Today I officially announced my plans to leave academia after the PhD.
By “officially announced,” I mean “told my thesis committee as a group and not in a wishy-washy I’m thinking of leaving academia way but a definitive I’m never applying for postdocs way.”
“Academia is not a healthy place for me to be,” I told them. “And I’ve learned that I’d much rather mess about with code than come up with big-picture science questions.”
So I’m kind of freaking out a bit about that now. Not as much as I was freaking out about it last year, when I was afraid to tell anyone that I was even thinking about exiting academia. But a little. Because it feels kind of permanent now, you know?
Still, I’ve made my decision, and academia is not for me.
Last year, I was worried that I might fall back in love with my field of study if I somehow figured out how to overcome the depression and anxiety that had become closely linked with it. This year, I know I won’t. Maybe someday, from a distance, I will learn to be excited again about cool related science in the news. Here, though, in the daily grind of writing and stressing and making plots—no, I won’t love it. This year I was fortunate enough to produce some really interesting results, and it helped, but it didn’t help enough.
I’ve come to properly realize that although anxiety and depression are parts of me that will follow me everywhere, they are made enormously worse by the environment of academia. Isolation, lack of help, intense career pressure, an almost total lack of positive feedback: those things all feed the brain monsters and send me into places I cannot control. I don’t expect that another career path will be all sunshine and roses, but it will be different and it will be outside the cult-like insularity of the ivory tower.
Of course, I still have to finish my PhD, which is freaking me out A LOT on a daily basis. My thesis committee was divided between those who thought I was making good progress and those who didn’t believe I could do it in a year. Not exactly the most encouraging of situations. Still, I think if I can force myself to bang out the text of another paper by the end of the month, I might be able to convince myself that I can do it. So that’s the current goal. Expect to hear lots of complaints about writing.