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 first category contains people like me, who have really had it with academia. You've just realized that you don't like it anymore. Perhaps you're someone who could envision taking an academic job under the absolute perfect circumstances ... but in general, you're pretty sure that if you left academia altogether, you wouldn't miss it one bit. The "fun" of it is just gone for you, and you have little to no desire to do the work anymore.
Or, you know, perhaps you've grown to despise everything about academia and would rather flip burgers than write one more sentence or teach one more student.
Either way, you're in the first category. Perhaps we need a name for it ... The Dislikers? The Fed-Uppers? (As you can probably guess, my discipline is not creative writing. :)
Anyway, whatever we want to call it, category one is for people who don't like academia and want to actively and happily choose something else to do. I'm with you in category one.
The second category would be people who still love academia, but who know that their ability to get a job that pays them a fair wage in an area they'd like to live is severely hampered by the academic job market or some other factor.
This could pertain to humanities Ph.D.s who see how few jobs there are in their disciplines, or to STEM grads who aren't able to relocate every few years over the next decade for postdocs. Or perhaps you're a social sciences Ph.D. who realized a little too late that your departmental ranking isn't high enough to get you a good, tenure-track job. Wherever they fall, these are people who still love the work, but are prevented from doing it due to circumstances outside their control. So while they'd still happily and enthusiastically take an academic job tomorrow, they know that they need a backup plan because this is unlikely to happen.
Regardless of which category you fall into, I think that if you choose to leave for either reason, you are making a noble and good decision. It's not healthy to stay in a job you hate, nor is it a good idea to keep toiling away for poverty wages or living in a location you despise just because you're "still in academia." I'm a big believer that your entire life matters, and that your happiness and well-being in all corners of your life are worth paying attention to. So if you hate your job (category 1), you should try something different. If you love your job but hate every other aspect of your life because you can't make a living or have a good life doing it (category 2), you need to rethink it as well.
But I think that people who are considering leaving should think about what category they fall into before making a strategy to really get out. The concrete strategies and mental work people in each category will need to go through are probably slightly different, based on whether you could see yourself returning to academia at some point in the future.
People in category one may want to focus their job search more widely at first, to see what other career path might open up to them. Meanwhile, people in category two may want to still keep a leg in academia (while definitely having a source of income outside of academia) just in case they have an opportunity to get back in later on. I'm not sure, but it feels like the strategies should be somewhat different for each group.
This would also, I think, relate strongly to the question of "should I finish?" Category two folks definitely should. Category one folks? It's not so clear-cut.
I think that the emotional process of leaving will still be somewhat the same - the anger at the system is going to be there for both categories (either for keeping them focused on a career they don't want or for not telling them the truth about their chances on the academic market), as is the sadness (over lost time or lost opportunity). People in both categories should still pay attention to the systemic problems in academia, and will need to do some similar emotional work to get themselves through the leaving process.
But it just hit me that the strategies that we take while leaving - how far and how quickly we distance ourselves from academia, how we look for "next jobs," and perhaps even how we emotionally process the decision and the break from academia itself - may differ significantly based on why we're leaving.
I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts on this. Am I talking right out of my rear end, or might this be something useful for current and future postacademics to think about?
*for me, a SLAC in a big city within a day's drive of my hometown, with motivated students who were not primarily from privileged backgrounds. There are a couple of places that fit this description ... but not too many. And the chances that I'd just magically happen to land a job at one of those specific places? Miniscule.