So You’re Leaving Academia

In the academic world, ’tis the season for announcements: new jobs, postdocs, fellowships, and promotions. This means it’s also the time of year when many scholars are beginning their departure from that same world. Some may have been planning that departure for months, or even years, while for others it’s more like Wile E. Coyote’s realization that he’s run out of cliff.

First things first: if you’re leaving, and you feel sad or angry or spiteful or jealous or ashamed or tired or all of these emotions at the same time, you have every right to feel those feelings for as long as you want. You may have already felt all of these things and now you’re just done. You may feel them months from now, or years from now. Or you may never feel them. You may just feel relief, excitement, and joy. All of these responses are just fine.

Since I’ve spent the last year writing about leaving academia, I’ve gathered it all here in one place, along with all of the responses I’ve seen. Anyone leaving academia, or thinking about it, may find something useful in this collection. I ended up expressing a lot of grief (and other emotions) in public, and I heard from a lot of people that it was helpful to read and hear someone else express the feelings they had been struggling to process or even those they’d been bottling up for years.

Lots of this writing is about the practical issues of leaving academia and some of the emotions that surface in that process, so you may find some of it useful as you move through the process.

You may also want to share some of these pieces with friends, family, mentors, and colleagues, now or some time in the future.

My writing on this topic began with the piece I wrote in February 2018, which emphasizes some of the emotional aspects of the decision; there was also a follow-up blog post that addressed the questions and responses I’d received. I talked about it more extensively with the Chronicle and a couple of podcasts.

In addition to having conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and quite a few comment sections, quite a few people responded to my initial piece in more structured forms: articles, blog posts, videos, and podcasts. Some contested my argument, some considered it from the perspective of those in other disciplines, and some talked about it as it related to other pieces of “quit-lit.” Many were from the perspective of other early-career scholars, often precarious, though there were some tenure-track and tenured voices in there as well. Most of these pieces agreed with some of what I said, but not all, and there was a great diversity of views on what it all meant – or if it even meant anything at all.

I have also written a series of pieces for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Advice section. Whether the title suggests the piece is for those leaving academia or those staying, you can be sure that each piece addresses both audiences to some extent.

And then, if you’re in that stage where you’re not sure if you should stay or go, I don’t really have any good advice on it, but I wrote a bit about why lots of the simple, straightforward advice you might receive won’t necessarily help you make your decision.

One response to “So You’re Leaving Academia”

  1. Greg Soden Avatar

    I am working on editing a podcast episode right now with a friend who is about to begin a PhD. I left my program after two years and wondered (genuinely) why he wanted to start one and leave his good job. This article and links in this article will be cited thoroughly in the introduction to my episode. Thanks for your voice and work.

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