Is it best to continue my career in academia, or take a different path?
December 13, 2013 5:00 PM   Subscribe

I am a 25 year old woman, and handing in my thesis tonight for a Master’s in English. I am at a crossroads in my life, and it’s making me very confused. My original plan was to go on to complete a Ph. D and become a college professor of English, while working as an adjunct instructor to gain teaching experience. But with the expense of living being what it is, as well as the student debt I’m in, I’m not sure if it’s worth it. Not only will a Doctoral program take me to greater debt, but working as an adjunct wont pay very well at all, and doesn’t come with benefits. I would need to take a handful of other part-time jobs to supplement the adjunct salary, just to pay the bills.

Also, graduate school brought me a lot of stress: although I feel like I gained a lot of knowledge and writing/communication skills, the research and work load stressed me out beyond words. I had persistent headaches, and gained a ton of weight from emotional eating.

My other option would be find an administrative job at a college or university: as an admissions counselor, academic advisor, writing center coordinator, etc. That would pay a stable salary and come with benefits, and I can still fulfill my desire to work in higher education and make a difference in the life of students. If I chose this path, I would still try to teach, but the adjunct work would just be a hobby on the side, one or two nights a week. This path would also leave time for me to take care of my health and eventually raise a family.

The administrative job as a career path sounds like a good plan to me, but I cannot shake off the feeling that if I don’t even try teaching or attempt at Ph. D, I’m going to feel like I sold out for a clichéd 9-5 job, and took the easy way out. In this economy, becoming a full time professor is a long shot even with a Ph.D, but I’m scared that if I don’t even try, I’m always going to wonder what could’ve been, and where such a path would’ve taken me.

So, I’m confused as to which path would be best for me, and am looking for sincere advice in terms of where to go from here. Do I follow my dream as it was since I was 20 and see where it takes me? Or do I alter my dream for more job security and less stressful lifestyle?
posted by summertimesadness1988 to Education (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulations on handing in your thesis! That is a real achievement, and my real advice is that you should give yourself 24 hours to be proud of yourself and bask in what you've accomplished before you start worrying about the future.

But a few quick notes:

Are you in the US? If you are, you should not enroll in any PhD program that you have to pay for, and that does not offer benefits. Those should be the minimum expectations for your program.

Academic administration is growing field and a lot of people are very happy there. But there is also a world outside of academia, and if you haven't spent much time there, might want to explore what else is on offer.

Now go have a glass of wine on me.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:13 PM on December 13, 2013 [11 favorites]

Go for the administrative job. Adjunct for life is no way to live.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:18 PM on December 13, 2013 [11 favorites]

Yes, I can totally relate to your dilemma. I also finished my MA, and then took a staff position at a university where I was able to teach adjunct a couple of nights a week (for a number of years). On semesters where I was ambitious, I taught two classes a semester. This allowed me to start a family and also provide benefits for them. Also, because universities are often amenable to academia, I was able to work on a PhD program at the same time. It required a PhD program and a work schedule that were flexible, but it worked.

Because I built up trust over the years with the department I was teaching with, I was able to transition all of this to a permanent teaching/administrative gig at the university that straddles both worlds (think higher level administration within a particular school), and I really like it. I'll be able to move to full time teaching in the future if I prefer it. This has worked so well, for that matter, that I feel very fortunate, as I don't know how else it would have worked.

The potential downsides, of course, are that you may not find a job or a PhD program that are flexible enough to work it all out with a full time administrative job. And if you do find both, it takes a toll on your family for awhile. I pretty much worked full time, went to class when scheduled, tucked the kids in at night, and worked as late into the evening as required until I was done with my stuff. It was (and has been) pretty tiring, and it is not for everyone. But, it's not impossible, and it resolved issues with family care that I was deeply concerned about.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:22 PM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Echoing the congrats on the MA! My MA year was the roughest, most stressful year of my life. Completing a MA is no small accomplishment. Do allow yourself to feel proud about what you've done so far.

Like pretentious illiterate said: do not enroll in any PhD program that you have to pay for. I am not sure how it is in other countries, but it is absolutely standard and mandatory to be offered a funding package at Canadian universities. Most are not a lot of money (say, between 15k and 20k a year after tuition - usually a combination of automatic fellowship and guaranteed TA positions), but enough to get by on.

As you say, the academic job market is utter shit. It has been for some time, and it shows little sign of improving in a significant way. Nothing can be taken for granted. I'm at the end of a PhD program in the humanities at a large Canadian university, and all of my peers are basically miserable with anxiety and/or very embittered at the situation we are all in. It's still possible to get a tenure track job and live the dream (although what a demanding dream! everyone I know who's on the tenure track is heavily overworked, but at least they're well-paid) - but it's not at all something you can count on happening. Increasingly, it feels kind of like moving to Hollywood and hoping to become a famous actor.

On the plus side, a PhD program is a 4 or 5 year contract with guaranteed (though low) "pay", medical benefits, etc. Not everything goes in the "loss" column if an academic job does not result.

Another caveat: don't necessarily assume that your MA will be sufficient to get the admin job you speak of. It may, but credential creep is affecting that side of the academic world as well. Lots of admin jobs are going to people with PhDs who can't find (or choose not to pursue) meaningful academic work. Certainly, the dream of adjuncting a couple of nights a week in addition to doing admin work is by no means a sure thing. Competition for those adjunct positions is already fierce and will probably get fiercer.

I have several friends who began a PhD, got to the candidacy (ABD) stage, and resigned from the program to take jobs either as admin or as college instructors (in Canada this is a different kind of work than University instruction). They are the people who seem happiest with how things turned out for them. You can certainly think about giving yourself the PhD experience to see how it goes, knowing that you can exit gracefully and honourably at any time.

Finally, there is no special prize for finishing a PhD before you turn 30. I took 2 years away from academia after I finished my MA, and it was an excellent decision. I've been told that admissions committees even look on that kind of thing favourably - it suggests you'll have more maturity and breadth of experience than someone who has done nothing but school since the age of 4. Don't feel like you have to rush this decision!
posted by erlking at 5:34 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

No one should go into a Ph.D. program in the humanities without a very clear idea of why they are doing it, what they're likely to get out if it, what price they're likely to pay both financially and emotionally, and why it's worth it. From your description, I don't get the sense that you have clear answers to these questions, and I'd therefore say that you are in the vast majority of people who should not go into Ph.D. programs in the humanities.

You don't really say why you would want to get a Ph.D. in English, except that it's been your dream since you were twenty (which is five years of your life, i.e. a small fraction in the grand analysis; you may and probably will have other dreams), and that if you quit that you feel you'd be a sellout and would wonder "what could have been". Doing something for a negative reason like "I'd be a sellout if I quit", rather than a positive reason like "this is what I love", is always a bad idea, and many times more so when you're talking about such a long-term commitment of time, money and emotional energy as grad school. As for wondering in retrospect about what might have been, that's going to be true for every single decision you ever make; if you go into the Ph.D. program and don't like it, you will certainly find yourself wondering what might have been if you'd "taken the easy way out". And this will even more certainly be the case if you end up not having a family (which it sounds like is something you want) because the academic career path turns out to be time-consuming.

On the other hand, it sounds like you have a clear idea of which course would be healthier for you physically and emotionally. As someone who's in their seventh year of a Ph.D. program, let me tell you that the workload and the research-related stress do not get any easier when you're writing a dissertation than when you're writing an MA thesis. (This is ironic understatement, as I'm sure an English MA will have realized.) Do you really want to sign up for several more years of those headaches and emotional eating?

Also consider this: if you want to teach college English, and if you want a position with job security and benefits rather than a lecturer or adjunct contract, you'll need tenure. For tenure, you'll need to publish. This means that for at least the first few years after your Ph.D. you'll still need to do research. It doesn't sound like you particularly enjoy research or academic writing, so you should be aware that the route to a good college teaching job will involve a lot of that, not just before you get your Ph.D. but afterwards too.

I've been in academia long enough that I have a pretty good idea of what makes a happy academic. It's this: the academics who are happy in their profession are those who are passionate, not just about their field or topic in the abstract, but about the stuff academics do in their daily lives. They're people who *like* writing articles, giving talks, going to conferences, keeping up with the literature in their field, etc. On the other hand, people who go into academia because they love Restoration poetry or Virginia Woolf, but don't actually like reading and writing papers about these things, end up depressed and chronically stressed out; what's more, this often destroys their love for their subject, naturally enough. "Each man kills the thing he loves" is a line I'm sure you're familiar with; I sometimes think it should be the official motto of the academic humanities.

If this sounds a bit extreme, it's because I wish someone had told me all this stuff when I was applying to grad school. What brought you to major in English in the first place? A love of English literature, right? Great, pursue that love: read lots of English literature. Build yourself a life that allows you the time and peace of mind to do that. Don't commit to a stressful path that may not get you anything you actually want just because of misguided ideas about professional status or not being a quitter. Take the easy way out.
posted by zeri at 5:54 PM on December 13, 2013 [25 favorites]

Being an adjunct is, as far as pay and benefits are concerned, not a good job. Adjuncts also have little job security, as they are often assigned lower-level classes in the department which are more subject to fluctuations in enrollments. From what i have seen, earning something like a steady income from adjunct teaching alone is quite difficult to achieve. It will be stressful and messy and you may need to teach at two or three schools to find enough work to meet your income needs. If you're lucky, you may manage to get a full time position after a few years of hard work and supplicating to the administration, but it won't be easy. In fact, it will be very, very hard. IMHO, if a stable income is a priority in your near future, teaching a few classes while working another full-time job is a better bet than trying to turn an adjuncting job into a full-time position.
posted by deathpanels at 6:04 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The world is crawling with unemployed English majors. If someone dangles a job in front of your nose, take it...
posted by jim in austin at 6:08 PM on December 13, 2013

Just FYI, as someone completing her PhD in science this year with surprisingly dismal future job prospects: right now I find myself wondering, "what if I had just continued living my 40-hour work week, 60k a year life that my MS afforded me, where I had weekends to myself, didn't feel like my soul was being crushed, and didn't have to worry about future work cause I already had a sweet gig?"

Cause in hindsight, it really was a sweet gig. Now I'm 33, desperately struggling financially, have no idea when I will be able to fit kids into this insane schedule, and work 60-70 hour weeks to the detriment of my body and mind (and relationships). And here's the kicker: at least I am in science so I'm getting paid 27k a year to finish this goddamn degree. What will your stipend be as an English major? I know some history PhDs that are making 11k a year in one of the most respected programs in the country. Only you can answer whether you really truly want to live like this, but trust me there is NOTHING glamorous about it.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

The conventional wisdom is to NEVER, EVER, EVER do a PhD unless it's fully funded, and even then you probably shouldn't. It's the conventional wisdom for a reason.

. . . I’m going to feel like I sold out for a clichéd 9-5 job, and took the easy way out. In this economy, becoming a full time professor is a long shot even with a Ph.D, but I’m scared that if I don’t even try, I’m always going to wonder what could’ve been, and where such a path would’ve taken me.

It will take you into poverty. I know many, many people—truly some of the smartest people in the country with PhDs from absolutely top tier schools on their CVs—who are now stringing together 6 month and 1 year postdocs, always a few steps away from slinging espresso at Starbucks. I left a PhD program while I was ABD and halfway through my dissertation research, and it was the best decision I've ever made. My evenings and weekends are mine again, and I'm making a good living with good career prospects. A "clichéd 9-5 job"? That's what people call "a living". It lets you have an existence in which you're not struggling between three part time jobs and one bout of the flu away from being fired from all three and not being able to make rent. Get a job, and good one, and run far, far away from an academic's life. It's not worth it.
posted by The Michael The at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2013 [13 favorites]

1) no matter what path you take, you will always have times when you wonder what might have been, and wonder if you made the best possible choice.

2) I have friends in their late 40's who have just completed their PhD. I also have a friend in her late 30's who just made the switch from social work to medicine- a pretty significant change in terms of money, education and experience, as well as time. You can always change your mind later. Delaying does not have to mean giving up. A few years looks like a much smaller commitment as you age- strange but true.
posted by windykites at 6:27 PM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not only will a Doctoral program take me to greater debt

Walking into the cattle pen of the MLA Convention and thinking about the small mortgage of PhD tuition debt is not something I'd wish on an enemy.

Congratulations on handing in.
posted by holgate at 6:34 PM on December 13, 2013

If you can't get into a PhD program that will fund you well enough that you won't go further into debt, and doing research stresses you out, you're never going to get a tenure track position. You will be another body fed without the slightest tinge of conscience or compunction into the career adjunct sausage machine, and you will spend your life making poverty-level wages with an undischargeable millstone of debt around your neck. The contempt for a 9-to-5 and selling out is the hook the academic-industrial complex uses to trick you into making a terrible life decision that will allow it to exploit you totally.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:34 PM on December 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

If you weren't madly passionately in love with grad school as a master's student, you really shouldn't try for a PhD, even with full funding. There's a big difference between the intensity, expectations, and stress each involves.
posted by ravioli at 6:37 PM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'll suggest a middle ground: take some money, whatever you feel comfortable losing. Apply to the top program in your research area. Then number 2, then number 3, until you've spent your set-aside money on application fees.

If you get into one, it'll still be stressful and hectic, but you can reasonably expect to be funded so at least you won't be going into debt and your job prospects, while still kinda grim, will be hugely better than the people outside top-tier programs.

If you don't get into the top few programs, that's just the universe's way of telling you that your life if you followed the "go to some other program and adjunct" plan would be pretty miserable.

If you feel like you can't apply to the top programs -- you need to stay in your area because reasons, for example -- that's just the universe's way of telling you that your life right now isn't compatible with being a full-time academic right now, as that more or less requires you being willing to live pretty much anywhere in the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:50 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

ROU_Xenophobe brings up another good point: as an academic, you don't get to choose where you live. Would you be OK with moving to Podunksville, West Dakota for a one-year lectureship if that was the only job you could get when you finished, and spending that year looking for your next job at the same time as teaching and writing? Because that happens to a lot of new Ph.D.'s, and it counts as getting lucky because you have a job.
posted by zeri at 6:57 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The best advice I got for going to grad school (in history, not English, but it still applies) is if the program doesn't accept you with full funding, then they didn't really accept you and don't really want you around. Don't even think about doing it without full funding, for at least all of your classwork, comprehensive exams, and a big chunk of your dissertation writing time.
posted by heurtebise at 7:15 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was in chemistry grad school, we talked about people who had "left academia" or "gone to industry" in hushed tones as if they had died. This is crazy groupthink. As the commenters here all attest to, academia is a bit of a shell game these days, and unless lightning has already struck you, there are more and richer life possibilities elsewhere. My current successful career has zero to do with my degree; it was really a waste of years and years and I wouldn't do it again. Don't feel like leaving is a personal failure at all.

Congrats on the MA!
posted by troyer at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another ABD here who has become perfectly ok with never finishing my degree:

Would you stay in the same program for your doctoral work, or would you apply to other schools? Because unless you have to enroll in a program next year, you might want to take some time off to experience the 9-5 life before you dismiss it. Once you finish your PhD, you have this Logan's Run-type clock on you ticking away for a few years before you're unhirable. But I've seen many CVs that show a gap between MA and PhD degrees. I took a year off myself, and I went running back screaming because I hated the business world. But I never tried to get an administrative job in academia, and that might have been a better option for me.

You also might find other academic career paths besides teaching, like advising, course design, admissions (as you mentioned), which might require their own graduate degrees, but they would be ones that you could decide to pursue once you knew whether the job interested you and whether it would be worth your money to do so. Graduate school requires such tunnel vision that it's hard to imagine anything besides teaching, but there are so many other things to do if you want to remain in a university setting, and most of them have got to be better than a life of 7 comp classes and ramen noodles.
posted by bibliowench at 7:26 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

So you want to get a more advanced degree. You'd be happy either teaching or working in administration. It sounds like you'd be fine with the idea of not doing any more research in whatever subfield of English you've been working in.

What about a degree in education?
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:47 PM on December 13, 2013

Hand in your thesis, get a week's worth of great sleep, and think about this again then.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

No one should ever go into further debt for a PhD. If they aren't paying you to do it, you're not in a good program.
posted by spitbull at 8:27 PM on December 13, 2013

You know, the times they are a'changin'. We're becoming aware in this country that the cost of higher education is outrageous and student debt is making it nearly impossible for young people to be able to set goals for their future and invest in what they need to accomplish that goal. I honestly think that in the next decade there's going to be an overhaul of the whole student loan thing - we've reached the point where something has to give. When it does, it may very well be possible for you to go back and get your Ph.D. then if you still want it without finishing yourself off with more debt.

Since you're already well educated and there are opportunities open to you that may very well be enormously satisfying, I think you should wait a bit for the Ph.D. Another problem is that it's possible to find yourself "overly qualified" with a Ph.D. for positions lower than a kingship, and that's a nasty spot to get stuck in.

Just my two cents. Congratulations on an excellent job and years of hard work to get to your Master's. Whatever you decide to do will work out because you already know how to make that happen. Good job - well done.
posted by aryma at 10:32 PM on December 13, 2013

My take, your concerns about the PhD / Adjunct path are well-founded. I'd suggest though that you should broaden your horizons though when thinking about and exploring alternatives.

Broadly, the idea that doing something you believe in should require an ongoing flirtation with poverty is a sick, destructive idea. Worrying about selling out and taking a clichéd 9-5 job? How clichéd is that?

Seriously, this is a good time to examine and cast off the dogma of your previously chosen path. You owe it to yourself to figure out a life that works for *you*.
posted by Good Brain at 12:20 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've been in academia long enough that I have a pretty good idea of what makes a happy academic. It's this: the academics who are happy in their profession are those who are passionate, not just about their field or topic in the abstract, but about the stuff academics do in their daily lives. They're people who *like* writing articles, giving talks, going to conferences, keeping up with the literature in their field, etc.

I'd add to this. The things that make a happy academic are the things that make a happy middle manager or cog in the machine.

Academics tell themselves that they are different. In the academy, politics and trivialities don't matter. In fact jockeying for a position on committees and in other administrative capacities-- which academics say they despise-- matters as much as research and enthusiasm.

The men-- and it's still mostly men-- who run the major departments in my field (History) got where they are by large because they have good political instincts. I see that in retrospect.

That said, I had an extremely positive experience as a PhD student. Perhaps for that reason it in no way prepared me for the letdown of a tenure-track teaching job. You won't know until you get a tenure track job if it's right for you. There is no way to find out in advance. It is not worth it. The costs are too great. Do something else now.

If you don't enjoy keeping up with office politics, which in academia translates to spats between colleagues your field, your department and your university, doing research, and grading papers, long past nine to five, you will dislike being a full time professor.

And the idea that professors set their own hours is not exactly true. Everyone around me works eight to six or nine to five in their offices as well as evenings and weekends at home. Some places I interviewed had a policy. Here, colleagues just whisper if you're not in your office. You aren't your own boss.
posted by vincele at 8:16 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Any letter that you get from an institution offering you a chance at an advanced academic degree but not enough funding for both tuition and a plausibly livable stipend, is not an acceptance letter, it is an advertisement, and the product will be shitty.

An advanced academic degree that you pay for will, in addition to driving you into debt that the degree will not help you pay off, make you an exploited stooge, and just like everywhere else, no one respects an exploited stooge in academia. An adviser who is desperate enough to take their failure to thrive and failure to fund their work out of the asses of their graduate students is an adviser who cannot be expected to give a sufficient shit about you to be worth your while; and a department that is craven enough to do the same also does not give a sufficient shit about you to be reasonably expected to further your interests. Similarly, any academic field without sufficient funding to do something as fucking basic as paying its graduate students a livable wage for their labor as either teaching or research is not a field worth joining for anyone but the independently wealthy and hobby minded. Not only is an advanced academic degree without funding is a miserable existence, but it will also inevitably not result in the reward academia is intended to provide. Not all academic degrees are created equal and an adviser/department/field that cannot get their shit together enough to pay you will be an adviser/department/field that cannot be taken seriously by the people you would want to pay you in a career. That is an adviser/department/field that cannot be reasonably expected to train you in an economically viable skill set, much less help you prepare for a career more successful than their own.

Also, before some doe-eyed undergrad stops by to extol the virtues of sacrificing for what you believe in, joining an academic field under exploitative conditions will only ever hurt it. Inevitably, the most important thing you as a voluntarily exploited graduate student would accomplish for the study of English would be to push it further towards being dominated exclusively by those with more money than sense. Whether one has more money or in this case less sense, the sacrifices that should be made for academic fields are ones that must be made by those with the ability to make meaningful and beneficial ones, like universities, funding agencies and the independently wealthy - not vulnerable students. As a prospective student you only really have the power inherent in what you are willing to consent to, and that power is considerable. It helps no one for you to use it to enable the exploitation of the vulnerable.

All that said, if you do get accepted into a graduate school with genuine funding, that is a pretty awesome opportunity that I would recommend to most anyone.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's taken me awhile to write down all my feelings about this...
Here is kind of the honest truth: are you a goddamn rock star at English? Like, are you both super-intelligent and driven? Do you honestly think you could be the top one or two of 100 candidates, in your specialty, vying for one tenure-track position? Are you excellent at both research and teaching? Be honest with yourself... because there are honestly at least a hundred candidates for any opening in English, at most colleges, and you have to be the best.

I was in a very similar situation a few years ago. I had been praised for being super-intelligent all through grad school, but when it came down to it... I wasn't driven enough. That's usually said like it's a personal failing, but listen, you can be insanely smart and still not ultimately care enough about fighting so hard for that one spot. The smartest 1% of people in the world is still 70 million... they're not all professors. But the rhetoric of grad school usually acts like they are.

I am now in an administrative position at a university. I think the rhetoric surrounding both "dropping out" of PhD programs, and "selling out*" to a 9-5 job, is largely fantasy. I have found that administrative work, while not magical and beautiful (but let's face it, neither is academia a lot of the time), is less "ugh, boring office job" and more meaningful than I thought it would be. I also see all the "administration" that you have to be part of as a faculty member. If you ARE lucky enough to get a non-adjunct position, you will serve on at least one committee, and you will have lots of meetings and objectives and memos and not-at-all exciting things...

*here's another thing to consider... you may find yourself "selling out" a bit in academia as well. There are trendy topics in any discipline ("digital" anything in English is huge right now), and if you want to stand out as a very top candidate, you would be well-advised to do something in them, even if your passion lies elsewhere.

I also have a pretty inside view of adjuncting (and I was one once). If you're lucky, you will know what you're teaching a month before the semester. You may teach at 2 or 3 different colleges, and when you think your schedule is all set, one of them will cancel or change your class time and you'll have to rearrange... and still be happy about it, because at least you're getting something. You will have to roll with dropping your planned syllabus and making an entirely new one, sometimes only a month before the class starts. Even if you've adjuncted the same place for 5, 10, 20 years, and your director loves you, there may come a time when there just aren't enough enrollments to keep your class sections, and you have to be let go. You will have the stress of needing consistently excellent teaching evaluations, since this is usually the basis of keeping on part-timers. And with all this... if you teach 8 classes a year, you will make maybe $40,000, after a lot of years gaining experience, but probably not likely more than that, ever. Which maybe you can live off... but you have to really love it.

*Again with the selling-out... you would be wise to look into teaching more 'professional writing' courses... things like business writing, grant writing, etc. are MUCH more sustainable and needed at many colleges than Victorian Lit, which will rarely go to an adjunct.

Things that are awesome about my job:
- Paid sick days and vacation days

- I still get time off over Christmas that most non-academic employees don't (I don't get the entire break between fall-spring semester off, but it's about 10 days over Xmas)

- free or deeply discounted tuition on any class I want to take (seriously, you can still get your academic fix, or even work towards another degree, while you're an admin)

- I get to leave at 5pm and not think about my job until the next morning. Same with Friday to Monday. As a grad student and then adjunct, I spent evenings and weekends either slogging through grading, or enjoying myself but then going into a depressive spiral because I had so much grading and research to catch up on. My job is stressful sometimes, but I am SO GLAD I escaped the stress spiral of academic life and feeling like a bad person for not spending more and more and more time on research and writing.

- my job's not super glamorous, but I know I am NEEDED, appreciated, and I don't have any short term concerns about my position not being needed next semester or year.

- I could probably make as much or maybe even a bit more if I adjuncted full time instead, but the trade off in job security, work/life balance, and getting experience to maybe work up the admin ladder, is SO WORTH IT.

I have obviously written a novel here, but Memail me if you want to know more about my experiences.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:39 PM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

You've gotten some excellent advice here. I'll just add two points:

(1) If you don't have a burning desire to do a Ph.D., which means spending the next 3-6 years of your life (at least) researching and writing a substantial, book-length study on a fairly specialized topic, don't do it. If you didn't love working on your MA thesis, you may well grow to hate the Ph.D. dissertation.

(2) Like acting and music, academe is a tournament economy, as Timothy Burke has said, especially in the humanities. A few people luck out and wind up at the top (talent isn't enough; luck is necessary too); some others make a decent living doing satisfying work, and a lot wind up like the actor whose income is primarily from waiting tables. If you're not willing to take the risk that after spending half a decade or more on the Ph.D., you'll be exactly where you are right now, but in your 30s, without a retirement fund, then do something else. Academic administration needs smart, caring people who understand the academic side of things, even if they work in student affairs, admin & finance, research administration, or whatever.

Congratulations on finishing the thesis! And it's fine to take a few years off to think about things; you're not making an irrevocable choice either way.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:20 PM on December 14, 2013

I would still try to teach, but the adjunct work would just be a hobby on the side, one or two nights a week.

That is exactly what adjuncting is meant to be.

This question is very sad because it shows how people have normalized situations that are actually artifacts of a broken system-- no one should be taking on debt in a PhD program: it should be paid for with a stipend. No one should "adjunct [full time] while looking for a faculty position." People should, at worst, simply work in non-TT academic positions and continue publishing while looking for a tenure track opening. Adjuncting is not something people should do to support themselves. It should be something people do on the side while they have another full time job.

the research and work load stressed me out beyond words.

Compared to a Master's degree, a PhD program will be much much more stressful and difficult.
posted by deanc at 6:06 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

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