Leaving Academia

Gummint historian and Versatile PhD macher Alexandra Lord wrote a lovely first person column for the Chronicle of Higher Education protesting the part of academic culture that encourages young scholars to sacrifice everything they value in their whole lives for one small part of their lives: scholarship.

You know, if you quit academia, it’s because you didn’t love it enough.

Don’t bother clicking on the rest of this post if you don’t care about what it’s like to be and then not be an academic.

Here are Lord’s top five reasons to leave academia, copied from her website.

Location, Location, Location: I am finally living in the city of my choice.

Ability to Have a Wider Impact: On a daily basis, I show Congressional legislators, reporters, and the general public why history is important.

Money: The higher salary which came with leaving academia has enabled me to travel, to give money to charities, to repay my student loans, and, yes, to buy more books. I’ll also be frank and admit that I have enjoyed being able to shop at places like Ann Taylor.

Good Health Insurance: A few years ago, I developed a serious stress fracture while completing a marathon. I also developed a distorted sense of smell for no discernible reason. While there is nothing more exciting for a medical historian than to become a famous case study, I cannot imagine what would have happened if I had had no or limited health insurance.

Opportunity to Pursue Varied Interests: Academia favors the narrowly focused specialist. Outside of academia, I am free to explore a range of topics and because my 9-5 job is clearly demarcated from my personal time, I am able to pursue and do whatever I please in my private life. In short, I feel I have a richer and more fulfilling professional and personal life since leaving academia.

Since I have left academia, here’s what I’ve been able to do:

  • Write for fun on this blog
  • Help clients communicate better in a wide variety of media
  • Read many, many, many novels without an intellectual or theoretical program informing my choice
  • Choose not to read books related to my academic work
  • Stop reading novels I don’t feel like reading
  • Read the bejeezus out of hilarious magazines like the New York Review of Books
  • Spend weekends not working
  • Enjoy dumb-ass TV
  • Develop a wider variety of research skills, including qualitative market research
  • Build a network of fascinating colleagues and friends whose jobs do not require 80 hours of high-stress toil per week
  • Not grade essays
  • Choose where I’ll live
  • Spend time preparing for the impending alien apocalypse
  • Go to the gym without fear of students seeing me in an undignified squat or something

I did one of those things as an academic. I’ll let you guess which one.

Here’s what I actually miss about academia, when I feel wistful like when leaves rustle or rain sounds lonely on the roof:

  • Planning courses
  • Planning and delivering lectures in my field of study
  • Facilitating discussions that light up students’ eyes
  • Feeling smart because I understand difficult theory
  • Grocery shopping on Tuesday morning
  • Um
  • Approval from really smart people
  • The MLA (I’m serious)
  • Talking to other academics about their research projects (Hey grad school/postdoc friends! Call me!)
  • Trying to think of other things I miss
  • Professional pressure and impetus to write a book

Let’s recap: I get to read more of what I want and none of what I don’t want. I get to choose where I live. I get to befriend many different kinds of people who have time to be befriended. I get to write humor jokes and explore looser, more interesting modes of argument on this blog.

I am no longer subject to the emotional, physical, economic, and intellectual effects of an industry in which only roughly 30% of those who exceed minimum qualifications get a secure job.

I get to be a generalist.

I still contribute to my community, I still learn and feel smart, I still have interesting friends.

If the industry were more humane, I may not have sacrificed my scholarship for everything else about my life that I value.

But while I miss some things about my old job, the list of things I’m thrilled to be free of is longer.

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4 thoughts on “Leaving Academia

  1. Ordinary Citizen says:

    Wow. Quickly this post has 4 likes! That’s at least a tie for the most on your site. Apparently the blogosphere is riddled with disaffected acedemicians.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hah! Indeed it is. Though it must be said that many still in the game are disaffected. It may be a minimal reqt of acceptance into humanities phd programs. Like, they can tell by your GRE score.

      • Elizabeth says:

        That’s a misleading joke!

        People become academics for love of the work. Generally.

        Thanks for your comment!

  2. […] solace about their sorry lot. And they find it online. My own post straightforwardly addressing leaving academia remains one of my most poplar. But I gots nothing on people with URLs that include variants of […]

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