What would I do if I left academia?
April 19, 2014 7:58 PM   Subscribe

I am considering leaving a tenure track position in the humanities to follow my partner to the Bay Area. In order to compare the options, I need some idea of what I'd do there.

I went straight from college to grad school, and got a TT position at an unranked but respected R1 research university in the US right out of grad school. I haven't been here long. Now, I know I am extremely lucky in my current position. I have a 2-2 teaching load, friendly and supportive colleagues, and live in a college town known for music, arts, and nightlife. The cost of living is low. But: I'm fairly sure I don't love the research side of my work. I like teaching okay, and when I get into my research, I really enjoy it. But I don't like thinking about my research when I'm not at my computer. Even then, when I'm in the early stages of paper writing (my main job), I find it tiresome.

What I need specific help on is brainstorming what I'd do if we moved to the Bay Area. For the first couple of years, I'd have part-time work teaching at the university where he'll be employed. I could use this time to either (re-?)find my love of my discipline and publish, or explore other options. For those unfamiliar with the atrocious academic job market, my chances of finding a permanent academic job in the same area are about zero; we'd have to relocate if I wanted to stay in academia. But I know the non-academic job market is bad as well.

The problem is that I don't have any other passions that make it obvious what I should pursue. I like the flexibility of my schedule as an academic, but don't love how I always have to be 'on'. It would be nice to be able to take weekends off, at least occasionally. I have a PhD, and good reasoning skills, but no specific area of expertise that would be attractive to industry. Can you give me ideas of jobs to look into?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You will probably get more useful answers if you ask a mod to update with more information about what your Ph.D. is in. As written, I can't really tell where in academia your work might fall (I'm guessing social sciences or humanities?), and the kinds of jobs that might work for someone with the skills to complete a Ph.D. in geography probably won't suit someone whose Ph.D. was in history (or something else).
posted by Austenite at 8:53 PM on April 19, 2014

Ah, sorry, I reread this and see "humanities" above the fold now. Still, that covers a lot of territory. Do you have any language skills, for example? Or, are there any major allied professions (museums, publishing, etc.) that tend to employ people trained in your discipline? Have you been successful in applying for grants and fellowships in the past? Did your dissertation - or your teaching - require you to learn how to use any niche computer programs or research methods that might be useful elsewhere?

Since you seem to prefer teaching to research, what is it about teaching that you like? There may be university positions (like academic advising) that allow you to continue to work with students but are more forgiving than research + teaching load. Or, if you prefer course design, there may be industries related to education (such as testing companies) that would love to have you. There's been a lot more on this kind of post-ac trajectory lately at The Professor Is In and other publications that cover higher education lately.

You finished your Ph.D. and got a job, so you definitely have skills and expertise. Don't sell them short yet.
posted by Austenite at 9:11 PM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, if you're at all entrepreneurial, your current status as successful academic insider is something you could probably leverage fairly well in a wealthy area like SF. The woman who runs The Professor Is In bills $150/hr for job-search consulting services for grad students. Freelance consulting/coaching on rich kids' application essays, job materials, etc. would certainly beat minimum-wage adjuncting, and it might even morph into a proper career over time.

Also, have you hit up the alum database at your grad university to start getting linked into the Bay Area network? For all you know, there are tons of cool startups/ consulting firms out there who're dying to hire a bright person with proven critical reasoning skills.
posted by Bardolph at 3:52 AM on April 20, 2014

For those unfamiliar with the atrocious academic job market, my chances of finding a permanent academic job in the same area are about zero; we'd have to relocate if I wanted to stay in academia.

It sounds like you're considering leaving academia for reasons other than difficulty, but keep in mind that as someone applying from a TT job you might now have more luck than someone applying from graduate school or a postdoc. You benefit from the inverse prejudice that hurts new PhDs, postdocs, and especially long-term adjuncts: you've already been vetted and chosen, so you're presumed to be a good candidate instead of presumed to be a bad one...

What I wouldn't do is leave a TT job for adjunct teaching at the university where your partner will be working. This will make you dependent on (and potentially resentful of) him in a way that may have long-term implications for your relationship, and would have dire implications for you if the relationship ends. Do you think your relationship could survive living apart for an academic year or two while you try to transition your current TT position to a TT position, or some other sort of position, closer to San Francisco?
posted by gerryblog at 5:16 AM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Since you like teaching and aren't passionate about actually writing your research, you should look into teaching at a private high school. You're lucky to be in the bay area, where there are enough private schools that this would be an option.

Most private schools don't require their faculty to have a teaching degree or to be certified. The academically driven ones want teachers who are experts in their fields, and the faculty of these schools is full of teachers holding the PhD.

The kids you will teach at a competitive private high school in a place like the Bay Area will be more academically sophisticated -- and accept more challenging homework -- than many kids at a state university, even an R1 institution. Of course, even though they'll be tossing off more literary references, and know how to write an essay, they will also be younger in every way; your job will entail tending to the kids in a more holistic way than just having them pass through your course for a semester. But the trade-off would be, say, doing lunch room duty for sitting in endless committee meetings at your current job.
posted by third rail at 5:46 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would first question whether you actually don't like research. I've never met a researcher in any field who enjoyed the early stages of a project, and thinking about your work nonstop when you're not doing it is something that we're all supposed to do in this age of mandatory "passion" work but many successful researchers don't actually seem to do (I am in a STEM field, but I see this pattern play out a lot.) If "when [you] get into [your] research, [you] really enjoy it," that's about as good as it gets for lots of good researchers, and you shouldn't let a temporary slump convince you to permanently opt out of research.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:18 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

If your research is even a little bit quantitative, you are employable in the SF tech and related sectors. I know a linguistics PhD who now works in a marketing/product consulting firm of some kind, and a former biologist who left academic for an educational tech startup in the Bay. The pay going this route will beat academia easily, the only question is can you network and rebrand yourself successfully (you probably can with help) and do you want these kinds of jobs and will you fit in that culture, which is very different from academia.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:56 AM on April 20, 2014

It depends.

Imagine that you got a job in the private sector, what would that look like?

The first place I'd look is USAjobs.gov. The government hires all kinds of folks for all kinds of positions and a Ph.D. means a higher salary.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:56 AM on April 21, 2014

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