Sunday, May 6, 2012

Another Postacademic Blog for You!

Guys and gals ... I'm having writers' block again. I've started and stopped about 6 substantive posts this week, but can't make anything come together coherently. Blargghhh.

Of course, what's awesome with my life now is that these annoying bouts of writers' block are just that - annoying. My life and career are not riding on my ability to pump out X pages of high-quality written work each day anymore. If I can't force out a coherent post on any given day? No big deal. I save my draft and move onto something else. No one's pressing me to meet a blogging deadline, and I'm not worried about how my inability to write X posts per week means that I am and always will be a failure at life and in my career. And when I apply for my next job, no one is going to look through my blog and try to determine whether I've written enough posts here to convince them that I will be a productive and worthwhile employee for them in the future.

In other words, it's awesome to be free of academia. 

However, I do try to post something at least once per week ... so here's something to tide you over until my writers' block breaks this week ... a new postacademic blog!

The blog is Mama Nervosa, and it's actually more of a lifestyle blog than strictly a postacademic blog. It's run by two women - one being a part-time professor and the other (Lauren) being a "recovering academic." (I love that term, by the way). They write about a variety of topics - parenting, growing up in flyover country, etc. But as it turns out, since Lauren has recently decided to quit grad school, there is quite a bit about the transition out of academia as well. And it's terrific! In fact, rather than just linking to the blog I'm going to expand a bit on her ideas. (Hey, look - a new way to try to push through a bout of writers' block ... riff of of someone else's posts! :)

EDITED 5/7/12: Now that I have clicked over and looked at more posts, it appears that both Jen and Lauren are grad school leavers. Oops! Apologies for not including Jen initially, and slow clap for both of these smart ladies for realizing what they did and did not want and for getting out!!

Lauren describes her decision to quit grad school in this post.
I’m quitting for a lot of reasons (at least 100) that I’ll get into later, but most of it boils down to I don’t like it and/or I don’t want to. Deciding to quit was really hard, but also really easy. I haven’t had a regret or twinge or a “if-I-just-scramble-and-write-a-ton-I-could-raise-this-barn” obsession in the middle of the night. 
This perfectly describes how quitting has felt to me. "Deciding to quit was really hard, but also really easy." It was really hard to admit to myself that I wanted to quit academia, and it is very, very hard to figure out how to explain it to other people. 

But most of the time, it feels like the easiest decision in the world. I quit because I wanted to. Because I didn't want to live that life anymore. And like Lauren writes, I've never woken up in the middle of the night feeling compelled to go back. I've never felt remotely tempted to pull out my dissertation data and get back to work. And even though I've always liked teaching, I've never felt anything other than relief at the start of each new semester at Grad U that I'm not scrambling to finalize a syllabus or pulling out my teaching clothes.

Deciding to quit was really hard, but also really easy. It was, in the end, the only thing I could do if I wanted to be happy.

Lauren's best post so far about leaving academia, though, is this one, which talks about what will probably happen to you mentally, emotionally, and socially after leaving. It contains a lot of great insights about the weird inbetween space you will find yourself occupying - where you're in academia but on your way out, and where you'll cycle between sobbing and euphoric laughter, feeling oddly unsettled even as you're happier than you've been in a long time. 

And she also writes about that weird moment that might come up soon after you leave, where you'll be out running an errand and you'll be urging yourself to hurry up and finish because you have to go home and work!! But then suddenly you'll remember ... you don't have to go home and work! You don't have to do anything other than do this errand!! You can spend two hours doing your errand if you want!!! And then you can go home and watch TV or read a book or just stare at the wall all night long if you want. Because you aren't an academic anymore!!!!

And suddenly, even the most mundane things you have to do will feel utterly exhilarating, and you'll walk around smiling like an idiot, admiring the products for sale at your local Target or the flowers on your neighbor's front lawn as if you've never seen such wondrous objects before. Because you are finally able to be in the moment and to enjoy life without guilt. Even the boring or mundane stuff. Lauren describes a shopping episode where she's feeling the No Pressure Exhilaration:
THIS IS MY CALLING IN THIS PRECISE MOMENT. I felt euphoric. I practically kissed the checkout guy. “I’M GREAT!!!” I crowed in response to his routine greeting. I was living in the expansive present, the beautiful nowness. I was liberated from that constant feeling that there was something I should be doing, some project I ought to be working on, some CFP or proposal or chapter or reading I was avoiding while doing anything un-grad school related (even though I barely ever did those things, anyway). In grad school, you have no free time. But now I am free!! I AM A GOLDEN GOD!
Oh my god, I love this paragraph so much. Even now, 15 months after starting the leaving process, I still feel like this from time to time. It's weird, but it's also kind of awesome. Just ... happiness.

Lauren also has some interesting insights into the types of conversations you will have with friends, family and academic colleagues when you decide to leave. She correctly notes that some people will just want you to be happy and will be supportive of whatever you decide to do. (They really will). She also points out that a lot of nonacademics won't even understand what you were doing in grad school in the first place, so this won't change their opinion of you at all. What you think is a groundbreaking announcement is no big deal to them ... after all, people change jobs all the time. 

But your grad student friends and colleagues ... it'll be a little different. As she writes, "Almost everyone will try to work their own issues out through your decision-making. Any conversation about you quitting grad school becomes a conversation about the other person’s grad school experience."

This is so true. I swear to you, I have had more conversations about the nature of grad school and academia since I have left than I ever did before. It just comes out of people - I'll mention where I'm working now and that I'm happy, and suddenly I'm hearing about how the current grad student I'm talking to fantasizes about leaving sometimes, about all of the things they hate about academia, about how much their advisors suck, etc. I am suddenly a sounding board for other people - a "safe space" where they can vent their frustrations and doubts about academia without judgement, since I'm obviously not going to tell them that they're stupid or incompetent for criticizing academia or thinking about leaving. I'm outside the circle of silence, and wow ... will that vantage point ever draw out some true confessions from other people.

Anyway, Lauren then goes on to write about how a lot of academics - the mean and catty ones - will try to convince you to stay, or will second-guess your decisions and the things you've done. But she reminds you, importantly, that people who do this are not your true friends. And she recognizes, correctly, that you have to realize that this is about them and not you:
Your close friends and colleagues know you; that one guy at the departmental Happy Hour will want to lecture you about what you should have done or why your experience is so vastly different from his pragmatic, insightful approach to academia.
When presented with one of these assholes, it's best to just smile and nod and agree that you just "couldn't cut it." Then, in three years when you hear that he's taken a one-year VAP post in West Bumfuckistan, you can laugh and laugh and wonder what he "did wrong." 

But for your mental health, concentrate on spending time with the people who are supportive. The rest of them aren't worth the effort ... and try to remember: they're projecting their insecurities onto you. It's not really about what you're doing ... it's about their need to reassure themselves that they aren't making a mistake. That academic employers will be fighting with each other to hire them, and that the stress and depression they're feeling will magically disappear once they just get that next paper submitted or once their advisor finally tells them that their dissertation is good. 

The only way they can ignore the reality that academia is just like any other industry - with a broken job market and a lot of downsides, and people who are smart and motivated but want a different job anyway - is to pretend that people like you, who want to leave, are the problem. And that they, who are so much smarter and more dedicated and motivated than you, will be just fine.

It's annoying, but just remember ... it's not about you. It's the myth they have to keep telling themselves in order to keep on going. Just like the ones you might've been telling yourself for the past few years as you came to terms with your decision to leave.


Alright, that's enough from me - even these few paragraphs have been difficult to push past the stopped-up Writing Nodule of my brain today. :) Go forth and check out this new blog ... and have a great week!

And welcome to the postacademic blogosphere, Lauren!


  1. Thank you so much! I'm glad my writing has resonated with your experience and I hope it is helpful to other people in this strange transition. We get hits every day from people googling "quitting grad school" (or some variation -- today someone searched "want spouse to quit grad school" and "how to quit grad school without making anyone mad." I think there's a lot of loneliness about this topic, which is why I wanted to talk about it openly (even thought, at times, it feels very exposed/vulnerable).

    And reacting to other people's blog posts is a TOTALLY legit blogging strategy.

    1. The traffic stats are really something to behold, aren't they? When I started this, I figured I'd get a little bit of traffic from people googling "leaving academia" or something. Almost immediately, though, the traffic spiked and I realized that - wow - there are a lot of people out here who feel like I do, but apparently feel like they're the only ones out there who do.

      And I agree - it feels very exposed sometimes (and sometimes I feel like people must think I sit around all day thinking about academia ... which I don't). But really, it's pretty clear that there's a demand out there for this kind of writing. So I'm glad we're here to let people know that they're not alone...

  2. I really appreciated reading this. I'm in the middle of switching from a PhD program to an MS, and I'm dreading the reactions I'll get from other PhD students. I know I'm doing this right thing, because I don't want an academic career and don't need a PhD, but I'm not sure how some people will take that. Thanks for reminding me that it really doesn't matter what they think, as long as I'm happy.

    1. Thanks for reading!

      At least some of the Ph.D. students are definitely going to have obnoxious reactions ... but no, it doesn't matter what they think. It really doesn't.

      That doesn't make it any easier to deal with, though. I've written about my frustration over comments other academics have made toward me since leaving. It's easy to train yourself not to take it personally, but it definitely still stings a little to hear.

      Still, you have to do what you have to do to make yourself happy. So good luck to you on your transition!!

  3. Thanks for the heads-up--this is one of the best blogs you've linked to yet!

  4. @Cherokee Alex - Yes, some of the PhD students will have obnoxious reactions...but it's not that matter. You matter and that's it. Yes, the comments do hurt all of us who leave - sting really is the word. The key thing is that you make yourself happy and are happy with your decision. Remember its your life that matters and not theirs.