Leaving Academia


Whatever you do, do not make significant changes in your professional life at the same time that you are getting married. Because people around you, including people who know you well, people who are self proclaimed feminists with a bookshelf full of books on feminism will assume that you have decided to never work again, and instead plan to remain barefoot and pregnant for all eternity. Never mind that you have another job lined up, never mind that to date you have always given your career the highest priority. If you are making changes, and these changes happen to coincide with your getting married, you might as well be wearing a sign that says ‘I am officially retiring my brain and intend to be a bimbo for the rest of my life.’

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One of the biggest stumbling blocks I faced every time I thought about leaving academia is that I began with the question ‘Am I smart enough to do this?’ Somehow it seemed easier to be able to answer that question – that if I could just say ‘No, no, I’m not smart enough for this wonderful institution’, I would be able to leave without a backward glance. I did this for the longest time – and sometimes the answer would be yes and other times no. I never got to the point where I had a definite answer either way. Now I see that not only is it the wrong question, it’s a trick question.

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I get it. I didn’t until now. I thought it was just some stupid thing for young kids and not for mature, serious folks like me. I finally gave in and created a profile and have made contacts with lots of people I had lost touch with. I’m really enjoying it. I do wonder what it says about my current situation that the majority of my network is based on contacts I had while I was still living in India and on people I knew during undergrad. Noticeably absent are any people from my grad school years or my years as an Assistant Professor.

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These are my last few weeks as an academic. I’m honestly quite surprised by my lack of emotion. I would have thought that this period in my life would have been really hard. That I would be sad, unsure, worrying that I had made a huge mistake, wanting to turn the clock back, feeling teary eyed about the fact that I may never be in the classroom ever again, feeling sad about leaving research unfinished. Nope. None of that. That’s good, right? So, why am I distrustful and nervous about this lack of emotion? Because I’m not aware of any overt feelings of happiness either. I seem to be approaching this transition in a very matter-of-fact manner. I’m changing jobs, yes it’s a little sad, but it’s also quite exciting, new life, new chapter – I’m sure there will be things I don’t like, but I’ll deal with them when they arise. Sounds rational, sounds mature – yes, except… I tend not to be either when faced with change.
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I’m still here, but caught up in a million things. This is a strange time for me. Lots of endings, lots of transitions and I just feel completely disconnected. I have handed in my resignation, seen the last of my students through their dissertation defense, said goodbye to a close friend who is retiring and moving away and has been my main source of mentoring and sanity during these last few years. I feel calm but also completely adrift.
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is a strange thing. To say I’ve been stressed these last few months would have been an understatement. With me stress manifests as anger. Truthfully, for me, almost all emotions manifest as anger first – I’m anxious, so I’m going to scream with anger; I’m sad, so I’ll just sit in the corner and seethe for a little while; and even strangely, when I’m happy, I get fidgety and pissy until I realize that this strange emotion, it’s a good thing, I can just relax and enjoy it. I’ve learnt to wait a while before I explode and let the real emotion emerge – which only means I keep my mouth shut, it doesn’t mean that I don’t radiate waves of hostility or that I don’t look at you with eyes that would clearly love to bore a hole through your skull.

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No wait – make that the ‘Rinky Dinky’ time. I am going through the necessary steps to resign from my current position and have started letting people know that this is my last semester here at the current university. And good lord, it is not easy. A little background, current department is well known in the Field, maybe on its way down, but still holds a considerable amount of cache in the Field. I have been at very good schools throughout my academic career – never the top ranked school, but definitely well known and often in the running to be among the top ranked schools. My next position is in a small private online college. This shift has led to a variety of responses that I am sure I will find downright hilarious one day, but right now since I am still in the process of deprogramming from the Cult of Academe, are causing some discomfort. Let me list them for your reading pleasure:
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