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?

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?

I need a sabbatical

I was supposed to get one this year.  We only get one per division and our two departments are supposed to split them evenly and this year it was my department’s turn.  Only one person from each department applied.  But they gave it to the other person who applied from the other department.  Then he got a job at another university and quit so nobody gets a sabbatical this year.  I am free to apply for next year.  But I have competition.

So much is happening right now.  I have so much work to do.  So many ideas, so many projects, so many revise and resubmits (!), so many conferences, so many referee reports, so many opportunities that I keep saying yes to.  I’m going to be traveling constantly this year and on top of that I have to apply for things… like sabbatical.

And I’m teaching a full load and I’m doing a ton of service.  And my classes have to be updated, except the new course which has to be created.

I think this year I will have to go back to working 6 days a week and sometimes after 5pm.  (I get to work before 8am.)

I hope I don’t pass out from nervous exhaustion!  And I really hope my RAs are good this year, because I need great RAs this year.  Luckily I have enough money to pay for RAs this year.  Unfortunately I didn’t get that grant in on time to get a chance of being able to pay for RAs next year!

Do you need a sabbatical?  What would you do with a sabbatical?

What motivates me after tenure

I was just at a conference where I get to hang out with lots of my friends.  Some of us got to talking.  They’re generally at better schools than I am and have longer and better CVs than I do.  But I’ve got tenure and they don’t have it yet.  And we were talking about trying to get stuff published and trying to find time for work… and they asked me why I care where I publish or about how much work I do because I’ve got tenure.  My school doesn’t expect as much as theirs does.  (And I have a higher teaching load and more service and a smaller salary…)

But I was never really motivated by the tenure expectations in my department.  I placed lower on the job market than most folks in my cohort, and I’ve always thought that if I did what I want and then didn’t get tenure then I’d finally be able to move to Northern California and at least live someplace nice.  I’ve always figured that if I stopped liking it, I could just leave.  If I’d gotten an offer at one of these better schools maybe I would have been more nervous, I don’t know.  (And, since getting here, the school has made a lot of really good hires, including mid-level hires with amazing CVs, and I am no longer under-placed.  I’m placed!)

What motivates me:

1.  I want to do good work.  I answer interesting (to me) questions.  I tell good (theoretical) stories with (empirical) evidence.  My work is important and it’s fascinating.

2.  People are doing things wrong and I want the profession to do things right!  Efficiently!

3.  It is a crime that nobody is answering these important questions.

4.  I kinda do like the fame and fortune aspect.  Gotta admit it.  And they give me just enough of a taste of it to make me crave more.  More.

5.  I like to watch things grow.  I want my department to do well, my school to do well, my little corner of academic research to do well.

6.  Ambition.

7.  And maybe just a bit the fact that I may need to be mobile some day, for example, if DH’s job situation changes.  And I kind of like being able to occasionally get grants to pay for RA work and summer salary.  And if they ever cross a line, I can walk and I’ll be in demand somewhere.

I used to be more motivated by being under-placed.  Sort of an, “I’ll show them!”  But I’ve kind of shown them, and, like I said, I’m no longer underplaced.  So #4 has replaced that entirely.  I probably worked a little harder when I was rage-researching, but it’s much more fulfilling to be love-researching instead.

#2 and #3 above bring me more self-confidence.  They help me talk up my work in ways that #1 doesn’t.  More of that contrarian aspect to my personality showing through.  #4 and #6 sometimes give me less self-confidence.

 

The answers of #2 revolve around research.  And then quitting.

What motivates you to work hard?

Should you submit to the top journals?

Let’s assume you have a paper that you think is eventually going to land at a top field journal.  Should you aim higher (a general journal) first and then let it filter down the impact ladder, or should you just submit places you think it’s going to end up?  Should you start with a submission to a GLAM journal?

Viewpoints:

1.  No.  Only submit your best stuff that you think belongs there.  You only have a few shots at getting into a GLAM journal and you don’t want to use them up with crap.

2.  Yes.  Have you read the GLAM journals?  Yes, there’s super amazing wonderful stuff in there.  But there’s also a lot of crap that isn’t as good as your field journal stuff.  It’s a random numbers game with each of your papers having some underlying probability of acceptance.  If you never play, then you’re never going to win.

3.  Yes.  Submitting to top journals is a learning process.  You get feedback from the editor and/or reviewers on how to improve your paper so it will actually be able to land where it belongs.  This is especially important if you don’t have a lot of local people to give you feedback.

4.  No.  You may end up getting the same reviewer who already rejected you for a lower tier journal and they’ll be biased from having rejected you before.  Or they’ll just submit the same rejection as before even if you’ve changed the paper.  (On the other hand, if they do reread the paper, psychology suggests they’ll like it better the second time.)

5.  Yes.  The answer is always yes.

6.  No.  Why do you care?  You have tenure.  Just submit it the place where it’s going to get in right away and get it published so you can move on to the next thing.

7.  Yes.  You have tenure.  That means you can afford to follow long shots.

8.  No.  The patriarchy and the unfairness of it all means that your paper needs to be much better than the connected white guys’ papers are before it gets published in a glam journal.  Don’t waste your time.

9.  Yes.  If you never submit, you will never get published there.

10.  Yes.  If you submit good stuff, then the editor and referees may remember that you’re working on good stuff, even if it’s not of general interest and they will be more likely to remember to send opportunities your way and to cite your work in their own work.

Academic readers:  What do you do?  Do you submit one tier up from where you think you’ll place or do you start right at that tier?  What *should* you do?  Do you follow the same advice you give others?  Non-academic readers:  Should you generally aim high or go with the safer choice?

 

You'd BETTER be pleased to inform me

Resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia

In between bouts of sorting, de-cluttering, and apartment hunting, I’ve also been working on my job search. Here’s some helpful links I’ve found during my search.

How to avoid hassle during an out-of-state job search.

I might sign up for freelance editing work on  things like oDesk or eLance (any tips, readers?).  I don’t want to freelance forever, probably, but a little cash here and there might help.  Mostly I’m looking for an office job.

PhDs at Work looks interesting, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on there.  Does anyone want to investigate and report back in the comments?

Miriam Posner discusses what alt-ac (alternative-academic) jobs can and can’t provide.

There is a LinkedIn group called PhD Careers Outside of Academia, which is where I found this huge collection of links and articles for scientists transitioning to industry.  (I’ve also been checking out Ask A Manager but mostly for giggles.)

 

Do you have any recommendations for resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia?  Specifically for social scientists or scientists who have some data skills and good writing skills, but only tiny amounts of programming skills, and nothing in biotech/pharma?  Thanks!

Taming the Work Week: A review

Taming the Work Week is a short e-book by M. R. Nelson, aka Wandering Scientist aka Cloud.  In it, she makes the argument that everyone has a work limit, and that working beyond that work limit not only leads to diminishing marginal return (she doesn’t use that language), it can also lead to costly mistakes that actually create more work.

She notes that although research is clear that for early 20th century factory workers, 40 hours/week is the limit, we have no idea what the work limit is for knowledge workers.  And we really don’t.  It probably depends on a lot of factors (task mix, personal ability, etc.).  However, she provides steps for individuals to figure out whether they are working efficiently, and if not, how to work more efficiently.

It’s a short book with a lot of good tips.

Some may work better for some people than for others. For example, if you get more of your socialization at work than at home or after work, you may need that daily down-time with your colleagues interspersed with work, rather than waiting until you get home.  You won’t be as efficient or productive per-hour at work, but you’re also filling that socialization need on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if your home and social life provide a lot of social interaction already, cutting down on interruptions could greatly increase your productivity, allowing you to get out of work earlier without guilt.

Similarly, just going home when you’re not being productive doesn’t work for me because suddenly I become less productive earlier and earlier in the day as the days go on because I’m rewarding bad behavior and I have no self-control.  Instead, I need to task-switch from doing thinky research work to doing unrelated scut work like teaching prep or service.  That way I’m still being productive on stuff that has to get done eventually and I’m not training myself to leave before it’s time to pick up the kids (which is my hard deadline at the end of the day).

Nelson acknowledges these different kinds of different work styles.  Probably my favorite part of the book is where she provides some of the standard “how to be efficient” advice and points out when it doesn’t work for her and why. (Just going home doesn’t work for her either, but for different reasons.)  This added discussion of “why” really illustrates how you can think critically about the advice that’s out there to craft your own methods to improve your efficiency.

The biggest downside to this e-book is that the writing is uneven– it starts out stilted (carefully avoiding using contractions, for example), then shifts to a more conversational tone that is much easier to read.  Keep reading past the opening section or two– it’s worth it.

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