Monday, November 14, 2011

Anger, Angst, Apathy, Arrogance, and Other Happy Thoughts

Went to happy hour last week with fellow grad students. This is something of a weekly ritual for us. Everyone (nearly everyone anyway) strokes my advisor's ego and we can all complain together. Something like this seems to be universal in nearly all departments or should be. There's nothing like bonding over misery. Anyway, that's not the subject of my post.

At one point during this happy hour I was deep conversation with two other students graduating, or planning to, this year. They were both staying in academia and on the job market. One works in anatomy and thinks she has a shot at something this year. The other is fairly certain he doesn't stand a chance but he keeps sending out applications anyway. They've both set their sights low and are hoping for something that may come close to paying their bills. And they think I'm the crazy one for leaving this insanity.

Incidentally, both of these people deride the various fields I'm considering for my career change. I'm fairly certain anything other than the faculty-approved post-academic options would cause such a reaction. This angered me, at first. I went home from happy hour wondering if I was making the right decision. So, now I was angry and angst-ridden. What a way to spend a Friday. Thankfully, I also have a large supply of local wine to pass the time.

My advisor, if you're curious, has gone from quasi-supportive to apathetic to actively preventing other grad students from speaking to me. It's the sort of petty power manipulations I've come to fondly associate with my snake-pit of a department.

So why the anger and angst? I do try to be supportive of my fellow grad students' inexplicable hopes for academic jobs and only offer advice on some things they should negotiate for when they finally (maybe) get job offers. I strongly urge them not to become adjuncts. What angered me was the apathy and arrogance I get towards my own decision. I'm starting to get the response many post-acs get: apathy towards anything other than academic jobs and arrogance as they assume I simply couldn't cut it in academia. Considering that I am unwilling to stall my life for another 2-5 years working for sub-poverty wages for the outside chance at a TT job...maybe I couldn't cut it in academia. I've made peace with that. This led to my happy thoughts.

The next day I realized that my angst had passed with my anger. I wasn't annoyed about leaving academia and what people thought of that. I was annoyed that they didn't support me, as I expected friends to do. That's some sort of progress, I think. I care less of others' attitudes about my choice and more with their actions as "friends." Hopefully the next step is full on f!&% it mode. I'll say it again: this is MY life and MY choice. If I want to make a living wage, have hobbies, free time, friends, and a life with the one I love, that's my decision. You can keep toiling in the bowels of the Ivory Tower, if you like. I support your choice. Heck, I'll even buy you a beer and offer you a couch if you need to crash in whatever city I end up in.

Speaking of progress, I've started emailing folks for informational interviews. That definitely qualifies as progress. The best part? Folks are responding. They answer my questions and don't even waste time asking why I'm leaving academia. It's just a lot of "here's what I do" and "here's what we look for in new employees" and "sure I'll pass on your request to other people." Go non-academic network!

I'll keep y'all up to date with the transition - probably sans alliteration and alphabetizing but one never knows.


JC said...

I've found the anger from other grad students/academics and the belittling of my choices to be really confusing as well. I go out of my way to not cut down academia and to frame my choices as "academia wasn't going to give me what I want with my life, so I'm leaving, but I still think it's a great career ... oh, and here were some experiences I had while interviewing/applying for academic jobs that you might find helpful."

And then they respond by saying that they just can't imagine leaving and am I really REALLY sure I don't want to take one more stab at the market? Am I really going to be happy in [industry they've never worked in but which they conclude is awful because it's not academia]?? And OH MY GOSH am I really not planning to finish my Ph.D??? They can't imagine doing such a thing!! (Coded message: I'm an idiot and they're going to talk about me as soon as I leave).

I just ... I don't get it. I don't cut down their choice to stay, and I can't think of a single other industry where someone who decided to change careers would be belittled and ridiculed to their face. It's just unreal.

I think I've mostly moved into f&$k it mode by now. I still have a few academic friends who've been very supportive. There are a lot of other people who I just don't make time for anymore. I don't really feel like I'm missing out by not having people who are so negative in my life anymore. So hopefully you'll get to that point as well.

Congrats on the networking success!! I'll be heading down that path in a couple of months myself ... time to figure out what comes next, I guess. :)

anthea said...

I think that those that are angry with you (and me for that fact) are angry with themselves for not having the ability to take the risk of saying ...ok, perhaps I'm not going to find that tenure track job that I always thought that I'd find. It's actually hard work applying, applying and applying and getting anywhere. It’s demoralising. I’ve had enough of trying to pretzel myself into job descriptions that in all honesty I couldn’t ever do without a huge amount of effort. I think that those colleagues who belittled you, deride your decisions don't want you to stop applying since you're saying 'hey, wake up...perhaps you should think of something else'. But its also a challenge to work out what one can do with the skills that one had gained from grad school. It's hard to say 'no'...and its hard to not go with the flow. You’re swimming against the tide...but it can be done. I’ve met people who’ve left it with a PhD, but still do research (some don’t mind you) but they earn a greater salary than they would have ever earned had they stayed in academia. I've come to the conclusion that they're jealous since they also can't think of what else might be possible. I'd agree with JC that you'll find a group of people who are academics who can be supportive...the rest, well, leave them behind. It's not easy but it’s hard to live in an environment where belittling and being ridiculed is the norm.