Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Sociologist's View on Whether to Leave - Part 4

Apologies for the delay in posting the final part of my analysis of the orgtheory post. I've had some computer problems for the last week or so, and blogging's been pretty low on the priority list as a result. Things seem semi-resolved, though, so I wanted to finish the series so I can move onto other topics in the next couple of days.

This final post covers reasons that the author thinks it's valid to decide to leave grad school - and needless to say, I agree with his reasons. But, here they are ... with my own observations about each:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Sociologist's View on Whether to Leave - Part 3

Part 3 of my review of the post from orgtheory, by a sociology faculty member.

Now, covering (in his opinion) bad reasons to leave a graduate program.
"I hate my department/advisor/university/cohort/dissertation. In a few years, you won't have an advisor, and you'll be at another place with different people, and you'll finish the diss and move onto other topics."
I agree wholeheartedly with this advice. Don't leave graduate school because you hate your advisor, or your department.

But I would argue that if you're finding yourself being immensely unhappy with your advisor or your department or something like that, it might be worth taking a few minutes to think about why you're so unhappy with that particular part of your grad school experience. If you are unhappy with your department because it focuses on academic research and you want to focus on pedagogical research and teaching, you should stick it out and look for teaching jobs after graduation. If you are unhappy with your advisor because they are slow on reading your dissertation chapters, just push through it and finish. You won't be under their thumb forever.

But if you - like me - find yourself being annoyed with the entirety of academia or your discipline? If your annoyance with your advisor isn't their behavior but the fact that your project itself makes you miserable, so you resent the time your advisor makes you devote to it? Or your annoyance with your department has to do with the fact that you find departmental seminars and colloquia to be nothing more than "mental masturbation" (a term coined by a fantastic colleague of mine), then it might be a problem bigger than a situational dislike for your department. For me, I realized that it wasn't just my department ... I was aggravated by conferences, and journals in my field, and the "hot" research topics and theories and the conversations I overheard by people in my field. In short, I didn't/don't hate my department. I hate my discipline.

So, to sum up, I completely agree that leaving because you don't like your advisor or department is a bad idea. The solution there is to finish up and leave for a new job. However, if your dislike of your "department" is really a dislike of the discipline, like it was for me? Then I think leaving might not be a bad idea.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Side Note - Go Read about Adjuncting, Now

Something I never realized until I started reading other post-academic blogs was the way that adjuncting is, more and more, holding up the entire university system on the backs of people with completed Ph.D's who work for less money than I make via my grad student stipend while teaching 3 or 4 classes per semester on multiple campuses, with no benefits.

Neither my graduate or undergraduate program used adjuncts (my grad program has tons of grad students to take on that role for them!), so I was woefully unaware of how exploitative and widespread the practice of adjuncting is.

To those of you reading here who are not in a top-5 program (so you're less likely to land a tenure track job due to the hierarchy of rankings), or who are in the humanities or a very specialized field where there are very few job opportunities, I really recommend that you go read some blogs about the reality of adjuncting. This has been eye-opening to me, and has further solidified my decision to leave. Not only do I not want to wind up as an adjunct, but I don't want to contribute to a system that relies so heavily on such an exploitative system.

The list is small now, since I'm just learning about this new area of academia that I was previously pretty ignorant about. But I will tag this post as "resources," and add to it as I find more good blogs and articles about adjuncting life.

A Sociologist's View on Whether to Leave - Part 2

I just had to go back and correct a typo in my previous entry's headline ... wow, clearly I am an idiot who can't cut it in grad school if I don't even notice a typo, right???

Kidding, I'm kidding. :)

Okay, onto part 2 of my review of the sociology blog post that I started talking about yesterday. Today's segment will discuss the negative aspects of a career in academia, as described by someone working in a top R-1 program.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Sociologist's View on Whether to Leave - Part 1

So as I've mentioned, I'm currently an advanced graduate student who is planning to leave academia. I'm not sure if I'm going to finish my dissertation or not - it will depend on what kind of job I get, and whether I feel compelled to finish after I'm away from my grad program - but since I'm actively looking for a job outside academia without a completed dissertation, I'm currently classifying myself as someone who is preparing to quit graduate school. I might return later, but for right now, I'm done with it.

So, I ran across this old post on a sociology blog, where sociology faculty offer some very sensible advice for people who are considering leaving graduate school. I thought it would be useful to people reading here to link to and write a bit about this post.

Obviously, this post will be about how I, personally, view and relate to each of their points about when to quit. But I advise everyone reading to think about how you feel about each of these points.

I'm going to address this post in 4 separate posts over here, so that you aren't reading a 40 page blog entry. Here's part 1.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Frustration of the Last Minute Job Opportunity

I just got an email from one of the faculty members in my grad department, who is not technically my advisor, but is someone who's been generally supportive and helpful throughout my time in school.

Since I am one of the remaining students on the market who hasn't landed a position yet, he'd been sending me all of these email listings for a number of these late-appearing one-year positions around the country. VAPs in Idaho, adjunct positions in South Carolina, etc. I never applied to one year positions while I was officially on the market, since I didn't want to pick up and move for one year, just to do the academic job hunt dance again in less than a year. It would be different if I didn't have my part-time job, of course, but since I do have a job and I'm in a top program, it just wasn't something I wanted to do.

But as the spring semester went on, he kept forwarding these one-year positions to me. Last month I finally sent him a long email, letting him know that while I knew I had "failed" on the market, I wasn't upset and actually had made the (positive) decision to look for jobs outside the academy. I told him I had a "pay the bills" job and that I was feeling excited and happy about having some control over where I would live and a wider pool of jobs to focus on. He seemed to understand.

Today, I got an email from him basically offering me a one-semester gig teaching at a nearby college. UGH.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #3: I Deserve Free Time

Since making the decision to leave, I have rediscovered weekends/hobbies/free time. And it's been wonderful. I've read a couple of "just for fun" books, took an impromptu daylong trip to a nearby city with my partner, and have been able to catch up on a bunch of errands and participate in household duties.

In short, I'm having a normal person's life. Between my part-time job and applying for different jobs, I'm working about 40 hours per week. And when I'm not doing those things? I'm relaxing. I'm taking my dog for a walk or wandering around a store or watching a movie or catching up with a friend over the phone.

As I've mentioned, academia is rife with the idea that you should be working 24/7 ... and that if you're not working at any given moment, you should be ... or at least that you should feel bad and guilty about the fact that you aren't working, since your laptop is right over there ... and if you're sitting down to read, you should really read a book related to your research...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #2: I Hate my Research

I don't mean that I hate research in general. I don't hate figuring out how to address a problem, collecting and analyzing data, or writing up my results. I don't mind research.

I hate academic research. And my academic research in particular. And I think that by the time you're in the dissertation stage, if you hate your research with a passion and can't motivate yourself to work on it at all, you should consider other options. Because that is what you will be working on for the foreseeable future. And while you may not love your future job like crazy, it's ridiculous to think that you have to take a job in which you utterly despise the major task you will be doing. Especially if you have options - and with an advanced degree, you do have options.

Ph.D. Simulator

I'm working on a longer post, so this is shaping up to be a three-post Saturday. Hmmm, I wonder what I'm trying to avoid... :)

Anyway, I ran across this At-Home Ph.D. Simulator, posted at Metafilter from a thread at (apparently, although I am not a member, so I can't confirm).

The At-Home Ph.D. Simulator:
1. Give a $30,000 donation to the university of your choice, on your credit card.
2. Go to the library and write. Write pages and pages. Every time you reach 50 pages, burn all of them. Repeat for several years.
3. Take out an ad on Craiglist for someone to pretend to be your advisor. Set up periodic meetings with them where they read your drafts and give you the exact opposite of the advice they gave you three months ago.
4. Adjunct a course at your local college. Give lots of written work. Submit everything you get to one of the online plagiarism detectors. Despair for humanity.
5. After ten years, throw a dart at a map. Move wherever it lands for the rest of your life.

Heh. Sounds about right to me!

Dealing with Post-Academic Guilt and the Fraud Syndrome

So in the past couple of weeks, I've identified two particular industries that I think I would like to work in - one in university administration (for which I'd draw on my grad school teaching and committee experience), and one outside higher ed altogether (for which I'd draw on my experience in part-time jobs as well as my graduate coursework). I plan to apply for jobs outside those two focal areas as well, because I think that if I can land in a big city doing almost any job, I could network myself into a new position. (Luckily, I'm blessed with pretty solid social and networking skills.*)

But overall, in terms of "trying to move into a new career," I have two focal areas in mind ... both of which I know I am qualified for, but for which I will have to draw clear connections between the types of work I've been doing and how they qualify me for positions in those field. This is going to require very carefully arranged resumes and very carefully crafted cover letters.

So now it's time to write cover letters and resumes for those jobs ... and wow, is it turning out to be hard. I can explain, out loud, why I think I'd be good at and enjoy those jobs, and how I'm qualified for them based on my past experiences. But putting that down on paper? Wow, is it turning out to be hard ... and in a few ways that I think are directly tied back to my experience in graduate school and the emotional process of leaving. I thought I'd write a post mentioning a few of the specific ways I'm struggling, just in case anyone reading is going through (or will go through) a similar process.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Whose Idea Was It?

I was out of town for a few days, and have been running through a bunch of potential ideas for what my next post should be. I've been struggling with the fact that I really don't want this blog to be solely a litany of my complaints about academia and angry posts about how much I despise it. This blog is my journal, yes, but that kind of litany of complaints isn't helpful for anyone to read ... nor will endlessly complaining about academia help me leave it.

But I've been out of town for a few days, and thus don't have much job search progress to report (which is okay, since I'm a little different from other post-academic bloggers in that I do have a nonacademic job that pays my bills while I plan my next move). I'll get back on the job search this week, but in the meantime I didn't have much to report ... but I wanted to make sure to write something down.

Reason I'm Leaving #1: Geographic Constraints

When I was early in my graduate program in a small college town, I used to say that my sojourn in a small town would be temporary. I'd get through my program, land that degree, and I would go on the market and look solely for jobs in big cities, and in a part of the country where I'd be able to stay close to my friends and family.

The reality of the academic job market looked much different. For every hundred job posts in my field, there were probably only 30 or 40 that were in geographic locations I'd consider living. Among those 30 or 40 jobs, there were only a small portion that were either open to any specialization or that were specifically looking for someone with my specialization. Some of those 30 or 40 were at the type of schools that I didn't want to work at or wouldn't be qualified to work at under any circumstances (don't misunderstand the market ... the ranking of your graduate program matters).

If there were thousands of job listings out there that were being constantly updated and refreshed, this might not be a big deal. But the academic job market has gotten tighter and tighter each year, with fewer and fewer jobs posted every season. So you'r not choosing between hundreds of jobs if you limit yourself geographically. You're choosing between "tens" of jobs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Note About Cutting Medicaid Funding

Okay, as it turns out, I know a thing or two (or 100) about health care in the US. I’ve worked in the industry for years, and I’m a bit of a policy wonk.

So … states are cutting Medicaid funding. On the surface, this probably sounds great to a lot of people. Poor people, getting a handout from the state/federal government while the rest of us have to pay out of pocket for our health insurance? Screw them.

What these people don’t understand, though, is that cutting medical assistance to the poor is going to harm all of us financially in the long-term by increasing costs across the board.

Don’t believe me? Here’s how it works…

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Two Quick Things

(1) It's now been about two months since I decided to pack up and leave academia. Originally, I thought that it might just be a phase - that once I gave myself the "okay" to take a few months off and the permission to leave if I wanted, that I might find myself missing research/teaching and wanting to go back to it. I thought I'd feel the itch to work on a paper (even if I couldn't stomach my dissertation) or to seek out a teaching opportunity for the summer or fall.

Well, I don't. I don't miss it at all, any of it. Not one bit. I haven't been back to my department, haven't pursued any teaching opportunities, and haven't so much as opened a research file to work. And haven't missed it one iota.

That's not to say I'm not doing interesting things. I've started this blog, for one. I've also read two very interesting books related to my field in the last two months ... not related to my specialty area, but just in my field. Remember how I said that I love learning? Yeah. I love learning and reading. I don't love my research. And right now, my part-time job ends like any other job, and I'm free to go home and pursue my hobbies and interests, like a normal person. No more working late into the night, or guilt about whether I'm working enough. I do my work and go home to do my thinking and reading on whatever I want. And it's glorious.

People in other jobs would probably laugh at me saying that I don't miss my old job ... they'd say "well, of course you don't miss it! Who would miss work? Who loves their work?"

But that's the thing I've learned about academia. It's expected not just that you'll do your job, but that you'll love your job. And really, with such an uncertain job market, low pay, and the likelihood that I'd wind up living and working somewhere I'd hate ... why should I continue down this path if I don't love it and don't miss it?

Monday, April 4, 2011

If You Feel Like These People, Get Out NOW

In my weekly Sunday night googling, I came across the following blog post and comment thread about when you should consider leaving graduate school.

I spent about an hour going through all of the comments. Note that the post was made in April 2009, and people are still leaving comments, two years later. The comments are heartbreaking.

People write of being miserable, of having lost all of their self-esteem, of being isolated and depressed, of interacting with unhelpful professors and catty grad student colleagues. One person even mentions feeling suicidal. Almost all of them mention that they feel guilty about leaving, or that it will make them a failure.

I mean this from the bottom of my heart - if you can relate to these comments ... if you are as miserable as these people are, and it lasts for more than a few days or weeks ... just go. Drop out.

You are a highly intelligent, motivated, self-driven person who successfully graduated from college and perhaps a masters' program, and now beat out hundreds of other applicants for a position in a Ph.D. program.

You are smart, capable, and accomplished. And you have options.You do not need to stay in a job or program that makes you miserable.

It does not make you a loser or a failure to leave. It just means that you tried a new job, and you didn't like it. And what do you do if you get a new job and hate it? You start looking for a new job. A Ph.D. program is no different than any other job. Do not let your advisors or other graduate students convince you otherwise. It's a job, and it's not for everyone, and if you are miserable you should leave.

Even though...

Even though I’m happier now than I’ve been in years…

Even though I sincerely felt relief when the last school I interviewed with chose another candidate, thus ensuring I was going to be unemployed in academia next year…

Even though I realize I like my part-time job better than my dissertation (and I don’t like my part-time job THAT much, so that should tell you how much I hated my dissertation)…

Even though I don’t miss teaching, and that was the one thing I said I really liked about academia…

Even though I’m a far better partner and friend now that I don’t have constant stress and guilt hanging over my head about the work I *should* be doing…

Even though my family and close friends are supportive…

Even though I love my free time, and the fact that I can read, and write this blog, and spend time with friends, and go to work like a normal person and then be DONE FOR THE DAY…

Even though I've been ecstatic to find I have time for my hobbies again...

Even though I get super-excited when I read about some of the nonacademic jobs that are out there and when I think about the potential cities I could wind up living in ...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Programming Note

Apologies to anyone who has the blog on an RSS reader, and who saw it go crazy tonight. I am having a really epic battle with blogger, and keep somehow posting multiple copies of the same post or having the formatting go all wonky when I try to edit.

Rather than continuing to fool with it, I am going to pull down the post that is going apesh*t on me, and will re-post it tomorrow. Apologies to anyone who was having difficulty reading the posts or clicking through. I'll re-post tomorrow along with a couple other posts I've been working on.

Introducing the "Reasons I'm Leaving" Series

I think I’m going to introduce another series … I’m going to call it the “Reasons I’m Leaving” series.

I’ve written about how I’ve felt completely ecstatic since making the decision to leave academia. Now, I’m still not entirely sure what job I’m going to do or (obviously) where I’ll wind up, but I know without any doubt that this is the right decision for me.

And it hit me that some of you out there reading this blog (according to my stats, there are more of you googling “reasons to leave academia” than even I expected!) might be trying to figure out whether you’re alone in the reasons you think you might want to leave.

Well, first of all, you probably aren’t. Check out my blogroll and the first couple of posts for links to different sites and articles I found helpful. You are not alone in having doubts. Now, whether you actually wind up leaving is completely up to you.

But despite what the faculty and happy graduate students in your department tell you, it is perfectly normal to have some doubts or to think about leaving. It’s normal. And I’m going to tell you what my reasons are.

In the meantime, feel free to leave comments telling me your own reasons for considering leaving. Trust me … it’s incredibly cathartic just to say them out loud and give yourself the okay to feel this way.

It’s okay to feel this way. Being a professor is not the only worthy career out there. And even if it's the worthiest of all worthy careers, it's okay if you decide you'd rather be happy than to continue on with a career that you no longer enjoy.