9 Signs You Might Be About to Quit Your Academic Job
1. You need to (or simply want to) relocate
If you’re like most PhDs, you will have moved at least once either to complete a degree or to take up a job somewhere you would have never imagined living. Sometimes the new location works out–sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s not uncommon for academics to live far from family and loved ones. College campuses are frequently located in remote locations, far from opportunities to socialize in non-academic circles. It can make dating painful. It might be difficult even to make friends.
If you can’t imagine staying in your current location for more than the next few years, you need a plan.
If you want to choose where you want to live next, you might need to consider a new career, because academic jobs are geographically limiting. Use job search engines to search positions by location to begin your career exploration.
You have options—you don’t have to stay where you are.
2. You’re working too many hours
How are your working hours? Most full-time faculty members work over 50 hours a week on average.
Faculty spend more time than ever in meetings and on administrative tasks, meaning that they are getting their research done on their own time on weekends and off campus.
Service and administrative duties (e.g. writing letters of recommendation) are hard to quantify and they rarely count towards promotion or performance raises.
If you’re an adjunct teaching at various institutions to make ends meet, the long commute can add to your working hours and therefore to your increased stress levels.
What does your ideal work week look like? If you’re dreaming of having evenings and weekends off to enjoy hobbies and to spend time with friends or family, look for a career that lets you lead a more balanced lifestyle. Consider your needs and values when exploring post-PhD career options.
You don’t have to spend all your waking hours at work.
3. You have no job security
If you don’t have tenure, how secure is your job? If you do have tenure, how healthy are your university’s finances?
The uncertainty of academia makes it difficult to plan for the future. After years of moving from contract to contract, sometimes across the country, you just want to put down roots. As an adjunct or post-doc, you can’t commit to a mortgage, you can’t predict where your children will go to school, and you might not have the income or time to take a holiday.
The anxiety that comes with precarious labor can bring about low-grade anxiety that never goes away.
Don’t let senior researchers and tenured faculty brush off your concerns about job insecurity. Job insecurity is a serious issue.
It’s normal to want to explore careers in industries that are experiencing growth.
When you’re considering your next career move, be careful. Don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire. Companies are relying more and more on a contingent labor force. Sadly, this situation is not unique to academia. Look at the U.S. Bureau of Labor employment predictions on the national labor market and ask about industry trends when you’re conducting informational interviews. You will find that there are careers that offer more stability and long-term employment.
You deserve a job that lets you build a better future for yourself and for your loved ones.
4. You’re not earning a living wage
Living from paycheck to paycheck as a faculty member can be demoralizing especially if you believed that earning a PhD would help you achieve financial stability and increase your social mobility.
If you’re working as a non-tenure-track faculty member or post-doc, you might not be earning the federal minimum wage. You might qualify for Medicaid, food stamps, or other forms of public assistance. You might be dealing with crushing student debt.
The good news is that you can get out of a low-paying adjunct job into a position with a higher salary and benefits. You have transferable skills that are valuable to companies.
As you explore your post-PhD career options, look carefully at salary estimators and calculators in your city. Knowing what the typical salary range is for a role that interests you and the promotion path for advancement can help you make a more informed choice about the next step in your career journey.
You deserve to be compensated fairly for your work.
5. Your work environment is difficult
People quit jobs every day because their work conditions are intolerable. Post-docs, contingent or even tenure-track faculty are not immune to abuse, harassment, and discrimination.
If you dread going to work when you wake up every morning, it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions.
What is making your work environment intolerable? Is your relationship with your supervisor or co-workers abusive? Are you suffering from harassment, bullying, or discrimination? If so, seek help! Depending on the nature of your specific situation, and if the working conditions have impacted your workload or employment (e.g. denial of tenure or promotion due to discrimination), you might be able to file a grievance if you intend on staying in your current place of employment.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and your university ombudsperson could offer resources or at least direct you to the most appropriate action.
Document everything that is happening to you. Write down each incident, with dates, location, and people involved, and seek a free consult with an employment law attorney if you need to.
You have the right to a safe workplace.
6. Your health is deteriorating
Sometimes, self-care just isn’t enough to help you manage the stress of your job.
Lack of job security, poor work-life balance due to high workloads, and the isolation of academic research has led to a sharp increase in mental health issues in academia. Of course, chronic stress can contribute to the onset of stress-induced physical ailments, which further impacts well-being.
Instances of psychological distress are on the rise among PhD students and faculty alike. Truly, if you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, and burn out, you’re not alone.
If you have noticed that your stress and anxiety levels are beyond your ability to cope, and that they are impacting your physical health, do seek help.
If you’re a PhD student, your campus counseling center might offer a number of free counseling sessions or could refer you to a mental health professional who can help.
If you’re a faculty member or researcher, find out if your university offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of your benefits package. The Employee Assistance Program provides assistance for a variety of situations, including counseling. At the very least, EAP should be able to direct you to the help you need.
Knowing that there are other career options available for you might give you hope. Do explore what else you could do with your PhD in the Humanities, in Social Sciences, or in Science for ideas on where to start.
You’re worth taking care of.
7. You can’t grow professionally
After several years of post-docs or lectureships, you’ve realized perhaps that your career is at a dead end. The coveted tenure-track position never materialized, your research has stalled due to a lack of institutional support, and you find out that your university is cutting budgets or the liberal arts curriculum once again.
You’ve learned all you can as an instructor and would love to have more responsibility or a voice in governance, but you’ve reached the non-tenure-track glass ceiling. There is no possibility to move within the university. As a lecturer, you can’t get promoted to an administrative position, and the university is so divided by discipline that you can’t move to a different department, even with your interdisciplinary PhD research.
You feel stuck.
If your workplace does not offer opportunities for professional growth, you will remain stagnant. It will be difficult to survive in such a workplace, because you will get bored, especially after you’ve taught the same course at least a dozen times.
You might begin to feel resentful.
You need opportunities to learn new skills, grow as a person, and feel fulfilled at work. You need to keep learning in order to survive in a changing, digital landscape.
What is blocking you in your career and what small steps can you take to get unstuck?
You’re a smart professional with so much potential. Give yourself the opportunity to stretch.
8. You really feel it’s time for a change
Perhaps you’ve loved your career in academia, but you feel like it’s time for something new. You’re tired of the narrow focus of your research, you desire to engage in more public scholarship, to build or publish things that will reach a wider audience.
Beyond the professoriate, there is so much to explore. You can make a difference and do stimulating, engaging work in industry as an employee or an entrepreneur.
Ask people who have a job that seems interesting to you how they got where they are. You might be surprised to find out you would like to try that path too.
Give yourself the chance to rediscover lost interests and hobbies, to try new things, and rekindle your intellectual curiosity.
You have so much to offer to the world.
9. You daydream about quitting your academic job
Do you find yourself secretly reading quit lit essays online more often than you would like to admit? Have you stopped to ask yourself why you’re so drawn to the genre?
If you’re reading quit lit, you’ve likely been in higher education long enough to have experienced the disillusionment of the academic job market. You understand how universities work and see a need for transformation in the academic job market, in the use of contingent faculty and graduate student labor, and in the structure of PhD programs.
If you’re in a precarious labor situation yourself, as a contingent faculty member or PhD student, you might feel isolated and powerless to change the system. Reading quit lit makes you feel less alone.
Perhaps you unconsciously find quit lit narratives inspiring and see your own unmet expectations and unfulfilled promises reflected in the lives of PhDs who have made the leap into other career paths.
You’ve come to realize that you might only feel free to speak up if you leave, like others have done before you.
You start thinking that you could quit too.
You might even write your own quit lit piece when you do.
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