Going public with my decision to leave academia

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.

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11 thoughts on “Going public with my decision to leave academia

  1. It’s interesting to read your post (as well as the above comments) as I have also just gone public about my decision to leave academia…in the middle of my program. Reading the process that you go through to get out will be really intriguing. I’m actually thinking of assembling a post about people who have left academia behind. There are several blogs out there that discuss the toxic nature of academia/grad school but none of them go into sufficient (at least from my perspective) detail about life afterwards. I am especially interested in exploring depression, anxiety, and other emotional/mental states because there seems to be an overwhelming number of people on the web who admit to struggling through this silently. Anyways, please check out my most recent posts and I look forward to following the rest of your PhD journey.
    Good luck,
    Dominique

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by. It sounds like you and I have a lot in common, and I’m glad you had the strength to make the decision that was best for you! Back when I was first starting to doubt that academia was the right path, I came across several post-ac / alt-ac blogs that dealt with the aftermath of leaving, but I think they’ve mostly petered out over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, we do. What made you stay in academia after you started to realize that it wasn’t going to work out for you? I will say that although this year was incredibly rough (not necessarily the work but the culture that came with it and personal issues), I learned so much about myself and what I want out of life. I would enter a masters program again if my employer is paying for it because it’s for professional purposes but coming from the humanities without tangible work experience would hurt rather than help me. Fortunately, you might not experience those same things coming from STEM. It’s incredibly brave to leave after all the hard work you’ve put in. I think it’s a great lesson to teach your son: know when to cut your losses and move on, especially if your mental health is compromised. It’s a lesson so many of us have to learn the hard way.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, I think it’s stubborn pride more than anything that has kept me in the program. The feeling that I have to prove I can finish. And being too depressed to figure out what it was I really wanted to do. I also had a really idiotic advisor my first two years, and I felt I needed to give academia a shot with someone more competent (and I didn’t want that first advisor to be the reason I left).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: A note on posting frequency | crazy grad mama

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