Exiting Academia
January 2, 2014 6:31 PM   Subscribe

I just finished up my third semester of a PhD program in information studies. There are parts I like, but as I get deeper into it I'm beginning to realize that those aren't in the majority to the parts I dislike. I have a masters in Library and Information Science and have been keeping an eye on job openings and it seems like there are a number that I would be a great fit for. I'm remembering how much I liked the job when I was in it, and I'd like to exit academia before sinking too much time into it. However, my GAship is providing a steady salary and health benefits. How do I do this in a way that works out well for both me and my adviser?

Additional details:
  • I believe that I'm funded on a contract for the rest of this year, but I don't know how realistic it would be for my adviser to keep me around if I'm not going to finish. I've been with the project for a while, and it seems like there are reasons to keep me around for consistency, but I'm not 100% sure.
  • My adviser expressed disappointment in my performance this past semester. I got everything done, but definitely didn't excel at anything. I agree with his disappointment, and I think this is an expression of my overall dissatisfaction with the academic life.
  • The reason that I dislike academia is mainly that I see how busy and hectic the tenure track is, and unfortunately this is the BEST case scenario. Worst case is that I graduate and go into adjunct hell in perpetuity, or get an extremely low paying post doc while having a steadily aging car that I can't afford major work on, student loan repayment, and being at the whim of the job market when all of my friends and family are here. I hate the financial insecurity, and was able to tough it out for my master's and thus far in my PhD, but the thought of 2 more years in dissertation work and then possibly 2-3 more years in job searching makes me incredibly depressed.
  • Also, due to the malaise mentioned in point 2, didn't do very well in a quantitative methods class and didn't get a satisfactory grade to pass it (not failing, but not passing for a graduate level class). I'm really disappointed in myself, and this will probably only compound my adviser's disappointment in me.
  • My masters is in the same department as my PhD, so I don't think I could job search and list professors as references without being completely forward about my intentions to leave. Also, I'd be sort of worried about jobs contacting people they know in the masters programs about me and that getting back to the PhD program somehow.
We have a pretty major meeting tomorrow morning to talk about this, and I'm unsure if I should pretend to be interested in the program so that I don't risk losing my current job, or if I should be honest... I know that honesty is the best policy, but a friend who was hooded recently said that he thought it was a bad idea, and that finishing this semester is the best possible course of action.

I'm keeping this anonymous mainly because I haven't spoken to my adviser yet, but can answer specific questions via memail.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If there's funding, there's funding. People retake classes all of the time, don't pretend this isn't an option. See a therapist. Visit the career center.

That said, I just moved to stage two of exiting academia. Memail me if you want to chat.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:42 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

You can be honest and say that you want to finish out this semester and leave in good terms. I think it will be easier to get a good reference letter from your advisor if you are upfront about your intention to leave instead of dragging it out or just disappearing altogether, especially since your advisor has expressed disappointment with your performance already. It may even be the case that it's your advisor who brings up your leaving the program during your meeting tomorrow.
posted by needled at 7:14 PM on January 2

Assuming you can steer your GTA ship towards something with a less academic/teaching focus, I would suggest finishing and begin looking at positions that use your degrees but aren't in academics.

Depending on any extra skills you can develop, especially in database management and/or coding, a phd in IS with an MLS backing it can be quite an asset.

You could talk with your advisor and ask if they know of any paths that don't involve teaching, not because you don't dig it, but because it's an incredibly tight job market and focusing in on only one type of job could be limiting.
posted by teleri025 at 7:36 PM on January 2

So you're a year and a half into a PhD and don't think academia is for you- I'd consider leaving at the end of the semester. It might be another story if you were close to finishing but you likely would have 3 -4 more years ahead of you. Suggest that you are honest and open with your adviser as needled describes above- people leave PhD programs all of the time. I do think that this means you will lose your GAship (assuming that these positions are basically designed to provide financial support for PhD students) but it sounds like there are other job opportunities available to you.
Best of luck!
posted by emd3737 at 8:43 PM on January 2

I think your reasons to leave sound sensible and well thought through. Your advisor will probably agree, especially if you stress the uncertainty of the future academic job market. Most advisors nowadays have some ethical qualms about supporting their students into a market that is so uncertain, and (at adjunct level) potentially abusive, so they will probably be relieved if a non-star student feels they have other options.

I recommend you talk to your advisor about it completely openly. They may want you to carry on until the end of the semester if (a) you are mentoring other students, (b) have teaching responsibilities, or (c) have contributions to joint publications that you could finish up in that timeframe.
posted by lollusc at 8:45 PM on January 2

I am a professor but (as far as I know) not your professor. A big part of being faculty is planning for the future -- submitting grant proposals, planning research projects, recruiting new students, etc. If you're committed to leaving, the sooner your advisor knows, the sooner he can adjust his plans accordingly. I've had students leave projects unexpectedly, and it caused a lot more trouble and scrambling than if the student's exit had been planned in advance.

However, if you're still unsure whether to continue with your program, you might want to keep trying for another semester or two. Grad school can be a roller coaster, and going through a rough patch midway through seems to be the norm. If you want to keep at it for another few semesters, I'd still encourage you to talk to your advisor about it -- he may be able to help you get on a different research track, or help you come up with a work plan that will lead to greater success. Not all of my students want to follow an academic career path, but we work together to balance the expectations of a PhD with their future goals.
posted by shaun at 8:45 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

A lot of this depends on discipline, and in lab-based disciplines, project/grant stuff. Since I don't know much about information sciences, I can't directly help you on that one. So, with that caveat:

Do what's best for you. In lots of programs, dropping out is fairly normal. In lots of research arrangements, dropping out isn't something that actually affects professors much one way or another. If you really don't want to stay in this, I'd say apply for other jobs, and then leave once you have one.

Your relationship with your adviser will determine lots of the details. But, in general, I'd suggest a meeting where you ask for advice. As in "I've had a rough semester or two, and I'd like you to help me think about whether I should stay on this track." The advice-asking bit is a good trick to get a sense about how they really feel. Best case scenario, you get really good advice, plus a sincere offer of assistance. Worse case scenario, you get information about a toxic personality that helps you make the rest of the decisions.
posted by paultopia at 7:00 PM on January 5

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