Today I read the article “Leaving Academia? It’s Time for ‘The Talk’” by Elizabeth Keenan. In her piece for Chronicle Vitae, she talks about the conversations that those with PhDs who decide to leave academic jobs for non-academic jobs have with academics. She categorizes them into 5 statements, most of the statements phrased as “But…!” They’re all statements of disbelief, about how the person and academia are meant for each other…kind of like when you’re in a bad relationship. (Indeed, the phrase, “I love what I do” has been tossed around too many times.)
As I read Keenan’s post, I felt myself nodding in agreement. I was particularly struck when she stated,
That’s really what “The Talk” is about. It’s about telling people that you’re serious about moving on, and that you’re serious about letting go. I don’t know that I’ve always been successful in conveying why I’m leaving, but I’ve gotten a lot better at sounding like I mean it.
Keenan’s article made me think about whether I’ve ever had The Talk with anybody. Sure, i’ve written my fair share of posts about why I had to stop adjuncting or why I decided to finish my dissertation when I felt like quitting or why I decided to switch from teaching to becoming a full-time editor Any of those posts could fit under the rubric of academic “Quit Lit” (I’m sure other careers have their fair share of people writing about why they’re quitting.) I emailed my dissertation advisor and my mentor to let them know I’d no longer be applying to tenure-track jobs. However, did I ever have “The Talk” with anyone? Not really.
If anything, I think I had “The Talk” with myself, most of all. Or I found myself explaining to others the things Keenan points out not for their sanity but for my own. I recited these lines to feel better about my own decision. As I posted on Facebook, I’m not sure if the academics/para-academics I know even consider me as a deserter of academia: I am Managing Editor of Sounding Out!, I work with academic writers, I attend conferences, and I edit a publication for women who are in higher education. You could say I have the best of both worlds: I remain in touch with this sphere of my life that meant a lot to me for a long time, but I’ve moved on to working in a non-academic capacity.
However, the split feels very real to me. Every time I fill out a form that is intended for an academic audience, I find the blanks “institution” and “title” staring back at me. Every time I go to a conference people ask me “where do you teach?” And there are still people I know who don’t know I have transitioned out of academia who say, “Well Liana teaches at a university, right Liana?” In a way, I am in a much better place emotionally and psychologically than I was a year or two ago, especially when I was finishing up my dissertation. I don’t feel the need to react to every article about adjunct wages or about overproduction of PhDs or about leaving academia. But they still mean something to me. I still read them. And sometimes, I still feel compelled to write about those subjects. Academics and para-academics still mean a lot to me. And to a certain extent, I still feel like they are my people, even if there aren’t any academic teaching jobs that want to hire me full time.