The Walk of Shame, part 2.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.



  1. Jennifer Polk

    Wow, yeah. Seriously. … There’s so much to say about this, but all these and similar things have gone and are going through my head, have happened and are happening to me. I’m glad you’re feeling better. If it helps any, *I* know you’ve made the right choices, I respect your determination back then and now, and I disagree with your professors who can’t see the PhD for anything other than a prelude to academia. This is so very wrong and so very disappointing coming from people who are supposed to be the thinkers of the world! Bah to them. Courage (in French… and English!) to you.

  2. anthea

    Yes, Jennifer’s reaction is mine. Wow. Jennifer has said what I’d intended on saying so I won’t repeat anything. Yes, believe in yourself and as you know you have to make the right decisions for you, no-one else.

  3. Anonymous

    Just read this, and I can relate. I’m a tenured professor who, like you, is leaving academia “for personal reasons,” although perhaps I, unlike you, was stupid in staying in as long as I did. Those “personal reasons” are that I have an extreme aversion to being cheated out of my data, stabbed in the back, and having others take credit for my work. I suppose I would add “bitterness” to the list of personal reasons as well, and that is my own problem/fault which I will deal with in time.

    “The walk of shame” is real. At first, the community was absolutely shocked at my departure, and many (I daresay most), who found out tried to convince me not to leave. That lasted all of about a day. Now, I’m dealing with “colleagues” who are rummaging through my lab without permission to “call dibs” on my stuff, sending me rude e-mails (addressed to “Mr. XXXXX”, not “Dr. XXXXXXX,” “Prof. XXXXX,” or even just by first name) demanding to return their stuff immediately, and telling me to give them my grants when I leave. There are the job-seekers asking me for tips on interviewing for my spot after I leave. Those are the friendly ones. The rampant gossip about not being able to cut it in the academic world is ruthless. It’s interesting, because just last week, I was “invaluable” to the community.

    So, take this with a grain of salt because I’m pretty bitter right now, but I believe there’s a special place in Hell reserved for those in academia. People are animals – every one of them.

    Have a nice day!

  4. Nicholas

    If you are attempting to make the transition from academia to the real world, might I humbly suggest, as one who did this some years ago, that you start by dropping the affected ultra-feminist “Ze” and whatnot. At first I thought you were making fun of Germans who have difficulty pronouncing “the.” Believe me, nobody in the real world has patience for this sort of bibble-babble. But kudos to your efforts.

  5. CCJ

    So I just found this blog (thanks to a mention in the NYT) and read the last few posts. Thank you for writing this down. I’m just now starting my dissertation, and have been totally sure for at least a year and a half that I don’t want to be a professor. But, of course, I want to finish my PhD. I’m in a department in which it’s taboo to even bring up the thought of alt-ac or post-ac jobs. To be totally honest, though, it’s a bit scary for me to see you at the end of the tunnel down which I’ve just begun to walk. It seems like there’s no way to avoid the drop into darkness that comes with announcing departure from the academy.

    • dissentingscholar

      I wish I could tell you it won’t suck. If you’ve made up your mind to leave academia AND obtain a PhD, just keep your head down and write the dissertation. Don’t let the drama (if any) surrounding your exit keep you from finishing it. It can (and will) be done (eventually)!

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