She's beauty, she's grace, she's about to burn some bridges
July 30, 2018 7:24 PM   Subscribe

I took an academic job after my grad degree, but I'm now very clear I want to be working in tech/doing tech work in some non-higher-ed context. What should I brace for w/r/t potentially leaving an academic job very quickly (4-6 months) AND convincing tech companies that I know my stuff? (A few specific questions within)

I've been at my new job 3-4 months, and it's been clear for the last two month that, while it's fine and pleasant, I'm not going to get the tech mentorship and development through difficult projects I need to do the work I want to do and achieve other financial life goals. I should have recognized this before taking this position, but I wasn't feeling confident enough to leave higher ed with my skills at their current level (despite positive feedback from my supervisors and peers), and there was a moderate misrepresentation of job duties on their end. But after starting to talk to some people in the tech industry, putting in lots of time on technical writing and studying algorithms and refactoring code in jupyter notebooks and slowlyyy easing into open source projects, I feel like I'd be able to contribute in the entry level of my ideal profession (data science).

That clarity is positive. However, I'm still battling a number of things:

* How do I navigate starting to interview (I have the first thing set up already) while I'm still a new employee? Time off is relatively flexible, but I feel like if I do it more than, like, twice, it's going to get obvious quickly.

* I don't really know how quick exists work in this corner of academia (staff-ish position). Should I plan on giving more like 4-6 weeks notice? I'm comfortable definitively leaving academia, so in that sense being okay with some burning of bridges, but I don't want to unnecessarily screw over my coworkers or supervisors.

* I'm worried that tech companies won't consider me ready. I was able to get a first interview already, but it was in the context of another set of conversations I was already having, so it was a very friendly and low-key thing (i.e., I expect this to be harder in an online job application context). I know there are some corners of tech that would look well upon my tech experiences in an academic context, but will those folks regard poorly my quick departure? Should I consider waiting longer? I'd rather make the definitive switch as soon as I can pull it off (I'm eager to finally be learning and doing work directly under tech folks).

* The hardest part of this emotionally is feeling accepting of myself doing something that is straightforwardly ambitious. I know there's a fairly assumption within this that working as staff in academia in the first place is not ambitious, but in the context of a recent string of career and life things, it ended up being conservative relative to the risks I deep-down wanted to take.I've been working on this a lot in therapy -- I tend to make myself smaller and delay the most disruptive choices in favor of maximizing for everyone else's approval. In this case, I'm going to do something that is a big risk, that is going to make some people upset with me, and that has an element of almost like assuming I could pull this off. But that's partly why I'm so drawn to it too -- I want to affirm and do something positive for the part of me that loves coding and technical creative problem solving and writing about analysis and research. How do I give myself permission?

Yours in job excitement and job terror,
posted by Sock Meets Body to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Two things:

Most tech job applications depend heavily on a portfolio. Put together a good portfolio that showcases your code and writing skills. I can't stress this enough. If someone comes in off the street with no background or experience and has a great portfolio, they'll usually get the job over someone with a great resume and a lousy portfolio.

At some point in your interview you will be able to say "let me tell you about myself, and walk through your background and show off your portfolio." Practice doing this. You don't need another person, you can simply talk to yourself.

If you can, find a mentor or someone in the tech business to look over your portfolio and give you advice on making it better. Look up portfolios or sample work and resumes from others in the industry / job you are targeting.

Don't sweat leaving your current academic job. That's life.
posted by xammerboy at 10:15 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are a lot of us post acs who have left and jumped into the "real world". We understand. It's terrifying. But it'll be ok. Also it's ok to want money and to want to do work that you enjoy. It's also ok to want to work in tech and not to be in academia.

Surprisingly, when I left academia, a LOT less people were upset with me than I would have anticipated. I think one person made a snarky comment. That was it. I was expecting it to be a lot worse than it was.

The best book on this topic IMO is So What Are You Going to Do with That?, it walks through most of the logistics of moving out of academia including the difficulty of converting a CV into a resume.

A few communities you might want join: Beyond the Professoriate, The Professor is in. If you're a female/not cis male, I run a post ac slack group. Just DM me.

My best advice for your situation is to learn how to do informational interviewing and start doing as many of those as you can while you still have work. Figure out who you can talk to who has a job that seems close/kinda like what you think you might want to do. Ask them questions like "How did you get this job?", "What makes a candidate attractive?", "What do you do on a daily basis?", "What do you love/hate about your work?", "What led you here?" and "Who else should I talk to?". The key thing is, YOU ARE NOT ASKING FOR A JOB. Believe me, if they have a job and you are a fit, they will tell you about it.

Rinse, repeat. Do this until you have a clear sense of 1) what you want to do 2) what you are already skilled at and 3) what you need to learn to be able to do the work you want to do. Maybe also what the sector is like and what your preferred job/organization/position would be. This is not as hard as it at may at first seem. People in the non ac world are really used to this kind of networking and happy to talk to you.

Also depending on the open source data science communities you're interested in, I'd advise getting involved in some social networks. The rstats community for instance is incredibly kind on twitter and there are often Slacks you can join that are rad, help you upskill and will give you networks, gigs and job suggestions. Join meetups too - then you can find people to take out for info interviews.

Mostly it's ok. You've got skills (probably more than you think you do) and you may not burn as many bridges as you think.
posted by mulkey at 10:17 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you in a post doc or RA type role right now? If you are in that kind of position and you are a not a good fit no one will care if you leave, they will be happy probably so they can get someone else in there who is interested in the work and they will have lots of applicants. I wouldn't worry about it at all. Much better to leave a job you don't want than to hang around making everyone unhappy.

If you're teaching a class they will be unhappy if you leave mid term though.
posted by fshgrl at 12:50 AM on July 31, 2018

Best answer: Just to clarify, as I think it will affect the answers you need: does your current position primarily involve teaching, research, or administrative work? If your duties are primarily administrative or support-oriented, you can leave any time without worry -- although trying to time your departure so it doesn't fall within the first few weeks of the starting or ending of a term would be a great kindness, since hiring processes are often very slow and even admin searches take forever. Ducking out of a teaching position or leaving a postdoc where your duties affect the work of multiple people or projects is a little different.

Your concern about interviews leads me to suspect your role doesn't involve much teaching, since it would be relatively easy to schedule interviews around classes and meetings. If that's the case, four weeks' notice would certainly be appreciated.

I want to affirm and do something positive for the part of me that loves coding and technical creative problem solving and writing about analysis and research.

It *can* be possible to do this in academia, at the right institution or in the right position. It can be difficult, as departmental politics and funding scarcity and the grind of teaching and publication can all get in the way, but as I'm sure you know, the private sector has its downsides, too. Even if this academic position is currently a poor fit, others might not be, so in your search I suggest focusing more on specific job duties and specific workplace culture than on the type of employer.
posted by halation at 10:16 AM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers so far!

Re: teaching, only one-off workshops and events, no semester-long obligations or anything like that. Also not a post doc or RA, more of a classic staff role that’s more student-facing. Thanks!
posted by Sock Meets Body at 5:09 PM on July 31, 2018

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