First, I’d like to second Recent PhD’s advice that potential academic leavers choose a specific point at which you are going to quit – or at least a point at which you will begin sending out resumes with the understanding that you will leave academia outright as soon as you are offered an outside job – even if it’s the middle of a semester. If you don’t do this, it will be far too easy to just continue postponing the decision over and over again until you’re just lingering in grad school or as an adjunct, afraid to actually cut the cord. And while I don’t think it’s ever too late to leave academia, you certainly don’t want to keep postponing the decision endlessly. So as I’ve hinted at before, I think recent PhD’s advice to sit down and make a decision about a concrete point at which you will officially be done with academia is critical for anyone considering quitting.
This advice works for grad students and full faculty as well as adjuncts, by the way. Come up with your own end point, not the ones academia assigns to us. If you’re utterly miserable and sure you want to do something else, there’s no sense in hanging around until you get tenure or until you finish the dissertation. If you’re leaving, the academic milestones shouldn’t matter for you anymore. Make a plan for leaving based on your own personal goals and preferences, and stick to it.
Recent PhD rightly emphasizes that people transitioning outside of academia need to market themselves as career changers, not as students looking for a first job after graduation. This is tremendously important. I’d like to double down on this point in particular:
“…you spent 10 years as an educator (a teacher, NOT a student – yes, you were in graduate school, but that was a matter of professional development.) … [you are] looking for new ways to use the talents you’ve aquired through your experience in the education industry.”
This is such a critical point, which I think a lot of potential academic leavers (especially those coming straight out of grad school) miss entirely. They think “what kind of job can I possibly get? I’ve been a student for X years. I’ve got no experience and any employer is going to laugh me out of the park for being a ‘student’ for this long.”
Screw that. Even if academia tries at every turn to emphasize how you’re “just” a student? You know better. After you finish coursework, you aren’t a student in any way that a nonacademic person would view it. You are working in education for a salary … even if that salary is just a graduate student stipend or adjunct per-class salary.
Do you feel weird about this? Don’t. It’s only within the system of academia that you’re still considered a “student in training.” To the outside world, designing and teaching a semester-long college course on your own is clearly work experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it with a Ph.D. or a permanent contract or not. You were *working* as a teacher.
Similarly, in what world is that research project you designed and completed independently, won grant funding for, and got published in a professional journal a “school project” … while the same project completed by a faculty member is “work?” Bullcrap. Designing and carrying out a research project to publication is doing *work* in research, regardless of how many letters follow the author’s name.
It doesn’t matter how academia views you – the hierarchies that exist in academia are invisible to most of the outside world. To the outside world, you’ve been working as a college instructor and as a researcher. You’ve been earning a salary (no matter how small) while providing important services to the university and gaining professional development. This is work experience. Don’t bury it under “educational background” on your resume, and don’t hesitate in presenting yourself as a “career changer” in cover letters. That’s what you are.
Don’t get caught up in how academia views you. The outside world will view you differently.
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