Why I’m leaving academia.

I’m slowly coming out of the closet.

I’m telling a few close friends that I’m “probably” not going to hit the academic job market. I’ve yet to confess to certain key individuals–namely, my much-loved and respected diss advisers whom I’m terrified of disappointing. I suppose I’ve only committed 95%.

A dogged decade of pursuit doesn’t die easy.

My dear friend, a brilliant academic that struggled to land a job this year, sent me an email the other day. She’d been thinking about this text I sent her, one where I’d said some shit like “definitely leaving the academy no turning back now.” We’ve been partners through this whole academic journey–we once shared a bunk bed in Germany, so far have our travails intertwined–and I suppose it is a mind fuck to her, me leaving, me even thinking about leaving.

She’s staying. I’m leaving.

She sent me this email asking, “Are you really done? Are you sure about this?”

What follows is my response. Revealing details <omitted>: Dr. OH is still incognito.

 * * *

“Why sign up for something I don’t want?

Moving, fucking with my family dynamics, losing my <vibrant artistic pursuit>, losing my great network of  friends…not worth some random job in some random place.

The academy does not feel like home. It’s too staid for me, and honestly, and probably most importantly (second only to my quality of life) :

I don’t believe in it. Like, I think college is a racket. Especially grad school.

I can’t encourage anyone to take this route. While there are benefits–the flexibility and a “life of the mind”–the debt and the lack of practical return make this choice a bad one for most folks.

Intelligence and sophistication are lovely. I would also like a reasonable job.

“normies” do not like Foucault.

Some people have a true academic vocation. I don’t. Some people enjoy reading PMLA. I don’t.

I write for a living. Yet no one reads my genius. Ten specialists *might* care. The writing is restrained, forced around an obscure topic; fuck, I’d rather be funny for an audience of normies.

(Normies = non-academics)

I talked a friend last night and he just got a visiting lectureship through networking alone. It was his only offer, and he only got it ’cause he knew somebody. Of course, he is brilliant. But though he  and his wife are moving across the country for this job, he’s already talking about *going on the market AGAIN next year.* Sorry, what? Nope. Not gonna do that. I’m done with that! Scraping and begging for some obscure-ass shit? Later to that.

Fuck the prestige.

I don’t love scholarship enough to give up everything again (and again) and follow it to the ends of the earth.

You will never lose me as an intellectual peer. I am an intellectual for life. But–as Eudora Welty once wrote–“there are other ways to be.” Intellectuals, artists, geniuses, they’re everywhere.

I have been indoctrinated to think “academy or flippin burgers.” Not true. I can find a job that will pay me as much as any university, it won’t consume me, and we can live in <beloved current home> for life. Why can’t I have those things? They are more than reasonable.

In a dream world, honest-to-god–my life would look like this:  I write ads at some hip agency with a workspace like Google; my job title is literally “creative;” I collaborate with young people in jeans; i get paid $40 k and feel like a fucking millionaire. We buy a new car and a house. DREAM LIFE.

My dad was an ex-prisoner mechanic and his life was more bangin’ than mine when he was my age. Time to get it.

I respect academics–I should probably say I respect a certain *sect* of academics–I should say, I respect you. More power to you. You personally have a situation that can make your life viable. Your husband can work from anywhere. Mine can’t. I have deeper roots here than I ever did anywhere. You are a feather on the wind, my friend, and if you enjoy it, if that breeze is part of your path, more power to you. I believe in you.

The bottom line for me, though, is this: I’m not willing to sacrifice what a successful career in the academy demands. I love other things more. I know what will make me happy and it’s not compatible with the academy.

It’s a bold move. I know.

But I haven’t been this inspired in ages. I’m writing creatively. I feel like the world is opening up to me. Options…exist? I can still have a career? There are other ways to be! Why not?

Forgive typos. Written quickly.
Love ya.

<Dr. OH>”


35 thoughts on “Why I’m leaving academia.

  1. SarahClimbs says:

    Hear, hear! Solidarity, comrade.

  2. graphitechicken says:

    I’m sure that you are making the right choice for yourself. If it helps to embolden you, here is a copy of an email that I sent to my actual *advisor*, with identifying information removed. He reacted positively, by the way, assuring me that I have his support in any future academic or non-academic endeavors.

    Dear [Advisor],

    This is an important email, and I don’t know how to preface it other than to state that I am questioning whether an academic career track is right for me.

    This is not a new thought for me, although I decided to set it aside during the last few months of completing my dissertation. I wanted to finish strongly and not half-ass my work based on my ambivalence.

    But now that I have finished and have gotten some time to think, I have to say that I feel even more strongly that academia might not be the right bet for me.

    There are several reasons for this:

    1. Research. I do not intrinsically enjoy [my humanities discipline] research. Mainly I find it oppressive (ever-present cloud over one’s head). I am also not motivated by the professional structure of academia. (Professional advancement in no way motivates me doing work that I do not intrinsically enjoy.) I am very glad to be rid of my dissertation, and I do not particularly desire to return to working on it (or on similar work).

    2. Teaching. Although I like teaching more than research, there are ways to do this without dealing with all of the problems that come with being an academic. (See next item.)

    3. Problems with academia. These are familiar: lack of jobs, lack of job security (increasing reliance on adjunct labor), inability to choose where one lives, etc. The latter point is especially important for both [partner] and me: Where we live is more important to us than our specific jobs. We are thus likely to choose a place to live and then find jobs from there.

    [Some niceties and things that are irrelevant here.]

    [My name]

    • Dr. OH says:

      wow, how thoughtful of you. I really appreciate you sharing this email with me. In fact, I’m setting up appointments this week to break the news, and this really helps me gather my thoughts and reasons (which are amazingly similar to your own, esp. the not-wanting-to-move thing). Stay tuned for a blog update on how this goes! ‘Til then, thanks for being a good “internet friend.” 🙂

    • Vashti says:

      Yes, thank you! You’ve inspired me to write something similar.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Dr. OH. I found that after 4 years on the job search with only one campus visit, and with a committee that was largely on top of the mishugas of the contemporary academic labor scene, my farewells went easy.

    Now, they don’t talk to me much anymore. Why would they? There’s no reason to collaborate with a nonacademic, and professional contacts must be extraordinarily rigid in a job like that. Which is another reason to feel good about leaving.

    But in general, I had a much easier time informing my committee than other post-academics I have known. I hope that your committee is supportive and understanding. And I hope you let us know how it went!

  4. Ana Ana Banana says:

    Let us know!

  5. drpiglet says:

    That is a fine, fine GIF and also a fine, fine letter. I also have similar fears about telling my academic colleagues and this, and also graphitechicken’s response, are superuseful for framing my thoughts. Anyway, welcome to the leaving academia…blogosphere? gang? academic/normie transitioners? – good to have you here.

  6. Amen! I also love your GIF.

  7. sam oneill says:

    Not long ago, I left too. I realized I did not want to pursue a TT existence for many of the same reasons you have mentioned. I am still publishing articles in academic journals, but I have also discovered that I love writing fiction. I have a research job that pays me way more than I ever would have made as a professor (I have working class roots and money was an issue in my decision). But more importantly, my world has opened up again in ways that have made me realize how small/closed off my life as a grad student had become. It was a difficult decision to leave….as most phd students are led to believe that the only way to live a ‘life of the mind’ is as a professor. It’s not true! Best of luck to you.

    • Dr. OH says:

      I would love to hear more about this lucrative research job! 😉 Thanks for the kind words. I also feel like my world is opening up, and I’m looking forward to the adventure.

  8. Adjunckie says:

    Haaa! It’s quite therapeutic to read your story and others on this blog. I’m thinking about leaving the closet as well. Hopefully, I will defend my dissertation this semester. I have been a PhD student for about 10 yrs, taught about 3,000 students so far for very little money. At least I’m lucky to have health insurance. When I’m done, I don’t think I want to be in the academic market, but I have not figured out what options I have yet. (or do I have any options?) I know I love teaching more then research. In addition, I feel like I don’t have the personality for academia. In addition, I like to live a multidimensional, stable, and secure life with my partner. It just seems that when it comes to women in academia, its all black or white and nothing in between.

    There is a disturbingly anti-marriage, and anti-motherhood sentiment against academic women who want to be mothers. In order for an Academic woman to be successful, she must avoid love, marriage, kids, other well-adjusted people (non-academic folks), and joy. The academic woman must be a single, lonely, childless, insulated, being. They must live a one-dimensional life and monk-like existence. She is not a lover, partner, spouse, mother, barely a caring daughter or authentic (non-opportunistic) friend, just an academic.

    This academic job market is a ponzi scheme and no advisor or graduate director will tell no one, particularly the new Phd recruits coming in. They sit and tell students about how they too can get a tenure-track job, waste their time, sweat, cheap adjunct labor and student loans, only to find out that you’re most likely to get on food stamps as a Phd grad, than attaining any tenure-track position. These advisors and administrators are straight up “mini-Madoffs”!

    Even if one is lucky to get a tenure-track position, it might be across the country and its quite difficult for your spouse to get a decent job. You won’t even have any time to spend with your spouse and kids, cause you’re too busy being a publishing robot, instead of a human being. Try mentioning these issues to your advisor or chairperson, and all the sudden you’re not a serious academic. Human beings are social creatures and associating books, theories, papers, objects and pictures of Foucault as your companions, instead of other Humans, is unnatural to me. It totally reinforces the stereotype that PhD students and academics are socially awkward and neurotic. Sorry if I’m exaggerating about the one-dimensional life of the academic woman, I’m a tired adjunckie 😦

  9. Chris says:

    Hi Dr OH – take heart from the fact that there are ‘post-academics’ like me who left academia some years ago and are now enjoying great careers in business or public service!

    You and your readers may like to check out my blog (www.jobsontoast.com), which is written to help PhD students weigh up their non-academic career options, and learn how to market themselves for a rewarding mainstream job.

    In the UK at least, less than half of all PhDs are employed in academia 3 years after graduation (according to a 2008 study), so there is a serious need to help our colleagues to navigate the world of mainstream work.

    Best of luck!
    Dr Chris

    • Dr. OH says:

      Just spent 30 min going through your website….love it! So helpful and practical and…dare I say…encouraging! Gonna share on Twitter right now, hope to send more readers your way!

      • Chris says:

        Hey thanks for the kind compliments Dr OH, and for the tweet! Glad that you found http://www.jobsontoast.com helpful. I’m looking forward to hearing all about your new career journey – I totally believe that you can write ads for a living if you set your mind to it (James Mulvey did/does)!

  10. […] inspired by Dr. Outta Here’s post (and graphitechicken’s comment on it), this is what I came up […]

  11. […] to Dr Outta Here for her flattering blog and twitter comments about Jobs on Toast! Post-academics pursuing career outside of ivory tower, […]

  12. This post is golden! I can completely identify with the complete aversion to the limbos that so many grads end up taking: some low paying, heavily loaded temporary position at a remote location in an unknown university, only to go on the market all over again the following year.

    Coming out is not easy, but I promise you will feel better. People may be mad/disappointed, but at least now you’re out and free to be yourself.

  13. […] made is usually one about how leaving an academic career is in fact a decision or a choice (and not usually an easy one – based on context), not simply an outcome of one’s lack of capacity or tenacity or merit. […]

  14. DS says:

    Would love an update about you. Love your voice. And the point you made is heartbreakingly true: society values women’s asses more than women’s minds. Sigh. Your F this Shit, I’m Outta Here gif has been one of my favorites for a long time! Anyhow, wherever you might be and whatever it is you are doing, thank you for adding your original voice to this leaving academia movement. I’m in (or should I say out….???).

    • Dr. OH says:

      Thank you so much, DS. In fact, I’ll be updating this blog very soon. An author from the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s blog Vitae will be publishing an interview with me anytime now, as well. Thank you for your support and encouragement. means a lot. ❤

      • DS says:

        Looking forward to the interview (assume you’ll link it here) and any/all blog updates! Thanks for your response!!

  15. […] Anonymous, “Why I’m Leaving Academia” […]

  16. Ruth Moritz says:

    Ironic that “Academe Today” led me to this!

  17. Hi all of you lovely people responding to this blog!

    This a PhD (permanent head damage) student from Bangalore, India. I am joining you all! Even before I have actually written up my thesis, I know this is the last place I will be in. I am hating it to the core!!! Sometimes I feel like quitting right away but I think at least let me submit that bull shit and then get the hell outta here! Academia sucks. People suck. Imagine talking insignificant crap the entire day in the name of intellectual discussion. I wouldn’t recommend PhD or academics to anyone in my life. I rue the day I made this mistake!

    Take care.


  18. Allislove says:

    Fantastic, girl. Thanks for this.

  19. […] Other people have faced similar issues and they answered in different ways. One of them I discovered last night (in one of those academic newsletters I still receive). Check it out:https://doctorouttahere.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/leaving-academia-a-letter-of-explanation/ […]

  20. Pear tree says:

    I worked in the Dean of Students division at a prominent elite university. The pay was subpar. The chancellor all the way down to those who directed my office were mediocre and uninspired. Many of the administrators lived in fear of the upper echelon running the University. While I enjoyed my specific duties mentoring students, I had little respect for the School. I voluntarily left my position after many years of loyal service. I found that academia is very much a Hollywood set. The students see a well manicured campus and the chimera of pomp and circumstance. They haven’t a clue how removed professors and administrators are from the world beyond ivy walls. I am far richer for having for extricating myself from this odd culture though I do miss the students.

  21. […] introductory courses (as the sole professor of their discipline, for sub-standard pay, in the middle of nowhere) is not the “life of the mind” they had envisaged. Others because scraping together enough […]

  22. […] Life After Academia 2012) but inevitably lead to depression and anxiety.  Others, like Doctor Outta Here,  and the colleague I blogged about some months ago , simply decide academia is incompatible with […]

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