Post Academic


Taking a time out *after* grad school: The personal benefits

Yesterday, I wrote about the novel–and completely impracticable–idea of taking time off after earning your Ph.D. as a way to take stock of where you stand in academia.  Of course, the kind of ambivalence I described regarding the professional side of a career in higher education might only be the result of being on the ego-bruising job market, and not some kind of existential state seeking out these insights.  Since it’s all-too-easy for soon-to-be Ph.D.s and recent doctorates to get on the academic job cycle hamster wheel, but hard to get off, whether with a tenure-track job or by leaving the profession behind, maybe a cooling-off period wouldn’t be the worst thing to think things through.

Here are a few “life” life things I probably woulda and shoulda appreciated more, if only I took the time and psychic energy to jump off that hamster wheel, even temporarily…

1. Living conditions: Being on the academic job market really warped my sense of priorities, both in the present and for the future.  The odds of the academic job market are geared to failure–in MLA fields, not only are the odds you’ll land a job about 1 in, say, 200 these days, but there’s maybe a 10% chance you’ll even make the first cut of a convention interview–so there’s a baseline feeling of anxiety and miserableness fighting over the few crumbs being offered.  It was easy for me to obsess over the process–or, rather, the Academic Jobs Wiki–as if more attention to it would yield a better result.  As a result, I kinda forgot why it is that I was seeking a job in the first place, and I’m not just talking about whether I liked teaching or research.  For me, the job is a means to an ends of enjoying my life, which, actually, was already pretty great and fun, so long as I didn’t get caught up in the vicious circle of job market-induced self doubt.

Why my life was/is so great, after the fold…

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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…

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