Out of Academia?

Out of Academia?

Wow, it has been a long time since I updated this blog! My “about” page said I was a third year who’d passed her prelims; I’m now a very ABD fifth year, still working on the eighteenth century and Romanticism.

And I’m planning to take the master’s degree and leave this year. [P.S. If you know me from the department, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t share this news with other people in the department. Thanks.]

It’s a decision that’s been a long time coming without my realizing it. (See my last post, for example.) I met with a faculty member recently to get his advice, and when he asked me if something had happened, I said, “I still love teaching. I still like my project, although I’ll do pretty much any other work to avoid actually writing it.”

He thought that was HILARIOUS. He laughed uproariously.

“Well,” I amended, “I like the idea of my project. I like that my prospectus exists. I like reading for my project.”

I’d thought my sentiments were perfectly normal. And I do think that, for many English grads, writing the dissertation (or any long academic project) involves a certain amount of tooth-pulling. But I wasn’t making any real progress–and I think I’ve finally realized that it’s not because I’m lazy or stupid or inadequate, but because this isn’t the work I want to spend my time on.

Academia involves a lot of sacrifice. It’s easily a 60-hour-a-week job for most people, and one that makes you feel guilty whenever you’re not working. It pays crap for the first, oh, fifteen years (including grad school, and assuming–here’s a big assumption–that you get a tenure track job soon after finishing). It makes having kids and raising a family surprisingly difficult. It involves having little choice about where you live.

Why would I make those sacrifices to get a job writing academic research, when I constantly avoid writing academic research?

In an ideal world, there would be a 1:1 correlation between qualified PhDs and available academic jobs, so that the terrible job market didn’t have to play such a big role in decision-making. And in an ideal world, leaving a PhD program would carry no more emotional baggage than leaving any other job.

But this isn’t an ideal world. These decisions are messy and confusing and complicated.

So, um, join me on this super-fun journey of figuring it all out! (Don’t worry, I’ll still talk 18th-century stuff, too. :) )


I know what you’re thinking, 18th-centuryists, but Clarissa DOESN’T explain it all.

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