Sunday, September 4, 2011

Out of Wonderland and Back Through the Looking Glass

I'm leaving academia.

It's taken some harsh realizations and soul searching to be able to say that. For most of my life, I thought I'd be a professor. The particular subject area was up in the air but the professor thing was pretty solid. I imagined it to be a bit like Wonderland or the world on the other side of the looking glass. It seemed full of possibilities and intellectual stimulation - a place where I could be among other like-minded nerds. When I got to grad school, I realized just how much like a Lewis Carroll novel it really was.

As a social science Ph.D., I've been in grad school for 9 years now. This is pretty normal for a social science doctorate. Just an FYI if that's your goal. I started off pretty sure this was the path for me. In the beginning, my advisor told me, outright and early on, that there were few academic jobs in this field. But I still thought it was where I wanted to be. Let's just say, after 9 years, things have changed.

So what changed? I saw what a professor's life is actually like - how much time is taken up with committee work, teaching, research and all it requires, mentoring students. Academia consumed faculties' lives for at least the first 5 years, if not more. I've seen academia destroy relationships, lots of them. To be fair, I've seen some incredibly supportive significant others too. I've seen families survive and marriages endure. It can be done. I've seen the sacrifices people have made for any job they could get, both financial and personal sacrifice. I have seen burnout, toxic politics, the development of high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. I have also seen people hold on to their selves and make a difference in the community and their students' lives. I have seen people fight the system from within and win. It's not all bad.

If you have the skills and talent - if you feel the call to this life - by all means, have at it. I wish you the best luck and hope you effect the change you wish to see in the world. It was simply not the road for me. I know that now.

Like Carroll's Wonderland, academia is full of absurdity and strange rules. What is a fashionable area of study versus the lunatic fringe changes with the wind. The roses are not, nor need only be, red. There are some upsides and lots of downsides but characters do survive here. Whether they rule their own queendoms (or kingdoms) or are just trying to find their pocket watch, characters can survive. Heck, some even thrive. Life finds a way.

After braving Wonderland and wandering through the looking glass for years, I have decided that I do not wish to be a queen. Rather than playing the game or waking a king, I have decided to simply walk off the board.

This decision was not an easy one. It took much soul searching. For the past few years, thinking (worrying) about becoming a prof has caused me to slowly descend into depression. The recent discovery of life outside of academia and the thought of leaving it has cheered me and lightened the proverbial load on my back. So, I have taken this as a good sign that this new road is the path I should be on. The road is steep and littered with boulders. But, I can see the rabbit hole I fell down at the top of it. And there's light on the other side. So, here begins my journey out of the rabbit hole and back through the looking glass to a world of new possibilities...and perhaps a bit more sanity.

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