Ask the Grumpies: Questions about leaving academia

E asks:

I’m in my second year of a tenure-track position, but for multiple reasons would like to leave academia. Realistically, I may need to stick it out through the end of the spring semester, but my physical/emotional health has been greatly affected.

How much notice did you have to give? What kind of preparations did you take before giving notice? Do you have links to resources about others who have left t-t jobs?

You can, of course, quit your TT job mid-semester.  But generally it is best to do it at the semester break, just as a professional courtesy.  Bonus points for doing it at the year break and letting them know before the end of summer.  If you don’t have a job lined up, I would recommend, know for yourself that you are quitting in May — but don’t tell them until April or May.  (Or the latest you can get away with no longer lying.  That was a personal thing for me [ed: raised Catholic], I didn’t want to lie directly to their faces and say I’d be back when I wouldn’t, but I had no trouble letting them assume that I would.)  Don’t tell them right now, though, because the other faculty may treat you badly for the rest of the time you are there.  Try to go out nicely and politely, and protect yourself.

Don’t be a dick and leave them in the lurch mid-semester if you can possibly help it. But sometimes you can’t help it.  If you get the non-academic job of your dreams, then don’t feel guilty about leaving with two weeks’ notice if you can’t easily delay your start date to a semester.  In the absence of a rare job opportunity, giving 2 weeks’ notice is not unheard-of, but would be kind of annoying.  It’s legal though (Disclaimer: to the best of our knowledge… you may want to anonymously check with legal or with HR).

It’s perfectly ok to call in sick a lot for the rest of the year if you are actually sick (physically, emotionally, feeling awful, etc.).  Try to minimize the impact on your students, but take the sick days to which you are entitled.  See if you can put some classes online so you don’t have to go in as much, or give your students library time or whatever you can do to cut your losses and keep yourself sane.  Calling in sick also works with boring committee meetings.  Those are much easier to ditch than are students, and they probably will barely notice.  Show up to the high-visibility stuff.  Reduce the amount of time you spend commenting in detail on student work.  [#2 would still show up to all classes, assuming nothing communicable]

Before quitting, read this book, it provides things to think about financially in terms of your escape route.  Both #1 herself and #2’s DH took/have been taking a while to find new jobs.  You want to be able to have some time to be picky about jobs if you can (assuming you don’t find employment before leaving), rather than having to take something minimum wage right away, and in the best case scenario, you won’t go into further debt while unemployed.  It is important both to build up a savings buffer and to get your expenses down.  (Most likely you will not be getting unemployment payments because it is difficult to engineer a layoff from the TT.)  Just having an escape plan can often make the “now” seem more bearable.  Plus you can stop caring about department drama and say no to things more often.

What kind of job you should be looking for is going to depend a lot on the supply and demand in your field.  #2’s DH, for example, is working for a company doing exactly the work he was trained to do as a graduate student.  He’s also writing (and getting) more grants and doing more publications than he had time for back when he was teaching a 3/3 load with undergrads and going to faculty meetings once a week.  #1’s profession isn’t quite as marketable, but she’s still holding out for a research position related to her training and will likely be successful.  Update:  If you are in a tech field, check out Cloud’s book on the non-academic job search.

People in many humanities fields may have to get a job that doesn’t directly use skills from graduate school.  They may have to settle for a day job that, while using analytical thinking, organizational, and writing skills doesn’t involve reading novels, doing archival research, etc.  But, you know, also pays better.  #2 knows a couple of historians who still publish (and publish well), and go to the occasional academic conference (especially when it’s nearby) but have unrelated day jobs in consulting and finance.  One of them told her that even though he could now get an academic job at a university based on his publication record and had been invited to apply several places, he didn’t want to take the pay cut, so historical research remains a hobby.  Academia really is just a job, but there are other jobs too.  Research, like many things, can be either a job or a hobby.

Here are some other links:

Another person wondering if ze should stay or go.  With links!  This post has resources for people leaving academia (see comments for more links).

Good luck with everything!  Build that escape plan so that you can take a measured risk and remember that you are not trapped.  You will get through this.

Any more advice for E, Grumpy Nation?  Do any of you have links to resources about others who have left t-t jobs?

Do you re-review papers you’ve rejected?

Sometimes I’ll review a paper for a journal and reject it.

A few months later, another editor will ask me to review the paper again for a different (usually worse) journal.

Initially my stand was to only review it if I thought I was going to accept it at that new journal.  (Say I’d suggested it wasn’t of general interest for Glam, but would be a good fit for Top Field, and then I got it to review for Top Field.)  I would politely decline otherwise.

Then an editor emailed me back to ask if I wouldn’t please reconsider my decline.  And another asked if I could send my previous referee report even though it wouldn’t be official.  Even though the paper might have changed!

So my new policy for something I rejected but didn’t think would fit without changes was to email the editor to say I’d already reviewed it, didn’t like it at the time, and might be biased given I’d already rejected it.  Would they like me to review it again?

So far 100% of editors have either asked me to re-review or to send my previous rejection.  So they can see if the author took my advice, they say.  I suspect they don’t check that carefully depending on what the other reviewers say.

This makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t really think it’s fair.  I wouldn’t want reviewers who didn’t like my work the first time to review it again without me having the ability to explain to them why their comments weren’t right for whatever reason or to see that I’d clarified the thing they thought was wrong but really was only written unclearly… or what have you.

But it’s what the editors want, and I’m still in a position where I want to keep editors happy.  So I think I’ll continue asking them what they want.  But I won’t feel good about it.

What do you do?  Do you ever get articles to review that you’ve reviewed before?  What do you do if you’re an editor and you send it out to someone who has already reviewed it?

My New Mantra

There are many reasons why I quit my previous job.  Among them: teaching was eating at my soul.  Eventually, the job made me physically sick and I hated it, and it made me be a mean person.  Even now I am still purging toxicity from my soul and come off as angry when I talk about that place.  (gotta work on that!)

There was nothing wrong with GrumpyMe 1.0, but it’s time for patches and upgrades.  One reason that I put off leaving for so long was that there are things I love about academia and didn’t want to give up.  My wonderful partner, though, pointed out that I could actually improve on the job situation by finding a job with more of the things I like and less of the stuff I don’t like.  He pointed out that, instead of giving up my academic identity, I could actually become the thing that is now my new mantra:

A BETTER VERSION OF MY WORKING SELF.

Some of the ideas about how to be a better working Me come from when I thought about my ideal workday.  (Awesome side note: in that post I said that at last year’s conference I had met a new friend/collaborator and talked with her about what we could do together.  At this year’s conference, we presented that research!  Our paper is under review.  Hurrah.)

I don’t know yet what kind of bug patches and upgrades I will eventually find.  (I do know that it involves never ever teaching ever again.)  I do know the things that give me energy, those that make me lose track of time (learning something new!  reading books!).  I know that I can’t stand cubicles.  I have optimism about finding something decent.

In working towards a new, research-based career, I have been networking pretty hard.  Recently I had the pleasant surprise that, when asked to list up to 5 references in a web application, I found myself with 9 or 10 people I could list as references who would all say excitedly good things about me, and I could choose among them.  Go me.  Only … uh… 9 years post-PhD and I’m getting good at my career!

Do you have a work-related mantra?

Conferences for the unemployed academic

Now that I’m no longer a professor, I have to pay for my own conference travel out of pocket.  Of course, before they didn’t really pay for enough to cover even one conference, so this isn’t much different from when I was an employed academic.

In fact, dealing with conferences on my own is expensive and it sucks but it’s easier than dealing with our less-than-competent secretary!  (Insert rant here on:  it was enough for them to say they supported professional development and research, but not enough that they actually did. End Rant.)

Why am I conferencing, even though I’m not employed and I am not bringing in money? I thought it might help get a job, to network, because conferences are cool and fun, to learn about research, to see old friends.  Why does anyone ever go?

But I’m not paying 100% out of pocket.  I’m doing some things to save money on the trip.

To pay for the conference I’m using a mishmash of frequent flier miles, savings, and aggravation.  I’m also sharing hotel rooms with colleagues/friends (SCORE!)

Now, I think the trips themselves are tax deductible since I’m using them for job seeking/networking purposes, but according to my partner’s accountant given that we’re renting etc. we won’t be over the standard deduction this year even with my travel and stuff.  I’m saving the receipts anyway, just in case.

So that’s my story.

Do you pay for work-related conferences out of pocket?  How do you save on travel?  Is a conference your idea of a vacation?

How we visualize reviewers

Whenever I get a bad reviewer, I imagine him as either a obnoxious male graduate student or some idiot male professor who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t think he needs to find out because he hasn’t so far in his career.  And he’s rude because he’s got Dunning-Kruger syndrome and has been able to get away with it.

Good reviewers are always female in my head.  They give useful feedback and help to improve the paper.  They’re polite and professional.  (Because, of course, as a woman, you have to be or you get labeled emotional and unprofessional.  Men get excused, “that’s just the way [bigname] is.”)

Chances are the majority of the reviewers I get are one gender, but I want to not just say, “he” all the time when referring to one of the other, even in my brain.  And with “ze” it’s difficult to tell reviewer #1 apart from reviewer #3.  So rather than assigning random genders, I use this mnemonic.

Do you have mental images of the people who give you feedback?  What do they look like?

November Mortgage Update: And hypotheticals

Last month (October):
Balance:$40,306.31
Years left: 3
P =$1,042.82, I =$171.58, Escrow =$788.73

This month (November):
Balance:$37,254.58
Years left: 2.75
P =$1,054.86, I =$159.55, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

Man, it sure is nice to be getting paid again.  Beautiful beautiful paycheck.  Bank account numbers are going up instead of down again.  :)

I won’t find out whether or not I’m getting a half-paid sabbatical next year for several months.  However, I may take the year off unpaid *anyway*.  We have an awfully large savings buffer and DH’s company swears they have enough money to stay in business for the next two years even if they earn no more money during that time (and they’ve got grants out and products being made, so hopefully they’ll get more money).  And DH is one of their valued employees.  And he should be able to find new employment even if he loses his job depending on where we do the sabbatical.

There’s a lot of questions about where to go too, but I’ll defer that for a later post.  All of the places, however, have a higher cost of living than where we are right now (which isn’t difficult!)  Think double the cost of daycare, 1.5 to 2x the cost of housing for something much less nice than our current mortgage (even without the prepayment).

The hypotheticals I want to address right now involve the house.

We currently have 3 cats, one of whom still occasionally pees on a comforter or pile of laundry if we leave it out when she’s out and about.

Our house is also a superficial mess.  Yes, the carpet in the kids’ bathroom is gone and the vertical blinds that were in the worst shape have been replaced, but that’s only the tip of the home-repair ice berg.  The kittens literally shredded the master bathroom when they were still kittens.  It will need to have the wallpaper completely removed, patching done, and paint.  The entire house needs to be painted– it’s grungy and chipping in places and occasionally sports two year old art.  There’s a sizable black ink stain in the carpet in DC1’s room that won’t go away with steam cleaning (it, in fact, just gets bigger every time we try).  The deck needs painting.  The screens need to be replaced or patched.  The guest toilet is getting rusty.  And on and on and on.

We are not allowed to rent to students by HOA rules.  (Though we’re fairly sure there’s a group of students living down the street from us, but the HOA board is currently weak.  When strong it has brought lawsuits to such houses and won against them.)

Our house, in theory, if it were in good shape, would rent unfurnished for $2000/mo.  Though one year rentals may drop as low as say, $1600/mo.  (Note, our required mortgage is $2003/mo, though as you can see the escrow and interest are under $1000/mo.)  Storage for our furniture would cost something like $300-500/mo, give or take.

In bad shape, any house in town will rent for $1200/mo, possibly even $1500/mo.  Our house would be a bargain at that price, even with stained carpet.  Though we’d still have to repaint, I think.

We’re not sure if anyplace we go will allow 3 cats.  Two, yes.  We might be able to leave one of the cats at a relative’s place for the year (though the two black kittens are very attached to each other, and we’d be breaking that attachment– it is unlikely that a relative would take the incontinent kitten).

Our utilities range from $50/mo to $800/mo depending on time of year.  Lawn mowing costs $35/mo, plus weeding $50/mo, but only during the growing season.  Our lawn has to meet a certain standard or we get nasty letters from the HOA  threatening to take our house.

Obviously we’ll stop mortgage pre-payment for next year if I go on leave.

So our choices:

1.  Fix everything up, try to get market rate for the house.

2.  Fix some stuff up (painting, but patch instead of replace screens, put a rug over the ink spot etc.), put the house on the market for cheap.  Potentially offer a discount for renting it furnished rather than unfurnished.

3.  Hire someone to house sit.  Here we could either ask that they pay utilities and take care of the lawn or we could pay utilities and pay them to take care of the house and the two kittens.  If we pay them, then we could get the house fixed up while we’re gone rather than this year when we’re both living here and busy.  With infinite money we could even have the kitchen redone (except we don’t have infinite money).

So I don’t know.  We have quite a bit of extra money in savings right now earmarked for home improvement (we’ve only spent ~$3K so far), though some of that may end up going for rent next year depending on what we end up doing.  If we had a lot more money we’d pick option #3 no contest.  But while we could afford that option (without the kitchen remodel), it would potentially drain our non-retirement/non-529 savings (when combined with our living expenses for next year).  

What are your thoughts on the options?  What should we be considering to make the decision?

Academic side hustles

#1 occasionally picks up $100 or $500 here and there to review a paper or a grant or a book.  She will also do these things for free, but is perfectly happy to accept money for the opportunity when it’s offered.

Sometimes she’ll do free-lance writing for a policy brief or a news article or encyclopedia article, though she doesn’t seek these out and hasn’t actually done one in several years.

Her colleagues moonlight as expert witnesses or do big consulting contracts for various state governments.  But she hasn’t been offered such things and doesn’t seek them out.  She does seek out grants, but those aren’t really side hustles, as they fit under her regular job heading.

#2 has reviewed textbooks and is supplementing her unemployment spell with small bouts of copy-editing for academics.  She’s also hiring herself out as an experimental subject, for Science.

In grad school we picked up side work as advisers, research assistants, and experimental subjects.

How do you get money outside of your regular 9 month contract?  If you’re not an academic, what kind of side hustles do you have?  Any ideas for #2?

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