Dear Considering Leaving Academia,
You’re thinking of leaving your academic position/the adjunct scramble/post doc/grad school. You’re looking for advice.
I’ll be honest. I don’t know what is right for you. I don’t know if you should stay or leave. I know you’d probably like certainty right now and I wish I had that for you, but I don’t.
Here’s the thing though, I do trust you.
If the life you have right now is not working for you, I trust that. When you say that you were gaslit/bullied/betrayed/demeaned/underpaid/ignored/passed over, I believe you. When you say your workload is overwhelming, your pay is too little and your colleagues toxic or dismissive, I hear you. When you tell me your family, health, finances and well being are suffering from doing this work, I want better for you.
You are not alone. I believe you and it really sucks.
Your life doesn’t have to be this way. You deserve good colleagues, people who appreciate your skills and an income that lets you meet your needs. You deserve to be happy.
I know that we’ve probably not met, but even so, I can confidently state that you are skilled. Why can I state this with such certainty? Because you have gotten into and through some part of a graduate program. That’s hard and requires skills. It may take some work to unearth those skills and know how to talk about them outside the academic world, but I promise there are people who will pay for what you can do. It may look different than you thought, but you are (no matter what happened to you inside the academy) a person with marketable skills.
I also know that when you leave academia you don’t actually have to know what’s next.
Leaving academia does not require you to have a five-year plan. You can just leave. Sure, you do need to know out how to support yourself and put food on your table, but there’s no requirement that this plan has to be complex or to do more than just that. You don’t need another career figured out, you could just get a job. It’s quite possible to formulate an exit strategy from academia instead of a fully-figured out life plan.
Yes, life will look different.
It’s not going to be perfect and leaving academia won’t solve all your problems. In fact many people say that they have a lot of emotions about leaving their academic dreams behind. It can take longer than you expect to work through those emotions. Some of us feel a real loss at the change in an identity we’ve spent so much time working on. We often feel sadness or anger at our experiences. It’s a significant transition and it will take time.
But a lot of us do find that we are content and fulfilled in our work outside the academy.
Some of us find interesting and unexpected ways to use our academic training. Some of us are surprised by more interesting jobs than we ever would have imagined for ourselves. Many of us still do research or teaching in ways we didn’t know were possible while we were still in the academic system. We consider our work meaningful and intellectually stimulating. Really.
Finally, there are resources for you. Other people have gone through this, there are ways to get support and help as you move forward and figure out the next steps.
You’re going to have to do a lot of work, but you’re not alone.
Beth M. Duckles is a researcher consultant, writer and speaker in Portland, Oregon. She is also the founder of Open Post Academics, an online peer support community for folks with a Ph.D. Find her at www.bethduckles.com.