zeldathemes
scigrrrl

Welcome to the blog extension of the scigrrrl zine series! This blog (and the zine) includes everything under the umbrella of feminist science studies (aka where my love for both feminism and science intersects). Feedback, constructive criticism, and questions are greatly appreciated!

The Afternoon I Decided to Leave Academe’–and What Happened Next

Many Ph.D.’s who write about leaving academe knew it was not for them. I envy those people. I enjoyed being an academic, and I loved teaching. As a kid growing up, all I wanted to be was a teacher, and when I entered university, my career goal shifted to being a professor. When I decided to end my quest for a tenure-track job, I told a friend that, some day, I hoped I would enjoy whatever I ended up doing as much as I enjoyed teaching and being a historian.

I will never forget the afternoon I decided to leave academe. I had just learned that I was second in line for a visiting assistant professorship, with a three-year contract and a 3-3 teaching load. We were well into the summer, and this was my last hope of a job for the following year. The pay was less than $40,000 a year; the hiring committee admitted to me that the salary was probably not enough to cover living expenses in the area.

That afternoon I hit the brick wall. I had spent three years on the academic job market and felt further away than ever from my goal. Was I to work yet another year as an adjunct, scraping by, with no promise that the next year would be any better than the previous three?

I phoned my good friend who was facing the same reality. His dream was to be a professor, but, like me, he could not land a job. We had told each other the same piece of advice over and over again: It’s not you; it’s the system. The system is broken. You are not a failure; the system failed you. I told him that day, “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore.” He responded, “I don’t blame you.” The following year, he also left academe.

I cried at the end of the phone call and cried a lot more in the following months. I was angry—at myself, at the system, at the administrators who were cutting tenure-track jobs, at those who’d caused the 2008 economic crash. I kept looking at job boards, trying to find a reason my decision to leave was wrong. I spent days depressed, watching crap TV and drinking cheap wine.

Finally, when I started having success as a research consultant, I turned a corner. No, my consulting career is not the same as being an academic, but I have incorporated into my new profession things I enjoyed about academe: research and writing, leading workshops, and giving presentations. I still feel sad when I look at my history books, or when friends are creating their syllabi for the coming semester. But, over all, I enjoy my new life. People treat me with respect, they value my contributions, and my research is having an immediate impact.

Over the past few years, I have met many Ph.D.’s who are excellent teachers with exciting scholarship and impressive CVs. They, too, can’t find academic jobs. They, too, are looking for a way to move forward professionally, where they can make a living and have their contributions valued. Many, like me, have spent months consumed by grief over the loss of their dreams and fighting a sense of failure. But, as people who earned Ph.D.’s, they are hard-working and too ambitious to stay in a broken system. And they all eventually found new professions that bring them satisfaction.

L. Maren Wood earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the founder and lead researcher of Lilli Research Group, a small education-consulting firm in the Washington, D.C., metro area. She will be blogging regularly for the Ph.D. Placement Project about nonacademic career issues for Ph.D.’s.”