Tired of being grumpy all the time asks:
I’m an assistant professor. I found your blog when looking for advice on dealing with horrible departments. I don’t like my job and have become a big ball of stress and unhappiness. I had been looking forward to escaping during my unpaid summer months, but have been given a pile of service and administrative deadlines to deal with (still unpaid). I’ve tried to find another job without any luck. I may or may not get tenure.
When I read the post on one of the Grumpies quitting, I, quite literally, had the breath knocked out of me. It had never occurred to me that quitting without a new job was something that people actually did. My husband is on board with my quitting; he even suggested it earlier this year.
I am hesitant to discuss this with anyone I know– if my department hears, I fear they will choose not to renew my contract. I’d rather choose to leave than be forced to. Do you have any advice, thoughts, questions I should consider as I contemplate this new plan?
We both actually have experience with this. Not only did #1 quit recently, but #2’s husband quit a year ago (pre-tenure) without having any other employment lined up.
Neither quit happened overnight. It’s hard to quit something that allows a lot of freedom and can’t fire you on only two weeks’ notice. It’s even harder to give up the potential for complete job security. Add to that the weird culture of academia where, at least when you’re new, leaving the academic track seems like failure (it isn’t!), and you get people sticking around probably longer than they should.
Sometimes sticking around works out– you can change things or go on to other jobs. Sometimes you just need a year of leave (and you can often get a year of unpaid leave off the tenure clock to try things out– #2’s DH did that just by asking). Sometimes it’s just delaying the inevitable.
We both know many other people who have made the jump. All are happier for it. We know people who were considering making the jump but with one thing or another they decided they could make it work where they were or they got a job offer at a different place and everything worked out. They’re happier than they were too. And we know people who are still working on making the decision.
#1’s experience of quitting was that, somewhat thankfully, it got bad enough that I felt good about leaving. If it had been less bad, I might still be there. Perhaps that’s where you are. It took me a year to decide to quit. Other people in my department also have exit plans (and every year we’ve been hiring to replace recent exits), which tells you how bad it is there. My experience has been that quitting my job makes me feel amazingly good, but I don’t think I would have felt that way if I’d left pre-tenure. I also have financial luxury to faff about until I figure out a new career. And I might hate my next job, too! (But at least it will PAY MORE.)
Also, consider this: it’s likely you can outlast administrators. However, consider the direction your school as a whole is going in (your department, college, university as a whole). That was one among many clues that I didn’t belong in that particular place. It was hard, hard, hard for me to give up an academic career– that is, until I was ready to do it. Everyone has a different breaking point. While you’re finding yours, save money like a fiend. Try to stay sane. Maybe start consulting on the side if you want to turn that into a new career. This could be an opportunity to move to where you really want to be! (Better work environment for husband, closer to family or the beach, lower cost of living, whatever.)
There must be something you love about academia to even go into it. There are also things you hate. Are they things you hate about the career, or this particular job, or some of both? If you can figure out the particular *aspects* that are turning you into a ball of stress, you can look at adjusting them within this job or in a new job.
Things to consider:
Academia is just a job
Pre-tenure angst *read this book*. If you feel trapped, this book will help you feel untrapped and will give you the tools you need to get to freedom, whether that includes staying where you are with an exit plan or making a big jump. It will help you turn the risk of losing/leaving your job into a calculated risk, increasing the upside and decreasing the downside.
For the past three years or so, #2 has been talking about getting ready financially for her DH to quit, dealing with him being out of work, and adjusting to his new income, off and on in her monthly mortgage posts. Savings and lowering monthly expenses create the luxury of being able to make a measured risk.
Are you a scanner? As #1 says, think about what aspects of work make you happy and read up on what kinds of jobs fit those aspects. For example, like Cloud, my husband is a scanner, so he likes shorter projects. He likes working in groups. He likes figuring out problems. He needs mental stimulation. He needs regular validation. He’s currently getting all of these things in his current job, but wasn’t getting them in academia.
From a practical standpoint, it took #2’s husband several months to get consulting contracts and job interviews, but they all kind of hit at once, probably because of the way hiring cycles and budgets work. He started lazily networking in May, then more seriously in September, and by November he was working in his new job. (He did get an unsolicited offer to continue teaching off the tenure track at the university, but had no problem turning that down.)
If you quit, you’re not alone. If you decide to stick it out, you’re not alone there either. If you decide to stay for a while and work on a gradual exit plan, that actually seems pretty common. You can make any choice into the right one, if you can find what fits well for you and your life.
Does that help?
And now, check the comments for thoughts from the Grumpy Nation.