students a more realistic view of the job situation and a wider range of career training, grad departments keep perpetuating the lie that anyone can get an academic job (and that everyone will love one). And it's okay to be angry about that.
And it's okay to be bitter and angry that you were one of the people who fell for the lie. Because your grad department should have known better. But instead, they keep admitting full cohorts of new students - often naive 21 and 22-year-olds who've never done anything but go to school, and who are so excited to keep learning and writing and reading - and to get paid for it!!!
And it's okay to be bitter and angry that you never were allowed to think critically about academia while you were in it. The socialization to academic culture quickly sets in, and before you know it aren't able to view academia objectively, to recognize when you don't like the work anymore (since "everyone is miserable!).
And it's okay to be bitter and angry that the reality of the academic job market was hidden from you - that the entire system is shifting toward temporary and adjunct work, and that even the best students are often failing to get good jobs. Students who get crappy temporary jobs are praised from the rafters as if they've just landed a T-T post at Yale. Students who land awesome jobs outside of academia disappear down the memory hole of their grad department, so that current students never have any models for jobs outside of academia that they could shoot for. This is misleading and cruel, and it's okay to be bitter about it.
The truth is that both Type 1 and Type 2 leavers should be bitter (for awhile) about academia.
For Type 1's, we are told forever and ever that academia is the Best! Job! Ever! and that anyone who doesn't like it is an idiot who just couldn't cut it and has no ambition. So if you suddenly find yourself not liking the work anymore, you have to deal with the fact that you've been told for years that people like you are idiots ... and that many people around you still believe it - and will therefore believe that about you. It's okay to be a little bit angry and bitter about that for awhile.
And if you're a Type 2 leaver who has devoted years and years of your life to loving your subject and to achieving all of the important milestones that were "guaranteed to land you a job" (publishing in top journals, writing a book, teaching classes at top universities) ... only to be offered nothing better than an adjunct position that pays less than $20k per year while you commute to three different campuses? When you reach that moment when you see that the entire academic system was built on a pile of falsehoods and exaggerations and that you can't make a living wage doing what you love? It's okay to be angry and bitter about that.
Now, don't get me wrong - you can't let the bitterness consume you. And you can't let it go on forever. But it won't ... as long as you let yourself feel it and process it initially.
I do still occasionally have my moments of frustration and bitterness against academia - but it normally only crops up when I hear about how one of my grad student friends has been treated badly by the system or when I read something frustrating about academia or job searching (like the article that linked to me!). The postacademic rants I've been posting - as I've mentioned - were all written a year ago, when the wounds were still raw and my anger was still fresh. I haven't even seen my therapist (who helped me through the bulk of the post-academic stuff) since sometime in December, and haven't felt the need to. These days, I mainly just go to work and go home and spend time with my family and friends, and barely give academia a thought.
The personal anger and everyday bitterness is gone - it does disappear eventually. However, I do still feel anger on behalf of all of the students who are toiling away in grad school, particularly in the humanities ... with no idea of what they're facing upon graduation because no one is telling them.
I am still bitter on their behalf, and I won't apologize for it. Nor will I apologize for being personally bitter for awhile after I left. Nor should you, if you do leave.
Career counselors may not understand it. Your friends and family who give you advice may not understand it. People who have never been to grad school will definitely not understand it.
But the culture of academia is unique, and the socialization is strong, and the self-directed sense of shame and anger when you aren't successful is real.
And when the bubble finally bursts and you see the system for what it is? You will be frustrated. You will be sad and angry and you will cry and you will yell and yes ... you will be bitter for awhile.
But that's okay. It's okay to be frustrated and bitter at the crappy bill of goods that you were sold. Let yourself feel it before you let it go. Otherwise, it'll eat you up inside.
In this country, we often act like any display of emotions is wrong. Numb yourself! Don't let yourself feel anger or frustration or sadness or anything else unpositive! Hell, there's an entire pharmaceutical industry that earns millions by telling us that we should mask our emotions rather than feeling them.*
I call bullshit on that. If you're feeling sad or angry or upset - especially about something as significant as a career transition or realizing that your entire career trajectory was built on a house of lies and that you never stood a chance of getting the type of job your advisors promised you that you would get?
It's okay to be bitter. Shaking it off and just concentrating on what job comes next isn't necessarily the best advice. And while I appreciate career advice sites linking to me, I do not appreciate the advice that doing emotional work over a career transition is something that you should avoid.
If you're feeling emotions like sadness or anger or bitterness, chances are that there's a good reason. And if you don't deal with them? They're probably going to rear up at some point in the future. Best to deal with them now, so you can clear your head and figure out what comes next without the cloud of bitterness and anger hanging over your head.
So if you're here looking for career advice but you're also feeling bitterness and anger toward your Ph.D.-granting institution or toward grad school or academia in general? Don't listen to the people who tell you to suppress that and just move on immediately. The grief and anger is a real thing and it deserves some attention.
You're doing fine, and it's normal to be upset/angry/bitter, and you're going to be okay.
*Huge disclaimer here: I'm not talking about people with clinical depression or panic disorders or anything like that. I'm talking about things like the proposal that grief following the loss of a loved one be reclassified as actual depression requiring medication. That is ridiculous.