What I Wish I Had Known Before Leaving Academia

Mount Cargill — Photo: Beth M. Duckles

I can’t help it — even though I’m not a professor anymore, I’m still a data junkie. I want to find out what people ACTUALLY have to say about a topic I’m interested in.

Which is why when I started the Athenas group for women who have left or are considering leaving the academy, I asked them to tell me what they wished they had known before they left the academy.

What can I say, I like data.

I was completely unprepared for how thoughtful and honest the responses would be. I should have expected it — but wow, these women are SO sharp.

“No one in professional life outside the academy thinks it’s weird to leave the academy.”

I wrote a white paper to share what these women told me. Here are the major findings:

  • Leaving the academy is a big identity shift that takes time and is often filled with emotional turmoil.
  • Women talked about the academy as a fundamentally broken system, that is unfair to women and minorities and not a meritocracy.
  • Non-academics outside the academy think it’s completely reasonable and normal to leave the academy. They also value the skills Ph.D.’s bring to their work.
  • The number one tip for people leaving the academy was to network, network, network.
  • The respondents described being happy.

And a few selected quotes that blew me away:

“You’re not worthless and neither is your degree. Academia is great at convincing us we have no value. If you can get yourself to a place where you see the value in yourself and your abilities/education beyond academia, you’ll start seeing possibilities again. And that’s a really hopeful, abundant feeling.”
“Know that the academy routinely expects sacrifices that may be untenable and that it’s not the only place where learning and teaching happen.”
“I wish I had known there were networks of people that actually got each other jobs/gigs. That networking could actually have tangible $ outcomes.”
“There is so much intellectual freedom outside the academy.”
“That it would feel so liberating, and that people would take me so seriously.”
“Post academic does not mean unacademic.”
“I wish I knew how many smart people in my field… are outside academia and happy.”

Interested in reading the full report? Find it here.

More writing on postac life:

Beth M. Duckles is a writer, researcher and ethnographer based in Portland, Oregon. Find her at bethduckles.com.