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?

13 Responses to “Ask the Grumpies: Questions about leaving academia”

  1. chacha1 Says:

    LOL. I left academia before ever being employed in academia, so I got nothin’.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    There are really two separate questions here. Institutions as institutions don’t give a single flying f*cke about you as an individual, and have zero “loyalty” to anyone. Their actions are 100% driven by what they want to get out of people, and individual academics should consider the situation to be symmetrical. However, this is not to say that there might not be personal loyalties between individuals employed by an institution that could influence how you handle a departure. And as far as students, f*cke ’em. Making a department scramble to find a replacement mid-semester isn’t gonna tangibly harm students in the long run.

  3. The frugal ecologist Says:

    I’ll chime in. I just left academia – and my experience was just as cpp states, the institution doesn’t give a flip about you. Short version: you should do what is best for you, the uni & dept can deal.

    If you are actually ill, you may be eligible for Fmla-eligible leave. I’d encourage you to take it, especially if taking a break might give you perspective on your situation (& what you are hoping to leave behind – dept, university, or your field entirely). My guess is that folks will likely be more sympathetic if there is a medical issue.

    I think it’s always better to leave a position with a new one lined up. My experience is like DH & #2’s. It takes time to find something else that’s a good fit, particularly if you are constrained geographically. Over a year in my case.

    In the end I gave 1 months notice, I left in the middle of a semester but it wasn’t a teaching semester for me. I told my chair over the phone & submitted a resignation letter following our conversation. I’d encourage you to be upbeat about your future, even if you don’t have anything lined up. Be prepared for a variety of responses (this is why I would minimize the notice you give). I got pity about “ending my career” and “leaving science” as well as support along the lines “this is our loss” and “I can’t believe the university is letting you go”. You may be surprised about who offers which comment. I was.

    I didn’t expressly lie about next semester but I was non committal & let folks assume as n&m said they did. This is almost impossible to avoid as so much course planning is done in advance. Where I could I declined committee work for future semesters. In cases where I couldn’t it was fine & I was replaced. My main concern was for my grad students so I did some behind the scenes work so that they would be well placed.

    Sorry for the novel but I just went through this. Good luck & take care of yourself. You are the only one who is truly looking out for your best interest.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Thank you for sharing your story!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, thanks for sharing.

      I left without a job lined up, so when people asked me what I was going to do next, I honestly and very cheerfully said I didn’t know yet. They could take what message they wished from me quitting without having something else lined up. It was just that bad. Some people greeted “I’m quitting” with “Congratulations!”

    • kt Says:

      I have noticed that you’ve commented on leaving someplace else on a nicoleandmaggie post, and I am super-curious about what prompted you to leave. Would you be willing to talk about that, perhaps more anonymously?

      I’m in the weird position of kind of trying to leave and then being offered an interesting academic position, teaching much less than I would at a SLAC or even the current R1 but developing educational materials as the rest of the job. Having taught 3-3 at a SLAC and done the advising/committee work/faculty meetings/curriculum development etc, this seems like a sweet deal. The pay is not great but it’s postdoc-level. The position would also entail making contacts with folks in industries that people in my field decamp to, which seems like it could position me well for a move outside academia if that came up.

      I’m conflicted because I’d prepared myself to leave the academy, and now I’m back. Weird.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sounds like that position could definitely be a worthwhile way to spend some time!

        We at grumpy rumblings are open to posting people’s leaving academia stories if they’re interested in submitting them. grumpyrumblings at g mail (in the about).

  4. Cloud Says:

    Huh. This post didn’t show up in my reader until late in the day. Weird. Sorry, I would have come by earlier!

    Anyhow, I left academia after graduate school, so have zero direct experience with the mechanics of quitting an academic job. I do, however, have a lot of experience hiring people from academia, although in science. I was a hiring manager at a large contracting firm, a small biotech, and a midsize biotech for more than 10 years before I chucked that in to become an independent contractor and bootstrap a company.

    So I have a lot of ideas about things like turning a CV into a resume, writing a cover letter for a non-academic job, and using LinkedIn for networking. I wrote a series of posts with advice, usually in response to readers’ questions. The series round up is here: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2014/04/job-search-tips-wrap-up-and-call-for.html

    If you are starting a non-academic job search, you might want to take a look at least at the CV to resume one. I don’t know a single non-academic hiring manager who is happy to see a CV. It wastes our time, to be honest, and comes across as arrogant (whether or not it is meant that way). I would generally not consider a CV unless there was something early on in it that made me think it was worth the effort to parse it, or if the candidate was recommended by someone I trusted.

    I took those posts and expanded them into a short ebook (also linked on my site), which I’ve heard is useful beyond the science realm. You should be able to tell whether or not the book is likely to be useful to you by reading a post or two and seeing if those seem useful to you. And of course, I’m happy to answer questions if you don’t see the topic you are looking for and think I might be able to help.

    Good luck!


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