Post Academic

Taking a time out *after* grad school: The professional benefits? (with poll!)

"Neon Sign: Time Out" by Justinc (Creative Commons license)

Caroline’s post about taking time off between undergrad and grad school got me to thinking about the far-fetched and not-very-practical idea of taking time out from academia *after* completing your Ph.D.  I know, the last thing a new Ph.D. wants to do is delay making sure that tenure-track position wasn’t all a mirage and finally earning grown-up money at least 5-10 years after most of your college friends did.  Plus, there are matters like knowing where you are going to live for a while and maybe moving on with a “life” life.  And a lot of folks finish their Ph.D.s after lining up a job, not vice versa, so they’re already pursuing the next stage of their professional lives.

But let’s say that there was some kind of magic or funding source that enabled you the time and freedom to consider what they wanted to do after your Ph.D. and just to recharge your batteries, like if you had a year of dissertation fellowship at the very end, but you were already finished.  It might help someone like myself and the pseudonymous “Eliza Woolf”, who addresses her own career crossroads in a new Inside Higher Ed column, “On the Fence”:

Why? What’s so great about academe?

I can think of quite a few things, but my inability to abandon ship boils down to these five factors:

1) Academe is the devil I know, and being a professor is what I’ve trained to do.

2) The promise of autonomy and a flexible schedule is awfully tempting.

3) Research and teaching feel like a career, not a job (service not so much).

4) How else will I pay off my hefty student loan debt?

5) I am terrified of starting over when a tenure-track job could be around the corner.

These are as good as any reasons to stay in academia, I guess, but having some space to deal with these uncertainties and mental blocks might help folks like us unthink some of the career assumptions above and rethink our expectations of life-as-an-academic.  Those of you who are sure that being a prof is all you ever wanted can stop reading now, although maybe that destiny is a prophecy fulfilled after the fact, since I probably wouldn’t have thought about this if I had a tenure-track position.  For a lot of us, though, it’s probably not an awful idea to have some distance from academia, especially since many of our people (like “Eliza Woolf”–and like myself!) have never or barely left a college campus after age 18.  It might not be a bad idea to look at what else is out there between our late teens and our early-to-mid 30s, huh?

Below the fold are some considerations on how I could/would/should use my (ahem, not-so) hypothetical year off…