Suggest the color of my parachute?

Dear Grumpy Readers…

I have always, always wanted to be a professor.  I never trained for anything else, nor wanted to!  But now… Please help me brainstorm about jobs out of academia that I might be able to do without wanting to die.  Not in a cubicle.  Not dependent on grant funding.  Preferably with benefits.  Any ideas?  I don’t necessarily need health insurance (I could get on my partner’s, potentially), but I still need to fund my retirement and get sick days.  I worked in a bank for a while and it was hellacious.

Sometimes I take career inventories or similar tests… they always come out “professor”.  Always.

#2 suggests freelancing, and I think that’s probably the way to go.  Not that that’s a steady income.  Some quick googling turns up infinite scummy gross websites where “freelance” means “write your homework paper for you”

 #2:  Why don’t we ask the blog?
 #1:  we should, probably.  Working  9-5, 5 days a week makes me want to DIE, as do cubicles.  I know, because I tried it for a year [not the bank job, a different job].  In 12 months my body never got used to the morning schedule and I was never able to learn how to concentrate in a cube, headphones notwithstanding.
#2:  librarian?
 #1:  their job market is bleaker than academia and I would need to get even more degrees… and lower paid, too.  Also, “librarian” doesn’t mean “work with books”.  It mostly means “deal with whiny patrons, or computer programming, or both”.  I love books.  I hate people.
#2:  Courtesan?
#1:  I could be a courtesan if I liked making small talk with strangers, which I don’t.
 I really want nothing social.  Preferably not working with people.
P.S. I have very few marketable skills and I want to sleep and read novels ALL THE TIME.  I’m really bad at being a grownup.  I think I might need a personality transplant.
#2: but really, soft money and a big emergency fund. Working part time, in SF.
#1:  I really think that would give me ulcers, not knowing if I would have an income the next year or not. And my track record with getting grants is not great.
I dunno what to do with my life.  if only this school weren’t so hideous, I really want to have tenure and be a faculty member and do research.  But the teaching?  I don’t know if I can do this for 40 more years.
#2:  after tenure can you care less about teaching?
#1:  yes, but I still have to do it. With how much I hate it, I wonder if it’s sustainable on my stress level. I probably just need therapy for the rest of my life in order to realize how to grow up and be an adult and do  a job I don’t always love because that is adulthood.
#2: if it were fun they wouldn’t pay you to do it
and the question is– is there a job you hate equally that pays more!
#1:  yeah, the problem is balancing the fact that I want money to live comfortably with the hatred of all work that feels like it is sucking out my soul but in reality nobody ever died from that.
My dream job is still academia.  I just need to be at a different school.  This is probably a separate post, but I’m feeling that I’m really not fitting in with the mission of this school and this college.  I have workload issues and specific administrator issues.  I feel like my scholarship isn’t respected here because it doesn’t fit with the mission.  Further, the location depresses me.
So, readers… help!  What should I do?  Nothing in a cubicle, something that gives sick days, nothing with physical labor, I hate interacting with people, and I don’t know how to program.  (I could learn, but it’s not worth it; I’m not patient nor interested enough.)  Nothing that is teaching.
Ideally I want to have the same job at a better place, but those jobs seem impossible to come by.  I did look, believe me I did.  Last year there was 1 job in the country that I could have applied for, and it’s not worth moving for.

78 Responses to “Suggest the color of my parachute?”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    You work in academia 9-5, 5 days a week? The only professors I know who do that are at junior colleges and they are instructors. You like academia and hate teaching? Are you sure? How on earth did you think you were going to avoid teaching? Or people? I am just trying to get this straight in my head.

    I have a friend, PhD anthropologist, who is not so swift when it comes to dealing with other faculty or staff. She attended some sort of school in VA or NC, somewhere over on that coast, where she learned to document her work by learning videography. She hates anyone telling her what to do. I mean, the Dean of the department has no right to talk to her unless she wants to talk to him. And, why can’t she and her monster, smelly dog live in her office?

    So, she sued the university and won $775K and took off to shoot videos. And, she is her own boss.

    Another PhD friend taught one class per semester because she was chair of this, head of that, doing research, collaborating on books. But, she paid her dues for 30 years for the privilege.

    Several other prof friends who were disenchanted won Fulbright Research Scholarships and worked in Mali and Yemen. But, you probably wouldn’t want to do that.

    Or, just find academia elsewhere. Maybe if you and the mission of a school were a better fit, you could stand to teach. Actually, this last paragraph is the only helpful thing I wrote!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sorry, I should have clarified. I currently work in academia and I love its flexible schedule. I know I cannot do 9-5 because I tried that before I got an academic job and it was awful.

      I always knew there would be teaching in academia; I signed up for it as the price I had to pay to do my research. But I didn’t know my students were going to be so whiny and numerous, year after year after grinding year. Or, I did know, but I underestimated how bad it would make me feel.

      I play by the rules. I don’t live in my office, and I fill out my yearly reports on the correct form. I am simply dissatisfied with an upper level administrator’s repeated expressed contempt for my professional identity as a researcher. Not to blame it on the specific administrator, it’s other people too. But there it is.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 has a much better teaching situation– fewer smaller classes and fewer whiny students (#2 still gets whiny students, just not SO MANY). Also I think #1’s teaching load has increased since the recession began while everything else has been cut in real terms.

        #2’s partner thought he would love teaching… but the students in his major are killing him– for the most part they’re students who have flunked out of another major because they have poor study habits, bad responsibility, or they think they can work full time and go to school full time but they can’t. If he just had a few more students like mine he’d love it.

    • Rumpus Says:

      I work 5 days a week, 8-5, plus 4-8 hours on the weekend and I rarely stop thinking about my job when I’m off the clock…I remote access my work computer and often get up in the middle of the night to get some work done. Most, if not all, of my colleagues in my department work 8-5 or 9-5. Academia is a heck of a lot of work. Yet I see those same people that don’t seem to be working all the time and I don’t know how they manage it.

      • Rumpus Says:

        Er, I just realized that this came off like I was trying to start a pissing contest. Sorry…it’s a knee jerk reaction against the stereotype of the absent professor. I know 50-60 hour weeks are nothing compared to a lot of professions.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Heh, yes, we understand. (And my sister currently has mandatory 72 hour weeks for the next 3 months in her industry job!)

  2. Liz Says:

    What are the aspects of academia/research that you enjoy? Is it the writing? the data analysis?

    If I’m not mistaken, I think you work in the social sciences, in economics or something similar(?) A friend of mine in a different social science field became very fed-up with academia and now works for a magazine that publishes content realated to her field. She works from home on a flexible schedule but is an employee of this magazine so still get some benefits, etc. Although the pay is not fantastic, the lifestyle seems great.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 works in economics– her parachute is a rainbow of colors. (And her current work situation is a lot better, primarily because our administration is pretty awesome.)

      That is a FANTASTIC idea– One of our high school friend’s wife is a science aggregator and editor in the SF bay area (for like a major pharmaceutical company or something) and they let her work from home a few days a week. #1 could definitely get in touch with her to ask about that.

  3. Practical Parsimony Says:

    This all makes more sense. But, without knowing what subject you teach, it is difficult to have even a general answer. So, switching schools seems the most logical thing to do.

    Maybe a well-worded syllabus and a tougher approach with the whiners would lessen your problems. Don’t take their nonsense. Teach, reteach, and reteach. Just don’t listen to whining. I think that no matter what level a person teaches, rules (foundation), expectations, and NO NOs work best. It is not fair to make up rules as you go. You will get a reputation as a no nonsense professor. Oh, yeah, you are trying to make tenure, so you cannot make waves.

    Think about your best professor and how things were handled. Go talk to professors you had, or email them. Women professors were always supportive and knew which man would be supportive.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 again– the admin at #1’s school is NOT supportive about a tougher approach (and her syllabi are a thing of beauty– I’ve stolen lots from them– and what I’ve stolen works well in my much better administrative and teaching environment). The have had *meetings* with her about needing to be “more responsive” to the students. They say that you don’t leave a job, you leave a boss, and I think that’s what’s going on with #1.

      • becca Says:

        “They say that you don’t leave a job, you leave a boss, and I think that’s what’s going on with #1.”
        That was my immediate impression from the post. Well, that and it’s VERY natural to be hideously resistant to moving. But she needs to apply to jobs that are plausible, and jobs that have ONE neat thing about them (e.g. if she meets minimum requirements and the teaching load would be lighter, OR it’s in a dreamy place OR it’s exactly the same type of school… but there’s a chance to not have evil administrator). It feels good to know you have options, and feeling stuck can drag you down. Apply for stuff.

        Either that, or take the personal finance interest as a sign and go become a CPA. I know plenty who don’t interact excessively with people, it’s indoor-work-no-heavy-lifting, and I’m pretty sure there are positions that give you retirement benefits.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        She could live like Single Mom Rich Mom! (#2 will stop hijacking in about 20 min when her Day of Back-to-Back meetings starts.)

  4. mugwump Says:

    I can’t tell you what to do, but I do have a suggestion; get out of panic mode, live on one income as much as possible, and try to unburden your mind from preconceptions. Your next step may involve changing your mind about some of your options. When we get into a box, it’s often our preconceptions that have put us there. Learn to live day-by-day in the situation you are in, and something will open up that either makes the present job more tolerable or shows you the way to a more enjoyable career.

    I was in a similar situation many years ago. I left my teaching position in a huff and spent several years under- or unemployed. I finally found a job that looked good halfway across the country, moved my understanding, tolerant (and portable) husband there, and found out I hated it. It took me three years to get to a position where I could leave. Finally we moved again and found a career I liked, saved up tons of money and retired after 10 years. Some of us aren’t cut out for traditional career paths, and our best bet may be to go for financial independence as soon as possible.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, #1 probably needs to reread YMOYL so she can make that escape plan and feel less trapped. That’s probably part of what she’s trying to do with this post– realize that there are plausible alternatives. Another reason that finding a job she hates equally to this one but pays a lot more would be a step up! She’d get closer to financial independence.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #1 here. My partner makes a lot of money and we could live on it, but this only works if he doesn’t quit his job, too. We’ve talked about saving up money for a future career move on one or both of our parts. So far in life, I’ve chosen to do a job that was intellectually challenging and flexible over making tons of money. My job is still intellectually stimulating and flexible. But it’s starting to be less cool — if they’re not gonna pay me (and I certainly get paid like shit), I would appreciate that they at least respect me as a scholar. Which they don’t. I feel like I’m getting a message that I’m not valued here. I still want to do research, I just want to stop being hamstrung by admin while I try to do it.

      • Rumpus Says:

        I was thinking similar things to Your Money Or Your Life too. It’s not that jobs have to be bad and you have to be a grownup to put up with them, but rather that you’re trading your time/life for money that you will use to make things better (like putting food on the table). On the other hand, my mom advised me, “Everyone hates their job.”

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    When she says she doesn’t do computer programming– that’s not quite true. She can do data analysis. It is her least favorite part of the research process and gives her heart palpitations (or maybe that was RAGE), but she can totes do it.

    She’s also a mean hand with excel. And Unix. And can do some web design stuff. She’s way more tech savvy than I am. (But no cubicles!)

  6. Cloud Says:

    Do you have a talent for writing and like to do it? You could try to go that route. No secure income, though, and no sick days unless you turn into a journalist at a newspaper- and I suspect those jobs are hard to come by.

    You could try to go the general consultant route (i.e., McKinsey, KPMG or whatever they call themselves now), but that’s a lot of travel. A LOT of travel.

    You could also look at the government contractors (SAIC, Booz, etc) and see if they have anything in your area of interest. Or turn yourself into a project manager, if you have any interests in that. I have a couple of recent posts on my blog about project management, which I am too lazy to link to- but the one that is still up today would link back to the other one.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve definitely thought about writing/editing of some sort, but probably freelance. Maybe science writing. It’s just so insecure. I don’t want to project manage, but I should probably look more at gov’t stuff.

  7. bogart Says:

    How far away are you from securing tenure? Because if that is not too far off I think I might be tempted to stick it out and then look, though of course, securing tenure at an institution where you don’t want to work may be less than appealing. But in my observation, it comes with various perqs, though those available to you where you are (if any) may be very different at the institutions I am most familiar with (mostly R1 or SLAC) that include things like the opportunity to pursue interludes (sabbatical, leave) in which one keeps one’s position without actively occupying it. We had a faculty member here who literally left her job and took another tenured job at another institution but kept her position here (did not resign) for — 2? — years, meaning she didn’t draw salary here and was replaced in the classroom by a visitor/adjunct but otherwise the department couldn’t fill her position or do — anything. It stank for the department (and she did eventually leave) but she was, I am told, within her rights per institutional policy.

    I know little outside of academia (and perhaps not much more inside it). I suppose where you need to be is a thinktank, but it sounds like that’s not a promising alternative given your field of expertise.

    Though they wouldn’t complete avert the problems associated with other human beings, though, there are administrative academic positions that offer some of what you’re seeking and avoid the classroom. Whiners may still be present, but you might have some control (via position selection) of which subset you interact with. And precisely because many of these are more 9-5 in nature (but with significant flexibility, often, though also of course bumpiness, i.e., crunch times) they seem to allow time-outside-work-to-pursue-own-interests (e.g. reading, research, cheese).

    There are external-to-US institutions that hire US-educated faculty, though of course you’d need to be willing to relocate, full- or part-time. Of course they want people who teach, but my general impression is that many work with student populations much less prone to whining.

    Mulling, mulling…

    • bogart Says:

      Oh, and 2 further thoughts — (1) it is far from obvious to me that freelancing would eliminate the need to interact with humans; and (2) (having seen Cloud’s comment) ditto project management.

      • Cloud Says:

        Good point. I forgot about the desire to not interact with people. Project management is really all about interacting with people.

        Problem is… I can’t think of any jobs with decent, dependable pay that don’t require interaction with people- particularly since programming has been ruled out (and even if it hadn’t- the programmers I know all work on teams). Maybe the trick is to figure out the terms of the interaction that you can handle.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I am having exactly the thought that you bring up: I am going up for tenure this fall, and there is a good chance I will get it if nothing goes wrong. But do I want tenure at a place that doesn’t respect or value me outside the classroom? Once I get tenure, it’s true I can take less shit from students because fear of evals will be gone. Two more years after THAT, I am eligible to apply for sabbatical and hope that I get it. The sabbatical system here stinks but if I can get one it could go a long way towards helping me think about these things — but it is 3 years from now.

        “Maybe the trick is to figure out the terms of the interaction that you can handle.”
        That is an excellent idea!

      • bogart Says:

        Well, right, and I know it’s not obvious. I left my last (faculty) job literally right before I was up for pre-tenure leave, which the place provided. I did that for an assortment of reasons, not least (well, OK, maybe least. But not irrelevant to my thinking) that I felt the institution had treated me well (clearly not applicable to your case) and I wanted to return the favor (though don’t get me wrong, I worked my butt off while there, did a good job, and had earned the leave).

        But rather than thinking of this as … this year + next year + 2 more years to sabbatical which, you know, seems like eternity (right?), what if you thought of this as … this semester + a summer’s break, during which you can do what you love (I hope) + one year (while you are considered for tenure), + one more year during which you have tenure and thus can do more of what you enjoy and somewhat less of what you don’t while also (a) going back on the market and (b) working on developing your side business in preparation for launching yourself into your new line of work, whatever it will be. Also (c) applying for fellowships because — really? Is your institution really so bad (to its faculty) that if you got offered support for a year to do your research at — fill in the blank cool location — they wouldn’t allow you to take a year’s leave early? Really? Even if so I might stay (through tenure), but especially if not (i.e. if a fellowship is a plausible option).

  8. Julie Says:

    Have you read Barbara Sher’s books? She’s got a lovely alternative way of looking at things so it isn’t trade-this-awful-job-for-another-equally-horrible-one.

  9. Suzita @ Says:

    I’ve read Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, ( something like four times in the past 12 months. It’s like a funnier, more modern version of What Color is Your Parachute.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    +1 on rework the family budget so you can live on one income, and +1 on start developing an escape plan.

    Going to give you my quick history in hopes it may be helpful. I managed a small law office for 8 years and it was an unrelenting grind of stress and conflict. I had disordered eating and insomnia, I got sick frequently, and I was drinking too much. I had all the responsibility and none of the authority. I was expected to do the work of three people and got no support from my employers. When I finally left, they did hire two people to replace me.

    After realizing “I cannot fix this situation,” I got myself ready to leave by thinking “what would be GOOD for me to do?” I’m extremely energetic, very organized, and enjoy being physically active. I looked at what my husband does – personal training/physical therapy – and thought “that could work.” It takes a good brain, good communication skills, excellent organizational skills, and promotes physical fitness. So while still employed, I did an 8-month home study program to get a high-quality personal trainer certification. Immediately after, I started a 14-month program to get a ballroom dance instructor certification. DH took over all our daily bills, and I took over food, debt repayment, and our social/entertainment budget.

    As it happens … I got a new job in a law office (busting myself down to secretary) almost immediately, because I realized I wasn’t emotionally ready to take the leap to two self-employed people in the household. I have moved through several jobs now and am still employed full-time in a law office, but very quickly I realized it wasn’t the work I loathed – it was the people I was working for.

    So now I am in a good job I enjoy, but I have my qualifications to take into the latter third of my life when we are ready to move out of Los Angeles. I wish you well and hope you can arrive at a similarly satisfactory solution.

    Final note re: teaching: while I got an M.A., I finished it knowing I didn’t want to work in academia or teach K-12. Teaching dance has been a great experience, though, because everything about it is voluntary. FWIW. :-)

  11. MutantSupermodel Says:

    “I have very few marketable skills and I want to sleep and read novels ALL THE TIME. I’m really bad at being a grownup. I think I might need a personality transplant.”

    Me TOO!

    Also +1 what #2 said about Single Mom Rich Mom.

    Other than those pearls of wisdom, I honestly don’t know what to say. I know nothing about academia and nothing about economics but I do know what it’s like to work for boss that is opposite to your own mission/moral code/etc. Not that it’s my CURRENT situation but I’ve been there. I don’t think you need to do anything as drastic as abandon your profession but yes I do think abandoning your boss is the way to go. Whether that means temporarily abandoning your profession or not I am just not sure on.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Leaving my current job without another one to go to is probably going to result in de facto leaving my profession, because people never do that. You would only do that if you were being chased out for breaking the law, or something. I would never get another job in this career. So I have to find another one first, or be ready to ditch the career I’ve worked my whole life for. If only there were more and better academic jobs!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #1 isn’t an economist. Economists have a ton of attractive job options outside of academia. (Of course, one generally has to do economics in them… which may be less attractive for people who chose not to go into economics in the first place.)

  12. Grace Says:

    This sounds counterintuitive, but a longtime friend of mine is a CPA. For years, she worked her tail off for four months each year and then traveled the rest of it. For the last three years, she’s done bookkeeping for a resort in Tahiti that gives her free room, board and salary. Of course, she doesn’t have accoutrements like spouse or kids. But she has a very colorful passport!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have no kids and my partner is currently somewhat portable, sort of, but he may not always be. Hmmm.

      • Cloud Says:

        The guy who does my taxes travels A LOT. He works like crazy during tax season and then has a lot of free time at other times of the year.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I keep telling my CPA FIL he needs to get out of the daily grind and start doing freelance accounting in places that have good hunting! He’d make more money AND have more time AND get paid to go places he could do his favorite hobby. He’s just too risk averse and I think they’d rather spend thousands at Christmas on the grandkids than retire early.

  13. undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

    This is all great advice. I’d only add this: stop (or try to stop) caring what the admin thinks of your research, if they don’t understand it or approve of it. Once you have tenure, you don’t need their approval, and you said already that you were likely to get tenure. Value the approval that comes from your peers in the discipline; that’s what really counts.

  14. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I know you hate the admin and whiny students. Maybe if you could separate the two you could be more content. Try somehow to put some humanity behind the whiny student and see the problems. It might be hard, but at least you would have one less annoying problem. Okay, one problem x 200+/-. If you are successful in your research and need approval on campus/in academia, encourage one connection who seems to value your work. Make up funny stories in your head about the rest in order to block their negative reaction to you. Are you sure this is not some sort of cruel test to see if you are academia material?

    My friends who have gone through the tenure process were all miserable. Finally, when they gained tenure, we heard the horror stories. None of it was pretty. The women let their hair grow, wore vibrant colors, ditched the pants for dresses and skirts, and actually left open a top button. The transformation was amazing. These were not the women I spoke of before.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re from the Midwest. Whiners were kids who were spoiled and then didn’t grow up. We don’t have sympathy for them. It isn’t in our culture.

      • Debbie M Says:

        You should have sympathy for spoiled brats. They will never be happy. Can you imagine living like that?

        And if they do grow up, their mistakes will cost them more at the late date in life when they make them than they cost other people who started growing up earlier, making their mistakes in school and at home.

        Sadly, feeling sympathetic toward them wouldn’t make them any easier to deal with nor give you magic skills for enjoying their company.

        (I’m remembering a scene from “Friends” I really liked. Ross was whining, as he often does. Phoebe told a story about how once she was homeless and really hungry and a guy offered her a sandwich if she would do something distasteful (I forget what–have sex with him or something). And Ross said, “Uh, what does that have to do with what I was just talking about?” And she said, “Nothing. I had a REAL problem.”)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 has found that telling whiners that their behavior is inappropriate and unbecoming of one of OUR graduates sometimes helps. As does public shaming. BUT she’s in a very different environment where the majority of the students aren’t whiners and the other professors also take a hard line.

        She’s really left with only one concentration, mainly tall white males, being left as whiners. She’s been lobbying to have the professors in that concentration have to teach the required course she teaches to those students. “Whyyyyy do we have to taaaaake maaaaaaath? It isn’t faaaaaaaair.” They would find it more fair I am sure if they were being taught by tall white professors. Currently she has the support of her chair on this issue, as these kids (in this specific concentration, and really just a subset of the tall white guys) are really the worst thing about teaching the required math course for ALL his adorable female junior professors and he’d be happy to hear less complaining from both sides, I am sure.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Well, they don’t actually have to take math (unless they want to be able to see how likely it is that any differences they observe are real differences). They don’t have to get a degree. They don’t have to get a job. They don’t have to eat. We have quite a lot of free will in this country.

        Maybe a tit-for-tat thing would be satisfying. Whyyyyy do I have to grade so many paaaapers? It’s not faaaaaair! Whyyyyyyyy do I have to teach students who are wiiiiiiiiny? When I’m handing them math knowledge on a plaaaaaatter?

  15. FrauTech Says:

    Agree with what others have said it’s probably more about your boss and less about your job. I really love my 9-5 now (or 7-6 more accurately). I didn’t change career tracks or even move companies. But so many little things changed that it made it completely different. I’m not saying you could necessarily do the same where you’re at, but maybe you don’t need a big change to be happy. Or, maybe you shouldn’t be afraid of taking a big change!

  16. Dr. Sneetch Says:

    Sorry to hear this. Maybe just focus on your pregnancy and ignore the people who annoy you to the extent that this is possible.

  17. frugalscholar Says:

    Well, I love the teaching and hate the research! Or rather the publishing! I worked under a hostile chair for 15 years, Just focused on one day at a time. Administrators do leave. Once you have tenure, no one will mess with you. Your students will sense that and whine less. REALLY.

    Now I have a great chair and I can ignore upper administration.

  18. feMOMhist Says:

    well goodness knows I’ve groused about all this enough over on my blog, so you know what I’m going to say. Stick it out, get tenure, and enjoy telling the stus and admin to f*ck themselves. Then of course figure out what you want to do, like research that is fulfilling for you personally. That of course is my plan as I enjoy my sabbatical and newly won tenure. Of course I like teaching, and while no one seems too excited about my research, they’ve mostly the politeness not to mock it to my face.

    Oh and I tweeted this today, a bit zen for you nice midwestern gals, but heck have a go at it anyway

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      heehee… we have a post that will probably never get posted about how omphaloskepsis makes for flakey spouses (or at least excessive omphaloskepsis combined with self-destructive tendencies)– midwestern is all about the pragmatism. I wonder if midwesterners are less likely to ditch their spouses at mid-life than coasters.

      (public finance readers will probably know exactly what we’re talking about… once they look up omphaloskepsis, a word I stole off an academic blog, girl notorious, the other day)

      • Jacq Says:

        It would hard to write because of incomplete information. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book – on meditation! “Wherever You Go, There You Are” comes to mind.

  19. eemusings Says:

    Haven’t read allll the comments. Alternative industries that come to mind … you mentioned poss looking into govt work? how about thinktanks/NFPs/NGOs? Working in science comms/publishing? Some kind of content role for a company?

  20. SaL Says:

    One thing that makes changing careers out of academe very hard is that academics never actually have to identify what they know how to do. The academic CV is a history document – in which credentials stand in for actual skills: “She got her PhD at X, therefore she must know (unspecified something that comprises our field). She got Grant Y therefore she must be good at (our kind of science).” But the CV does not actually say WHAT you know how to do, and the habit of expressing one’s career in the form of a CV can therefore leave one at quite a loss when switching over to a world that values skills and competencies directly and not just credentials that are presumed to signify them.

    When I left my TT job, I spent several months investigating my options. Two activities were especially useful: rewriting my CV as a résumé, which forced me to figure out what I really knew how to DO (i.e. express my career path to date in terms of skills, not credentials), and doing informational interviews with people whom I thought might use those skills in their jobs. For example: I figured out that, based on a variety of specific experiences I could identify, I was a fast and accurate first-draft writer. I then tried to think of careers where being a fast and accurate first-draft writer was of value. Then I found people who did those things and asked them about their jobs: what do you like about your work? what will eventually drive you nuts about your job so that you quit to do something else? what skills do you use in your job? what’s your Plan B? Part of what I learned from this interview process was whether I was right in identifying certain jobs as using certain skills – and what *other* skills or attributes were needed, including perhaps some I did not have or did not want to pursue.

    Another thing I did that was psychologically helpful was to apply for some jobs that were not what I thought I wanted to do, but were close enough to my previous history that my application was credible – for me that list included a few TT jobs,, director of an interdisciplinary science center, associate in a teaching and learning center. I got far enough in those searches – interviews and an offer or two – to feel like I had a fallback position: if the big career jump in service of my main goal was not going well, I could still fall back to apply and get a job on a campus in one way or another. That gave me the confidence to strike out further and to give myself some time to find new work: I was not unemployable if it came down to that.

    I went through a period of cobbling part-time gigs together, and drawing on savings to fill in some shortages in income, but in the end this worked incredibly well. I’ve got a job that really suits me and that uses the skills I identified in my self-analysis, and my career change has solved the issues that led me to pursue it. In retrospect, I think the key elements are ruthless self-assessment, open-minded exploration (letting go of the idea of a career “plan”), a decent backup savings account, and trust that the process did not need to yield a perfect solution on the first step (I think there’s a chart in What Color is Your Parachute that addresses this – the idea that it may take a couple of moves to get to a goal, but if you’re clear on the goal you can take the moves one at a time).

    Good luck.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Thanks for the reply. I can certainly explain what skills I have on a resume, but I don’t really *want* to, somehow. I’ve been thinking of alternate career plans, mainly in gov’t, but I don’t know what kinds of things I want to do (plenty that I don’t!).

      I really, REALLY do NOT want to take several moves to get to a goal, oh god, I’ve spent my whole fricking life moving around for academia and I desperately want to settle down (not here though). No matter how much financial security I may have, I somehow don’t have the mental stability to go back to waving in the wind. I remember years of job-hunting where I spent months and months not knowing where I would be the next year. It’s so hard to plan, so hard to relax, moving is hell, not to mention expensive. I’m pretty impatient. Doh!

    • Jacq Says:

      Love these suggestions. Very similar to the process that I’ve used through the years but maybe isn’t good for someone who wants stability and a sure thing right away. That’s really hard to do in a career, often you just fall into the right things through trial and error. (Sort of like dating.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s been a long, loonnnnng time since I dated, too. I was very fortunate to meet my wonderful partner in high school, and we’ve been together ever since (now in our 30s). More skills I lack!

  21. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Whiny students! When I was a student, I hated whiny students. No deadline was ever meant for them. No mistake in their papers was ever their fault. Actually, I and other students sort of put them down in class for their mindset. The professors loved me…lol. Of course, when I was a young student, I would never take on another student. As an older student, i just did not care what whiny kids younger than my children thought. I detested listening to their problems.

    One day, some Mountain Brook, AL, girls were stamping their little feet, complaining, and shaking their long blond hair. It was not fair, absolutely not to be tolerated. How could anyone expect them to suffer so? As they came in, I listened. Finally, I asked what was the matter. It seems there were no straws in the straw holder near the Coke machine and they were going to have to put their lips to a Coke can. I hurt myself trying not to roll my eyes. (Mountain Brook is wealthy neighborhood.)

    Can you refer the ones who whine to services at the school? Reading or writing lab? Suggest a book on time management? Social services for their problems? Maybe you will hear less whining. Seriously, sympathize and tell them you will get someone to help who is qualified. One professor had a sign up that said something about “Your procrastination (lack of planning) does not constitute an emergency for me.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      In my case, at least, the whining is often about stuff that would be unfair to the other students and would blow your mind that they would even think it was ok to ask about.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If there is one thing I wish I could bash into my students’ heads with a hammer, it is the idea that actions and choices have consequences. Sometimes good consequences: choose to study hard, consequence is a high score on the test. Sometimes not so much: choose to take a vacation rather than show up at the exam? Consequence is failing. Your family is definitely a higher priority than my class, just as it should be, but then don’t whine to me when you don’t spend any time studying. Perhaps this semester is not the best one for you to take this class. *SIGH*

  22. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Once you get tenure, two important things will happen:

    (1) Asshole administrators will find softer untenured targets to play out their psychodramas with.

    (2) You will become more portable to other acaddemic institutions.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      In my field, it seems I will become LESS portable. Who would hire someone with tenure when they got that tenure at a crappy school? And I don’t have great grants at all!

      But man, once I get tenure Imma have some serious conversations with my dean. Polite and professional conversations, but really ask zir some questions about what the F ze thinks ze’s doing with this place, and how I fit (or don’t) into it.

  23. rented life Says:

    I’ve recently realized the likelihood of me securing a TT job (despite the promises made during interviewing where I’m at) are slim to none. And I have the opposite problem as you. I want to teach. Someone else can do all the other stuff. Together, we’d make the perfect professor :) I’m also looking for other, reasonable alternatives for a career. When I took career inventories I would get professor, librarian (which doesn’t remotely interest me!), or accountant. Problem with the last one is I took Math for Dummies in College (becasue I could. I enjoy math and do well, but at the time I just wanted to focus on my major courses).

  24. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Why do they have to take math? Refer them to degree requirements. Write the question and page numbers on the board. End of conversation. They are bullying/harassing you. Yes, good idea for you to whine a bit.

    Why are you required to put up with this? Why do you get in trouble when they are the problem? Is this a test to see if you are tenure material?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s not just that they have to take the class that they whine about. The fact they don’t believe they should have to take it (and some of their concentration professors agree with them) colors every single thing about the class. Much better if one of their concentration professors has to teach a class full of them and they can stop harassing the rest of us.

      • mom2boy Says:

        What happens if you just pass the majority of them? If teaching isn’t your passion and turning out inspired, math proficient students to make the world a better place isn’t what drives you, then why beat your head against the wall simply because you can? IF you want tenure so you can do research and be left in peace and giving grades that are of no consequence in the long run is the price of admission, is that something you’d consider to enjoy the parts of the job you do still find enjoyable? You are, similar to your whiny students, stuck in a situation where you’d rather not be. They have to take the class (to graduate I’m assuming) and you have to teach at this school because it’s where you are and where you have the best chance of getting to tenure and research and the things that do make you happy. Short term pain, long term gain?
        FWIW, my dad is a teacher in a tiny, tiny town and he has the exact same complaints about his high school english students and the administration who gets upset when he fails someone. He won’t give grades. He pisses off the administration daily. He loves teaching, though, so I think he feels like the fight is worth it.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 is the one teaching math classes, and she gets the complaints from students who earn Bs. They just don’t want to be there.

        #1 also teaches required core courses and gets complaints across the grade spectrum. And you can’t give everybody the same grade because you get in trouble for *that* too.

  25. mom2boy Says:

    Oh I see. I thought the complaining was from potentially failing students. My professors have a required grade distribution curve for most classes, so I hear there is misery in that, too. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  26. Funny about Money Says:

    It depends on what you teach. But on the chance you can pull this off, here’s what a friend of mine did.

    When she was on the associate level, a life-threatening illness caused her to re-evaluate everything she was doing, and one conclusion she arrived at was that she did not want to spend the rest of her life teaching what was then called “speech.” (Today we call that “communication.”)

    So she quit her job and she started a business. She took what she taught in the classroom and broke it into shorter modules, which she offered to large corporations as in-house training in corporate communication. Using some of this material, she wrote a kind of how-to book on how to write and communicate clearly and professionally.

    It worked. She was VERY successful. Before long she had an office in D.C., from where she advised the rich and the powerful. She flew all over the world to do teaching gigs for corporate employees. The last time I saw her, what she was wearing cost more than my entire net worth.

    She told me the trick was networking. You spend a lot of time and effort letting people know who you are and what you can do.

    If you’re in a discipline that lends itself to that kind of thing, it’s something to think about. College students arrive in the real world ignorant as stumps, largely because of the situations you describe. You probably could adapt any number of subjects to personnel training programs for the companies that have to hire our little stumps.

    Another option, if you want the option of working any 18 hours of the day you choose, is real estate. You can make a pretty good living at it, but you do have to treat it like a business, develop proficient marketing skills, and work at it constantly.

    And finally, look at nonprofits. Few of them pay as much as a tenured position, but neither do they make you put up with anything like as much sh!t.

    When you say “I can certainly explain what skills I have on a resume, but I don’t really *want* to, somehow,” you seem to be saying that what you want to do is to continue in an unhappy situation because you don’t know whether anything else is any better. That’s a chance you’ll have to take. If the chance is not acceptable, then the only alternative is to adjust to the current job’s negatives. This can be done, tho’ it often takes the help of a therapist. Here in Phoenix, two therapists that we know of virtually specialize in Great Desert University faculty. You might ask around; see if you can find someone who can help you learn to deal with the stresses of a difficult and perpetually frustrating job.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Those are some good points, thanks. I don’t want to market or work on commission or do sales. #2 suggested being a life coach, which is somewhat similar to the self-employed path of your friend. It’s so people-intensive though. I am very introverted, which in my case means that I have good social skills and am good at interacting with people but it wears me out very fast and saps my energy and makes me want to curl in a ball and die until I can get enough alone time. Hmmm…

  27. Funny about Money Says:

    Not intending to hijack the conversation (the exchange seems to have mostly happened by now, anyway), may I add a few suggestions?

    Many of the things you say about your discontent resonate with me. I also found the main campus of my institution depressing — ugly, sprawling, utterly without redeeming characteristics. My colleagues and I also felt the administration was lacking in the leadership department (not surprisingly: academics are not trained in management), the undergraduate students were whiny brats, and the workload grew more obscene with each passing year. I was thrilled to be laid off my job (though not happy about being pushed out a few years short of meeting my retirement savings goals), because it took me out of a depressing atmosphere.

    In returning to teaching on an adjunct basis, I find I enjoy classroom contact with students but deeply dislike grading.

    There are some solutions to these issues.

    1) Hire someone to grade your papers. Yes, I know: FERPA. Well, screw that. If you hire a teaching assistant, clearly the teaching assistant has a teaching purpose in grading student papers. Just be discreet: do not tell anyone, and hire graduate students or editors from other campuses. When I started this strategy, I had a trusted editor friend grade half my papers. Another editor found out and asked for a piece of that action; last year, they graded 2/3 of the drech. This semester they’re grading it all. Obviously, you have to ride herd some…but what this strategy does is convert you from your students’ servant to a project manager.

    I pay these people $10 an hour to follow very specific sets of rubrics and assign numeric scores to student papers, which my students submit electronically. It’s surprising how fast they get through the stuff. I’ve been paying a very reasonable amount, easily affordable and well worth the relief in time and stress.

    If you’re very worried about FERPA, simply download student papers, delete their names from the document, the filename, and Word’s personal information, assign each kid a number, and deliver the papers to your TAs identified only by the number.

    2) Devise rubrics and a numeric grading scheme that a) make it easy for your TA to move quickly and accurately through student papers and b) do not lend themselves to argument. Weirdly, when students see a number (say, 89%) instead of a letter grade (B+), they’re much less inclined to bicker over grading or to claim you’re unfair. In most people’s minds a number represents objective quantification and a letter grade represents subjective judgment. Since I started scoring papers on a scale of 100, I’ve hardly ever had a student argue with me over grades.

    3) Address all of the most common student whines in your syllabus. Go over the syllabus in class, never failing to mention the whines and your policy about them, and then give a quiz on the syllabus. Make it clear in discussion and in the quiz that you will brook no argument.

    Your objective in 2) and 3) is to create the appearance of sterling fairness. You will, of course, strive to be as fair as humanly possible, but no matter how hard you try, students will doubt your fairness. Structure courses, grading, and first-day conversations in such a way as to underscore the fairness of your policies, and present their relative inflexibility as a function of the need to maintain fairness to all.

    4) Stay away from the campus as much as possible. Go in to meet your classes, attend faculty meetings, and hold office hours. Otherwise, make like Macavity the Mystery Cat.

    5) Keep your head down. Have as little to do with administrators as possible, do not engage in group bitch-fests, do not ever be heard complaining about anything on the campus, and never volunteer.

    6) Develop a research agenda or find volunteer activities that take you off campus. Use these to build a social life away from the academy. Make it a point to build a wide circle of friends and acquaintances who are not academics.

    The cumulative effect of these six strategies is a certain disengagement from your job. Because you’re not yet tenured, you’ll need to work at making this psychological disengagement less than obvious. But if you make tenure this fall, then you will…uhm…need to concentrate on your research. Right?

  28. First (Link)Loves « Adjunctorium Says:

    […] it, and nicoleandmaggie write about it. Recently we’ve gone from pedagogical strategies to career angst and parenthood via brown […]

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