Sunday, January 13, 2013

Belated New Year's Roundup Post

Whew, finding time to blog is hard when you're also trying to work full-time, volunteer a few hours a week, start up a brand spanking new postacademic website, and find a little bit of time to hang out with your partner and pets and yourself! :)

But I really can't complain ... things are going pretty well for me right now. So, yay.

But given that we just had another new year sneak up on us, I wanted to write a brief "year in review" kind of post, to sum up how the year has gone and where I hope to go in 2013.

2012 was a weird year. Upon first glance, it looks like a pretty uneventful year, primarily because nothing much happened for me career-wise. But when I think about it more closely, I actually do think it was a big year for me in my journey out of academia. And even more importantly, I'm hopeful that I'm finally in a good position to make 2013 a really great year.


Career-wise, I started out 2012 working at the same nonacademic job I'd had since grad school (when I was working there part-time). At the beginning of the year I was applying for nonacademic jobs in another state and had a few interviews, but I kept bumping up against the inconvenient problem that I had absolutely no idea what kind of job I wanted to get. Unsurprisingly, that made it hard to decide which jobs to apply for and to sound convincing when I was trying to tell an interviewer that I was dying to have their job. So I had some interviews, but no job offers ... which was actually okay with me. The last thing I wanted to do was to wind up in another work situation that wasn't a good fit for me, you know? Eight years of that was enough, thanks.

So in the spring I accepted a promotion (with raise) at my current job, and have been working there ever since. It obviously wasn't where I was hoping to be at the beginning of 2012, but it's fine. The job isn't my dream job, but it's not awful either. And most importantly for what I need right now ... I earn a salary that allows me to pay my bills, pay down some debt, and to basically live like a grownup. It's a vast improvement over my starving grad student years.

And that's all I feel like I need right now. My next step will require (mostly likely) an industry change and a move to another state ... which will probably be easier to do when I have a few years of fulltime nonacademic work on my resume (not to mention a lot of debt paid off). So for right now, the "just for now job" is doing what I need it to do ... giving me money and experience and a reasonably pleasant work environment.

But I'm hopeful that in 2013, I'll finally be able to figure out what kind of career I want in the long term. If I can do that now - while I'm in the middle of the 2-3 year contract I signed at my current job - then I'll have time to do some research to figure out if there's anything I can do to better position myself for a career change. Maybe I'll find that some volunteer work in my chosen field would help, or maybe I'll decide to take a class or two in something. But if I can figure out what I want to do now, then I'll have the rest of 2013 and part of 2014 to prepare before I'd start applying for new jobs.

Originally, I had expected that this career research would take place in 2012, and that I'd end the year with a clear understanding of where I wanted to go, career-wise. But that didn't happen. Looking back, I think that my anger and frustration about my academic experience was holding me back from being able to move on. I couldn't think about the future when I was still hung up on the past, and on what my abrupt decision to leave academia said about me and about what I wanted to do with my life.

But sometime near the end of the year, I felt my mindset suddenly shift. I wasn't a bitter former academic anymore - I was a nonacademic worker who was thinking about my next career move. I wasn't getting satisfaction from bitching about academia anymore - I was getting satisfaction from helping other people get out of academia through our website and this blog. In 2012, it seems like I have finally let go of a lot of that (personalized) anger and frustration about academia, and can finally move in a positive direction with my career and my life.

In other words, I seemed to have stopped feeling angry about "what academia did to me," and have instead shifted to "how academia screws people over and how I can help, while I move on with my own career." And that shift has cleared my head significantly. I feel ready to move on and find a career and work on the postacademic site and to move forward rather than to look back.

I can't point to one particular moment in 2012 where I finally "got over leaving" - nor can I even really say that such a thing has actually completely happened. But I can tell that at some point in 2012 - probably in the fall, after the insulting "no old Ph.D.s need apply!" job listings came out - I stopped thinking about my future life and career in terms of what I'd "lost" by leaving academia.

It may sound weird to hear me say that I felt like I had "lost" something when I dropped out. After all, I'm a Type 1 Leaver. But looking back, it seems like even though I knew that I wanted out of academia, I (sort of) felt like I was never going to find something as objectively "good" as an academic job. In other words - I think I sort of bought into the myth that academia was objectively better than other careers, and that by leaving academia I had clearly demonstrated that I couldn't cut it (that academia was too "hard" for someone like me), and that by extension I did not want and should not bother to look for a noble and meaningful career. Since I'd probably just quit that too. 

But seeing those insulting job ads in September that threw older Ph.D.s and adjuncts under the bus changed something in my brain. Academia is a harsh and cruel place. It is not a good working environment for most people.  Then, I started hearing about the indifference that my academic friends have gotten about their careers from their supposed mentors, and my mind changed even further. A lot of academics are not good people. I dodged a bullet by getting out. Then I saw clear numbers showing how bad the academic job market has gotten for today's graduates, and it was like a switch clicked completely over in my brain. This is not a noble industry. It is a factory that is screwing over its lowest level employees, and I need to let go of my anger and be happy I got out. Other people need help.

And by the beginning of December, our postacademic website was underway and I was thinking about ways I could combine my academic and nonacademic work experience into a career that I might love. It feels like a switch has turned in my brain. I'm no longer dwelling on the past ... I'm looking toward the future for myself and others.

So I'm happy about where my 2012 ended up. I'm seeing things more clearly now, and I'm ready to make positive changes in my life ... and to help other people who are still stuck in academia.

Academia is no longer the noble profession for caring people who want to do interesting research and teach eager students. It's a factory system like any other, with a lot of bosses who don't care about their workers and a product (teaching and research) that's declining in quality every year.

And just like I wouldn't feel bad about leaving one factory job for another where the pay is better and the bosses are nicer, I feel ready to look for a new career that's better than academia. The fault didn't lie with me for "not being able to cut it" or some such thing. The fault lies with academia, for failing so many people and not helping them see their situations clearly.

So here's to 2013 - the year I'm going to actually view myself and my skills objectively and find a career that will work for me ... and the year where I'm going to do my best to help current grad students and academics who are struggling.

So Happy New Year, everyone ... and I wish you well in whatever 2013 has in store for you!

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I have a few saved and half-written posts filed away in draft form and have gotten some interesting comments lately that I want to write about (hint: I do NOT think that being a professor is the least stressful job in America), so I'll have some new stuff in the coming weeks/months. Primarily, though, I'll mainly be concentrating on producing content for our website and e-book (update (1/5/14) - the ebook is now available!!). So keep one eye here and one eye over there ... and don't be shy about leaving a comment or suggestion in either place!

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