Adam Bishop received his PhD in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto in 2011. He is now a translator, proofreader, editor, and researcher. He shared his career transition experience on University Affairs in 2016.
Not too much has changed since I wrote my original transition Q & A two years ago. I am still working as a freelance translator, proofreader, and editor for a few translation companies in Canada and in Europe. For the most part, I translate from French into English, and more rarely English to French, or German or Latin into English. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I get work related to something I studied in school – recently I was translating some French historical documents from the early history of Canada. I was also helping a colleague translate some Latin written by Carl Linnaeus.
Everyone encourages to me to keep looking for teaching jobs, but I can’t remember the last time I applied for one. It’s exciting when my friends get tenure, or tenure-track jobs, but I know that’s not realistic for me. I still teach sometimes in one of my old undergraduate professor’s classes at Western University. I also try to do my own research and go to conferences when I can. But my involvement in academia sometimes feels like I am working at a distance, from the outside looking in. At conferences I stand out as an “independent researcher”, a fancy way of saying I’m not affiliated with a school. I don’t have the same resources that my university professor friends have, such as travel or research funds, or access to university libraries. I do have limited alumni access at Western and Toronto, which helps a little bit. Academic work can seem like it’s just a hobby.
Now that I’ve been working for a couple more years, I can see some other advantages and disadvantages in being a freelancer. I can take the kids to school and pick them up, and go on field trips with them. I can go out for lunch with my wife, or pick something up at the grocery store when it’s less busy during the day. These may seem like small things, but basically it means I can make my own schedule during the day.
I’ve gotten better at saying no to work. I used to be worried that companies would stop sending me work entirely if I ever said no, no matter how busy I was. I was even worried about the company where I previously worked in the office, even though they knew me in person and we already had a good relationship. But I’ve found that these companies trust me and value my work, and if I’m already busy, it’s perfectly fine to say no! This confidence allows me to manage my time better.
One disadvantage that I hadn’t thought about before working as a freelancer is that I don’t have any extra health care benefits like I did when I worked in an office. I just have the basic provincial health care in Ontario. Another disadvantage is that I have to pay lots of taxes every year, since no one is taking deductions from my paychecks. I am my own payroll and accounting department. I still use lots of skills from grad school, but business skills are not among them!
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