Should I go back into academia?
August 22, 2012 6:42 PM Subscribe
I'm in desperate need of direction in my career and don't know how to make a decision.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I finished my PhD in sociology when I was 27. I'd literally gone from kindergarten to graduate school without a break. As a young 20 something I had basically no aspirations or dreams. I did a PhD because I really liked research and I got offered a scholarship. I've had a great deal of difficulty expecting anything from myself or my life. Aside from a couple of publications, glowing examiners reports and completing on time I'd describe myself as an undistinguished PhD student.
At the end of my PhD I followed my partner to a new city, where I somehow managed to get a toehold in the advertising world. After less than a year I'm now a junior to mid level with a reasonable amount of responsibility. I've sold work and have a couple of projects with my name on them in production. I'd say I'm doing okay in my new industry. I'm not a glowing star, but I think I'm getting a reputation as someone who can crack a brief fairly quickly without much fuss.
I left academia because I was worried I 'defaulted' into it without exploring my options, and I was really scared I wouldn't be good for anything else.
I don't think I want to work in advertising any more. I think I want to be an academic.
There's a lot that I enjoy about advertising, but I don't think I've got what it takes to be truly great at it. Out of anything, I just don't think that brands are... that important? I take a great deal of pleasure out of working on a brief, and I love the opportunities I've had to develop design and production skills, but I don't have the unshakeable faith in brands that my colleagues do. Plus I'm very concerned that it's not a career I could be doing when I'm 50.
I know there's a lot of doom and gloom about academia, but a lot of my friends from my school have landed on their feet with decent contracts. I feel, not so much jealous, but intensely sad when I talk to them about their work. A couple of my friends, in particular, are doing the kinds of fieldwork driven, industry based work I'd love to do. It makes me feel like I lacked ambition and guts for fleeing from research.
Is it completely batshit insane to drop out of advertising to be a researcher again?
I'm not totally sure I'd want to work for a university, but nor do I think I'd want to do advertising strategy or planning (see above skepticism about brands). That said, I am really intrigued by the work of scholars like Celia Lury and, to a lesser extent, Danah Boyd, who work on brands and digital culture but not in brands and digital culture. I just really, really miss doing fieldwork and research, writing things longer than a tagline, and feeling like I'm contributing something of real social value.
That said... I also need to earn a living. And I'm really worried that if I tried to be a researcher again I'd end up destitute and unemployed.
I have a number of problems with laziness, poor work ethic and, above all, attention span. The only reason I finished my PhD on time is that I made a decision to quit teaching and RA work and do nothing but dissertation for the final year. I can - in all seriousness - only do focused work for 10 minutes at a time, 15 tops. This makes it really difficult for me to do the kinds of sustained, career-building things you need to do in research. I haven't been assessed or diagnosed for ADD, but I have limited access to mental health care at the moment for a variety of reasons, so I'm afraid I'm stuck with my inability to focus.
I'm also really aware of how precarious I am, employment wise. Doing my PhD means I'm a good four years behind my peers who got real jobs out of college. I'm building my savings back up after my move, but I can't afford to work for free, and I'm incredibly nervous about hopping from adjunct position to adjunct position.
I'm aware that both fields I've worked in (am working in?) are incredibly competitive, and I'm also aware that a person with my laziness and attention problems has no place in either of them. But I need to make a living somehow, and I'm feeling increasingly sad and aimless, unable to give up on the idea that I'd be more useful in another field, unable to make the leap to leave advertising, unable to totally commit to the industry I'm in.
So help me out, hive mind. What do you think I should do?