Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pre-Existing Condition Health Care Plans, By State

As described in the original post about health insurance on this site, people who have preexisting conditions that make it impossible for them to qualify for regular health insurance now have access to health insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Unfortunately, you have to be uninsured for six months before you are able to enroll in one of these policies. However ... if you have no other options for coverage, this is certainly better than nothing. The benefits on these policies are fairly decent and are managed by reputable insurance companies, and the premiums are fairly cheap as compared to what you would find on the regular insurance market with a preexisting condition.

See below for state-by-state links to the websites where you can read about the plans, find answers to your questions, and apply for coverage. You must apply to the one in the state where you currently reside.

(Please note: some of the links are the same between states because some states elect to provide their citizens coverage through a preexisting plan managed by the federal government. Other states manage their own plans.)

District of Columbia:
New Hampshire:
New Jersey:
New Mexico:
New York:
North Carolina:
North Dakota:
Rhode Island:
South Carolina:
South Dakota:
West Virginia:

Finding Health Insurance as a PostAcademic: The Basics

Soooooo ... health insurance. The thing that few people understand, everyone hates, and no one wants to have to buy. Let's talk about it!! :)

When you leave academia, you will unfortunately be leaving your university-provided health insurance behind. And unless you're one of the lucky people who lands a job with health benefits before you officially separate from your university, you will probably be facing a period of time where you won't have any health insurance coverage ... unless, of course, you take the time to find and buy some on your own.

You could always try to just take your chances by remaining uninsured ... but I really don't recommend it. Even a crappy insurance plan will save you money compared to what someone without insurance would pay if you developed a significant medical problem.

Now, finding and buying health insurance can be super-scary and intimidating ... but it's manageable. You are smart and accomplished, and you can tackle this problem like any other that you've faced in your academic life. In fact, what you need to do is to do some research about what kind of health insurance coverage is available to you. And you DO know how to do research, don't you???? :)

If you're planning to leave academia, you'll want to start doing this research as soon as possible. Even if you don't need to buy a policy for a few months or more, it will make things easier if you find out ahead of time (1) what you can qualify for and (2) how much it is likely to cost you. Then, when it's time to actually pull the trigger and buy some, you will be prepared.

So here's a starter guide to finding health insurance after you leave academia. As you read, please feel free to leave a comment or email me at leavingacademia(at)gmail(dot)com if anything is unclear or if you have any questions.


First things first - once you know you are officially leaving, you should check with your university to see if you will be able to keep your current coverage for a set period of time under the federally-mandated COBRA provisions.

The COBRA legislation allows people who are losing their group health insurance (which is what you have through a university) to keep their coverage for a set period of time if they pay their premiums on their own. When I initially left my graduate program in 2011, I was able to keep my health insurance for six months under COBRA before I had to buy an individual health plan.

On one hand, your university benefits are quite possibly better than anything you will be able to buy on your own ... so you might want to take the opportunity to keep them a little longer. On the other hand, though, the premiums may be too expensive for you. But you won't know unless you check, so contact your insurance company or someone in the university benefits office to check.


Once your COBRA benefits run out - or if you decide not to take advantage of them - it's time to find brand new health insurance, unrelated to what you had in academia.

This is where things can get a little rough. This may very well be the first time you've had to seek out and buy a plan on your own, rather than having one provided for you by your parents or the university. So let's talk about how health insurance works and how you can go about finding yourself a plan.

In the U.S. today, there are four primary ways that you can get health insurance coverage if you are not eligible for Medicare. You can (a) get group coverage through your or a family member’s employer, (b) purchase a regular individual health plan for yourself or your family, (c) purchase one of the “preexisting condition health plans” that are now offered under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare), or (d) see if you or your family qualifies for Medicaid coverage.


If you fall into the first category described above – (a) people who have access to a group health plan through a new job or a partner's or (if you’re under age 26) parent’s employer, then great! Chances are good that whatever coverage you will be able to get this way will be better (and possibly cheaper) than anything you will get through the other three categories. You should immediately touch base with HR and figure out when and how to enroll yourself on the plan.

Unfortunately, however, many of you who will be leaving academia will not have immediate access to a new group health plan and will need to find other coverage. That’s where the other three categories of coverage come in.


If you don’t have access to a group health plan but you’re reasonably healthy and have enough money to pay a premium every month, you can try (b) applying for individual health coverage in your state. In this post (ed. Note: linked post forthcoming), you can find a list of the 2-3 largest providers of individual health coverage in your state, with links to the application pages for each.

If you apply for individual health coverage, you will need to answer a lengthy questionnaire about your recent health history, doctors that you’ve seen, medications you take, etc. It can feel invasive and stressful, but unfortunately, it’s what you need to do to buy individual coverage.

Once you fill out the application, you will hear back from the insurance company in about a week or so with a response to your application. They will either offer you coverage (invariably for a higher premium than what you are originally quoted on the website), or deny you coverage if they deem that you have a preexisting condition.*

If they offer you coverage, you can either accept their offer or call to speak with someone about other plan options that they might be willing to sell you, which might be more affordable (for example, you may be able to find a plan with a cheaper premium but higher deductible). But it’s important to understand that once they offer you coverage, it is not in effect until you pay your first premium. You can always decline the coverage they offer, or change to a different plan, or look elsewhere. But don’t be scared to fill out the application – you’re not buying anything at that point.

If you’re going this route, I would recommend filling out applications for more than one insurance company. The plans and premiums will vary between companies, and it certainly can’t hurt to check out a few different options from different companies.


Now, if you do find that you’re declined coverage because of a preexisting health condition, you do have options. Under the Affordable Care Act, each state must now offer (c) coverage to people with preexisting conditions under either a state or federal plan. You (the policyholder) will pay the premium, but they cannot deny you coverage for health reasons.

In my experience researching these plans, both the premiums and coverages are pretty solid. If you can qualify for these policies, don’t hesitate to apply.

The one important catch with these plans, however – and it’s a big one - is that you must be uninsured for six months before you can buy into them.

Is this ideal? No, of course not. But if you have health problems, this may be your only option for coverage … so make sure to have your application and premium check ready to go after six months. A state-by-state list of where to go to apply for the state preexisting condition plans can be found in this post.


And finally … if none of these options work for you or your family, you can go here to find a state-by-state list of (d) eligibility requirements for Medicaid. Medicaid is government-run health coverage, funded primarily at the state level, which provides coverage for low-income Americans.

It is far easier for people under age 18 and pregnant women to qualify for coverage than healthy adults, but the eligibility requirements vary by state. So if you think you might qualify, spend a few minutes checking out the eligibility requirements.

And if you have children under 18 who don’t otherwise have coverage, make sure to check out the eligibility requirements for kids. Like I said above - it's far easier to get coverage for children than adults. Even if you can't find coverage for yourself, you can probably find some for your minor children.


So, start here to look for coverage. You may also want to look into whether you might have access to health care discounts through groups or organizations that you belong to. Some discipline-specific academic organizations offer discounts on health coverage to their members without institutional affiliations, and people with military or union connections can sometimes have access to health insurance coverage through those groups.

But if all else fails, this post will give you a place to start to find some health insurance coverage.


Now that you know what kind of coverage you can qualify for and where to go to apply, you’re done with Step 1 in this process. Step 2 will involve figuring out what the best policy you can afford will be, in terms of the benefits that each plan offers.

Stay tuned … we’ll have a post up soon that will help with that.


(*Preexisting condition denials should be rendered obsolete in 2014 through the Affordable Care Act. However, right now they can still occur, so you should be prepared for the possibility that they'll be an issue for you.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

I Hate My Post-Ac Job: What Happens When You DON'T Land The Perfect Postacademic Career

After days, weeks, months--maybe even years--you've finally made the huge decision to leave academia. You've navigated the tricky waters of identifying your transferable skills, you've given some though to other industries you might enjoy, and you've turned your CV into a resume. You've even managed to jump through the innumerable hoops of getting hired--phone interviews, in-person interviews, hiring committees--to land your first postacademic job. Congratulations!

But what happens when the job you've gotten is far--miles, oceans, light-years-- from your "perfect" postacademic career? What do you do now?

Lauren suggested I write this post, as the topic of bad first postacademic jobs is something I've been living through, and writing about, for the past seven or so months.

In my case, I really wanted a job in academic publishing quite badly. It seemed like such a good idea at the time! I even turned down another promising interview. I thought I wanted a job that kept me tied to academia. In academic publishing I would still be on college campuses, talking about course development, thinking about student's needs, and working in an academic cycle. In time, I imagined myself working as a marketer or editor for the company. My Ph.D. would be put to use as I cultivated and edited a superb Composition and Literature list. My years as an academic would be rewarded in and validated by this new industry. I was less certain about the sales nature of the job, but thought it would be a good opportunity to try something new.

In very short order, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. In fact, I am not sure I could have picked a career less well-suited to my likes, personality, and life style. Academic publishing and sales are completely  out of line with my values and sense of self.

It's so easy to feel like a failure when your first postacademic job sucks. I have spent copious amounts of time blaming myself. I've already felt like a total failure for not landing an academic job (I'm a Type 2 leaver, so leaving academia when I couldn't land a job has been fraught with feelings of failure and inadequacy). Graduating, leaving academia, moving to a new city, starting a new job, and then hating it? Sheesh. Let me tell you--it's hard to feel like a success story.  I find, too, that I spend a lot of time wallowing, feeling as though I was "dealt a bad hand." Why can't I have those awesome postac jobs other people landed?

I am still making sense of what has happened to me, both in terms of leaving academia and in getting such a shitty first nonacademic job. Sometimes I feel like some sort of the professional version of the Biblical Job. I don't have slaughtered cattle or locusts eating my crops, but I've got a horrible work/life balance and a job that's causing me physical and mental anguish. If I ever get it all figured out, I'll let you guys know.

Houston: We Have A Drinking ProblemCreative Commons License wackystuff via Compfight

In the meantime, here are a few things I have found helpful for when you don't land your perfect postacademic career:

1. Focus on other things in your life.

Work may be a substantial part of your day. In fact, it's nearly all of my day. I work seriously insane hours. Most weeks I am on the road, away from home Sunday through Thursday. Even still, it's not the sum total of my life or identity. So, I spend as much free time as I can consciously cultivating fun things to do in my off hours. My free time is far more "calculated" than it once was. Each day I try to make sure some of my time focuses on the positive things and relationships in my life outside of work. I savor each television show, blog post, or book read; I plan fun outings for Paul and I to do on the weekends; and I try to develop new hobbies or interests outside work. I find the latter to be crucial as, for so long, academia was my work, my social circle, my down time, my travel--my whole identity. I need some time to sort out who I am, apart from academia. Hating my new job so, so much has encouraged me to try and find more non-work things I enjoy. So far, I've taken yoga, Pilates, and have up-ed my cooking game. Find out what you enjoy outside of work and fight with every last breath to make this, too, a part of your routine.

2. Use this experience to explore what you want in your next job.

When I graduated, I thought a life in academic publishing sounded perfect. Like academia-lite. Yet now that I am doing the job, I realize I don't want academia-lite. In fact, I've realized I just may be happier cutting ties with the whole sorry business of higher ed. Staying in academic cultures has only made me miss what I once had/dreamed of having. It doesn't provide me with the familiarity and comfort that I thought it might. When I was recently offered another non-academic job I, initially, jumped at the chance. However, upon closer reflection, I realized that I didn't want this new job as it looked a lot like my current one. Long hours, lots of travel, lack of opportunity to help others, and the continued pressure to cultivate a sales identity--I now know I want none of these things. I've also become far more critical of employers and their "promises." The job I signed on for is drastically different than the job I am doing. I once thought an employer only had to qualify me. Now I realize you, to the best of your ability, have to qualify your employer, too. I'm using my bad postacademic job to redefine what I want out of a career--a better work/life balance, the ability to stay in Pittsburgh, the chance to help people, the opportunity to think my own thoughts, the chance to have "growth" and change throughout the span of a career (through new projects, certifications, etc). Now that I know the kinds of jobs that make me unhappy, I can begin to find a career that gives me meaning, purpose, and joy.

3. Let this bad job build your confidence.

Ironically, my horrible postacademic job experience has in many ways built my confidence. Although I hate my job, I do it well. When I left academia, I feared that I might not be able to cut it at non-academic employment. This experience has shown me that I can do postacademic work and do it well. I am heartened by this fact, and I am eager to see how my skills will transfer when I have a job I actually want.

4. Make a concrete plan to get out.

My job has been pretty intolerable. It has leeched my health and happiness. It's made me cranky and depressed and gloomy about life. It's also slowly killing me health-wise--constant pain, stress rashes, and serious gastro issues. I've known since my first day on the job that I need to be done, but getting out has been trickier than I'd hoped. At first, my strategy was to apply to as many other full-time jobs as possible. This has been exhausting and, ultimately, unproductive. Not that I recommend one stop applying for other full-time jobs when she hates her current one, but I highly recommend expanding the plan for making an escape strategy. Sign up with a temp agency, explore part-time work, consider going back to school, develop a side business you've always dreamed about--whatever your next step, create a timeline for quitting. I know this is hard--god, I know. In my house, I am the only "breadwinner"--imagine walking away from that stability? But I have to. I have to get out of my bad postacademic job and see what other possibilities are out there for me. I want to believe this postacademic life is going to be OK. More than OK. But I need to quit my current job to experience that. Identify your "next thing," make a concrete plan, and set a date to be done with your bad postacademic job. I have found that just knowing your misery has expiration date can be enormously helpful!

Do you have a bad (first) postacademic job experience? I'd love to hear about it in the comments, or send me an email at

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Missing Your Favorite Academic Conference? Don't!

At a work function, a number of my colleagues were talking about attending the Modern Language Associate Convention. MLA is the conference in English and Comparative Literature studies and, as such, it has long been a staple of my academic life. As a new MA student I went to listen to talks, as a PhD student I gave papers, and as someone ABD I had job interviews.

Although my job description is quite postacademic--sales (!)--my role in academic publishing means I am in touch regularly with marketers and editors who do attend the MLA conference, as well as various other conferences in my old field. Sometimes it makes me sad that I'm no longer a part of that world and, judging from Versatile PhD's forums, I am not the only one.

Conference Time...Creative Commons License Christian Senger via Compfight

Sitting at dinner with my colleagues, I bombarded them with questions about MLA.

"What papers did you enjoy? What fancy scholars attended? Did Michael Berube address the poor job market?"

As I hungrily try to catch conversational scraps from their MLA table, it occurs to me that I miss academic conferencing.


But why?

As recentPhD astutely points out conferences are expensive, papers are of varying quality, and socially awkward academics are not everyone's idea of a great party date.

She writes:
I've heard some astonishingly good papers over the years, papers that entertained, papers that made me think in ways I'd never thought before, papers that set my brain on fire through the sheer power and play of language. Papers that just plain blew my mind. But ... a lot of papers put me to sleep, too. More often than not, conference papers are less than brilliant.

JC, too, has written on the topic of academic conferences and privilege.
Let's just start by saying that I find something deeply disturbing about an academic system that pays graduate students and adjuncts poverty wages to do something as apparently important as teach college students ... and then also expects them to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars traveling to conferences while not having any outside employment to help them cover their expenses. The system is basically forcing people who don't come from privileged backgrounds to go into massive debt in order to just go about the expected business of their job. And in the end, what that does is privilege students from wealthy families over others. Wealthy students can go to conferences without incurring additional debt, don't have to worry about outside employment to help foot the bills, and can graduate debt-free. Less privileged students face a completely different situation.So not only do conferences likely not do much to actually further anyone's career, but in my opinion? They do further the obvious (but unremarked upon) class divide in graduate school and academia more generally.

Fuck the idea that we have to go to conferences, and we’re losers if we can’t afford it


And upon reviewing my own conference horror stories--here, here, and here--I am no longer sure why I miss academic conferences! Money, hassle, and boredom aside, I had people proposition me and die en route!

In my case, I think I miss academic conferences because I miss feeling that I "know" a field. I "got" academic conferences; I still do not "get" my new role in academic publishing. Also, I still miss aspects of academia.  miss the "idea" of conferences--furthering one's career, intellectual development, academic nerd camaraderie. Yet in reality, conferences afforded me none of those things. And that's a sobering reality. I'm thousands of dollars out in traveling costs and I never even got to appreciate the (sometimes) cool places I traveled!

For those people who genuinely and truly miss the experience of academic conferences, I encourage you to still attend. I think I may do this myself some day. Treat it like a vacation and go when you have time, money, and freedom to do so, rather than at the whims of the MLA jobs cycle. Register as an independent scholar. Listen to papers. Research and write on of your own. Connect with old colleagues you actually liked. Take some risks--do the kind of paper you felt would have held you back in your professional career. But at the same time, tour the city you're staying in. Take in the sights. Bring along a friend of partner to keep you company. Cultivate real life experiences outside academia. Do your conference on your own terms--a true perk of being postacademic!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Academia: No pain, no gain? Jet's story of illness, diagnosis and the road to recovery

After reading Lauren’s and Currer’s stories that chart their experiences with depression during and after their PhD studies I was struck by the common threads about frequent occurrences of physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue, exhaustion and, unsurprisingly, lack of motivation. While studying at MA level when I was a part-time student with a young baby the experience of constant fatigue, headaches and short tempered mood was so common I just accepted the conditions as a normal part of my life, a consequence of having to work hard to achieve the much desired academic goal of a higher degree. This isn’t to say there were never good moments in my life at that time, but I am amazed at how the whole culture of academic postgraduate study normalises over-work and the many stresses that go with it. If you’re not anxious over the quality of your academic performance then you’re perceived as a slacker and as someone who doesn’t care enough. Academia expects postgrads to show how passionate they are about their subject and that passion often is performed through personal sacrifices. While this expectation is never made entirely explicit, it is certainly implicit and internalised by PhD students. Unfortunately those personal sacrifices can materialise in poor physical and mental well-being. My experience of sacrifice also moved in this direction and had a devastating outcome during my second year of PhD study. I should have seen the bad signs when I was studying at MA level, but the reward of finishing with a Distinction and being patted on the back by my tutors, academic husband who saw moving on to PhD as a natural progression from a successful MA, was enough to fuel my energies to carry on in academia, in spite of it all.

I relate very much to Lauren and Currer’s hesitations about accepting their ailments as those that were related to depression, or as Currer’s physician put it, her ‘pain was mental…Mental like your body no longer realizes how to process serotonin and so you don’t sleep and you always feel anxious’. The culture of academia in many areas relies so much on an ideal of the rational, knowing subject who is in ‘control’ that is difficult to admit to feelings of vulnerability or instability, especially when connected with one’s mental health. In Lauren’s and Currer’s cases, drawing on therapy and anti-depressant medications were positive solutions that helped set them in more positive directions during and after their academic and post-academic anxieties. My experience of illness, I am convinced, was prompted by frequent anxieties about my work never being good enough, which led me to work into early morning hours, often having to still wake early with my two young children and then research/write and/or teach in the day. At this time my daughter was only five and my son eight, still young enough to have many demands and the usual run of illnesses that required them to stay at home from nursery care or school. With my mind often racing with work-related ideas or worries I frequently experienced sleep problems. It was unsurprising that fatigue and regular headaches (from a longer history of headaches) was a norm in my life. Wasn’t this all part of the course in academia, I justified to myself. I watched my academic spouse work extended hours to be able to succeed in his career and I knew I would have to pay my PhD dues as well. When I continued to experience back and neck ache from spending so much time at a desk I told myself that more exercise would solve everything, from the endless stream of colds and sinus infections to the headaches and sleeplessness. The problem was the more time I allowed myself to spend on exercise or have family time, the more I felt I had to make up my lost research/work time. So the endless cycle of work activity continued until my body finally screamed out for help. It had enough.

AloneCreative Commons License Bhumika Bhatia via Compfight

After I had recovered from a sinus infection I experienced a strange numbness in my mouth on the tongue and then the inside cheek area. This was around the same time I found I was forgetting things like my own phone number, which I laughed at and put down to being overloaded with academic reading. The sensation moved to my neck and face with tingling and eventually to my eye when I ended up with double vision. A doctor friend reassured me and said it must be shingles – very common, don’t worry. This came during the Christmas break so I was pleased to have some time off.

When the vision problem occurred my husband got me to the doctor who referred me to a neurology consultant for an MRI. The results showed I had multiple lesions on the brain but he never mentioned Multiple Sclerosis at that point. We were all relieved I didn’t have a brain tumour and I was told this was ‘inflammation’ that can occur after an infection. The double vision lasted almost a month and the tingling/numbing eventually passed – I was happy to move on and forget about it. It wasn’t too long afterward that when a full, second ‘episode’ occurred which knocked me back completely. Soon I was in bed, the whole body numb and it was difficult to move and walk. I made it to the hospital for more consultations and later tests and Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis was confirmed. I was in such a bad way, both physically and mentally, that I had to suspend studies straight away. In the end I opted to take a year out of studies with the full support of my supervisor. After a short fix of steroids it took months to recover more fully and longer to begin to feel a bit ‘normal’ again. My option of weekly injections of Beta-Interferon (which I gave up on) caused horrible side-effects including more headaches and the possibility of depression. Well, at that point I finally admitted I had a lot to feel depressed about and I was indeed pretty miserable. I took antidepressant meds which were initially prescribed to help take care of the numbing sensations but they also helped the mood problems. The UK National Health Service even offered a free counseling service through the General Practitioner's office. I put that on hold until I was ready to face the range of issues that all of this introduced.

Eventually when I was well enough to get around physically I searched for therapies that would help me recover psychologically. Much of this recovery process had to do with my perceptions of my new health condition, and the rest had to do with how I would proceed with the prospect of carrying on the PhD. I had experience with therapy in the past and found many benefits, but this time I saw that my pattern of anxiety and worry around academic work, in particular, possibly needed another method of care. I tried acupuncture for a bit as a way of attempting to manage some of the physical pain and other symptoms and also because I heard its value could be found in the talking part of the consultation.

Later I tried hypnosis and found this option very rewarding. We spent lots of time talking about my history of anxiety and current state of health with RRMS. I was a good hypnosis subject for sure, as I was able to go under so easily. My hypnotist structured the session especially for my needs and later made me a recording that I could use on my own, which I used regularly and still use every now and then in my present life. The hypnosis as a form of therapy helped me return to my studies with more confidence but also helped me to begin to think more about what I really wanted out of my working life in the future. It was at that point that I had major doubts about pursuing an academic career. I thought, if I carry on it will have to be at a slower pace and on some of my own terms. I considered giving the PhD up (I felt so much better when I had time away from it) but I could not escape the feelings of ‘What if?’ Having got that far I talked myself into finishing (and all my academic colleagues and husband pushed me in this direction too) and told myself if I hadn’t found a permanent academic post, preferably a part-time job, a year or so after graduation then I would rethink my choices. It all became much more complicated later on when I did finally find myself in transition out of academia. There were no permanent part-time lecturers’ posts in my field within a reasonable distance from home. By this time there was a new government in office in the UK and Higher Education cuts were brutal across the arts and humanities. I continued contract teaching, but I was really just buying some time before I had a better plan in mind. In the back of my mind, particularly since my MS diagnosis, I think I always felt academia was not going to work for me. I didn’t want to return to the culture of self-sacrifice at all costs. If I was going to manage this new chronic health condition, avoid future relapses and stay on my feet I had to take care of the self and say no to academic craziness.

My story of ‘therapy’ and ‘recovery’ from MS, or at least recovery from the impact of a devastating MS episode, and academia is a bit complex. My Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis did not come on merely because of academia – it would have visited me at some point -  but these early episodes, I believe, were triggered by all of the stress and anxiety that the PhD studies brought on. In a way I am grateful that having MS has forced me to rethink carefully the way I need to manage my working and family life. It has forced me to think hard about what I really want and about what makes me happy. For me, MS and a teaching/research academic career are a bad match. It’s taken some time to get to the point where I have accepted this fully and found ways to look outside of academia for meaningful work. Living with MS means I am reminded that nothing in my future can ever be certain. MS is what some have called ‘The unwelcome visitor’. But I’ve realised also that life itself introduces a whole bunch of these uncertainties every day. In some ways that realisation has helped me when planning my exit out of academia into a different, unknown work-sphere.

My advice around coping during your postgrad studies and/or when dealing with the many anxieties when transitioning out of academia is to pay close attention to the signs that your body is giving you and don’t dismiss them as just another ache and pain and sacrifice that goes with the PhD territory. We need to reject the ‘No pain, no gain’ mentality and begin to take care of the self in ways that will accept the limitations of the body. Listen to your own instincts, take care when care is needed, and be open to a range of therapeutic options that might be available to you.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

JC's Experiences with Therapy and Mental Health: Before and After Leaving

In the summer of 2008 – about 2.5 years before I decided to leave academia – I started seeing a therapist.

I wasn’t feeling depressed or particularly anxious, and I didn’t go to the therapist because of issues related to work or school. Rather, I had found myself struggling with different parts of my life – my marriage, my relationship with my parents and siblings, and the fact that I was making some irresponsible choices. Basically, I was behaving as if something was very wrong in my life even though on paper, everything seemed to be going quite well for me. Great partner, a job that I (thought I) loved, etc.

Everything should have been fine ... but I wasn't acting like it was.

It was almost like my subconscious mind was working against me. Something was clearly wrong, but I could not figure out what it was.


For about two years, I went regularly to the therapist. She helped me out a lot, and after a few months I was doing great. I wasn't diagnosed with anything, really - just some mild situational anxiety. She didn't prescribe anything ... just talk therapy. So I kept coming in and talking.

And even though I could tell I was making progress, I never really felt like I wanted to stop seeing her. Every few weeks, I'd have this vague feeling where I'd feel like I was going to burst. I'd suddenly be vaguely frustrated and anxious and just want to start screaming at people, venting about anything and everything. I'd take it out on my partner, or I'd just start crying and screaming for no reason. I'd go in and talk to my therapist, and I'd feel better. For a couple of weeks.

But I could never feel permanently better. I'd always need to come back a few weeks later after another freakout.

My therapist and I talked about my family, and my relationship, and my friendships, and the way I dealt with problems. We talked about everything ... but not work. We never talked about my academic work. Well, more accurately - I never felt like I needed to talk about work.

"Work? Work's fine. Going on some interviews next month, and making progress on my dissertation. It's fine. Now, about that thing my mom said to me the other day..."

It wasn't that I didn't have frustrations about work. I most certainly did - my friends and partner were hearing about them. But I didn't feel like I knew how to talk about them with her. And what good would it do, anyway? It's not like I'm going to quit or something. 

move along

So my therapist never told me to quit. I never discussed the fact that I was unhappy with academia. Hell, I never really talked about academia at all.

But the week after I decided on my own to quit, I went in for my appointment and told her. She was surprised, but happy that I'd made a decision that clearly made me feel happy and relieved. She told me that some of her other clients were grad students and academics and that many of them had expressed unhappiness and a desire to quit. She said she was proud of me.

I felt great.

I went to see her regularly for the next six months or so ... always talking about my decision to leave. I'd excitedly tell her about this or that article that I'd run across that had validated my decision to leave. I'd talk about the sad search terms that were bringing people to my blog, and tell her how thankful I was that I'd left and that other people were finding my blog useful. I'd talk about how nice it was to just come home from work and have my evenings to myself. How glad I was that I wasn't busy moving to Nowheresville, Idaho for some crappy professor job. How happy I was to have left.


And by mid-August of 2011, I found that I didn't have anything else to talk about in therapy. Things with my family and my partner were much better. I was hardly ever feeling anxious or overwhelmed anymore. I wasn't having my freakouts anymore. I simply didn't have much to say during my sessions.

So she and I agreed that it might be time to stop regular sessions, and to have me just call if I needed to come in. I thanked her for everything, and went on my way.

And I haven't gone back.

Now ... that's not to say that I will never go back. I think therapy is a wonderful, useful thing, and I definitely expect that there will be another point in my life where I'll be dealing with some stuff and will need to go back into therapy to help myself work through it.

But I haven't felt the need to go yet ... and now that I look back? It seems obvious - based on the time when I needed (and then didn't need) therapy - that my unhappiness with academia was seeping into other parts of my life, and making me miserable and anxious and causing me to act out.

My therapist would help me work on some stuff, and I'd go home and do okay ... but I'd always need to come back. Things would always bubble back to the surface, and I'd need help. I just wasn't stable yet.

And then I left academia, and suddenly my life and my moods stabilized.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

So if you're feeling vaguely unhappy in academia and are thinking that maybe you could be happier or maybe you might want to make some changes, I strongly recommend making an appointment with a therapist.

But unlike me, try talking to them about work. Maybe they can make some suggestions ... and save you some time and mental anguish.

Friday, January 11, 2013

UK Careers Resource for Post-Academics

If you’ve come across How To Leave Academia and are a post-academic from the UK you’ll find this information about the UK organisation 'Vitae' helpful.

Curriculum VitaeCreative Commons License the Italian voice via Compfight

When I was a postgrad in the arts and humanities in the UK, I was fortunate enough to secure finding through the Arts and Humanities Research Council. At application stage I was warned that by no means should I expect to get my PhD funded as it was such a competitive area. In fact, I told myself at that point that if I didn’t get the funding I would rethink the whole prospect and do something else. At that point I had no idea what that something else would have been, but I felt strongly about committing myself to a self-funded position. When I was awarded the scholarship I was so grateful that I was recognised for my academic achievements and potential that I realised I had to take it forward and try my best. Of course, the other, less confident side of me also felt that they had just made a mistake: quite often at times throughout the study I felt guilty to have bene awarded the money when there were other self-funded PhD students out there who seemed so much more capable. I struggled with feelings like this for some time.

In the second year of the funding I was encouraged by the AHRC to attend a four day workshop that was organised through what was then called the UK GRAD School. This UK organisation is now called Vitae. They provide things like professional and career development workshops and resources for postgraduate doctoral student researchers, University researcher staff and those in ‘research institutions’. Well, I did attend the workshop along with a diverse group of other funded students from other UK institutions. Some of these students didn’t have any choice as their funding body required them to attend. The days were planned so that small groups of us would work together on various tasks or team-building exercises that were facilitated by a mentor. We also had activities planned like CV/resume preparation, mock job interviews and role play to help us think about how we might work in various situations and contexts. The aims of much of the week were for participants to think about the value of their transferable skills and how we might be able to recognise our potential in career directions that we may not have imagined at that point in time. We were advised to visit our Careers offices at the university and to get as much out of them while we were there.

At the time I agreed to attend, I believed I went with an open mind and willingness. Upon reflection and after meeting a couple of others who were a bit like me, I realised that I saw myself as a PhD student who felt clear about the fact that I was going to pursue an academic career and in this respect I knew what I had to do to achieve that. My advisor would play in important role in this plan – I would work with her on my CV planning and personal statement writing and job applications. She would advise about conference abstracts, papers, etc., and I would take up contract lecturing in the right areas and follow the usual path. Several others there had this in mind and expressed a bit of boredom at being forced to think outside the box. They were academics on the road to teaching and research. They were confident in their scholarly abilities and didn’t need role play to reassure them. As an older PhD student and one who had experienced previous career choices (there was one woman there who may have been close to my age but I was the only attendant with children), I felt that I certainly could manage an interview and presentation brief. I could sell myself easily after all of my work experience, but yes, wasn’t it nice to be given a bit of a refresher course, so to speak.

Now that some years have passed I’ve had the reality check that actually managing a successful career in academia is a lot more challenging than I ever imagined at that time. I wish I had taken the workshop a bit more seriously, or at least taken their advice and seen the Careers office nearer to my completion of studies.

When I was coming close to deciding to transition out of academia I did in fact make an appointment with the Careers office, as a ‘free’ advice visit was still on offer for up to two years after graduation for Alumnis. I was intrigued that my appointment would be with a woman there who had a doctorate (Dr. so and so), and there was some comfort in the knowledge that she would know what PhD study and later career choices were like.  I hadn’t quite planned to release all of the emotional turmoil I had been feeling at that point, but it was within minutes after her asking me why I wanted to leave academia that I found myself suddenly very tearful – at one point I had to stop to catch my breath and contain myself. While she didn’t claim to give me any final answers to questions like what would I be good at doing – what kind of career can I have now, she did offer some clear and helpful advice.

The first place she directed me to was and she reminded me that it was once called UK GRAD School. I found it interesting that while my previous funding body would periodically send me information or survey links asking me what I was doing now after graduation, they never offered any post-graduation career development advice and I never remember hearing anything about the new change to Vitae. When she first showed me the webpage it appeared as though it was focused only on developing research students and other research staff for success in academia. But as she moved further into other paths in the website I saw that there was much on offer for those who were looking for alternative prospects. In some cases, there were case studies of academics who left and found research careers in commercial or other institutions. Others found careers in training or in management/administration in academia. But others found career potential in completely different areas. The advisor showed me links to numerous examples of academics who restructured their CVs from an academic focus to a ‘skills-based’ CV. There were other links to the site Beyond The PhD which had audio-recorded and transcribed interviews with people who completed PhDs and who had left academia for various reasons. I suddenly felt there was some hope for me. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to just find something else and the process of revealing to my academic colleagues and friends that I was thinking of opting out else was going to present its own challenges that would not be resolved quickly via a revamped CV. But discovering the Vitae resource opened my eyes to so many possibilities I hadn’t considered before then and gave me the confidence to move forward rather than just feel stuck.

If you haven’t discovered or utilised the Vitae site before now then have a look and spend some time exploring it. On first glance, the site appears to just focus on researchers’ careers. But if you look under the Careers tab you will find a variety of resources that will point you in other directions. The link for ‘What do researchers do? provides access to Vitae’s own publications about career profiles and destinations for people who have had doctoral research training. This one, ‘What do researchers do? Career paths of doctoral graduates (2011) ' offers great evidence from a study showing ‘that doctoral research training is a good foundation for a wide variety of occupations and demonstrates the flexibility of researchers who take advantage of a diversity of employment opportunities’.

The report ‘Straight Talking’ offers a great resource from a study, drawing on a survey and interviews, of post-PhDs and researchers on how they might access their networks more effectively to enhance their career potential.

See this link for more information about Careers outside of higher education.

You are bound to find some shared experiences through the useful Vitae database of career stories. Vitae encourages readers to upload their own stories. There are some stories from academics charting their career journeys but they are amongst many other alternative ones. Worth having a look while working your way through other links such as Career Planning.

I hope you will find Vitae as fruitful as I have. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Currer's "Pangs" at Leaving Academia: Stress and Phantom Pain

Sometimes the toll of leaving academia manifests itself in "funny" ways. For me, this meant never-ending infections, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic pain. As I was wrapping up my degree, applying for non-academic jobs, and preparing to graduate I realized I felt poorly all the time.

Initially, I assumed a host of minor ills had all decided to randomly hit me at once. Later, I thought I had pinched a nerve in my sciatica. Yet no matter how much rest I got, the pain never improved. Then the pain spread. What started in my posterior and upper thighs spread to my left arm, then my upper back, then my lower back, then my right arm, and then my right leg. My entire body felt like burning. Tingling, shooting pain with a little side order of a persistent head-in-a-vise headache. Frustrated and confused, I decided to go to a local urgent care center. (I write in greater detail about my experiences here.)

My doctor informed me that my pain was mental.

Me: "Mental? Like you're saying I'm some kind of hysterical 19th c. housewife?"

Doc: "No. Mental like you've been under tons and tons of stress for at least a year, if not longer. Mental like your body no longer realizes how to process serotonin and so you don't sleep and you always feel anxious. No sleep and anxiety=pain. Chronic, migratory pain. Instead of doing a hundred thousand dollars worth of diagnostic testing, looking for something rare, I'd like to put you on a temporary round of antidepressants and see if we can't sort this out."

At which point I promptly burst into tears. You'd think I might feel happy to hear I wasn't being handed a death sentence or a life-threatening illness. But, nope. All I felt was CRAZY. Crazy, weak, and like a failure for not managing my stress better.

day 90-humility katyhutch via Compfight

Me: "I'm not taking antidepressants! I can do this on my own! I'll exercise more! I'll relax! I'm not a quitter! Everyone takes antidepressants now and most people don't even need them. I won't be a statistic!"

Doc: "Well, don't take them. Live in pain. Or take them and feel better. Youve got two choices."

When he left, I sat there feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and like a loser. Logically, I knew that there was nothing wrong with therapy, antidepressants, and/or mental health issues. (For fuck's sake. One of my primary research areas is disability studies! )My dear friend accurately and clearly reassured me that this was a chemical issue, not just mental. Like a diabetic who needs insulin, my body was not operating right chemically. But, this rational knowledge of the circumstances, my body's rebellion did not fit my neat, orderly Type A overachieving picture of self-control. Ultimately, I swallowed my reservations, dealt with my shame, and took the pills. I'm so glad I did.

Since my diagnosis I feel much better. My medicine does wonders for my sleep. Since taking my medicine I haven't experienced that kind of pain again. Getting help for my phantom pain was the best decision I could have made. At the end of the day, the only one who made me feel any stigma about taking antidepressants was me.

For any of you readers who might be on the fence about seeking help for depression, anxiety, or phantom pain, I hope this helps. You'll be glad you sought treatment.

Making the Most of LinkedIn®: A Guide for Beginners

This is a guest post written by Cicely Rude, a post-academic turned language consultant and coach. See her website here. Thanks for the awesome advice, Cicely!

LinkedIn® has become a powerful professional networking, job search, and career development tool with multilingual capabilities. Building a solid network of contacts is an important and ongoing part of career development. For that reason, I've created the following introduction to some of the ways that you can optimize your LinkedIn® profile, build your professional network, find your next job, and advance your career. It is written with multilingual as well as monolingual job seekers in mind. For more information read 13 Tips for Using LinkedIn to Find a Great Job.

What is LinkedIn? 

LinkedIn® is a professional networking website. As of June 2012, LinkedIn® reports more than 175 million registered users in more than 200 countries and territories. The site is available in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Romanian, Russian, Turkish, Japanese, Czech, Polish, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia.


How can I make the most of LinkedIn®?

  • Create professional profiles and invite others to become connections, thus building a network of professional contacts. 

  • Create parallel profiles in multiple languages. 

  • Build a network of first, second, and third-degree contacts. 

  • Request introductions through the contact network. 

  • Find targeted jobs, companies, people, and business opportunities. 

  • Upload an online profile that showcases experience, projects, and skills

  • Gather recommendations for professional or academic work. 

  • Review the profiles of hiring managers and find contacts who can introduce them to you. 

  • Follow companies and receive notifications of new job postings. 


How about employers and recruiters? 

  • Employers list jobs and search for potential candidates. 

  • Recruiters search for people who match the requirements for particular jobs, then contact those people through LinkedIn®, so make sure your profile is fabulous, succinct, and current. 


Things to keep in mind when building a LinkedIn® profile:

  • Build a complete profile. 

  • Add names of schools you attended and companies you worked for, so the system can find possible connections. 

  • Include the dates during which you worked each job or attended each academic institution. 

  • Add the languages in which you are proficient, projects you have worked on, etc. 

  • Keep your profile current, even when not job-hunting. 

Cicely Rude
English Language, Culture and Curriculum Consultant

13 Tips for Using LinkedIn® to Find a Great Job

This is a guest post written by Cicely Rude, a post-academic turned language consultant and coach. See her website here. Thanks for the awesome advice, Cicely!

  1. Build your network before you need it. Click the “Add Connections” button and look for people that you may know, have known, or have worked, studied, socialized, and collaborated with in the past.

  1. Think in terms of reciprocal relationships. Instead of asking yourself only, “What can this person do for me?” when requesting connections, ask yourself “What can I do for this person?”

  2. Personalize your connection requests for better results. Add a personal note to the generic "I'd like to add you to my professional network" line. Giving an indication of where you met (e.g., at a conference) will help them to remember you and increase your rate of accepted link invitations.

  3. Spread the word about your job hunt. Use the update feature to tell everyone in your network that you are looking for a job and ask for leads and introductions. Announce what type of job you are looking for and be as specific as possible. Don’t be ashamed. Everyone has been on a job search and most will be again…and again.

  4. Customize your headline. The text beneath your name at the top of your profile page is called your headline. LinkedIn® will insert default text that matches your current job title, if you have one. However, that text can be easily changed to reflect what you want contacts and recruiters to see first. For example, one of my clients adopted the headline, “Executive Assistant, Actively Seeking New Opportunities” and saw an increase in interview offers.

  5. If you are bilingual, build a bilingual profile. If you are proficient in a second language and want to capitalize on that skill set in the job market, you can build a second version of your profile in your second language.

  6. Optimize your profile for searches. Use LinkedIn®'s suggested key words and phrases to attract recruiters who are looking for what you have to offer. Use consistent word choices, tenses, and adhere to industry standards. Check your grammar and spelling meticulously.

  7. Exchange recommendations and endorsements. Invite people with whom you have worked or studied to post a positive review on your profile, or to endorse your skills. Positively recommend and endorse others.

  8. Join groups that match your interests. There are many networking groups on LinkedIn®. You can search by topic yourself, but after you have built a profile the system will suggest some for you. Groups can keep you apprised of new developments, discussions, and jobs in your industry or profession. You may also let a group know that you are searching for a new position. Set your e-mail notification frequency to suit your preferences.

  9. Follow companies where you may be interested in working. Searching for companies in your geographic area and professional field will enable you to follow them and receive notifications of new job openings.

  10. Actively look for job postings and find useful connections. Browse the “Jobs” tab in LinkedIn® for positions that might interest you. Check for second or third-degree connections between yourself and the company– a personal introduction from a first or second degree contact within a company might not automatically get you a job, but can help you get an interview.

  11. View your own profile page regularly. Many people overlook this strategy, but it's useful because LinkedIn® will constantly suggest people you might know, companies you might want to follow, groups you might want to join, jobs you might be interested in, and new ways to improve your profile.

  12. Remember that LinkedIn is a professional network. Don't confuse LinkedIn® with social networks or social bookmarking. Keep your content professional and relevant.

Cicely Rude
English Language, Culture and Curriculum Consultant

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dealing with student loans

I made the first payment on my student loan today. It wasn't exactly pleasant. It's officially the 3rd biggest expense of our monthly budget after our mortgage and childcare. Despite owning nearly as much in student loans as I owe on my home (and at least that earns equity...), my payments are manageable. Student loans are an aspect of life after grad school that most of us dread coping with, but in my experience (and from others), they're not nearly as awful as you might expect. I highly recommend that you start figuring out loan stuff now (during the grace period) rather than leave it until the last minute. Avoiding looking at the bottom line won't make it any smaller, and there are steps you can take now to make life less miserable.

Caroline Roberts @ Postacademic has a lot of excellent, accessible advice about handling the "wild world of student loans." The comments have great advice, too. Here is my non-professional, but BTDT, advice on getting ready to tackle student loans. And do plan to tackle them: even if all you do is make arrangements to not have to pay them yet, you need to take action on your loans to avoid default. You can't bankrupt your way out of student loans. They must be faced head-on. Here are the steps I think make sense for most people to get started.


1. Find out what kind of loans you took out, how much you owe, and who you will repay.

Hey, now is not a time to lecture you on private versus federal loans if you already took the damn things out. Right now, you just need to know how much you owe, who to pay, and the options available for that kind of loan. You'll have to play your cards as they lie, and I won't judge you, but I do feel sorry for you if you took out private loans because I hear they're a bitch to repay. I guess private companies are much less flexible and much less reasonable about repayment, in the same way credit card companies can be (because they're usually the same people).

I only have federal student loan debt to deal with. is the place to start because it explains everything very simply. Then, you'll probably head to to set up accounts and such. Sometimes it can take time to set up accounts, find your old PIN, update ancient addresses from undergrad days, etc. So expect it to take a little time to get to the point where you can simply access your own information. Once you've done all that, you can easily see how much you owe (look at the number. LOOK AT IT.), how much your repayment will be, and when it will start. You get six months from the time they figure out you're not in school anymore. This should also direct you to whomever you'll be repaying (Direct Loans, Ed Financial, etc).

2. Learn about deferment and forbearance.

If you're just starting on the quitting journey, you may have no idea what your income will look like in 6 months. You may have landed a job that will make monthly payments in the range of hundreds of dollars absolutely no problem. Or you may still be in that "just for now" job bagging groceries, which means you can afford something but not as much as they may want. Or you may still be up shit creek -- dealing with health problems, or persistently unemployed, or whatever -- and not be able to make payments at all. The link above has a great chart that tells you the circumstances under which you can defer/forebear loans, and for how long. (e.g., you can defer some loans for up to 3 years if you are unemployed.) There are also circumstances in which you can have your loan forgiven or discharged (these involve many years of public service, or permanent disability, etc). Know your options!

3. Learn about different payment options.

Again, the charts in the link above make this simple to interpret. Unless you apply for a different repayment plan, you'll automatically be set up for the "standard repayment plan." This usually means fairly large payments for a shorter period of time (10 years) and that's good because you pay it off sooner and accrue less interest. But if you're like me (ahem) and made many catastrophically bad financial decisions in grad school, you won't be able to pay the standard amount. In that case, consider the graduated repayment plans, or the relatively new and very very wonderful Income-Based Repayment plans. Basically, IBR bases your payment on your income and family size, and adjusts the payment every year. This is a good thing. This is the plan I am using, and my payments still hurt but they are manageable. (I will combine Income-Based Repayment with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan and have the remainder of my loan discharged after 10 years).

Go ahead and apply for IBR if you think it sounds good. Remember, you can always pay more if you want, or adjust the plan later on. For now, you need a payment option that's workable with your life as it is today.

4. Look into loan consolidation.

If you're like many students, you've probably taken out multiple loans across multiple years, possibly at different interest rates or even from different organizations. This can mean that when you sit down to start paying back your loans after you leave, you may be looking at having to make multiple payments per month (maybe even to separate companies), which may add up to a total amount that is totally overwhelming.

Before you fall into a total panic, try to figure out if you might be able to consolidate your loans by clicking the link above and starting the application. Of course, consolidation can't reduce the total pot of money you owe. However, it can make your monthly payments (and sometimes your interest rates) significantly lower.

In JC's case, consolidating student loans literally cut her monthly payment in half. She's still going to be paying those bad boys back for waaaaay longer than she'd like, of course ...  but saving a few hundred dollars every single month definitely makes the payments more manageable.

So a few months before your first payment is due, try filling out the consolidation app. There are calculators that can help you get a ballpark idea about whether you'd benefit from consolidation ... and even if you fill out the application and change your mind at the end, you have a month or so before the consolidation goes into effect where you can cancel and change your mind.

So once you gather your list of the loans you owe, play around with the calculators and the consolidation app. It can really help your monthly budget.

5. Set up autopayments if you can.

Late payments can affect your credit score, and you don't want to screw up your qualification for things like PSLF, so setting up automatic debits for student loans is a smart move. For some people whose income fluctuates a lot week to week (e.g. freelancers), this option may not be great (you certainly don't want to overdraft!) but you have to be diligent about timely payments if you don't set up auto-debit. I suck at things like that, so I have autodebits for our loans. These can take over a month to clear with your bank, so do it in advance (I just learned this the hard way, ouch).

If you get confused, call them. They're really very pleasant. The government will work with you. They just want some of this fucking money paid back!

As an aside: you might be really concerned that the amount of your student loans will mean you can never buy a house or a car. This isn't necessarily true. We purchased our home and a car while repaying my husband's student loans. (Note from JC: so did we!) It probably depends on your bank and other aspects of your financial life, but we found that our bank was more interested in whether or not we could afford the monthly payments for all of our commitments than they were in the total amount of our overall debt. You can always ask. They can always say no... but at least you'd know!

I think we have this sense of deep shame about debt and therefore avoid talking about it, but that's not productive. Certainly, I regret my student loans, but I'm dealing with them like an adult -- and like millions of other Americans. If we hadn't asked, we would be paying more money for a shitty rental than we are now for our wonderful home that we own. If we hadn't asked, we'd be freaking about making payments on my student loan rather than making a prompt and affordable payment. Facing my debt has been a big part of the growing up I've done since quitting grad school. I wish I'd done it much earlier. Regardless: it's manageable. Don't fear Sallie Mae!

Should I Quit? Definitive answers here!

Just kidding. Sorry. We can't tell you if you should quit. We truly wish we could be an Academic Magic 8-ball and give you that confirmation you're looking for.

It's all in the mind renske herder via Compfight

The collaborators of this website have gone in circles over how to answer this question. Should you quit? We all grappled with it in different ways, for different reasons.

Below, we'll link to dozens of articles and essays that ask the questions should you quit, why should you quit, what are good reasons to quit, etc. Then Lauren wraps it up with a few thoughts.

* * *

Reframe your concepts of "leaving," "quitting" and failure with our article here. There are tons of great reads that will stoke the fire of your indignance and make you feel like less of a chump (you are not a chump, but you probably feel like a chump).

This May 2012 article from The Guardian discusses reasons that Chemistry PhDs -- especially women -- decide to leave academia:

The participants in the study identify many characteristics of academic careers that they find unappealing: the constant hunt for funding for research projects is a significant impediment for both men and women. But women in greater numbers than men see academic careers as all-consuming, solitary and as unnecessarily competitive. Both men and women PhD candidates come to realise that a string of post-docs is part of a career path, and they see that this can require frequent moves and a lack of security about future employment... Women more than men see great sacrifice as a prerequisite for success in academia.

Karen Kelsky @ The Professor Is In assures us that "IT'S OK TO QUIT":

What starts out as an inspired quest for new knowledge and social impact can devolve into endless days in an airless room, broke, in debt, staring at a computer, exploited by departments, dismissed by professors, ignored by colleagues, disrespected by students. It is ok to decide that’s not what you want.  It is ok to make another choice.  There is life outside of academia.

JC has written an entire series called "Reasons I'm Leaving." She also did a more academic, less personal, series called "A Sociologist's View on Leaving" that's worth reading as well.

Julie Clarenbach has a lot of suggestions for weighing this important decision in "How can you tell if you should leave academia?"
Get rid of the shoulds. If you take a break from telling yourself what you “should” do, what do you WANT to do? Does anything on your to-do list sound fun? We spend so much time learning by watching in this career that it can be hard to notice what we need to make this work for us. Maybe your colleague can grade four papers a day and get them all done efficiently, while you really just need to set aside five hours in front of Glee reruns. If that’s your way, having “grade 4 papers” on your to-do list every bleeping day will likely make you want to stab your eyes out. And that will affect everything else.

You “should” serve on committees, you “should” contribute, you “should” teach a certain way, you “should” write a certain kind of essay — what happens if you drop the stories?

(Dropping the "shoulds" was huge for me.)

Grad school made Caroline Roberts puke. No, really. Stress is no joke: it really can destroy your body and make you crazy. It doesn't really matter if you "should" be stressed out. You just are. It's not weakness. Caroline also has some amusing and very helpful reactions to a bunch of advice columns that focused on grad students here.

Bottom line: only you can know if it's time to go. From my personal perspective, I think any reason is a good reason to quit. I don't think you need to hit some magical threshold to have a "good enough" reason to quit. It seems like a lot of folks consider quitting for a long time, and then there's a "straw that broke the camel's back" that pushes them into actually quitting -- a missed deadline, a rejection letter, a disappointing interview, a conversation, a revelation. I could say "I quit grad school because I had a disagreement with my advisor," but it was really so much more than that: years of accumulated stress, debt, fatigue, and frustration. If you want to quit, you can quit. Really. You don't have to justify it to anyone except yourself.If you're considering quitting, and are stressing out over should I, should I, I challenge you to flip the script: ask yourself why you should stay. What's keeping you here? What are you getting out of academia? What's the reward? You might be surprised how short that list, how flimsy.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Before You Leave ... Take Advantage of Your University Benefits

If you know that you're planning to leave your grad program or faculty job in the near future, one thing that I'd recommend you do is to think about any good benefits that you get through your position at the university ... and go take advantage of them for the last time (or for the first time!).

Unlike people in the nonacademic world who put in their two weeks' notice at a job (or worse: are fired or laid off without notice), you will most likely have a few months or more where you will know you're leaving but where you haven't officially "left"  yet. Therefore, you will still be able to take advantage of any good benefits or perks you get through your academic position.

And I think that - now that you know you're leaving and you aren't working on academic stuff 24/7 anymore - you should take full advantage of as many of the perks of university life that you possibly can.

all the things

Now, of course, we can't tell you exactly what "things" you should take advantage of. Every university and department is different, and the perks of being a tenured faculty member as opposed to a grad student or an adjunct are vastly different. And you obviously shouldn't do anything unethical or that might get you into trouble. Don't download the entire archives of The American Journal of Basketweaving to post on the internet, and don't ask your department to fund your trip to a conference in six months if you haven't told them you're leaving in three.

But while you're moving through the odd in-between period where you know you're going to be leaving but you aren't gone yet, you should take stock of the various things you have access to as part of the university, and see if there are any that you should take advantage of while you still can.

free puppies

  • Maybe you've met the deductible on your health insurance. It might not be a bad idea to squeeze in a couple of doctor visits or a few extra prescription refills before you switch to a brand new plan with a new deductible (or, gulp -- no insurance at all. See our other articles on covering these necessities here.).

  • Maybe your university offers discounted computer software or upgrades to faculty and students (that can be taken with you when you leave). If so, maybe it's time to take a quick look at what's available to you.

  • Many schools subscribe to e-learning services like Lynda or Skillsoft, which are a great way to learn technical skills (website design, Excel, Photoshop, javascript, social media marketing, etc). A subscription to Lynda costs an individual $250 but might be free to you as a student -- spend your time learning skills you might actually use at a job.

  • If you get free dental cleanings or psychotherapy visits through the university, you might want to get one more before you go. If you've been meaning to download that document that has your great-grandfather's signature on it from through your university's subscription, now's your chance.

  • Has your spouse been wanting to take a class at your university using your tuition discount? Do you keep forgetting to print out a copy of your last publication, just so you have it? Have you been wanting to check out that free kickboxing class at the university gym? Have you always meant to use your student/faculty discount to go to the opera or theater or sporting event or whatever other university events you've always been interested in? Now's the time for season tickets to women's basketball! Have some fun -- really!

  • Don't forget about your institution's Career Services office. They can help you practice interviews, polish your resume, and likely have some inventories and career search resources available for free or at a discount. Check those out now!

Well, now you know you're leaving ... you're not feverishly working toward the next step in your academic career anymore. So now's the time to do that stuff.

Think about the things you have access to, the benefits that are going to be worse at your next job, or the things you've always meant to take advantage of but never did ... and while you're waiting to move onto your next step, do them. Save yourself a little money and/or have a little fun. You deserve it.

A great career advice podcast with Julie Clarenbach

A post-ac blogger, Unemployed Philosopher, has a nea-to post-ac podcast and recently interviewed post-academic career coach Julie Clarenbach. Julie left a tenure track job in technical writing to become a post-ac career coach. She works at Escape the Ivory Tower (she calls post-acs "escape artists"). This covers so many of those initial concerns we have about moving into "real world" careers: networking, emotions, next steps, cover letters, etc. It's a great listen! Add it to your podcast and listen to it after the Freakonomics podcast on Quitting and you'll be fired up and ready to go!

...and go (cc)Creative Commons License Martin Fisch via Compfight

Packing It In: Getting Rid of Books & Moving Out of Your Office

I think it was bookshelves that got me hooked on the idea of academia in the first place. I vividly recall visiting a Professor's home while an undergrad friend was house sitting. On a leafy street in a neighborhood near campus, the green clapboard house had wood floors, thick rugs, and bookshelves everywhere, even running up the staircase. As a starry-eyed junior, it seemed like the perfect life.

When we rented our first apartment in new grad school town, we found a place with built in bookshelves lining one wall of the living room and were sold instantly.

So maybe it's not a surprise to anyone that going through your books is a big moment in post-academic life. Similarly, packing up your campus office is a moment where your past life -- and its hopes and dreams -- crashes into your new life, with its uncertainty. What do you keep? What do you get rid of? What do books mean to you if you're not going to use them, or necessarily read them? What kind of life will you lead in which books aren't central to your work?

The Shakespeare & Company BookshopCreative Commons License Alexandre Duret-Lutz via Compfight

For some people, getting rid of books is a huge relief. You might be tempted to do a bonfire of the humanities and symbolically purge your life of these markers of academia. If that's the case, more power to ya (although you might only burn the truly trashed copies and consider donating the rest). For most of us, though, it seems like going through our books is a crucial aspect of the transition out of academia. It often takes multiple pass throughs. It can be a useful marker for your own transformation, as you might see books that made the cut last time and think "wha??"

WoPro developed a case of bibliophobia going through her books, and the process kept bringing up the painful reality of her uncertain life after academia:

I probably didn’t get rid of enough books. I fear that my dream library is something that will never happen anyway, and the more pressing issue is deciding which books will make it into my car, since I’ll be living out of it for a few months.

Arnold @ Postacademic went through his books multiple times and still struggled with deciding what to keep and what/where to get rid of the rest.

When I quit, I gave my students extra credit to return stacks of library books for me. I had no problem getting rid of books related to my academic pursuits, but teaching books proved harder to purge. I still have a lot of books about feminist science studies and developmental education on my shelves.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you go through your books:

  1. Do I like it?

  2. Will I read it for fun? (Really: will you read Foucault for fun?)

  3. Is this book important or significant in some way? (Sometimes thinking of the books as "artifacts" of a time in your life makes it easier to decide, e.g. I wrote my senior thesis on Djuna Barnes' Nightwood, so it stayed.)

  4. Is this a book I could easily replace if I later regret this decision? (So maybe you can justify keeping something out of print, but really, it's not that hard to pick up another copy of The Politic Unconscious if you wake up in the middle of the night really, really wishing you had it on your bedstand.)

  5. Can I make money from this? (If you have a recent textbook, or a nice version of a recent edition of a Norton Anthology, its dollar value might outweigh its sentimental value. And you're really going to need that $15 in your post-academic life. Really.)

  6. If I could trade this for an awesome comic book, would I? (If the answer is yes, then get rid of the book, and buy yourself an awesome comic book.)

I strongly encourage you to visit your public library. Not your university library, but the little building with a children's area and a meeting room that you may never have been to. Now walk around and look at all of the books that you could read, right now, for free, for the pure joy of it. Hello, check out that graphic novel section. Wait a minute, wait a minute: you haven't read the Hunger Games trilogy yet?!! Check out all 3 books right now. Reorient yourself to a life in which reading is something you do because you want to and like to, and you read books for the loveliness of language and narrative. It will make you look at your collection in a whole new way.

Once you're ready to get rid of some books, here are some of the ways post-acs get rid of and/or make money off of their book collections:

  • Post a list to facebook and offload them on to non-quitting academics (haha, suckers!).

  • Dump them in the department's mailroom. People will take them.

  • Take them to a used book store and see if you can make some money from them.

  • If money is a bigger concern for you, try running the ISBN numbers of your books through the Amazon Marketplace or a similar commercial site. JC got rid of a few books this way during a time in her life where she needed some extra cash, and actually netted several hundred dollars doing it.

  • Donate them to your local public library (check the library's guidelines for donation, first).

  • Donate them to a student organization that does a book sale (e.g. the English grad students did a book sale at my U, so I took a lot of my criticism books there).

  • Make something from them -- art, sculpture, collage.

  • Recycle them.