I read this post on Slate about Karen Kelsky, a former professor and university administrator who left academia to found her own business consulting with grad students preparing for the academic job market. Back when I wanted to become a history professor, I used to read her blog religiously. I stopped reading it when it became apparent that I wasn’t going into academia.
Anyway, the Slate post (it does read more like a blog post than an article) has a question and answer with Kelsky, who says this about quitting academia. She meant it in the sense of leaving once you have a PhD, but I felt like I could relate, too.
The academy demands a total identification with its principles, practices, and values. It’s like a religion, and sometimes it’s like a cult. If you leave it, there will be a void. You will lose your sense of self. You’ll lose a large chunk of your social network and support system. You’ll lose the future that you anticipated for yourself. Acknowledging these losses is essential to the grief and eventual healing process. You can relate all of this to Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief.
This is so true, even the part about academia being like a cult. I wasn’t even that deeply embedded in academia and it was devastating for me to leave. I haven’t talked about this much on this blog, but I was sad for a long time when I realized the whole history professor career path wasn’t going to work out for me. (The reasons are long enough that I’d need a separate post to fully explain!) In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve really felt okay with the idea that I probably won’t work in academia anytime soon.
I’d like to say to anyone who has realized that an academic career won’t be happening that everything’s going to be okay. Really. I know it may not seem that way if you’re dealing with the disappointment of not being able to pursue your “dream career” (I’m hesitant to use that phrase because it implies there’s only one career you’re suited for and I don’t think that’s true), but everything will be okay. Even if you hate what you’re doing now, you’ll be able to use the work experience you’re getting now to find something better later.
There’s a pervasive view in academia that the only jobs worth having are those that are academic in nature. Honestly, I do think that working in academia could be fun, and I don’t know if I’d say no to such a job offer even now, but there are a ton of other things out there that are good—and even better—than working in academia.
Just remember this: you may be confused and wishing you were back in academia, but don’t worry. It really is going to be okay.