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Author Topic: I'm thinking of leaving academia  (Read 20550 times)
momprof2
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« on: January 30, 2009, 4:56:35 PM »

Hi All,

This is my first time posting on a blog so please excuse me if I'm breaking any rules??. I am a mother of 2 boys (2 year old and 7 month old) and I'm an assistant prof at a research-intensive university. I have struggled all through this tenure-track period wondering whether this is for me. I like academic life because of the flexibility, the autonomy, the intellectual freedom it brings but the hours, increasing expectations are killing me. Also, I like research but in making my pros and cons list I realize now that I'm not keen on supervising grad students. I don't mind teaching and the administrative side of it.

In the beginning things were going really well on paper. Despite questioning whether I could be successful in academics, I was able to secure several grants from very competitive national programs. Then I decided to have a baby. My research has really slowed since having children. I know my colleagues are wondering when I'm going to get my act together and pick up the pace. I should tell you also that I work at a university in Canada where we get 1 year maternity leave with each child. I've taken each year but continued my research program while I was off, bringing my baby in with me each week and now putting him in day care 2 days a week so I can just keep up with small things.

My husband has a very busy career and is worried about me going back full time. I am worried as well. I'm worried my children will never see us, the laundry and cooking will never get done, I'll be miserable and I still won't be measuring up to what is expected of me at work. Plus I want to have a 3rd child (crazy, I know). I'm considering leaving and doing some freelance work 3 days a week which would allow me to still have somewhat of a career and have some financial independence. It will allow my husband to really focus on work. He makes 3 times my salary and has a true passion for his career, something that I cannot say I have. But I've been in academia for so long I'm worried that once I'm out I will regret it.

Has anyone else dealt with these issues and what were your experiences? Sorry for rambling. I've spun myself into circles trying to figure out what I should do. I love my kids and want more time with them, I resent working so much while I'm on maternity leave and I'm dreading going back full time.
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toothpaste
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« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2009, 5:09:28 PM »

Two thoughts:

Could you secure a position that allowed you teaching and administration but less research and no supervision of graduate students? Maybe you can't move, but you could look at other institutions in your vicinity.

Read Mama, PhD]--it's chock full of essays by academic women with this problem.
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Oh, this is how you get a signature line.
gollum
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« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2009, 5:14:19 PM »

I made the leap and, so far, I haven't regretted it for a minute.

Ask yourself how much flexibility, autonomy, and intellectual freedom you really have at the moment.  I would argue that in academia you don't have nearly the degree of flexibility and autonomy that you think you do.  As for intellectual freedom, there's plenty of that outside the ivory tower.  So I'm not really sure what you're giving up there.

C'mon, jump in!  The water's fine.

Gollum
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momprof2
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Posts: 58


« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2009, 5:26:13 PM »

OMG, I'm so glad you replied! I've been in agony since I started and it's only worse now that I have kids. The flexibility issue is part of the problem. I don't have to "clock in and out" but I feel like I'm always working -- even now when I'm not getting paid. Plus, I'm highly motivated by guilt and there seems to be a lot thrown around in my department which means I just keep taking on more.

I feel like I need to see my grad students through (summer 2010) but that seems so far away.
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gollum
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« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2009, 5:39:43 PM »

OMG, I'm so glad you replied! I've been in agony since I started and it's only worse now that I have kids. The flexibility issue is part of the problem. I don't have to "clock in and out" but I feel like I'm always working -- even now when I'm not getting paid. Plus, I'm highly motivated by guilt and there seems to be a lot thrown around in my department which means I just keep taking on more.

I feel like I need to see my grad students through (summer 2010) but that seems so far away.

That's what I mean about "flexibility" in academia.  Sure, you can allegedly set your own hours (not really in my case, though), but you're always working.  And if you're not working, you feel guilty about it.

As for your grad students, they'll get over it.  It's your life, not theirs, we're talking about anyway.

Gollum
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momprof2
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Posts: 58


« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2009, 5:44:24 PM »

Toothpaste, thank you for your suggestions. For some reason my original reply wasn't posted.

I ordered Mama, PhD this morning. It can't come fast enough.

I've thought about asking for a change in workload at my present university. They've done it for someone (male colleague) in the past but he totally blew it and was let go. I think they might be highly resistant to offering something similar again, although my productivity is much better than his was.

I'm not sure I want to stay given how other faculty members look at teaching faculty in our department. I shouldn't care what others think but it does matter to me. I want to be recognized for the good work I do. This only seems to happen for the faculty members who have high profile research programs, oodles of grad students, funding, and wives who stay at home to take care of the kids. It's amazing how much gossip floats around the workplace. Who knew this would continue past high school?

The guilt of not pushing to reach the standards set for faculty members is difficult to ignore. I feel like I'm bailing out, giving up, failing...
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daurousseau
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« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2009, 5:46:08 PM »

Don't worry about it. It's just a job.
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momprof2
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Posts: 58


« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2009, 5:48:39 PM »

Gollum, thank you for your input. My family is more important to me right now and I feel like there are many things I can do that will make me happy. Good to know others have left and never looked back.
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educator1
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« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2009, 5:51:10 PM »

I love my kids and want more time with them, I resent working so much while I'm on maternity leave and I'm dreading going back full time.

It appears to me that you have already made a decision! Go with it!  Life can be freer, more flexible, and more enjoyable outside the tenure-earning pressure cooker. I have seen too many junior faculty burned out by it.
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momprof2
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« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2009, 5:59:03 PM »

I think I have made my decision. Now I just need to let go of some of the nice perks: salary (not that high but decent), pension, benefits. Anyone have any comments on what part-time consulting in a science/engineering field can bring financially?
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newbie
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« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2009, 6:10:12 PM »

Before you throw in the towel, have you considered trying a different kind of university? You might be happier at a lower tiered institution that did not have many graduate students.

Good luck regardless.
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msparticularity
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Assistant Professor cum bricoleur


« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2009, 6:20:09 PM »

I think I have made my decision. Now I just need to let go of some of the nice perks: salary (not that high but decent), pension, benefits. Anyone have any comments on what part-time consulting in a science/engineering field can bring financially?

I am not in the sciences, but have spent a lot of my working life self-employed. The thing is, it's really not a part-time job; you have to spend enormous amounts of time networking and marketing yourself to get enough work, and then worrying if you're doing enough to keep the work coming. I did have a couple of nice long-term contracts where I did program development and grant-writing for nonprofits, but those were a byproduct of my connections at the university where I was teaching part-time.

I second Newbie's suggestion that you look into other types of positions (part-time teaching-only) at other institutions that are less research-intensive, since these would offer stability and keep you active in your field.
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"Once admit that the sole verifiable or fruitful object of knowledge is the particular set of changes that generate the object of study...and no intelligible question can be asked about what, by assumption, lies outside." John Dewey

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momprof2
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Posts: 58


« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2009, 7:36:19 PM »

I hear what you're both saying. I'm lucky in that there are a number of universities in my area (within a 100 km radius) with programs in my field and they are all having difficulty finding teaching power. I would consider doing some part time lecturing at another institute closer to my husband's work. Currently we both commute 1 hour in opposite directions which makes things all the more difficult. I like teaching ok but don't think I could do it exclusively. The relentless whining of students for higher grades and the seemingly increasing sense of entitlement is annoying as all get out. I was recently (2 years ago) headhunted by a company looking for a phd in my field. They wanted a full time person but I see there is still a posting and it is the type of work that could be done on a case by case basis. They often have profs work on contract with them so maybe a deal could be worked out.

I'm nervous about being exclusively self-employed. My husband is on 100% commission which has worked out well so far but you never know, especially with today's economy. 
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sugaree
shakin' it since 2007 and only a
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« Reply #13 on: January 30, 2009, 9:02:06 PM »

OP, you don't like the pressures of research or the whining and entitlement of students and no one in their right mind likes administrative b*llsh*t and meetings, so it seems like this is a no brainer. Yes, change is scary but from what you've described here, academia makes you pretty miserable and your passions lie elsewhere. I would pursue the consultant work you describe in the private sector. If your husband earns a good salary this gives you some time and freedom to figure out what it is you ultimately want to do. If that means stay-at-home mom for the time being (or longer), so be it. Good luck.
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where's the bourbon?
macaroon
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« Reply #14 on: January 30, 2009, 9:36:26 PM »

Could you try putting the baby in daycare 5 days a week, and just try it before you completely quit? 

I'm in the sciences - but I had my kids earlier than you.  My first I had in grad school, and the second 2 years later as a postdoc.  I was very, very happy when they were small. My maternity leaves were only 2 months, but when I tried working during them, I felt like a failure on both fronts.  Having them in childcare ~ 40 hours a week allowed me to be a productive scholar, and allowed me to be a good mom too. 

I'm afraid to say that a position with more teaching is far less "flexible" than a mostly-research position.  You can't reschedule your class for ear infections.  Your husband will pretty much be required to take the time off during your classes. 

Unfortunately, if you leave to be a stay at home mom, you won't be able to come back. =-(.


« Last Edit: January 30, 2009, 9:36:52 PM by macaroon » Logged
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