Dr. ADHD Needs a New Career
January 19, 2022 6:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I best help my depressed, recently unemployed, ADHD partner find the structure he needs to find a new job after a long career in academia?

My late-50s partner has spent his career (~25 year) as a tenured professor of philosophy at a small public university. Due to various factors (lower enrollment leading to loss of incoming funds, a university moving away from traditional humanities), his position was eliminated and as of April 2022, he will be out of a job.

Teaching is how he's made his living since the late 80s and now, at the age most tenured professors are enjoying the fruits of a life spent educating young minds, he has to think about a career change. He has a PhD and is a talented teacher. He's also been heavily involved with the faculty union and served as its president at least twice. The trouble with losing a job like this is that academic jobs are hard to come by even for talented PhD recipients fresh out of school. At his age, he faces ageism in addition to the fierce competition for every professorial job opening, assuming there even are any.

My partner has a screaming case of ADHD. Imposing the kind of structure on himself needed for an intensive job search is a real weak spot. I've been working from home recently and have watched him spend his days doing mostly nothing-- scrolling through Facebook, idly surfing the web, wandering around with no direction or sense of purpose. He can't make himself focus unless there's something sincerely urgent, novel or wildly interesting to him; job hunting doesn't meet any of those criteria. It doesn't help that he's deeply depressed after being thrown out by his university.

My thinking is that he needs help from a career or ADHD coach to figure out what he wants to do now and how he can get there. This kind of enormous change is so hard for him to deal with productively and I'm worried that he'll procrastinate due to being overwhelmed until the situation is more dire. He needs help, and I've gently suggested he seek out a career counselor. His response has been lukewarm at best.

I know this is ultimately up to him, but due to health issues I rely on his health insurance and income. I work for a non-profit and make bupkis, plus my employer's health insurance offerings are pretty sub-par. I want to provide whatever support I can to him while he's dealing with the fallout of losing his career and the resulting depression, but I'm not sure what direction to take. He has a good relationship with his therapist, who initially diagnosed him with ADHD a few years ago. The ADHD is medically untreated, as is his depression.

My question is how to best support him? Has anyone been through the loss of a career that should have lasted until retirement and been able to pick up the pieces and move into something else that's rewarding? What resources should we be utilizing? We're in NW Oregon, if that helps.
posted by hollisimo to Work & Money (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I’ve known friends who were denied tenure, or who were essentially forced out of their tenured positions. It took them months/years to move on. Your husband is suffering a profound loss - he was supposed to be a beloved respected member of his university until he himself decided it was time to leave. His entire identity is now shattered. It’s akin to a death or a devastating medical diagnosis. He’s going to need time to process this and mourn. Therapy might be the best solution for now.

He is still employed for a few months, it sounds like. What could be helpful now is helping figure out if he will be eligible for unemployment and COBRA, finding out how his retirement is impacted (and potentially transferred outside of the university) and perhaps going through all of your finances and fully assessing the impact, if you haven’t already. What’s the bare minimum of a salary you two will need? Etc etc. Basically taking care of the important but boring details that he might not be in a state to handle right now.
posted by umwhat at 7:28 PM on January 19, 2022 [31 favorites]

Isn't the whole point of tenure that they can't do this to you? Has he talked to a lawyer? Can the faculty union fight this? I feel like I would start there --with outrage and resistance, rather than a job hunt just yet.
posted by shadygrove at 9:17 PM on January 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: WOW as a depressed ADHD assistant professor in the humanities this is like looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. I am so sorry for the futures you are both grieving right now.

Can his union or any other contacts help secure him some other employment elsewhere in the university? Something to do with research or UG academic admin or something? It's not "the fruits of educating young minds" but it is health insurance.

How's his grant-writing game? Could a library grant or other short-term grant buy you a few months to ease this transition?

And sending a virtual smack in the face to anyone who might offhand tell you that leaving academia is easy, that professors have lots of transferrable skills, etc. Just imagine me smackin' 'em.
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:51 PM on January 19, 2022 [22 favorites]

This fucking sucks. I agree with umwhat on the short-term stuff, where I think you'll have to take the lead. In the short/mid-term, you should consider whether you can sell up and get the fuck out of town to go where there might be something even if it's not identical to what was there for you and is going away. (More bluntly: start confronting everything that might stop you getting the fuck out of town.) Your husband has a network: even if he probably feels like he's been exiled from it and is now a ghost, it's there. Encourage him to call in every damn favour from his grad school days onwards.
posted by holgate at 11:10 PM on January 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As others have said above - he will be grieving and in shock, this is life-changing stuff because he isn't losing just a job, he's losing a fundamental aspect of his identity. I still remember the grief and the loss I felt 12 years ago when I finished my PhD and realised that the thing I was pining for, an academic job, wasn't going to happen. And so to be in a position where he achieved the holy grail of academia and to lose that, I can't begin to imagine how painful that must be so definitely would agree with suggestions of therapy above, but importantly with someone who has an understanding of the academic world and can help him process the loss and the trauma.

In terms of practical suggetions - these links may be a good start: http://lifeafterphd.com/; https://beyondprof.com/ and https://theprofessorisin.com/
The first two links are targeted more at recent PhD graduates but may have practical suggestions; the third link also provides a lot of perspectives of people quitting/being forced to quit academia at a later stage.

And obviously take good care of yourself amongst all of that
posted by coffee_monster at 2:07 AM on January 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One option could be a senior fellowship. If he has something he always wanted to research further or write, this can be a viable option to segue from tenure to something else. I used to work at an institution offering senior fellowships, but not in the US.
Here is a list, it would however need some patience to sift through for Senior fellowships (eg PhD longer ago than 5 years), they do exist and whilst very much coveted are not unattainable.
posted by 15L06 at 2:40 AM on January 20, 2022

Oops, forgot the link to apaonline
posted by 15L06 at 2:41 AM on January 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

From an anonymous Mefite:
I'm sorry you guys are dealing with this. This has happened to a lot of people in the past couple of years, and it is unfair and terrible. My partner went through the same thing earlier in the pandemic, going from being a senior academic to unemployed. It was terrible at the time, but less so in hindsight, watching the continued cuts in academia since then.

I can't speak to the ADHD aspect but here are things that worked for us and you may want to consider:

Engaging a career transition coach with a specialization in academics. (There are many out there, and he can do informational meetings to find someone he clicks with.) Just like having a therapist is more helpful than winging it solo, so is this, and it takes the pressure off of you, the spouse, of trying to fill that role.

Making the decision to look outside of academia. There is a big economy out there and unlike academia, most of it isn't shrinking. This was a hard decision because once you leave it is hard to reenter academia, but it was healthier and better in the long run. Even if he wants to stay within academia, look beyond professorial jobs to staff and administrative roles.

Get signed up for unemployment and anything else he qualifies for. It takes effort to deal with the paperwork, but it gave breathing room to look and figure things out.

Accept that it is probably going to take some time -- this is a big transition and affects his entire self-identity. There is the grieving process mentioned, plus learning new skills like how to develop a non-academic resume or how to reinvent yourself. And even in a perfect situation, job searches take time.

I'm not going to lie, it was hard and crappy. But the end result is that my partner is much happier now, with much better work/life balance, better colleagues, and better working conditions.

Lastly, consider that one option would be for you to start a serious job search of your own for a position with better benefits at the same time that he works on figuring this out.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:01 AM on January 20, 2022 [19 favorites]

Best answer: The ADHD is medically untreated, as is his depression.

These are not going to get better while staring down the barrel of middleaged unemployment. Please advocate for treatment.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:28 AM on January 20, 2022 [26 favorites]

If they axed him with no severance, he should consult a lawyer; he may be able to get a better settlement. And he should ask to keep his office though summer term.

In addition to the ADHD, he may be quite depressed; it would be a bit surprising if he weren't. In order to be employable, he has to be able to be productive; depression is a major barrier.

He needs to be harvesting great student reviews of classes, letters of reference, and all the documentation he'll need to back up his CV.

You don't want to use your employer's health insurance, but you may have to. It sounds like both of you need to prepare for a significant change in income. The sooner you deal with this, the better.
posted by theora55 at 6:33 AM on January 20, 2022 [7 favorites]

University faculties may be shrinking, but all the associated bureaucracy and para-bureaucracy, like administrative offices, deaneries, consultancies, research groups, planners, compliance agencies, state departments of educational whatever, are still hiring steadily, as far as I can see. Many of those places would still value the insider status and knowledge of the system that your husband could bring to the table.

A good approach to career planning is to work from examples. Does your husband know (or can he Google, based on news reports) any colleagues who have navigated something similar in the past decade? Where did they end up?
posted by Bardolph at 8:15 AM on January 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

I agree with everything said above, but I want to expand on the point made by anonymefite that a better angle for you might be to focus on your own career development. As his partner you can offer emotional support at this stage, but you are not his coach and will need to accept that it may take a long time for him to be ready to move into a new career space. In the meantime though you can look at your own prospects and opportunities and - in some ways - maybe role model the process a bit?

In any case, the drop in income and insurance isn't his problem alone to solve. You a team. This is your chance to take the reins by managing the stuff you have direct control of. It will be difficult for a while, but it could be an amazing opportunity for both of you to try something new, once the pain what's been lost is less raw.
posted by freya_lamb at 8:18 AM on January 20, 2022 [13 favorites]

Like others have said, I'd expect this to be tough, and I'd first focus on what you need money-wise in the short-term, and then brainstorm for future careers. My advice here is based on being a humanities PhD, with friends in different fields (some science) who have been pushed out of academia:

University admin jobs are an option, though I'm not sure they'd be his best option - unless he has admin experience, he likely would have to start in a lower-rung job, which typically don't pay that well.

Other options:

1. A US Government job. They actually reward you for having a PhD, in terms of the salary grade. I just searched "physics" and a lot of hits came up - I know of one chemistry PhD who made the transition to working for the government, and has been happy with the switch. If that's of interest, I'd try talking to someone currently in the type of government job your husband might want to get tips on the cover letter (see #3).

2. I have a friend with a physics PhD who after doing a few postdocs (but unable to land a job) decided to teach herself how to code, and now works in tech. Obviously agism is a factor, but based on her remarks, it seems like tech companies do generally like math/physics PhDs, if he could get a PhD in physics, he could probably teach himself enough code for certain types of jobs. If that's of interest, again, I'd get advice from someone in such a job currently.

3. Join LinkedIn. I was recently advised this for my own potential transition out of academia. Be shameless with it - your husband likely has some contacts in government jobs and tech, even if they are say, old acquaintances from grad school. While you're there, follow the Versatile PhD. Use contacts there for advice on cover letters.

4. Unlike others here, I'm skeptical about the career councilors specializing in PhDs. Someone up thread recommended Karen Kelsky (the Professor is In) and while yeah, she offers alt-ac services, she only pivoted to this recently as a result of there being less business coming in from her old gig of giving advice for PhDs applying to academic jobs. And from what I've seen, her advice isn't anything better you can't get for free. There are a lot of charlatans out there, and your husband is probably better off getting advice from people who actually have the jobs he might want to transition into.

5. This alt-ac support group is more for humanities/social science folk, but he may find it of interest.

Finally, if you really need him to be making some money ASAP:

I realize this might sound depressing, but my PhD-wielding partner is currently working part-time at a grocery store to just provide a bit of money. While it's not what he wants long-term, thanks to labor shortages, it pays $15hr with a raise likely forthcoming, he's been pleasantly surprised by how eclectic his colleagues are, and it's physical work that gets him out of the house and generally is a net positive. I'm not saying this is what your husband has to do, but there are lots of jobs out there, and labor shortages mean it's easier than ever than set the terms/hrs of your employment.
posted by coffeecat at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2022 [5 favorites]

if he could get a PhD in physics

Do note that the asker's husband is a philosophy professor, not physics.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:18 AM on January 20, 2022 [7 favorites]

Oops, well in that case ignore the tech/code part of my post, but the rest of my advice still applies - there is a wide range of government jobs out there.
posted by coffeecat at 9:39 AM on January 20, 2022

I want to second what DarlingBri said because those conditions can worsen with the stress of this transition. It's a great time to revisit the medication decision (even if temporarily) and add some additional support (meditation, exercise, evaluation by a psychiatrist if his therapist is not an MD). Basically, this might be a good question for him to ask his therapist.
posted by *s at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much to everyone who has chimed with condolences, stories from their own lives, resources/links and suggestions. A lot of what's been said is hard to read-- it's a shitty thing to have happen to an otherwise experienced, talented and valuable person.

To those who have suggested fighting it via the union, he's used every ounce of his energy doing this for the better part of a year. He's gone to the press, appealed to the school's board of directors, worked closely with the union officers and lawyer, and spent probably hundreds of hours in Zoom meetings trying to fight this. Unfortunately, none of that had much and impact and tenure can, it turns out, be taken away even when it's not merited for any other reason than the school administration decides it is. The saddest part is it affects both him and another one of his colleagues who is more senior than he is. The philosophy department has been all but gutted thanks to the school's insistence that enrollment warrants it.

I am pushing for him to find a psychiatrist while we still have insurance who can hopefully get him medicated for his ADHD. Please keep the suggestions and resources coming-- he's already looking into the grants offered by the APA. His passion for philosophy is still intact and he'd like to write a book, so that really helps.
posted by hollisimo at 2:01 PM on January 20, 2022

Back in the 1980s, when I was laid off by a Fortune 500 corporation, they gave me outplacement services. This was an agency that provided an office (not private), a desk, a phone, and a place to go every morning. They reviewed resumes, cover letters, etc., suggest sources of leads, told stories of how previous clients had failed or succeeded. They would be good at explaining the difference between a resume and a curriculum vitae, for example. They stuck with me for year until I stopped looking for a job and starting making a job for myself.

All this must have cost my old employer a ton, and there are probably companies that would charge you a ton to do it today. But it does suggest some things you can do for free to add structure to the day, and some kinds of help that you probably can find for free or cheap.

(I'd like to think your partner could become a talking head on cable TV, and explain how MAGA philosophy is or isn't like Machiavelli, Nietzsche, or Hegel. Unfortunately, I think those gigs don't pay. The folks who do it are mostly boosting their books and egos.)
posted by SemiSalt at 6:29 AM on January 21, 2022

Best answer: Sorry to come so late, and I'm very sorry that you and your spouse are going through this. I recall that on one of the two main philosophy profession blogs (Leiter Reports and Daily Nous) there was a post about gathering resources for the situation in which departments are closed or shrunk for budgetary reasons. I think it was 4-6 months ago, but I am not sure. You could just write to Brian Leiter or Justin Weinberg, who run them, and see if they could point you in the right direction. In fact, they might also be willing to start a post/thread with a post like the one here, and there has certainly been a lot of discussion recently about departments / majors being shut down or tenured faculty being laid off / threatened. (I see now that there is a post about your spouse's university on one of them from last year). Another blog -- but one that is geared more towards younger people in the profession -- is called Philosopher's Cocoon. Just one thing, make sure not to give too much information unless your spouse does not mind being identified.

If I were in this position, the first thing I would do is contact all the departments in the area (there may not be many, I know) because people are always going on leave, etc., and there may be a temporary position available. But the reality is that after 25 years, and coming from a small public university, it will be very hard to get another permanent position.

If your spouse has a good deal of experience publishing, perhaps the publishing industry would be an option, perhaps editorial work.

But I agree that he should reach out to friends and former colleagues, e.g. from grad school. Especially if any of them have gone into the "business" side of things, I think it might be surprising how useful someone with good philosophical skills can be.
posted by melamakarona at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think that teaching can be a pretty good mid/late career transition. Depending on your jurisdiction, it doesn't necessarily pay less than some universities and the benefits can be solid. I think it is also exceptionally well suited to people with ADHD, and we are overrepresented in the profession. If your husband enjoyed the teaching part of his job, it might be worth looking into what kinds of transition/accelerated programs he might be eligible for. I did the NYC Teaching Fellows and it really seemed like there were people from all ages and all kinds of backgrounds. The demand is also high enough in many places that you don't necessarily need networking or to know people to get in (although you might build that to change to a more desirable school in the future). While it may feel like a loss of prestige, it is meaningful work.

Again though this depends so so much on the particular district/jurisdiction.

I also agree that this could be a great time for you to focus on your career. That could help you both and take some of the pressure off him, which in turn could make the task less overwhelming for him.

And second that now is a great time to start trying medications (for the ADHD but also the depression if it applies) if he is willing, and a come-to-Jesus talk if he's not. My understanding (and experience) of ADHD is that our coping and self-management strategies work until they don't (change of situation, overload, etc). This situation would be a huge stressor on almost anybody.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:05 PM on February 2, 2022

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