Talking about leaving academia: a dialogue

Friend: So, what are you doing next year?  Going on to PhD?

Me: No, actually, I decided against continuing to do a doctorate.

Friend: What?!  But I always imagined you as an academic…

Me: …that’s nice…

Friend: So why the change?

Me: Well, a number of reasons really.  Firstly, I lost a lot of passion for my subject…

Friend: But I thought that’s what you really wanted to do!

Me: …well, I changed my mind.

Friend: Oh, that’s a shame.  What went wrong for you?  Why did you lose interest?

Me: I don’t know.  It’s pretty hard to explain.  Why do you have or not have an interest in something?

Friend: I suppose so.  So why else did you decide not to do a Ph.D?

Me: Well, another reason is that I didn’t feel I was actually intellectually capable of making an academic career for myself…

Friend: Oh, I’m sure that’s not true!  Based on [the small number of 1st year undergrad tutorials/incoherent conversations we had while drunk/no evidence whatsoever], I *know* you’re smart enough!

Me: …that’s very kind…

Friend: …and even if you’re not, you can get a job eventually at a low-prestige university pretty easily, can’t you?

Me: Not necessarily.

Friend: Of course you can!  It’s not that competitive!

Me: It really is.

Friend: Oh, I’m sure you can find a small college or something to teach at!

Me: I don’t think you understand the nature of the academic job mar…

Friend: What are you going to do instead?

Me: Well, I’m glad you asked me about that.  I’ve got a job lined up for next year doing This Thing!  It’s exciting!

Friend: Well, that’s nice.  But you do realise you won’t have your lovely long holidays you’d have as an academic!

Me: Well funnily enough that had occurred to me.  Though vacations are used by lecturers for administration and research, and generally there isn’t enough time for eith…

Friend: …and the job security!  You won’t have the job security!

Me: Erm, the life of an early career academic is pretty unstable, actually, with short stints and high rates of involuntary attrition.

Friend: …and you’re your own boss!  It’s relaxing!

Me: Actually, professionalisation and continuing scarcity of resources is increasing burdens and managerial pressure for academics, leading in a disturbing number of cases to mental problems directly attributable to overwork.

Friend: Oh.  Well, you might well change your mind in a few years time, after an encounter with the World Of Work!

Me: How very non-patronising of you.

Friend: Even if the pay isn’t great, it’s OK!  And you’ll be doing something you’ll love!

Me: Glossing over the second half of that – just because somebody has an academic mindset, it doesn’t mean they don’t value things like earning money, a certain career path, or living near to friends, family and partners.

Friend: OK.  But I now want to pin down in detail the exact moment when you realised you weren’t cut out for academia, and get you to go through all the arguments with me so that I can explain to you why you’re wrong!

Me: …why are you so invested with me going into academia?


I’m going to write in more detail at some point about why I decided, after two years of postgraduate study, that I didn’t want to continue with further study, something which will perhaps allow for more nuance than this rather one-sided dialogue.  Suffice to say that I completely respect the choices of people (many of whom are my friends) to pursue an academic career, and I can still see the appeal of what remains a potentially rewarding career.  I also know that the friends who I’ve had variants of this conversation with (and they’re almost all people who didn’t go on to do further degrees) mean well, and I’m not annoyed with them as individuals.  I’m mostly just amused – and a little curious – at how willing they are to argue with me, and how they seem shocked at why I would be deciding, like a lot of other careers out there, that it’s just not for me.


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