Jodie N. Mader, PhD is a professor of history. She lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and two sons.
The door is slightly open in my Professorial office...
And I’m looking at what’s out there…
I am an academic. I have a Ph.D. in history and have taught at my institution for 10 years full time. I have a 4/4 teaching load with heavy work in service and small exercises in historical research which sometimes result in conference papers. I would consider myself a mid-career tenured faculty member.
All looks great, right?
I realized about a year ago I was burned out and bored. I was also overwhelmed and stressed with extensive service work.
I was headed towards a total mental, emotional, and professional crisis that I failed to see coming in the years leading up to it. How could one NOT want to teach? My father was a professor and I believed I would never leave academia. It was in my blood and it was what I spent my entire graduate school pursuing.
At the same time, ironically, I was honored by my university with a Teacher of the Year Award, complimented by a motivational speech I had to give to the graduating class of 2018. Looking back, I think I wrote it as a message to myself: be inspired, you will have many careers in your life, and be prepared to fly. I asked myself after that commencement speech—now what? What do I do?
I don’t know what “that” is. I have been searching for it since and will continue to do so, while still in academia— I haven’t left. The boredom remains and I have a yearning for something more, perhaps outside of the college walls.
This fall, along with my service duties and a full teaching load, I became chair of my department. I am considering a future move up the ladder into administration. Do I want to go to the ‘dark side’ of administration?
Or, leave academia completely and watch younger faculty inspire and mold future generations while I leave the nest and fly. I am slowly thinking of what interests me beyond teaching.
As the 2019-20 academic year approaches, I sit in my office and have a few words of advice for those who are still teaching but who are considering a mid-life career change, possibly outside of academia:
- It is a journey not a destination. Unless you have excellent networking skills and have a phone of numerous contacts, the job search will take time. More time than you probably expected.
- Your CV needs a massive makeover. Trust me. Start researching on what job descriptions are and start looking at other resumes. Academics are often slow to realize that your CV outside of the university is useless. Be open to amending it. And amending it A LOT.
- Subtract. I am not talking about removing clothing or other stuff. Weed out old academic books and papers you wrote back in grad school. This may be hard for some and it is not for everyone, but do you really need that book on alcoholism on Russian peasants in the 1800s? Or the outdated book on American’s women’s history that was published in 2005? Donating books and shredding old papers can be nourishment to the soul. I found that getting rid of books, recycling old papers removed weight off my shoulders, my mindset, and the bookshelves. The upside is that you can get new books on stuff that may or may not be academic, thus appealing to your new post-PhD mindset.
- Self-care. This past year, I endured several health issues that caused me to take a step back and reassess my entire way of living. I’m committed to taking care of my mind, body, and spirit. You are on your only advocate: get a massage, take a walk, binge on Netflix. You choose. You are worth it.
- Set time to focus on the future. The academic calendar can be brutal on one’s quest to find a job either in academia or beyond, as the teaching and service responsibilities can crowd up your schedule. Find time each week to edit your resume and reach out to a new person each week (or if you are introverted like me, maybe once a month). Lock your office door and be committed to 20 minutes of looking at other jobs. Start small and end big.
- Celebrate the small steps. Make a new connection on LinkedIn. Contact someone in a job that interests you. You may not strike gold everyday, but something matters each day. Recognize it.
- Last? Never lose hope. Yes, this is something we all utter, but to those of us who like to look at half empty glasses, you need to keep repeating this to yourself and hold onto hope. Things happen. Luck happens. You never know what each day will bring or who you may meet.
Always keep your door open and peer out…
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