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Author Topic: Left academe--deeply regret it  (Read 18038 times)
redzing
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« on: December 23, 2012, 12:22:12 AM »

I took the leap and left the academy for the non-profit world 16 months ago.   This is the thing about the job--when the economy tanked, the organization I was working for within a large land-grant institution started to unravel and re-organize, salary freezes were in effect for years, and it is still deeply unstable financially.  Not to mention I was directly managed and undermined by a person who was deeply threatened by other competent men in the organization.  I have two small children, and needed something more stable (and with a higher salary).  I landed a position in a very stable organization, but perhaps too stable.  People have ossified there, and although I was brought in as a bright and energetic candidate ready to change things, my morale and ability to get anything done are at an all-time low.  90% of the people in the place have no interest in change and I am deeply resented for coming from academia by many of the lower level staff.   There is not a day that goes by that I have regretted my decision to leave my employer at this large flagship University where I spent the first 7 years of my career, even with all the many downsides to it.  

On a personal level, coming from a family deeply entrenched in academe, having grown up around and been involved in higher education all of my life, I now miss it terribly.   My time in public service the last 16 months has been, to put it mildly, a terrible fit for me.  I grieve for the atmosphere of a college campus almost daily, and cannot wait to get back into that milieu.  My girls are 3 and 7, and although my wife does not want to relocate (both sets of parents live in proximity), I have had several good bites, a phone interview on the East Coast for a faculty position and other prospects.  

My question is, has anyone been through these kinds of experiences?   Perhaps I'm just lucky to have a job that pays 40k plus with fairly good benefits (although the health benefits are not so good for my family).  It seems reasonable, for my own happiness and my career prospects, that we should consider relocating so that I can get back into higher ed on some level.

Thanks for any advice!
« Last Edit: December 23, 2012, 12:27:53 AM by redzing » Logged
frogfactory
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« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2012, 5:04:39 AM »

Maybe you should re-examine why you left in the first place.  Every job sucks sometimes - how sure are you this isn't just nostalgia and you'd regret returning to the reality of academia, especially if you uprooted your family to do so?
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At the end of the day, sometimes you just have to masturbate in the bathroom.
redzing
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« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2012, 12:05:42 PM »

Yes, this may be partially true.   Perhaps some false nostalgia going on.   And after I left a whole wave of people left . . . . huge turnover rate at the old job, among lower level and professional level staff.   Among other red flags. 

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2much2do
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« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2012, 5:41:01 PM »

Redzing, I think I could have written your post.  In fact, I think I did write it a couple of years ago.  I left a TT position at a SLAC 5 years ago for a position at a non-profit, and the economic downturn happened at the non-profit.  We are now being merged (acquired?) by a large non-profit with a different mission, but it's the only way to keep our doors open.  I'm just not at all sure that we will continue to do the work we do after the merger. 

I've been assured that my position will continue, but I have no idea what work I'll be doing.  So, I am continuing to regret the move, but there is very little chance that I could get back to the College I left, and I am geographically bound. 

I do know that when I really think about going back to academia, I am forgetting about the bad parts - for me, a salary that was horrible, and a salary structure that was unfair - I was earning $15K less than people coming in with a MA and no experience.  I was working two other jobs to make ends meet.  And, two faculty members who dominated all activities and who were absolutely nuts.  So, when I keep remembering that, I've been able to scale back my expectations and work within the structure that exists, moving my agenda forward slowly and carefully. But I'm in a situation where my salary at the non-profit is much better than my salary at the SLAC, so that makes things a lot easier to take. 

Some things I have done to fit in better are to absolutely never mention my PhD - i go by my first name, and discourage people from using "Dr." when they introduce me.  That seems to have decreased the resentment.  I also try to frame everything I do around the mission.  So, it's not me moving things forward, but the mission of the organization.  Finally, my boss is a jerk, but I have started to "up manage him", using the mushroom management strategies - I tell him absolutely nothing that he doesn't have to know, bury the more controversial things in long, chatty emails that I know he won't read, and try to be out of the office on the days he'll be there.  Lots of community meetings and organizational meetings at other sites.  Things have gone much better since I realized he doesn't like me and never will.  While I may go back to academia, for the time being, I just cash my giant paychecks, live on the salary I would make if I went back, and keep my head down. 

Good luck with your decision - if the job is absolutely untenable, then relocation may be necessary.  Just be honest with yourself about why you left, and what you're likely to find if you go back. 
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redzing
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« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2012, 6:58:47 PM »

Thanks for the input 2much2do.   

I guess it comes back to the age old question--how to handle buyer's regret, and move forward in this tough economy.  I guess the hardest thing for me is that this job has just as much dysfunction as my former, just different types of dysfunction.   The hardest pill to take was that I was actually brought in as a new face with new ideas gained from my time in academia, but there is resistance from all levels to new ideas and change at my current organization.   

I'm not sure how to fit in.  However, I'm pretty much the primary breadwinner, so we could relocate without too much trauma besides the obvious difficulties of selling a house and moving (and that experienced by both sets of parents, who are aging and deeply devoted to the grandchildren).  I'm so miserable, though--it effects everything in my life, my family, my children, friendships.  And this is not one of those jobs you can "just leave at work" either.   

It's a morass.   
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federale
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« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2012, 5:02:33 AM »

Sorry to read this redzing. Bummer!

I am on the other side of the fence on this one. Being a "tenured" government employee trying to storm the gates of academia (with little success so far). Your posts rang true with me. In my fairly secure, but usually overwhelming job, which usually emphasizes process over meaning, I yearn for more intellectual freedom and flexibility. Or just support for development in place. Bureaucrats in government or nonprofits generally prefer hierarchy, order, consistency, and documentation to innovation. The jobs just seem to attract and promote the bean counter types. Unfortunately, many of us chafe in the boxes they create.

However, there are almost always some of us inside trying to change the system, challenging as it may be. Imagine how we feel when we receive almost no support to develop our research skills, publish, etc., or even co-lead the program, and then the organization hires an academic for a high level slot? Frustrated! I see this all the time in my work. It is a very weird time,because the boomers run nearly everything in the government and nonprofit spheres, but I have found that they often do not do a very good job of succession planning or intergenerational leadership. It is usually command and control from the top, with little input.

These sorts of hires seem to me to be a lose lose kind of decision in many of not most cases. Hire an academic person into rigid bureaucratic job, nearly ensuring they are miserable. Pass over internal candidates laboring for years, even decades for the highly sought after "researchy" slots because although they are good employees, they are not "fresh" enough....aarrrgh! Our organization made a hire like this recently (super research hot shot straight out of academia for a largely administrative post, passed over many competent people who might have actually enjoyed the job).

I guess you now know the outside world is messy too. I do wish you luck in getting back to academia, difficult as the transition may be.
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redzing
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« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2012, 12:04:07 AM »

I agree with everything that you are saying.   

As I mentioned before, I came to my current job from a very difficult former situation, surviving years of chaos, layoffs, salary freezes, restructuring, cuts in hours, etc, all because of the recession.  Since I left, staff have been fleeing the place in droves. I had done the same job for 7 years, and was "stuck," as it were.  It was not secure.   Furthermore, (as seems to be so often in academe) there were deeply unethical and inappropriate internal "affairs" (take that word in whichever context you'd like) happening at the place.  As I've come to find out--this is pretty much par for the course in almost every organization or department in higher ed, it just amounts to degree.  Knowing what I know now, I'd take all of that back in an instant to get out of my current situation.

To make matters worse in my current position, this organization usually promotes internally, but were looking to "shake things up" as it were.   Indeed, my hiring was done by boomers (I'm in my early 40s) who I now realize have absolutely no finger on the pulse of the lower levels of the organization, they just wanted to get a flashy hire. I came into the position to fill some big shoes in a departmental capacity.  I have done some big things, a little in research both mostly on a project level.   I have pulled off a few big projects at my current job, but with extreme truculence and even downright resistance to my leadership/co-leadership by some staff.  Perhaps understandably, though?

How often are these hires made in your organization?   What generally happens to the people who accept the positions who are miserable?   Careers/families ruined?   

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hegemony
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« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2012, 1:32:49 AM »

Redzing, I'm so sorry you're in this situation.  I'm sure it's not unusual -- but jobs that work out are also not unusual.  You seem to have had a series of positions in difficult situations, and this is no doubt coloring your view.  Certainly dysfunctional workplaces exist in abundance both inside and outside academia.  But they're not all this way.  My own university has its problems, but on the whole it's a good place.  And I have many colleagues and friends who are also at good places.  It sounds as if you need to do whatever lets you move on to a good place.  In addition, it's easy to lose perspective when work is stressful.  But now's the time to make the non-work parts of your life as good as possible, so they can serve as refuges.  Jobs may be dysfunctional, but that doesn't mean careers and families have to be ruined.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2012, 11:28:15 AM »

How often are these hires made in your organization?   What generally happens to the people who accept the positions who are miserable?   Careers/families ruined?   

Well, it depends.  I've seen people who wallow in misery until they are fired.  Whether that results in ruination or an opportunity to get out of a rut depends on the people involved.  Some people decided to declare themselves failures.  Some people started looking around at possibilities, getting excited, and finding new jobs that better suit them.

I've seen people who decide to leave a sinking ship and go somewhere at least financially stable. 

I've seen other people decide that a job is just a job and immerse themselves in hobbies and family to have a zen attitude.

You have the power to change if you start using it.  No one has put shackles on your legs to prevent running away.  No one will chase after you and make you return to slave labor.  No one will come to your cubicle to ensure that you are miserable.  You have the power to do something different; use it.
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federale
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« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2012, 2:44:11 PM »

Hey redzing,

I would just add that you are at the period in life where the midlife crisis begins (early 40-50 or so) for many people. I mean no offense by pointing this out. It is a pretty real stage where people crave more autonomy and react most strongly against stupid rules and lame situations. I know that I have been going through this myself for about 5 years (I am almost 49). I am starting to see that: 1) the world will never be perfect, 2) I will not be able to do everything I once dreamed of doing, 3) I am in control of how I react to the many imperfections in life. I feel more acceptance coming these days, but I felt my share of rage and despair over the challenges, obstacles in my life. It surprised me, because I thought of myself as easy going. I didn't do anything too crazy, but I did do a lot of drinking, which I am also trying to put behind me. Of course, the timing is tough, because this recession has impacted all our futures to a nontrivial degree.

I share this only because the 40s are often a period of internal turbulence and soul searching, with strong negative emotions and angst. As I said in my PM, sticking it out for a couple more years might be the best, if you can honestly do that. I know that I have very high expectations for myself, and I don't do nearly as well at work I am not motivated to do. That is why I have been trying to engineer a career shift. But the internal work can start immediately, regardless of externalities. I agree with Polly_mer on that.
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alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2012, 6:52:03 PM »

redzing, is there a reason why there are absolutely no good alternatives locally?  Just curious.  You might see whether there are hybrid jobs in another nonprofit, or in an administrative/teaching hybrid job that would put you back into academia, albeit not necessarily as a TT faculty member.  Your difficult 16 months may turn out to be a selling point, once you positively represent what you've done and what you've learned, and how you can bring it back to an academic setting.  Are there no possibilities to do that where you are?
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redzing
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« Reply #11 on: December 29, 2012, 10:18:38 PM »

Thanks everyone, for your thoughtful responses.

I actually went back to my former workplace today.   It was mostly empty, but there were a few folks working there.   Some reasons why I left came back to me.   

First and foremost, and because this is an anonymous forum I think it is OK to post this:  The ED at my former job was extremely unethical.   A married man, he had in fact created a position for, and hired a work-spouse/mistress who ended up being an a quasi supervisor of us all.  She was an untalented, cruel and incompetent person who you could not cross, and if you did it was all over for you.  We all lived in fear . . . Can anyone answer to this?   Does this seem beyond the bounds of good ethics? 

And even with THIS, I've still been thinking about trying to get back to the organization, along with all the other financial difficulties there, because my current situation feels untenable.   I just hope that I can find a place that works for me, or perhaps I'm just asking too much for a job.
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alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2012, 10:48:36 PM »

Thanks everyone, for your thoughtful responses.

I actually went back to my former workplace today.   It was mostly empty, but there were a few folks working there.   Some reasons why I left came back to me.   

First and foremost, and because this is an anonymous forum I think it is OK to post this:  The ED at my former job was extremely unethical.   A married man, he had in fact created a position for, and hired a work-spouse/mistress who ended up being an a quasi supervisor of us all.  She was an untalented, cruel and incompetent person who you could not cross, and if you did it was all over for you.  We all lived in fear . . . Can anyone answer to this?   Does this seem beyond the bounds of good ethics? 

And even with THIS, I've still been thinking about trying to get back to the organization, along with all the other financial difficulties there, because my current situation feels untenable.   I just hope that I can find a place that works for me, or perhaps I'm just asking too much for a job.

Nah, there's nothing wrong with you, and the trip down memory lane sounds like a good idea.  You just need to generate more options.  If not back, is there an alternative that doesn't mean a giant move?  You're obviously desperate, er, motivated, but maybe haven't uncovered the right alternative yet.  FWIW, stepping outside academia can often take a job or two to find the right fit.  It's not you - it's the luck of the draw, and so you tried a few things, and each one had pluses and minuses and third times' the charm.
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prytania3
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2012, 1:09:09 AM »

Regret is a waste of time. If I sat around contemplating all my regrets, I'd never get out of the chair.

You left an academic job that sucked, and now you are in a non-academic job that sucks.

Sooo...that leaves you with getting your CV together and applying other places. If you haven't done enough publishing lately to score a job at a 4-year college, perhaps you might want to try a community college. Many CCs pay as much (sometimes more) than 4-year schools. And it's not a bad life--unless research is your passion.
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redzing
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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2012, 1:11:52 AM »

It surprised me, because I thought of myself as easy going. I didn't do anything too crazy, but I did do a lot of drinking, which I am also trying to put behind me. Of course, the timing is tough, because this recession has impacted all our futures to a nontrivial degree.

I share this only because the 40s are often a period of internal turbulence and soul searching, with strong negative emotions and angst. As I said in my PM, sticking it out for a couple more years might be the best, if you can honestly do that. I know that I have very high expectations for myself, and I don't do nearly as well at work I am not motivated to do. That is why I have been trying to engineer a career shift. But the internal work can start immediately, regardless of externalities. I agree with Polly_mer on that.

Yes, I agree with all of this.   I need to compartmentalize better and get the most out of this that I can, but my family needs me very much, too.  Especially in this last year I was so preoccupied with work, and also with second-guessing my decision.  In some ways it was all a bit of a catch-22; stay on what felt like a sinking ship, not progress in my career, and either get stuck doing the same thing for many more years, or move forward.   I have gone through periods of such deep regret that it has been hard to do this . . . partly because for a wide variety of reasons my new position is so stressful, in very different ways, than my last.   I certainly jumped off of what felt like a sinking ship at the time . . . but have lost touch with my own self, as it were, in the process.  
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