Sunday, November 11, 2012

On Leaving Academia--or Getting Out While You Still Can

I've spent the last several months reading and rereading leaving academia blogs. In fact, I have been lurking in comment threads, escaping into the fantasy world of leaving, and mentally and emotionally checking out of my life.  This is my coming out post.  I think I am finally ready to leave.   But I didn't get here overnight.

First, there was this classic piece from Professor is in. It IS ok to quit, and graduate school is a psychological prison of our own making:

"It is ok to decide that’s not what you want.  It is ok to make another choice.  There is life outside of academia.  But academia is a kind of cult, and deviation from the normative values of the group is not permitted or accepted within its walls.  You will be judged harshly by others and, to the extent you’ve been properly socialized into the cult during graduate school, by your own inner voices.  Making the decision to leave involves confronting that judgment, working through it, and coming out the other side.  It is long and hard and involves confronting profound shame.  I went through this.  I know."

Of course, Leaving Academia (with its promise of "From Grad School to Happiness") served as my guiding light for months.  During dark days and nights, I would read and reread the posts and comments, emboldened by the idea that there is employment, a life, and a future out there. I admit to sitting in a huge lecture hall as a TA (in the back dark corner so students couldn't see my screen), reading blog posts about getting out.   JC has been like the graduate student mentor and friend who wants you to know that it will be ok.

JC also introduced me to mama nervosa, which spoke to a whole other dynamic of my wanting to leave: my desire to start a family and move on to having a life.  I struggled with whether graduate school would be a more forgiving place to get pregnant and have my first child, but the reality of graduate school as a parent on TOP of the experiences of these ladies in dealing with an unrealistic job market, low pay for adjuncts and TAs, getting through comps, and the bullshit suckiness of graduate school has been illuminating beyond words.

During fantasy escapades through blog land, I luckily stumbled across Plan B Nation's recommendations for advice books and quickly snapped up Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star.  This book speaks to me in a way that no book has in a long time:  her concept of the essential self and the social self has helped me strip away the bullshit I routinely fed my therapist and myself to get clarity on what it is I really want.  I hate teaching, hate grading papers, hate writing papers, hate sitting alone and isolated in front of a computer, and hate going to lectures, and academic conferences (where great titles hide horrific and unwatchable panels).  I realized that getting the PhD and walking away to a non academic job would essentially assure me of having to write papers, and sit alone in front of a computer, when I could quit now and do something else.  Why was I staying again?

In my moments of rage, I found Penelope Trunk's hilarious and brutal take down of graduate school, which lifted my spirits and helped me feel ok about walking away from a program even though it is paid.  As she points out, the lost opportunity costs, and lack of benefit to staying are just too much.

So where does this leave me?  I feel like after several false starts (I even interviewed for a job and almost left  last spring), the reality of my situation is apparent.  There is no longer any rational for staying beyond fear and ego, a fact that I admitted for the first time a week ago.

I'm terrified of getting a job and worried I won't like my options. I am also terrified I will not get a job and be stuck here writing my comps next semester.  Now that I have decided to leave, I resent all the more every paper I have to grade, while still meeting with my committee about exams I hope never to take. I don't want to tell my adviser in case I can't get a job, but need to get the word out I am looking.

But mostly, like an addict, my deep-seated fear is that I won't and can't change: that I will stay, and still be here even though I know it is the wrong thing for me.  Now that I have started down this path, I hope I am brave enough to continue.

photo credit: temporalata

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