I started this blog when I left academia, and in the first few years people wrote in asking a lot of the same questions over and over regarding that job transition. It made sense to answer some of them here.
Q: How did you make your decision to leave? How did you tell people, and how did they respond?
The funny thing is, it hardly felt like making a decision because I must have thought “I’ve gotta get out of here!!” about a million times. It didn’t become real until I marched into my Chair’s office and told her I wasn’t coming back next year. It wasn’t difficult, because I literally thought I was going to die if I didn’t leave. Ironically, being miserable made it really easy.
I told people how happy I was with my decision, and how excited I was to get to choose where I lived (you don’t, in academia) and how thrilled I was to be moving back to Austin. That way, they looked like assholes if they were anything less than happy for me. Though I did get a few passive-aggressive remarks (“At least we have jobs!”), most of my colleagues were wonderful, supportive people who were actually happy for me. (Warning: This is not always the case. I’ve seen people announce they were leaving academia and get blindsided by colleagues who were clearly jealous and/or upset at being forced to re-think the value of what they were doing.)
Q: Should I go to grad school?
No, you should not. End of story. Do not get an MBA. Do not get a PhD. Even law school is becoming dodgy, because there are already too many people with those credentials. So unless you like the idea of the university using you as cheap labor (at worst), save your money.
Yes, I know, you think you are a special case, and that you are more driven than anyone else and you’ll work extra-hard to be successful and that has to pay off, right? Wrong. And please, I’m begging you, go ask someone over thirty what it feels like, because you won’t always have the energy and drive you have now and you have no idea how much you’re crippling yourself financially. You know what? Just read what Chris Humprhries has to say.
Q: How did you make money when you left?
I started as a freelance designer/developer and gradually worked my way up to full-fledged engineer and manager. When people ask this question I think they really want a pre-made plan for how to leave their job, with some guarantee of a great life ahead, and no risks. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as no-risk, and a lot depends on luck and persistence. But if you study history or literature, I bet you kind of know that already.
Q: Should I leave my teaching/professoring/adjunct job I hate?
I honestly don’t know. I don’t know your situation. But you’re probably asking me this because you want to leave your job and are looking for permission. If you’re giving yourself excuses, I’d suggest reading Penelope Trunk’s post on why you need to either leave or stop whining. It’s a little unkind, but I think it gets to the heart of how to make the decision.
Q: Hey, you say you hated teaching but you sound like you’re still invested in edu-ma-cation – what gives?
Look, I still believe in the value of learning. I just think the current system — both primary and secondary — isn’t supporting it very well.
Q: Isn’t being a professor a totally cushy job where you make six figures and sit on your ass reading Proust all day?
Absolutely not. Those academic salary “averages” are blown way up by the outliers — the profs who are also admins and the high-ranking law, biz, and STEM positions, which are competing with professional executive salaries. Most humanities folks I know are killing themselves for less than $10/hr if you calculate the hours honestly. If you calculate things honestly, you’ll also see that a lot of places are lowering salaries via freezes and furloughs, if not outright dissolving full-time jobs.
It’s true that some folks are doing pretty well for themselves. Older, already-tenured profs got in before the pay started falling below inflation (and that was years ago), when jobs were more plentiful and the requirements were less stringent. But that lifestyle is a relic of the past and no one should go in expecting it now. Though if you’re a trust fund baby (the traditional way to be a professor for centuries) you can disregard all of this.
Q: Isn’t the education problem entirely the fault of those lazy teachers and their greedy unions?
Nope. Positing students as customers and corporations as thought leaders is exactly wrong. And I really don’t know how you can deny the general assumption that that teachers don’t have any authority to lead and their skills aren’t worth paying for. It’s not a job I can recommend.