Friday, October 21, 2011

A Week in the Dip

I was going to start a series of posts about things I've learned in grad school but I've postponed it temporarily. It's been a rough week and I need to vent.

Transitioning careers involves a lot of emotional ups and downs. It's sort of a series of manic-depressive cycles moving from "yes, I can do this and look at all the things I could do" to "I have no experience in anything of value and don't stand a chance outside academia." This week has been mostly a depressive dip for a variety of reasons.


I have no idea what I want to do at this point. I've been looking into possible fields that may interest me. There's always an initial rush of "yes, I can do this and it'll be great," followed quickly by "But I wouldn't even know where to start." I do have some experience in doing all sorts of things but none of it in a publicly available format. I know it's not an insurmountable problem but it is disheartening at first.

The larger problem is one of fear and paralysis. I know lots of folks on the post-ac blogosphere suggest checking all the options quickly, deciding, and sticking with it. Here's the problem. That's what I did when it came to grad school and here I am now. I don't want a repeat of how that worked out. Though I don't regret it and, all things considered, it could've been worse, I was lucky and don't want to rely on luck quite so much this time. It does make me a little gun shy this time around.

You need courage to change careers. You need it to cold call and email folks for informational interviews. You need it to start at the bottom and work your way back up. You need courage to decide to change careers. So, I know I have it. I'm just not feeling it right now. Not curled up in a corner, rocking and babbling to myself just yet but it's been a rough week.

Trolling the Job Ads

I started cruising the want ads up on LinkedIn. I wanted to see what jobs were out there and what qualifications they were looking for. Originally, I wanted to see what they were looking for and what words were used to help with a basic resume. The result was the I realized I didn't have a lot of desirable qualifications for some of the fields I was interested in.

Again, not an insurmountable problem. I have time yet. I'm good where I'm at until next summer. I could get some of these qualifications in that time. It's just one of those moments when you realize all the things you should've been doing while in grad school.

For the record, this exercise does validate all that advice other post-acs have offered about choosing a path and sticking with it. Though there is a lot of overlap, each field uses some specialized vocabulary and emphasizes different things. By choosing at least a general direction will help getting those basic resumes up and running.

Meeting with the Advisor

Had a impromptu meeting with the advisor this week. I told him I had decided to leave academia. He does try to be supportive but there were several lines reminiscent of Postacademic in NYC's post about leaving academia or not having children. Advisor's primary one was "…but you'd be such a good professor." Thanks to Postacademic's post, I nearly burst out laughing mid-meeting.

He also had another argument he kept trying to raise. I'm planning to move to the same city as my significant other. He's been my port in this storm - a Safe Haven - particularly since he has changed careers many times and has multiple advanced degrees. Advisor kept pointing out how many relationships fail and that I shouldn't hitch my wagons to one horse. Here's the problem with this assumption: SH has a more mobile occupation than any I might pick and would follow me to where I got a job. SH is hitching his wagon to mine, not the other way around. So this also made me laugh.

The downside to this otherwise amusing conversation was that Advisor kept trying to convince me to stick it out in academia, or try again next year. Check any post-acs blog on adjuncts to see the danger here (try Recent Ph.D.'s or JC's). I did feel a bit guilty about not giving the job market a serious go. And he did try to convince me that there were better departments than the one I'm in. I believe him on this one. It just doesn't matter. The thought of being an academic makes me depressed. I think it has to do with the lack of freedom. I'll rant about that later.

Happy Hour with Other Grad Students

The final depressing round this week was going to happy hour with Advisor and some of the other grad students. Currently, my advisor could possibly graduate five people this academic year. So, there are a lot of people talking about jobs right now. The deadlines for several postings are coming up. The really odd part is that several of the students are putting a lot of time and aggravation into these applications while saying, with total confidence, that they won't get any of the jobs. So I ask why are they applying then and always get a variation of "Because that's what I'm supposed to do," in response. Try explaining the insanity and futility of this approach to an academic. It's like trying to convince a creationist of evolution during a commercial break...using only twitter posts.

I've told a few of the grad students that I'm leaving academia. The responses have been varied from "I've been thinking that too!" to "Why?!" Not a bad range, all things considered. However, I've only told one grad student about some of the fields I'm looking into. The result was less than encouraging. The implication has been that to do anything other than some form of academia is a waste of my time, talent, and life.

A waste of MY time, talent, and life.

This is where my annoyance and depression gets angry. For starters, it's MY time, MY talent, and MY life. Mine. If I want to squander it flipping burgers at McDonald's on the nightshift, that's my f*$&% prerogative. Second, none of these folks knows anything about my life, hopes, or plans. They assume my dream life is their dream life. I assure you, this is not the case. So, if you don't know what I want, how can you assume my choice to leave academia is a waste of anything? This leads to my third and perhaps greatest issue.

There is an implication, an implicit little demon, in most questions directed toward post-academics. It is particularly aggravating when coming from academics. Some people have the gaul to say it explicitly. Again, I advocate smacking such people with a fish, preferably a well-spoiled one.

The implication is that by leaving academia, by pursuing some less noble occupation than the professoriate, you are depriving your field of your talents and discoveries. By not staying, teaching, researching, the field will never be able to benefit from your insights and this will, somehow, stunt the achievements of humankind. To this I say: BULLSH^%! The field bumbled along before I came along and it will continue to bumble its way to stagnation without requiring any assistance from me.

This implication should be grouped with all those objections that suggest you are devaluing your degree/department/university and everyone in it by leaving academia. This class of objections also includes those people who need you to stay in academia to validate their choice to do so. All these objections play on the group mentality and altruism by trying to shame or guilt you into staying in academia. Again: BULLSH^%!

You can contribute far more to humanity by leaving academia than by toiling for years in the bowels of the Ivory Tower, writing arcane manuscripts no one is ever going to read. By demonstrating a use for your degree outside academia, you actually increase it's value. If you have decent marketers in your department, your post-academic success may even increase your old department's/university's prestige and value. You really want to contribute to society and all those prof's who helped you out along the way? Then get a life and be happy. You don't give a damn about those folks any more and they didn't help you all? Fine. Get a life, be happy, and don't tell them about it. There is no greater revenge than success - except possibly convincing others to join you!

In summary, this week has not been my best. I still have no idea where I'm going. I am, however, sick of people telling me I'd be better off just staying put and being miserable. And this is only the beginning. I'm going to go find a rather odiferous fish now. I anticipate some serious fish slapping down the road.

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