Friday, February 22, 2013

On Two Years ... Some Random Thoughts

Hello from your friendly and loving (but neglectful) blogger!

You know my typical excuses by now ... work, outside (non-computer) life, work on the website/e-book, lack of overall motivation to write, blah blah blah...

But I'm still here!

And I just realized this morning ... today is my two-year anniversary of the day where I officially decided to leave academia.

I can hardly believe it. Two years. I swear, sometimes it feels like it's been two months.

Anyway, I wrote a lengthy post and series last year (here's part 1 of 4) to commemorate my one-year anniversary of leaving, so I won't go into something long and convoluted today. In fact, I really don't even know what I would write in terms of long, flowery observations about having left academia anymore.

The simple fact is: I've left. I have another job. I have work and life obligations, and I earn money and buy groceries and run errands and see my friends, and in general my life has gone on. It has its ups and downs ... but without a doubt, it's still better than it was 2.5 years ago.

I can't think of the last time I had a crying fit, or a mini-panic-attack, or a temper tantrum because I didn't want to go to work in the morning. I no longer feel self-conscious or inadequate at work, or worry that I'm a huge fraud who is incompetent at my job. I sometimes have to take work home with me, but I'm no longer still working when my partner comes home from work at 11pm on the weekends. Evenings are mine. Weekends are mine.

Leaving: it's still the best decision I ever made.

In lieu of a big long flowery post, then ... I'll just leave you with a few random observations/comments about things that have been going on lately in my life. Enjoy!


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Earlier today, my good friend who is still in my grad department sent me an email, attaching a picture of my mailbox in the grad office ... full of papers and mail.

The department has been notified that I've left. I'm off the website, and off the email lists, and haven't talked to anyone in the department professionally in two years. And yet, I still have a mailbox with notifications and mail and papers piling up. Oh, Grad U. Keep being organized.

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The job market in my former discipline still appears to be terrible. The rumor mills and forums are full of candidates worrying about what they're going to do next year, and about how they aren't getting any bites on the market - not even a phone interview - despite having multiple publications and grants and teaching and service and everything else that a top job candidate should have.

Now, undoubtedly, some of those folks are exaggerating their credentials. But it's worth noting that one of my friends - holder of multiple pubs, teacher at several campuses, and competitive-national-fellowship-winner - is still jobless as of today. Zie has had a couple of interviews, but no bites. Zie is now contemplating what to do next year if zie is still at Grad U. It's looking unlikely that zie will be able to find a tuition remission, you see ... which will throw into disarray hir income, hir ability to postpone student loan payback, and hir prospect of being able to get health insurance through the university.

And remember ... zie won't be able to collect unemployment if no one will hire hir or Grad U won't step in to find hir a teaching or research assistantship.

Zie has reached out to several faculty members, all of whom are generally unhelpful or unresponsive, and whose best advice seems to be "keep publishing! Keep working! It'll all work out! It's still early."

Meanwhile, at least 1/3 of hir fellow students on the market are still without jobs. And hir health insurance is set to run out in six short months, if nothing happens.

I really wonder how much longer the faculty at Grad U are going to keep deluding themselves that everything is okay in academia.

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Earlier this month, I went on a business trip with my boss. We traveled to a beautiful part of the country to visit a client, and it was a whirlwind trip that was somewhat frustrating at times (have you ever spent 72 almost-consecutive hours with your boss? I have!), but ultimately pretty productive and not too hectic.

But as we were traveling, I couldn't help but compare my experiences on this trip to what I experienced when I was traveling to academic conferences (our version of the "business trip") in my previous life. And a few notable differences stuck out to me.

First, my entire trip was paid for, save the food I ate and the bag I checked during my solo trip home. My airfare, hotel, and all of the meals I ate during my visits with our client were paid for by my boss or the client. So my total out-of-pocket cost for the entire trip was approximately $55.

Contrast that with the typical outlay for an academic conference ... where, of course, you're expected to go every year because it's "critical" for your future career. I certainly can't speak for everyone out there ... but I was always expected to pay for the entire trip up front, and then maybe I would be reimbursed $200-300 from my department a few months later.  My typical net loss on these trips would be at least $500. On a grad student stipend, that certainly wasn't pocket change.

But out here in the business world (at least at my office), there seems to be some recognition that I was traveling for the company and for work, not pleasure. So most of my costs were taken care of.  Imagine that!!

Second observation: My boss and I had meetings with the client for three hours in the afternoon on Day 1, and then from 10am-4pm on Day 2. That was nine long hours, of course, as we went over numbers and communication problems and presented new software options to them, and answered tough questions from the bosses at our client's office.

But the entire time, I was confident and well-prepared. The clients were asking relevant questions, not "gotcha" questions. They assumed that I knew what I was talking about. The questions they were asking related to our business relationship and their company's well-being, not to abstract ideas about some other type of business or some tangentially related company.

In other words, I was having relevant conversations with people I work with about our shared business ... not being questioned by random people I've never seen before about why I don't do their line of research work.

It was a long day, but I didn't feel incompetent. I was prepared - like I always was at academic conferences - but in this instance, the people I was meeting with viewed me as a competent professional, not a silly student who needed to be condescended to, or a passive receptacle for whatever professional slights Professor Blowhard might have been feeling at the moment.

I'm certainly not suggesting I want to take a business trip every month or that all business trips are easy and reasonable and free to the traveler - absolutely not. But overall, based on what I experienced? I found it to be a far less stressful and frustrating (and money-wasting) experience than all of the academic conferences I used to go to. Without question.

The business world may not fit everyone, but it's definitely a better fit for me.

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I'll leave you with a final link to check out - again, the folks at the Atlantic have been doing some good reporting about the gap between the number of people graduating with advanced degrees and the number of jobs available for them.

The article deals mainly with the hard sciences, of course ... and you'll see the typical pushback in the comments to the idea that we should even be bothering to pay attention to these trends since unemployment levels are lower for M.A. and Ph.D. grads than for the country at large.

Despite the naysayers, though, I'm really glad to see this getting some coverage in the mainstream media. Maybe, with time, Ph.D. students will go the way of law students and actually stop applying to grad programs. Maybe, then, we'd see some faculty actually acknowledging that graduate education needs to change and that "working harder and publishing more!" is no guarantee of a good job these days.

4 comments:

  1. The 2 Year Life of the MindFebruary 23, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    JC,

    I just want to say GREAT JOB on the website! It's well organized and looks very professional. The info is fantastic and it truly looks like a compendium of all of the issues related to leaving academia under any circumstance.

    As always, your "day in the life" blog posts are appreciated. As you continue to move farther and farther away from academia, it's a given that your life will change and so will your communication about that change. This is ALL OK. Your blog and website has contributed to the changes in the system that are about to go down and it's a very worthy contribution. I do hope that you keep us informed about the "other side" two years (and eventually three) later. This info is just as important as the "how to leave" info.

    For those of us (like me) with our toes on the edge and face in the wind, who are about to jump ship, I salute you!

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  2. Congratulations on the anniversary! I'm glad that you left and are so much happier now. I nearly went to grad school in history, but after doing a lot of soul-searching and reading on the internet, I decided against it. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made since I'm sure that if I had ended up going, I would have been miserable and eventually left the program. There are so many aspects of academia that just really don't fit with me personally.

    Again, congratulations, and thanks so much for writing this blog. Your writing has been a great help to me. :)

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  3. Not sure if this has been posted here or other post-academic blogs, but I just came across another relevant research article entitled "Science PhD Career Preferences: Levels, Changes, and Advisor Encouragement" (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0036307). I guess some academics are starting to get the picture, with hopefully many more to follow.

    JC, I really appreciate the valuable service you are providing with this blog. Last year, you helped me make the decision to leave academia, which is definitely among the best decisions I've ever made. Afterwards, I found what was essentially my dream job in the industry in which I wish to work, then was laid off months later, and now am trying to get my career back on track. Despite the lay off, I have absolutely no regrets. Thanks again for all the insight and encouragement!

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  4. Congrats on your anniversary. I am only 9 months out. Your "mini-panic-attack" statement resonated with me. It took awhile but I am finally learning to live without constant stress and worry.

    I just found your blog, and look forward to reading more.

    -Jen

    http://www.howscienceismade.com/

    ReplyDelete