During my way out of academe, I’ve heard very frequently that I need to be very sure that I want to do this, because “it will be difficult to come back” or “you will lose credibility as a serious researcher” or “you won’t be able to get an academic job anywhere”. These phrases need to be preceded by “We will make sure that…”
My voyage toward the free world continued here: my dissertation proposal included a part that would need extra funds to be executed. Once I had dropped the I’mLeavingAcademia bomb, the time came for me to buckle down on this part of the dissertation and find some funds. Yes, I know, it’s pretty late for me to try to get extra dissertation funding if I’m already on the job market. What can I say? I’ve had a lot of things on my plate and I kept putting this off… Anyway, when I sent the applications to my committee for their comments before sending them out, they quickly responded these grants were meant for people going into academia, so it didn’t really make sense for me to apply to them. One said it would be “embarrassing” to write a letter of recommendation now that I wasn’t going into academe. A more eloquent professor called it “awkward”.
If they were not planning on supporting the project and their expectations had changed, I really could have used this information before I spent a month on applications. Of course, the deeper concern was what other expectations had changed. I went to sleep wishing I was still expected to finish the dissertation sometime soon. I have to admit this was the toughest lap of the walk. I felt powerless and frustrated; I was painfully aware that my work of so many years could so easily be fettered by someone else’s disappointment.
Finally, there is the literal walk of shame: walking around the department a few weeks after my announcement. There are three types of encounters in this walk:
- The not-so-bad ones are people who want to be supportive, but had no idea I wasn’t in the academic job market anymore. “How did your interviews go?” “Congratulations on the offer!” “How is your job search?”. Great. It’s all good, I was so flattered to get these interviews, it was fun. It’s going great.
- The professors. Outside of my committee, only one of them has approached me. Ze was kind. Ze mentioned that even though the going gets tough, the profession has many pluses and can be very rewarding. Ze wished ze could have told me about these pluses sooner. Ze told me of another student who had started a post-academic search. The other professors just stare with judging eyes. I’d rather not have them staring at me without saying anything, but otherwise I don’t think I need to spend too much time explaining or justifying myself to them.
- The other job marketeers. I disliked encountering them the most, because I feel guilty but angry at the same time. We all took the same classes, we’re all on the same schedule, we have similar LORs, and they actually want an academic job. I feel guilty because I flew to interviews and some of them did not. I got the offers and they did not. They feel I treated these golden opportunities with disdain by walking away. This brings me to the angry feeling: Screw all of you. Do you have any idea how much pressure I was under? I wish you could get a clue about how hard it was to make this decision. I wish you could feel the unhappiness I felt these years. You all have your committee. You have each other as shoulders to cry on. The department supports you. I was alone. I am alone.
Worry not, reader. Several weeks after these events, I believe I’m out of the woods. The walking and shaming seems to be over.