The folks over at Dynamic Ecology has started a small-scale Ask Me Anything series, similar to the Reddit AMA series (also, if you haven’t checked out the Reddit Science AMA series, you should). This week, one topic really hit home with me. A reader asked:
When should you abandon the hunt for a tenure track job? What indicators warn you that obtaining a TT job is improbable? The data in this article indicate that the probability of obtaining a TT job declines to <1% 10 years post-PhD.
Jeremy Fox had some good insight:
Don’t worry about wasting your PhD (you’re not, not even if your new career doesn’t require a PhD), don’t worry about letting anyone else down (it’s your life, not theirs), don’t feel like you’ve failed (you haven’t), and don’t feel that you’re settling for second best (you’re not).
Let me tell you about this from someone who went through this. I left academia with the intention of maybe coming back. After a year out, I realized that I really did want to come back. I thought that I could skip a postdoc (I was wrong), but I still applied to both postdoc and SLACs. I got a handful of phone interviews, a campus interview, but nothing came of it. I started applying around October of last year and had my final campus interview in early May of this year. Around the end of February, I realized that I didn’t want to be a (full-time) academic anymore.
A bunch of things went into this decision but the primary two were, 1) location, and 2) variety. I’ll address the second first: variety. Academia is great because you have a ton of leeway to do so many different things. Teach, do research, outreach, communication, and so on. But you’re likely at the same institution. Forever. And if you’re not, you (hopefully) move for a better job (versus tenure denial). That brings us back to thing one: location. Rule #1 of academia – you don’t get to pick where you live. For most people in that sphere, the lure of academia > location. For me, (in addition to countless other things), not so. I actually told a story for Story Collider on this exact subject. I love DC. The city actually saved me in many ways. I went through a spot between jobs, had some relationship issues, and was in a rough patch. DC brought me back. The people, the culture, the opportunities. It’s no Pittsburgh, but for now it’s home. And I didn’t want to leave. So I made the decision to give up the pursuit of academia to stay.
I love what I’m doing now. I’m still in the science world and I do work with academics. I miss academia but I do have adjunct opportunities. I still have research connections and peers in the world. It was a difficult decision that I sometimes regret. But overall, I’m happy with my decision. It’s not the end of the world. Life goes on. Science is still my life…just in a slightly different way.