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.