Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to put up a quick post wishing all of my readers and fellow postacademic bloggers a Happy New Year.

2011 has been a surprising year of ups and downs for me. I started out the year anticipating several interviews for academic jobs, with all of its attendant stress and worry. Within 2.5 months, I'd been on three academic job interviews and had resoundingly decided that this life wasn't for me anymore. What has followed has been 9.5 months of the most intense soul-searching I've ever had to do in my entire life.

I started this blog in March, hoping that it might give me some clarity on leaving ... and thinking that one or two other people might find it out here in the blogsophere and find something I wrote helpful. To my great surprise, many people have found it, and lots of you have told me that it's been a tremendous comfort for you.

I'm grateful that I could provide this space for other people to read and comment and know they aren't alone. Writing has been immensely therapeutic for me, and I'm glad to be one of the people out here (along with my fellow bloggers to the right) who are getting the word out about people who - gasp! - don't enjoy academia or simply want to pursue a career with better prospects. As I keep telling you, you're not alone.

But I'd also like to say that for as many of you who've said that this blog has given you comfort? Well ... all of your comments and pageviews and emails have comforted me as well. As certain as I was that I wanted to leave, it it always nice to know that you're not crazy or making a terrible mistake when you're making a big life change. And all of your pageviews and comments and everything like that have reminded me on a daily basis that I'm not crazy for seeing flaws in academia, I'm not stupid for not wanting to chase the academic job market, and - at the end of the day - that I'm not alone in wanting something else for my life.

So on this New Year's Eve, I wanted to put up a post thanking all of you for reading here and leaving comments. My intention is to keep this blog up and running until I find my "next job" outside of academia. Posting may be a bit lighter in the next few months, since I'll be spending time job searching. But I'll keep putting up new content at least until I find a job, so it has a clear beginning and end point. (And of course, if I feel motivated to keep writing after that, I will).

But one thing I'll do - as long as Google allows it - is to keep the archives published and always keep the email address associated with this blog active (and set to forward to my primary email so that I don't miss anything). So if you are finding this years after it's been written, don't hesitate to comment or email. The chances are pretty good that I'll respond.

And in the meantime, as of December 31, 2011? Thank you all for reading and commenting. I would also like to remind you that tomorrow begins a brand new year ... a great time for new beginnings and New Year's Resolutions. If you're thinking that it really is time to leave academia, perhaps tomorrow is the day to start.

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Postacademic Rant 6 - On Moving Anywhere

I'm visiting my family this week for the holidays, spending time with them and my partner's family and my old friends in the state I grew up in. I'll be here through the new year, getting some much needed relaxation and catching up with old friends until I head back home to get back to work and start the search for my next job.

It's worth noting, actually, that the city my partner and I would like to relocate to is near where we are this week. After having interviews in several locations where I'd never even considered living, we decided that now was the time to try to move closer to family and friends and to actually move to a city we'd want to live in, rather than to "any place that will have me as a professor."

And since this is the first time I've seen a number of my family and friends since last December (when I was on the academic job market), I've been having a lot of conversations with people about what I'm doing now and what comes next. In discussing the academic job market and why I'm done with it, one of the things that other people have found the most surprising was the fact that everyone on the academic job market is (more or less) expected to take whatever job is offered to them, regardless of geographic location or whether they'd be happy taking it.

My friends and family in nonacademic jobs find that to be ridiculous beyond words. To them, having no control over where they would live, work, raise kids, etc., seems unimaginable. They keep asking me: "Well, couldn't you just apply to Schools X, Y, and Z in this area?" When I explain that it's not how academia works - that I'm at the mercy of whatever schools around the country happen to be hiring during the year I go on the academic job market? They're amazed that anyone would settle for such a thing. 

So since I'm busy this week and probably won't have time or motivation for a full "new content" post, I thought that this particular postacademic rant would be particularly timely to post ... addressing the geographic constraints of an academic job search. As always, language is very NSFW.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Postacademic Rant 5 - Academic Conferences and Privilege

Because I'm bored at work today, I thought I'd post another postacademic rant. Following up on the recent post about academic conferences at 100 Reasons and some comments about conferences I got on one of my posts a few days ago, I thought I'd put this one up ... about the main reason why I hated academic conferences. (Hint: it has to do with money).

Again, these rants were written months ago, and shouldn't be taken as an exact indicator of how I'm feeling now. (Although I freely admit that I still think academic conferences are stupidly overrated and overpriced and virtually worthless).

But I also thought that this might be a nice introductory post to the discussion about privilege in academia that I'd really like to start having here. I've alluded to it multiple times in the past, and I'm hoping to get some concrete thoughts out in the next couple of weeks. Let's just start by saying that I find something deeply disturbing about an academic system that pays graduate students and adjuncts poverty wages to do something as apparently important as teach college students ... and then also expects them to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars traveling to conferences while not having any outside employment to help them cover their expenses.

The system is basically forcing people who don't come from privileged backgrounds to go into massive debt in order to just go about the expected business of their job. And in the end, what that does is privilege students from wealthy families over others. Wealthy students can go to conferences without incurring additional debt, don't have to worry about outside employment to help foot the bills, and can graduate debt-free. Less privileged students face a completely different situation.So not only do conferences likely not do much to actually further anyone's career, but in my opinion? They do further the obvious (but unremarked upon) class divide in graduate school and academia more generally.

Anyway, I'll write more on this soon, probably in a multi-part post. In the meantime, here is another postacademic rant about conferences (again: language NSFW).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You're Not Alone - Part 8

Search terms bringing people to this blog in recent weeks:

-how to leave academia
-i hate grad school
-reasons to leave grad school
-graduate school and i hate it
-i want to leave academia
-I hate grad students
-feel like a loser in grad school
-grad school has made me hate academia

...and my favorite:
-are postacademics happy?

Yep! Or at least I am. I may not be pursuing a Ph.D.-level job anymore or doing academic research. I may just be working in an office and may be looking for a job where I'll have a boss and defined work hours.  I may be giving up my summers off and a little bit of flexibility in my schedule. I may not wind up doing something that inspires an awed reaction like "college professor" does (in certain circles, anyway).

But I'm happy. And to me, that's what counts.

To the rest of you: you're not alone. I doubt the same person has been running all of those searches, so there's at least a few of you out there. Remember: just because no one talks about being unhappy doesn't mean they aren't. You are not alone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Warning Signs I Should Have Paid Attention To

So I've been reading the wiki and forum for my discipline's job market* quite a bit lately - just out of curiosity, mind you. After going through the market last year, I've been curious to see how this year's market has shaped up and how it looks to me now that I've made my decision to leave. (Hint: not great.)

Anyway, this year's forum and wiki have been full of posts from candidates who talk about their despair over not getting any interviews and about the possibility of having to leave academia ... or about their panic about finding funding for next year. Others report excitedly about getting a phone interview for a one-year VAP post on the other side of the country or a fly-out interview for a 4/4 tenure-track job in Nowheresville, Idaho. To me, these jobs sound horrible, but these people all write about how lucky they feel. How excited they are to be given this fantastic opportunity. How desperate they are to get the job in question.

And over and over, I see the repeated assertion that people there will be happy - no, ecstatic - if they manage to get a job. Any job at all. There's little concern expressed about where the jobs are or what the teaching load is (I'm seeing an unusual amount of people say that they're applying to both R1s and SLACs, even though in my experience, people generally pick one of the two). But the people posting at the forum this year seem to be flailing around, desperate to get a job - any job. 

I mean no disrespect to the people who want academic jobs. I went through the market last year, and it is a crazy, stressful, anxiety-producing time like nothing else I've ever experienced in my life. And with the down economy and the tight market, I'm not at all surprised that people are trying to do whatever they can to try to land themselves a job - any job - that pays better than a grad student stipend or adjunct salary. (Of course, we've talked here about how unlikely it is that anything you can do at this late stage will improve your chances on the market ... but again, I can't blame folks for trying).

Reading these forum posts and thinking back to my own experiences on the job market, though, has made me realize something important about myself as a grad student.

I didn't want an academic job - or an academic life - badly enough. And not just when I was on the market and unwilling to apply anywhere and everywhere for any job that would have me.

I didn't want the life of an academic ... even when I was living it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Your Tuesday Funny

Since it's the end of the semester for many of you, with all of the related grading that entails ... I present the Five Stages of Grading for teachers, from the blog Not that Kind of Doctor.

It's been a couple of years since I taught, but this rang very true ... and made me laugh. I always liked teaching, but anyone who tells you that grading a giant pile of papers is anything short of utter misery is lying. Anger, denial, bargaining??? I've experienced it all. :)

Anyway, I hope that those of you who are still in academia are surviving these last few weeks intact ... and that you'll be able to enjoy the holidays and the semester break with at least a little bit of free time to enjoy your life outside of work.

Just keep in mind - you'll get everything done, and you're doing just fine. And if you're thinking you can't take it anymore, you're not alone.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #9 - I'm Tired of the Pointless Encouragement

Remember how I said a few weeks back that I would probably only post new ranty anti-academic posts when something specific happened that frustrated me? Yeah.....this is one of those times.

This week, I contacted Grad Department for a minor clerical reason ... basically, I needed our graduate program director to sign off on something for me.

The (very kind) director, who I don't work with and don't know very well, responded by asking me some questions about what I was doing now, when I'd be defending, etc. They were all reasonable questions; no problem. It's natural for people in my department to be curious.

To answer the first question, I just said I had gotten a nonacademic job that I liked very much and left it at that, with no details. I deflected the second question by asking what the procedure would be for defending if I was out of residence next year (just in case I do eventually defend - that's not the plan right now, although I don't want anyone in my department to know this).

Grad director wrote back telling me that it was "such a shame" I was leaving, since "my research was so interesting" and "my teaching evaluations were excellent." And how there were still a few jobs being posted this year, and what was the harm in putting some packets together just in case? Because I had so much to offer, and academia would be so sorry to see me go!

Oh, come on now...

I struck out on the market last year. No one has seen me on campus since February. I haven't spoken to my advisor since the winter. I haven't published a paper or taught a class or showed up at a seminar since the fall of last year. I skipped the last national conference for the first time in five years. I couldn't be more removed from academia at this point, and I haven't produced one single bit of academic work - either in teaching or research - in more than a year.

But "academia would be sorry to see me go????" Really???

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Reflections

So, I'm a dork about the holidays. I'll admit it.

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the "winter" holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve. If I celebrated Hanukkah, I'm sure I'd love that one as well. I love the food, spending time with family and friends, and even wintry weather (as long as it doesn't linger too long after the holidays are over...) I love shopping for gifts and decorating the house and picking out the perfect bottle of wine or appetizer to bring to a holiday party.

I'll even listen to a Christmas carol or two for the week or two before the 25th. I'll admit it.

This year, however, I've found myself thinking a lot about my transition out of academia as I'm going through my holiday to-do list. This was kind of confusing at first -- see, the leaving process just hasn't been at the forefront of my mind in recent months. I've just been concentrating on working and on enjoying my life a little bit, and on getting myself ready for the post-New Year job search again. But suddenly in the past few weeks, I've been reflecting on my decision to leave and have been thinking about what it was like to be on the job market at this time last year.

It's been weird ... and I was getting a little worried, honestly. Oh no ... what if I suddenly turn around after the holidays and find myself wanting to go back to academia?? I was getting worried that my subconscious was trying to reactivate the old academic guilt again. You should just give the market one more shot. ....... Come on, just email your advisor. He'll be happy to hear from you!! ....... You know, this is the best job in the world, right? You'll want to come back again...

But just yesterday, I realized that the reason I've been thinking about academia recently isn't because I'm nostalgic for it, and it's not because I want to go back.

It's because this is the first year out of the last 5 or 6 in which the holidays I love are not tied up in my brain with a giant, all-encompassing pile of academic guilt and work. I'm pretty sure that my brain is now primed to think about academic work when I start preparing for the holidays!

And on the flipside, I think that I almost can't believe that this is really my life now ... that there isn't a pile of endless work waiting for me at home and a lineup of professors ready to nag me for revisions and then reject the pages and pages of writing I come up with. That if I want to leave work today and Christmas shop for two hours, I can. That if I want to go home and do absolutely nothing other than curl up with a book and a cup of hot chocolate, I can.

I don't think my mind is used to it yet!

The past few holiday seasons as an academic have been insanely stressful. I think my mind is finding it impossible to experience this holiday season without thinking back to the last few, and making comparisons.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are We Failures?

Last week, while trying to drum up ideas for a new post, I was scrolling through the archives of the old Leaving Academia site. This post, which discussed the feeling of failure that often accompanies the decision to leave, gave me some inspiration.

Now that I'm almost a year past my decision to leave, I haven't been caught up in the "what ifs" and the worries about whether I'm making the right decision. My job right now isn't ideal, but it's fine for the time being ... it pays the bills, I can tolerate the work, and I like my coworkers. It's fine. I'm no longer panicking about finding nothing but misery outside of academia ... because I'm fully out here now, and I'm not miserable.

What still pops up, though, are the occasional feelings of failure when I talk to former academic colleagues who question or second guess my decision to leave. I still occaisonally get questions about why I'm not going on the market again*, about how I could possibly be fulfilled in nonacademic work**, and about whether I will find a job that's "worthy" of my academic credentials***. And the feelings of failure still crop up (infrequently, but occasionally) when I run across a snarky comment on some random internet site from an academic type who snipes that grad school dropouts just "couldn't cut it" and are thus failures at the one thing that matters.

So let's break it down. Are you a failure for wanting to leave academia or drop out of grad school???? Does this mean that you just "couldn't cut it," and that if you'd stayed in academia you'd wind up in the perfect tenure-track job and be blissfully happy? Is the only thing standing between you and utter happiness your lack of dedication to an academic career? In other words, are you a failure?

In a word, no. No no no. Absolutely not. Not in any sense of the word.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Postacademic Rant 4 - The Reality of the Academic Career

I'm heading out of town again for the weekend, so I won't be back until early next week. I have a few ideas for new posts, but won't have anything new posted until next week. So, to tide you over for the weekend ... here's another postacademic rant.

Standard disclaimers apply: these were written sometime in April, when I was newly leaving and full of anger. Hopefully they can be cathartic for those of you who haven't left yet ... particularly for those of you who find this place by googling "I hate academia" or "I hate research." :) As we say in the postacademic blogosphere, you're not alone...

Anyway, the standard disclaimer applies ... language is somewhat NSFW. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Contingent Academic Labor is Here to Stay

If you read here, you must go right now over and read the AAUP's latest Report on the Economic Status of the Profession.

Some "highlights":
The overall increase in salary level, reported on the left side of survey report table 1 and the upper half of table A, was 1.4 percent between 2009–10 and 2010–11. This is barely higher than the overall change reported last year, when we described it as “the lowest year-to-year change recorded in the fifty years of this comprehensive survey.”
In all, graduate student employees and faculty members serving in contingent appointments now make up more than 75 percent of the total instructional staff. The most rapid growth has been among part-time faculty members, whose numbers swelled by more than 280 percent between 1975 and 2009. Between 2007 and 2009, the numbers of full-time non-tenure-track faculty members and part-time faculty members each grew at least 6 percent. During the same period, tenured positions grew by only 2.4 percent and tenure-track appointments increased by a minuscule 0.3 percent. These increases in the number of faculty appointments have taken place against the background of an overall 12 percent increase in higher education enrollment in just those two years.

 The system of higher education staffing is seriously broken. Do not misunderstand: grad school is no longer a wise investment leading to a stable academic career.

If you start down this path, adjuncthood or VAPing (or leaving altogether) likely awaits. This is reality.

Do not close your eyes and plug your ears and try to pretend it's not happening. Just take a deep breath and start considering your options. You will be okay as long as you think clearly and plan ahead for all possibilities.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


A huge standing ovation to Ohio State for hosting Paula Chambers of Versatile Ph.D. and for opening up the floor to a public discussion of nonacademic careers for people with advanced degrees.

This is the kind of dialogue we need to keep having, publicly, so that grad students can quit feeling like they're doing something wrong by exploring nonacademic careers ... and so academics who are miserable with the academic life can see that they have other options and start working toward a postacademic life.

I attended a postacademic careers section at my discpline's last annual conference, and the room was so packed that people were sitting on the floor between chairs. There is clearly a demand for this kind of information, as much as some academics would like to pretend otherwise.

It's understandable that faculty and administration might not know exactly how to advise students for nonacademic careers. But it's well past time for them to acknowledge that there are massive structural problems in higher education hiring (as well as the fact that every newbie grad student who is in love with academia may not feel the same way ten years later), and to provide their students with some resources for finding other types of careers. Bringing in outside speakers in the form of people who work outside of academia with Ph.D.'s would be a good first start. Let's not only give grad students examples of people working outside academia ... but let's bring everyone who's considering a different career out into the light so they won't think they're alone and will have other people to talk to.

Bravo to Ohio State, to the wonderful Paula Chambers, and to all of the grad students who are actively thinking about their options right now, while they have plenty of time to plan and prepare!

(P.S. While you're reading this article, be sure to click around the links on the left and right for "related content." The Chronicle has done some decent work writing about nonacademic careers and alternatives to academia over the years.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Life in the Real World...

(Disclaimer: Looooong, somewhat disjointed post here. This one has been in the works for a couple of weeks now, and while I can't get it into the edited shape I want, I don't want to abandon these thoughts either. So, here you go. :)

There have been a few recent comments over at the 100 Reasons blog that have been getting my hackles up a bit. Primarily, there seem to be a few people who enjoy going over there and alleging repeatedly that the "real world" is just as bad, if not worse, than the academic world.

Now, I know that there are jobs that are far worse than academic jobs out there. Absolutely. I also know that there are some people who are perfectly suited to academic jobs, who'd be miserable doing anything else. This is undoubtedly true.

But what those comments ignore is that just as there are people who can't imagine doing anything other than working in academia, there are also quite a few people out there who are miserable in academia (check out the "You're Not Alone" series on this blog for evidence!). That for all of the negative things one observes about the Big Bad Outside World, some aspects of the Vaunted Academic Lifestyle are truly unbearable for others. In short, we're all different people with different ideas about what makes a good or bad working environment, physically and mentally. And it's okay to want something different than your friends.

So a few days ago over at 100 Reasons, a commenter noted that people in grad school who think they might want (or need) a nonacademic job after graduation should work on establishing network contacts and work experience outside of academia while in grad school. I generally agree with this advice, however ... I commented in return that any grad student who plans to work, volunteer or network outside of academia while in grad school also needs to realize that they will likely be stigmatized as "not serious about academia" as a result ... thus harming their reputation if it turned out that they did want to get an academic job (or simply land a departmental fellowship or cushy departmental appointment while in grad school).

Another commenter responded to my cautions by saying that "well, moonlighting is frowned upon in any job." The underlying subtext of this dismissive comment, of course, was that I was overplaying the downsides of academia - that the outside world is just as bad.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Worthwhile Petition?

So, this petition was being passed around my Facebook wall yesterday by several of my grad student friends. Apparently, a group (presumably of grad students) is trying to push the US Government to make graduate student stipends tax-exempt once again, so that people could deduct their graduate income off their taxes like a mortgage interest deduction ... presumably since going to grad school is something that is presumed to be a Good Thing for people to do, that we should incentivize people to do in larger numbers by offering tax exemptions.

They're about halfway to their goal for signatures ... so if you agree with their mission, go ahead and sign. No guarantees, of course, but the White House has promised to at least consider moving on petitions that reach their signature goal. So you never know.

I won't be signing, though. I genuinely think that with the horrible academic job market and the rising proportion of contingent faculty teaching at the university level (not to mention the people who are miserable once they arrive in grad school but don't think they can leave thanks to academic culture), the very last thing that we need to be doing is encouraging more people to go to grad school. While it's (on the surface) an objectively Good Thing to encourage people to get more education, I'm not convinced that providing a tax incentive to encourage more people to pursue Ph.Ds is a good thing.

People coming out of undergrad into low-paid entry-level jobs have it tough, certainly. An advanced degree such as a practical masters' degree might help with that. But I don't think that subsidizing people further to spend a decade pursuing a humanities or social science Ph.D. is a good idea at all. While low-paid entry level jobs do suck, I think that graduating Ph.D.s who are in their 30s and 40s and who see only adjuncthood ahead of them with no job training behind them have it far worse. So I won't be signing the petition. In fact, I'd sort of like to sign an anti-petition. Perhaps someone could sponsor one that would double-tax graduate stipends?? Then, maybe, we'd have a more reasonable number of graduate students who could ultimately pursue the small number of tenure-track jobs that are out there...

I'm only half kidding. :)

(Of course, I also don't have the guts to post this as a comment on Facebook ... thank god I have a blog. :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Postacademic Rant 3 - Journal Publication

I'm still around, but immersed in work projects this week and unable to come up with a coherent original post. So ... in accordance with my post last month, I think I'll take this opportunity to post another postacademic rant to keep everyone entertained until the writing bug bites me once again.

Since my most popular blog post around here continues to be "I Hate Research," I thought some of you would enjoy reading my angry thoughts about journal publication ... something that I've grown to conclude requires an irrational number of hours of work for something that has no tangible benefit to anyone or anything other than your own ego or CV.

Again ... these rants include cursing, and were written right after I made the decision to leave - therefore, the anger and frustration is pretty raw. So, language is pretty NSFW if you care about that kind of thing.

Monday, October 24, 2011

You're Not Alone - Part 7 ( some extra commentary)

This week's search terms that have brought (presumably) new visitors to this blog:

-disillusioned with academia
-i am not enjoying grad school at all
-hate grad school
-i can't handle grad school anymore
-i don't think i can survive grad school
-so depressed in grad school

Anyone who's ever run (or thought about running) a search like this ... you aren't alone. There are many more of you out here, trust me. You're not the first person to feel this way. Hell, you're not even the first person to feel this way this morning.


I thought that some of my readers might be interested in a comment left by reader "noelynoely" on an old post. I wanted to bring it up to the front page today because it's buried pretty far in the archives, but I think more people than me could benefit from reading it. Noelynoely provides further evidence that you're not alone - that there are other people out there who didn't like the academic life. And more importantly, s/he provides evidence that there is life and fulfilling work outside of grad school, even if you can't see a clear path forward at this very moment.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On Sunk Costs

Back in town and ready for some actual, concrete posts once again...

So for awhile now, I've been promising a post about how I contend with some of the annoying little thoughts that pop up in my head every now and then that lead me to occasionally second-guess whether leaving is truly a good decision.

Please don't misunderstand me - on the whole, I genuinely do feel very positive about the decision to leave, and have not once seriously considered going back. Not only am I aware of the massive structural problems in higher education that mean I'd be tremendously unlikely to actually get a job I'd enjoy ... but I also don't miss the work at all. Not one tiny bit.

Now, sometimes I feel self-conscious when I run into former colleagues or when I struggle to describe to family members or friends that I’m no longer pursuing the professor life that I’ve wanted for so long. But overall, the simple fact that I haven’t felt at all wistful or nostalgic for the academic life has convinced me that I’m doing the right thing ... even when my brain tries to pop in with "wellllll...are you sure you want to just quit after all of these years? And especially when you've taken out student loans for this degree you aren't going to get???"

So it's true ... the occasional moment of worry or second-guessing does pop up from time to time, and it's generally centered around one thing … the sunk costs I've already put into grad school. I have student loans, and I was in school for eight years (well, technically I'm in my ninth year right now, but since I'm not actually doing anything related to school I'm not counting it).

That’s eight years that – in my mind – I was racking up student loan debt as a student rather than working on building a career. What a waste! In my worst moments, it's hard for me to convince myself that leaving now is a good decision after all of these years and the loan dollars I've taken out. After all, I don't love my current job ... and as everyone tells me, academia is the best! job! in! the! world! So, you know, perhaps I'm deluding myself about what I should do. Perhaps academia knows best!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Postcademic Rant 2 - On the Workload

I'm out of town until Wednesday, so here is another postacademic rant to tide you over until later this week. This one's a bit more colorful, since it's about the part of academia that I found the most obnoxious and inexcusable ... the overwhelming, never-ending workload.

Normal posting will resume later this week. I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Postacademic Rant 1 - the Meritocracy Myth

The first in my new series of postacademic rants, which are described in the last post.

As I wrote yesterday, these were all written in the spring and early summer, when my wounds from leaving were still fresh. I'm reprinting them here for others to read, but please note that these thoughts and emotions are not things I just came up with this week. In fact, now that I'm seven months removed from my decision to leave, I'm far less angry and more content with my life. I'm incredibly glad I've made this decision.

But at the same time, I know many of you are still feeling the fresh wounds and emotions. Hopefully, reading these rants will help you remember that you aren't alone in how you're feeling, and that I was there too (and am now happily gone from academia).

The first rant is entitled "F___ the meritocracy myth." We'll start with this one, since it's similar to some of the stuff I've been writing most recently. Language is NSFW, clearly.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Postacademic Rants - A New Series

If you've been reading this blog longer than a few months, you can probably tell that my rants about "how much I hate academia and why I'm leaving" are falling off somewhat. It's true.

Now don't get me wrong - I still hate academia and I'm still leaving. :) I'm just feeling less angry about the whole thing, and more focused on what comes next and how to help the rest of you cope with the process of leaving.

And shoot, I'm just so happy to be not an academic anymore that I haven't been as motivated to write up long ranty posts against academia. Which is good. I need to look forward, not back.

That being said, I know that new readers show up here every few days through searches about hating academia ... and they may be at the stage where they could use some ranting that corresponds to how they're feeling. I may not be able to come up with fresh rants on a regular basis anymore, but I do have some pretty good anti-academia rants saved up from some old writing. Specifically, I have a series of "reasons that I hate academia," which my therapist encouraged me to write when I was first making the decision to leave and was struggling with my emotions. He suggested that I might find it helpful to do some writing about academia that was "just for me" in order to process not only my thoughts about what to do next - but my true, uncensored thoughts about what I was leaving behind - namely, academia.

So, I have these Word documents on my computer - a journal of sorts, which I used to help me sort through my anger toward academia. And they were tremendously helpful to write at the time. Immensely helpful. It felt so great to get everything out of my system, and to vent about how angry I was and how frustrated I was with all of the aspects of academia that I hated or found ridiculous.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

This Year's Market ... Is Not For Me

Over the weekend, out of the blue, I started to feel kind of down about the whole postacademic thing.

I've been peeking from time to time at the job market forum in my discipline, just to get a feel for how the market was shaping up - if it looked better or worse than last year, or if any of the jobs I applied for were re-posted this year. I paid some attention to where the jobs were - if my Dream Job in Dream City opened up, after all, there'd be no harm in throwing my hat in the ring. I hadn't seen anything intriguing, though, and was just noticing (without a lot of emotion) that the market seemed to be about the same as last year. I was happy not to be one of the anxiety-ridden job seekers posting on the forum, however!

But on Sunday I happened to see a job posting from the department where a former grad student colleague is currently on a one-year appointment (presumably, a job intended for him), and also learned that another student in my cohort who I thought had also left academia actually took a one-year VAP position at another university. This officially leaves me as the only candidate on the market from last year who didn't have "something" this year - the only true "failure" on the job market, in terms of how my department would view me. (Of course, I was offered a one-year post, but I turned it down ... and it's worth noting, I was the only grad student who had a consistent source of income outside academia when I was on the academic market. I don't think those two things are unrelated.).

Still, though, looking at the listings and thinking about how my entire department must assume I'm sad and lonely (note: I am neither) since I "failed" on the market last year got me a little bit down. Not because anything in my life is wrong, mind you. I was just having some irrational thoughts about how perhaps I *am* making a mistake by just leaving rather than giving the market one more shot. (This is a relatively common mindset, by the way ... PostAcademic in NYC writes about something similar here. It can be hard to avoid thinking, from time to time, that you "should" take another stab at an academic career ... even if you know it's not right for you).

But when I rationally think about that now, my reaction is basically ... really, JC??? I mean, I've been gone for about seven months now and haven't for *one single moment* felt sentimental about leaving or any longing to go back to academia. I haven't felt inclined to contact my department or to start working on my dissertation again, or to seriously consider any of the multiple emails I got this spring inviting me to apply for various jobs. But suddenly this weekend, apropos of absolutely nothing, I think I'm might secretly be a failure who secretly misses academia? Wow.

So just for fun, I decided to go through the posted job listings in my discipline and take a look at what's out there. What are these big opportunities I'm missing out on, and what jobs would I actually take if offered? RecentPhD did this a few weeks back, but I didn't think I needed to. But apparently it couldn't hurt. So ... I looked around, and thought about the opportunities out there. And I wasn't impressed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The AHA Says "No More Plan B"

Like many others, I was pleased to see the recent statement from the AHA urging history graduate departments to do a better job in training their students for nonacademic careers. The statement calls for grad programs to do two simultaneous things: to expand their graduate training to include an emphasis on skills and careers outside of academia, and to stop characterizing nonacademic careers as "alternatives" or "plan Bs."

This statement was made in large part due to AHA's recognition that the job market in history is not facing a "transient 'crisis," but that tenure track jobs are disappearing and that "we owe it to our students and to our profession to think more broadly."

Their statement is getting attention in the blogsophere and positive feedback at Inside Higher Ed. I'm, obviously, very pleased to see that. It probably won't shock any of my readers to hear that I support graduate programs training their students for nonacademic careers ... not as a fallback "Plan B," but as a different yet completely valid career choice.

So I think the AHA statement is a wonderful first step, and I would like to see other professional organizations follow suit ... and graduate departments follow up by actually beginning to implement their recommendations.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Inspirational Quote

Okay, in the interest of full disclosure ... I don't own any Apple products, and aside from the standard sadness I always feel over the untimely passing of someone before their time, I am not particularly affected by the passing of Steve Jobs. In fact, you could even say that I've been somewhat cynically annoyed by the level of veneration of the man that I've seen around the internet and among my social circles for the past couple of days.*

That being said, this now-famous quote of his definitely seems like something that needs to be posted here for my fellow current and aspiring postacademics, as well as for the current academics who find this blog through searches about how much they hate grad school and academia:
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and  intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Damn. He wasn't talking to a postacademic audience, but he may as well have been.

I may not think much of the hubbub around him today, but the man had a point. You won't live forever, so why waste your time being miserable and chasing a life that someone else has told you that you should keep pursuing, even when your inner voice is screaming at you to leave? Life is way too short to ignore what you know will make you happy.

I will probably never buy an iPhone, but I deeply appreciate this advice, Mr. Jobs. RIP.

*Certainly, he made a lot of important contributions to the world of technology and should be remembered and honored for those contributions. And of course, my deepest condolences absolutely go out to his family and friends for his untimely passing. That being said, I find the comparative public response to his death as compared to the Civil Rights icon who died on the same day to be pretty disturbing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Update on My Job Search - Part 2

Today, in my ongoing effort to keep all of you posted on how my job search is progressing...a new update. Probably the last one for a couple of months.

In my last update, I mentioned that my current strategy is to focus on finding a higher-level job in the industry I currently work in, in the city where my partner and I want to live. Once we're settled, we'll focus on finding more permanent "career" jobs.

This is still the plan, but it's going to be a few months before we get moving. A couple of things came up over the past few weeks that have led us to decide to postpone the job search for a few months. It's nothing major - just a couple of financial and nonwork-related things that would make it very difficult and inconvenient for us to move before the spring. So after a lot of talking, we decided to just spend the next few months working and relaxing (with me studying for my certification exam so that I stand a better chance of getting a higher-level job in my industry), and to commence looking for jobs after the new year - with the hope of moving in the spring or summer.

It sort of makes me feel like a failure when I run into former academic friends and have to admit that I don't have a career job yet and I'm not sending out a resume every single week ... but at the same time, I think this is the best thing that could have happened to me.

Friday, September 30, 2011

If You're Reading Here, Go Research the Job Market. Now.

Today, I'd like to highlight a recent post at AfterAcademe (recentPhD has been giving me a lot of food for thought lately!!) about what the job market in academia objectively looks like … how many jobs are there, how many applicants you’ll be competing with, and how many jobs are actually a good match for your interests and wants. In this post, recentPhD notes that several English departments in jobs s/he had applied to over the past two years noted that they had received up to 700 applicants for a single job posting. 

Think about that, young English Ph.D. students who find themselves here. You're competing with 400-700 other people for every single job ad out there. Via a job market that lasts approximately 3-4 months. If you don't win the lottery with one of those ads, you'll be scrambling for 6-8 months until you can start applying again (with a few hundred more fresh Ph.D.s joining you on the market). The odds are tremendously against you of landing a particular job … or honestly, any job at all.

I'm not trying to be overly negative. I'm just trying to encourage you to be informed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Two Types of Postacademics

Wow, it looks like after about ten days of no posting, I'm feeling quite talkative lately!

Happily, though, my thought processes have shifted significantly since I first started this blog. Rather than focusing primarily on my anger and disgust at academia, most of my thoughts these days are focused on what comes next.

What is not going to come next, for me, is another trip on the academic job market. I've been keeping an eye on the job listings in my discipline, and they are collectively giving me the reaction of "meh." While some of the other postacademic bloggers are applying (or considering applying) to a few select academic jobs, I'm not planning to apply to any. I feel no enthusiasm or even slight desire to throw my hat in the ring again. I'm just ... done with it.

It's not that I wouldn't still like to do research or teach in some capacity in the future. Even my job right now requires a little bit of each of those things, in a more informal capacity. I'd be open to a job outside academia in which I'd do research and teaching/training ... but I'm done with academia, and I have no desire to be a professor anymore. I saw what that job would entail while I was on interviews in the spring, and it showed me very clearly that unless a faculty job was at the ideal institution,* I wanted nothing to do with the academic lifestyle anymore - from the culture down to the workload. I just don't want it anymore. So I'm moving on.

But reading about a few other postacademic bloggers who are taking a partial stab at the academic job market this fall got me thinking about something I haven't seen addressed as of yet in the postacademic blogosphere ... but something that I think might be important to think about, especially since most people seeking out these blogs are new to the leaving process and have no idea how to proceed.

I think that "how to proceed" is going to differ for people based on why they're considering leaving. And I think that academic leavers can be categorized into two broad groups.

The Importance of the Master Resume

This is going to be a bit of a rehash from a couple of earlier posts I've done, but since those are buried so far in the archives I wanted to highlight them again, along with the dustbiter's recent post about how the "career changer" mindset had been helping her prepare for the process of making the break from academia and starting a new career. It's a great post altogether, but in particular I'd like to highlight the fact that she's put together a "master resume" to help with her job search; something she learned from Julie at Escape the Ivory Tower, and something that I've also found immensely helpful (probably based on advice I got from Escape the Ivory Tower or someplace similar).

I really believe this is a critical step for any postacademic or even potential postacademic to take. It's important for you to understand not just what you've done in the academic world, but what skills those things have given you. You have skills, buried under the jargony lines of your CV, I promise.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Pay in Academia

This post is about money. You know, the one thing we're not supposed to care about or talk about in academia, since we grad students and faculty are "doing it for the love of the subject," and common things like money aren't supposed to matter to us. Yeah.

Well, this is a postacademic blog, so I'm no longer subjected to the norms of academia in what I think and say. So screw it ... let's talk about money. Because it does matter, at least a little bit.

It's not that no one expects you to consider salary when you apply for academic jobs. Of course you are expected to care about what you'll be making ... but you're definitely not supposed to care too much or too obviously about it. At least in my discipline, it is considered seriously tacky and "common" to talk about whether a school's offered salary was too low or to (heaven forbid) turn down a job based on the salary you were offered. Simply put - if you got offered a faculty job and didn't have another offer, and no one did something egregious at your job interview, you take that job regardless of salary. After all, any faculty salary is better than what you made as a grad student or you could make as an adjunct, right? And, of course, it's "not about the money, it's about the importance of what you're doing as an academic." So you should be grateful for that job that pays $40k for a 4/4 in Nowheresville, Idaho, dammit!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Elitist Barriers to Academia

So, like I wrote earlier today, I just haven't been all that motivated to blog in the past week or so. I haven't been thinking much about academia recently, and haven't felt like I've had much to say in a coherent, long-form post.

There's nothing wrong, mind you ... I've been in good spirits and have been busy with work, a quick weekend out of town with my partner, running errands, taking care of household chores that I used to woefully neglect while I was dissertating, etc. I guess you could say that I've been too busy living my life to spend a ton of time thinking about academia.

What seems to be happening is that I'm growing more accustomed to life as a postacademic. Rather than going through stages of anger and sadness and frustration and whatnot these days, I'm just living my life. I get up, go to work, push through my list of tasks at work, and then at 5:00 I leave the pile of work on my desk and go home for the night and do other things. What those other things are varies by evening ... but the key thing is that the academic work (and corresponding guilt) is not hanging over my head, driving me crazy. I'm just living my life like a normal, nonacademic person. It's pretty awesome.

You're Not Alone - Part 6

Apologies for being MIA this past week. I've been trying to post at least once per week, but couldn't come up with anything particularly insightful over the last few days. I've got a few posts in the pipeline, though, so I'll put up a couple of things over the next few days.

Despite me not having posted much in the last couple of weeks, new visits to this blog have spiked in recent days - probably not coincidentally due to the fact that we're in the first few months of the new academic semester. There seem to be some new grad students out there who are realizing that the whole academia thing might not be a good fit for them, as well as returning academics who are wondering why they even came back.

So since I haven't done one of these in awhile, here is a selection of search terms that have been bringing people to this blog via Google. Again - I can't see any identifying information about these searchers, so there's no reason to feel embarrassed if you see one of your searches represented here.

But I always pay attention to the search term portion of my blog statistics, because I think that it reveals a lot about how many people out there are toiling way in academic positions, being unhappy and second-guessing their choices without apparently knowing where to go for help or advice.

I remember very clearly that while I was having doubts about grad school, I felt completely alone. I felt like I was the only person who saw the unethical and illogical and flat-out unfair aspects of academia, and like I was the only person who was genuinely unhappy. Sure, we all joked about how "all grad students are miserable" and about how everyone was in therapy and on psych meds. But still, everyone always talked about how academia was "the best job in the world." I always felt like I couldn't say anything to anyone about the doubts I was having because, obviously, I was the only person having those thoughts. Perhaps you are thinking that now, reading this.

Well, trust me ... you're not. This week's search terms bringing people to my blog:
-i hate academia (3 searches)
-i hate my research
-hate phd research work
-how to leave academia
-i want to leave grad school
-hopeless situation grad school
-hate graduate school
-i don't like my graduate advisor
-anxiety depression since grad school
-depression grad school science
-academics are snobs

You're not alone, and you don't have to stay in academia just because that's where you started out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Does the Academic Job Market "Fit" You?

Of course, right after I posted my manifesto on the academic job market yesterday, PostAcademic in NYC wrote a great post ... not about how the search committees will view you, but about how you feel when you consider the available jobs. When you see the listings in your particular field - regardless of however many or few there are - do you feel excited? Enthusiastic? Confident? Eager to send in your application? Energized with the thought of working at these other colleges/universities?

Or do you feel a nagging sense of dread? Nervousness that's out of proportion to how you normally feel when facing a new or high-stress situation? Sick to your stomach? Are you having trouble mustering up any enthusiasm for the posted jobs, and feel like you're just going through the motions when you're writing up your cover letters?

When you're contemplating the market, I echo PostAcademic's advice to listen to your gut: attention to that feeling in your gut. One of the first steps to knowing whether you should leave academia is being able to separate what you want from the desires of others.
This is tremendously good advice. As I and the other postacademic bloggers have written in the past, grad school sets you on a distinct track toward a particular type of job - an academic job. It may be that you started out in grad school thinking that you'd consider a wide range of jobs after graduation ... but you're going to just "test" the academic job market because that's what graduating Ph.D.'s do. Or it may be that you came into grad school thinking you'd be a professor (or with no particular career goals in mind), and now that you're graduating, you're going on the academic market because that's what graduating Ph.D.'s do. You may have never considered any other options or stopped along the line to consider whether you still want to be a professor. It's just what people in your line of work do, so you're going along with it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On "Fit" and the Academic Job Market

Just as the academic job market is getting underway for another year, I’m really glad to see my fellow postacademics writing some critical posts about it. Right now, grad students and adjuncts around the country are putting together application packets, writing cover letters, and obsessing over how they can make themselves stand out from the crowd of applicants for each job. And in 5 or 6 months, many of them will have failed to land a job, and will be depressed and discouraged, wondering what they did wrong. 

We postacademics are here to tell you that most likely, you did nothing wrong. The problem does not lie with you. The problem lies with an oversaturated job market full of insanely qualified candidates, and with a hiring process in which decisions often come down to the mythical notion of "fit," which can be based on any number of factors inside or outside of the applicant's control.

As I’ve mentioned on here before, I went on the job market last year. After sending out about 60 job applications, I wound up landing six phone interviews, three campus interviews, and one offer for a one-year visiting professor position (which I had not applied for and which I declined – it was offered to me as the second choice candidate for the tenure track position I’d applied for). So, I’ve seen the process through from beginning to end, and I’m telling you … my fellow postacademic bloggers speak the truth. Many of them are talking about the humanities job market, where things are a bit bleaker. But still, even when it comes to social science jobs ... you have little to no control over this process, so there is no sense in killing yourself trying to position yourself as the "perfect candidate" for every job. It's a pointless exercise.

It’s not that no one ever lands academic jobs, obviously. Or that if you go on the market, you stand absolutely zero chance of landing a job. There are faculty positions posted each year, and someone gets them. That someone could be you; it’s true.

But what you need to understand about this process is that there is nothing you can do to guarantee you’ll get a call for an interview. Nothing. All of those advisors telling you that somehow you can craft the perfect cover letter tailored to the job ad, and the search committee will swoon? Nope. All of your colleagues urging you to send out one more paper, because then you’ll have interesting new research to discuss on your interview? Well, unless you wind up actually in an interview, that submission is just another line on your CV, which looks like all the other CVs the search committee is going through. And your other advisor who urges you to adjunct a new class to expand your teaching dossier? Well, if you’ve already got teaching experience, one more class on your CV is not going to make or break your application. If you've successfully taught a couple of college courses before, adding another one isn't going to do anything to help you. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Regrets and My Ideal Life

Just a quick post today, with a link to a guest post by Amanda Krauss from Worst Professor Ever at The Professor Is In. I don't have much to add to it, but it felt like something that folks reading this blog might find interesting. I'm sure a lot of you find yourself second-guessing the decision to leave out of some idea that the workload and the pressure and the stress you're experiencing will get better ... if not soon, then definitely after tenure. Amanda is a former professor at Vanderbilt, so she knows of what she speaks. Namely, that the pressure never truly stops and that happiness after tenure is not guaranteed ... or is even *likely,* if you're someone who enjoys a well-balanced life.

Primarily, though, I'd like to highlight something she mentions in that post that I've thought about many times since making the decision to leave. I'll write a few posts in the next couple of weeks about how I contend with the mental second-guessing I do from time to time about specific little issues that trip me up, since I think these might be useful to readers.

But right now, I'd like to pass along a tip about something that has helped me stop stressing about what my advisors and colleagues and my academic mindset tells me that I *should* be doing, and to refocus on why I'm leaving. What I do is take a few minutes to think about what I want my life to look like when I'm reflecting back on it at the end. Yep, I think about how I'll feel at the very end of my life, looking back at how it's all played out.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Disclaimer: I am not the most tech-savvy person in the world. So when I upgraded my blog template today, it is possible I lost a link or two from the original design ... let me know if you see anything that is broken or missing, or if the new design is so effin' ugly that it's hurting your eyes. :)

Also, I wanted to draw your attention to the blogroll ... now located on the right side of the page. There have recently been two new (and one old-new) addition to the academic blogosphere: Another Academic Bites the Dust, Crocodiles with Coffee, and Post-Academic in NYC. I've updated my site with links to those sites, and I highly recommend them to readers of this blog. Everyone's perspective on the leaving process is a little different, and they have a lot of great insights on academia and on the postacademic world. Remember - you're not alone!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Yes, Virginia, You *Are* a Career Changer

Although I suspect we share quite a bit of reader traffic, I want to direct anyone who hasn't already seen it to recent PhD's latest post offering advice to adjuncts who want to quit. It's a great, informative post with a lot of good advice about how to time your decision to quit, as well as concrete advice about what kind of jobs are out there and how to market yourself for them.

First, I'd like to second Recent PhD's advice that potential academic leavers choose a specific point at which you are going to quit - or at least a point at which you will begin sending out resumes with the understanding that you will leave academia outright as soon as you are offered an outside job - even if it's the middle of a semester. If you don't do this, it will be far too easy to just continue postponing the decision over and over again until you're just lingering in grad school or as an adjunct, afraid to actually cut the cord. And while I don't think it's ever too late to leave academia, you certainly don't want to keep postponing the decision endlessly. So as I've hinted at before, I think recent PhD's advice to sit down and make a decision about a concrete point at which you will officially be done with academia is critical for anyone considering quitting.

This advice works for grad students and full faculty as well as adjuncts, by the way. Come up with your own end point, not the ones academia assigns to us. If you're utterly miserable and sure you want to do something else, there's no sense in hanging around until you get tenure or until you finish the dissertation. If you're leaving, the academic milestones shouldn't matter for you anymore. Make a plan for leaving based on your own personal goals and preferences, and stick to it.

What I really wanted to follow up and emphasize from recent PhD's post, however, is the advice about how to market yourself for your "next" job.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Some Random Observations/Links

Hey all! I'm blaming the holiday week/weekend for my lack of posting productivity this week. It's the first Labor Day in several years in which I'm not frantically prepping a new course or trying to catch up on all of the research work I didn't do during the summer, so I've been enjoying the time off ... and have not been wanting to think about academia at all.

But I did want to post something for you this weekend, so here are a few random links and a few random thoughts that have been clinking around in my head this week.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Good Luck!

Today is the first day of classes at Grad U for the fall semester. I assume that for many of you who are reading here who are still in academia, this week (or perhaps next) is the start of your semester as well.

I just wanted to put up a quick post today wishing you all good luck with the start of the new semester ... as well as to remind you that if you continue being unhappy or dissatisfied with your academic life as the semester goes on, you are not alone. In the last 24 hours alone, several people have found this blog through searches for "I'm unhappy in graduate school," "hate grad school," and "tired of grad school want to leave."

If everyone around you seems bright-eyed and bushy-tailed but you can't muster up similar enthusiasm, it's okay. You're not the only one feeling this way, even if no one around you is admitting to it.

Just get through each day, and keep in mind that you have options. You can choose to leave if you want. Academia is a job ... nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't own you, and the fact that you started down this path doesn't mean that you can't change courses and careers if you want to or need to.

I'm not the least bit upset that I'm not teaching or going to research meetings this week. My current job may not be groundbreakingly interesting, but I'm honestly just thrilled that today is just another average work day for me ... and that after 5pm, my evenings are free for me to do whatever I choose with.

There will always be opportunities to teach a class or to do some independent research if I so choose. But being outside of the academic machine feels great. If you feel like you need to leave, get the process started.

And it seems like as good of a time as any to mention that if you're a grad student who is feeling really hopeless and desperate, or who is having thoughts of suicide ... there is a dedicated hotline out there for graduate students who need help. Call 1-800-GRADHLP anytime to speak to someone who understands what you're going through and wants to help.

Good luck with the new semester!

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Get a "Next" Job?

After posting my job search update earlier this week, I started thinking about all of the jobs I've had in my life. None of them were career jobs, but still ... they served their purpose. They were effective "filler" jobs that helped me make ends meet or just get to the next place I was going in my life (for example, the full-time job I got after I graduated from undergrad, but before I left for grad school).

They didn't seem like something worth talking about in a blog about finding a career outside of academia. But you know what? It's one of these filler jobs that has just about saved me in this process of leaving academia. By deciding to get a part-time job a few years back, I unknowingly made a decision that would make the process of leaving academia a thousand times easier for my future self, because I didn't have to worry about financial stress on top of everything else.

Since I doubt many of you are looking for a job similar to the one I'm doing now or to the minimum-wage food service job I did in college, I hadn't thought about how my job-getting experiences might be helpful for readers here. But ... duh! If you're reading this blog and thinking about leaving academia, there's a decent chance that you don't already have an outside job. And in fact, if you've followed the direct undergrad -> grad school -> faculty track that a lot of Ph.D.s take, you may have never held a job outside academia. So, you might be in need of some tips about how to find a "next" job outside the insular academic world. I might be able to help with that. I've had lots of "next" jobs ... in offices, in retail, in restaurants, in hotels. :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Your Wednesday Funny

In honor of the upcoming Labor Day holiday ... a relevant Ph.D. comic:


Last Labor Day, I spent the entire day frantically typing cover letters and getting job market packets ready to mail on Tuesday. My partner grilled burgers outside while I sat in my study, working, and only came out once dinner was ready. I don't even think I went outside, all day long.

This Labor Day, I will be getting paid for the day even though I don't have to go into the office - I get holiday pay now!! I'm not sure what my exact plans will be, but I hope to be on the water somewhere, relaxing. If that fails, I'll be at a barbeque ... actually enjoying the weather, food, drink, and conversation for once.

I swear, I think the part that I like best about making this change has been reclaiming my free time. Don't get me wrong - I'm still working a 40 hour week, every week. But the difference is that when I'm not at work, no one expects me to be working. The change in my mental state has been astounding.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Update on My Job Search - Part 1

Giant warning, here: this is a looooooong post. If you're not interested in the minutae of my job search process and all of the options I have considered and discarded, you might just want to skim this one. I'll be back to posting snarky entries about academia soon, don't worry. :)

But a commenter on the last post and someone who emailed me this week have both asked me to post an update on my career change. And you know, an update is long overdue. I've been a little reluctant to post anything, simply because I still feel like a tiny bit of a failure for not being able to announce "Yes, readers, I have landed my Ultimate Career Job after just 30 days of searching, and will be making $300,000 per year while living in my Dream City! Learn from me!!" Yeah ... I'm not there yet.

But ... that's silly of me. I've been open from my very first post here about how leaving academia is a long and arduous process that requires a lot of emotional work, soul-searching, and careful planning of next steps. This is what I've been working on for the past few months, and I think I've finally figured out my next step.

So, I'm going to walk you through my entire decision making process and why I've considered and discarded several common job-seeking tips ... just in case reading about my thought process will help you figure out your next step by comparison. And if nothing else, it can reassure you that I've been doing more than just typing up rants about academia from my living room over these last few months. :)

You're Not Alone - Part 5

I haven't done one of these in awhile, so here you go...recent search terms that people are using to find this blog.

Hopefully no one reading here feels odd if they see these posts and recognize a phrase they've searched for. I don't see any identifying information about who's running the searches, so don't worry ... and plus, I've definitely run similar searches over the years. :)

But I think it's important for people reading here or arriving at this blog after one of these searches to understand that they aren't alone. I'm here, the folks blogging at the links on the left are here, and all of these people who run these searches to arrive at my blog are having the same thoughts about academia and grad school. Just because you don't hear people saying it in the grad labs or hallways or even over the weekends at parties or bars or the departmental potluck does not mean you are the only person having doubts.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


....I got another job ad/offer emailed to me today. To teach 2 brand new classes, at a campus that is two hours away by car.

The start date is in on Monday. In five days.

I won't be sending my CV in. And God help the students who are enrolled in those two classes. Whatever well-meaning person takes this position is in no way, shape, or form going to be able to put in their best effort. But I guess it doesn't matter, as long as they get a warm body to stand in front of all of those tuition dollars students.

Five days to prep. Astounding.

Your Wednesday Funny

Two funnies today...first,  if you are a sociologist, political scientist, anthropologist or economist, you should go check this post out immediately. Hilarious!!


Second, In honor of any English folks who are out there reading this blog:

This is the funniest thing I've seen in awhile. If only I'd majored in English ... then I could have all the jobs.

Image from For Lack of a Better Comic.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Exactly What I Needed Today... a reminder about what working in academia is really like.

Seriously. This morning my brother called to tell me he'd gotten an interview for a new job. He has his bachelor's degree and is ... let's just say, younger than me. A few months ago he decided he wanted a new job, applied for two positions total, and now has this interview. Of course, nothing is guaranteed ... and he had some networking help getting the interview.

But still ... it sent me into a bit of a "woe is me" phase this morning, where I started lamenting the years I'd spent in school and the debt I'd incurred trying to get a degree that is (at this point) utterly useless. And cursing him for being "smart enough" (even when I thought he was being immature and silly) to just get a job after graduation instead of chasing some "life of the mind" pipe dream through grad school. Because now he's moving up in his career, and I'm looking for an entry-level job ... a decade after when I could have gotten started.

So yeah. This morning was not my best morning. (For the record, this is the first time I've felt this negative in months, so the emotional roller-coaster is easing up a bit. This process does get easier).

But just as I was really building up the mental pity party, I got an email from Grad U, asking me if I was interested in teaching a class this fall because they suddenly have an opening. A brand new class that I've never taught, in a topic area that I don't know anything about. For a semester that would start in two weeks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Homeless Adjuncts

I ran across this post at the Chronicle today, which links back to this series of posts at The Homeless Adjunct ... all of which are drawing much-needed attention to the reality of adjuncting today in higher education.

Adjuncting is something that's often discussed in academia as a temporary condition ... as something that grad students or recent Ph.D.s can do to supplement their income during their last few semesters before they go off and get their "real" tenure track jobs.

And indeed, in some cases/places, that is how adjuncting works. In my department, grad students would occasionally take a one-course adjuncting gig at a nearby institution to earn a few thousand extra dollars and some additional teaching experience ... in exchange for giving the instructors at the smaller regional campuses a much-needed break from their huge course loads. No harm, no foul. Alternately, I'd taken a few courses at Grad U with instructors who had day jobs but taught a class at night, just because they loved doing it. Again ... no harm, no foul.

What I didn't realize until I started reading postacademic blogs, however, was the degree to which adjuncting is becoming the norm in higher ed writ large, especially in urban areas with their captive pools of recent Ph.D.s and their high number of campuses in small geographic areas. Sadly, what I've learned since starting this blog is that adjuncting is gradually becoming the "new normal" in faculty appointments at many universities, particularly in the humanities (but also with a growing number in the social sciences as well).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Should You Drop Out?

I just ran across this old Chronicle of Higher Education piece, which offers some things to think about when trying to decide whether or not to complete your Ph.D. once you've decided to not pursue a faculty position.

I appreciate that the article relates the experiences of a few different people who left academia - some who chose to finish, and some who didn't. It also runs through a few important things you should take under consideration when you're deciding whether or not you want to finish your Ph.D. or not. Personally, if you only have six months or less until completion, I would finish. Similarly, if doing so would earn you a promotion or significant pay increase at work? I'd say do it.

But if you still have a long time until completion, or if your project is making you miserable, or if you simply don't want to finish? Maybe the best thing for you to do is just stop.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Policy Changes

So it appears that per our new federal debt deal, graduate students may no longer be able to obtain subsidized student loans to pay for grad school. In other words, if you take out a federal loan to fund your graduate studies, you will be charged interest during the time you are in school rather than having it accrue only once you've graduated. Long-term, then, graduate students will pay more in student loans than they currently are.

Hmm. I'm of two minds about this. First, I think graduate students get screwed enough as it is, between the lack of job training and the horrifying job market and the shift toward adjunct/temporary faculty in higher education. So this just seems like one more kick in the rear to anyone who decides to go to grad school without realizing all of the potential downsides.

On the other hand, though, I really oppose people taking out more than a nominal amount of student loans to pay for graduate study (I'm speaking from experience, here), so I'm having trouble getting too worked up about a change in policy that may prevent graduate students from taking out more and more student loans to fund their studies.

Thoughts, anyone?

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.