My First Year Anniversary Off the Tenure Track (A Guest Post)

It’s been a little over a year since I left academia.  It has been one heck of a ride!


The past year has been both frightening and exhilarating as I thought about the future.  Did I want to apply for a new academic position elsewhere after the nasty experience of being bullied to the point of having been diagnosed depression and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  Surely, not everyplace could be as bad as that, I thought.


With time, I was able to seriously reflect on why I had gotten into academia in the first place – To make a difference.  I had always felt that I was making a difference to the students.  They told me so.  Even the ones that seemed to be bored and indifferent in class would contact me later to tell me how what they had learned had benefitted them on the job once they graduated.  Some even apologized for having been such pains in class.  That was gratifying.


However, I decided that the cost was just too high.  The horror stories that I was hearing from friends and former classmates were enough to convince me that academia had changed, and not for the better.  The book, The Bully in the Ivory Tower, affirmed that observation.


I listened to the stories of those who had become “academic nomads,” moving from institution to institution every so many years.  These are bright and talented people.  They aren’t bottom-of-the-barrel PhD’s.  But, story after story about the bullying department chair and psychotic deans and back-stabbing colleagues came though.  It made me wonder if there were any “happy” people left in this field in academia.  The only ones who seemed to be content were those brave souls who had gone into industry!


After much thought, I decided that what I did want was to make a difference.   But how?


I had been working with a coach since my dissertation days, so I knew what coaching was all about and how much it could help.  I think that she secretly wanted me to go into coaching, but that she was being tactful enough not to bring it up.


So,  I enrolled in a coaching certification program.  What a difference to be among caring classmates and to be a member of a professional community in which “making a difference” matters!  It feels as though I had found my tribe.  I had.


One year later, I am having an absolute blast.  Absolutely loving what I do, running my  own business ( and making a difference in the lives of others.  My clients are a mix of individuals and organizations seeking out coaching services in life and wellness coaching, transition coaching, academic life coaching, executive and business coaching, leadership and team coaching, and even dissertation coaching.  It is possibly the most gratifying and fulfilling work out there.  I know that I am making a difference to these people and to these organizations, and it energizes me to greet each day as another opportunity to make a difference.


Financially… well…. this was an added bonus.  I will net (after taxes, savings, and other expenses) more than I grossed while in academia without the frustration and the aggravation.  The sum is not insignificant.  Roughly a net of $10,000 more in this first year than the salary that I ever could have grossed in an academic setting.


I can report that life is good.  I am happy and energized.  I feel as though I am living a dream – doing meaningful work that is authentic to my values as a human being.  The tensions are gone.  Physically, I no longer suffer from mysterious back pains or other ailments.  I work a reasonable workweek that gives me time to pursue other interests and passions, and that leaves my weekends free for me to enjoy.  I am privileged to be part of a caring community of coaches who sincerely care and  who want  to make a difference in this world.


One year (or so) out, and I can honestly say that leaving academia was the best decision that I have  ever made.  It was frightening and stressful at the time, however, I am living a dream right now.  One that I would not trade for any other life.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


My First Year Anniversary Off the Tenure Track (A Guest Post) — 1 Comment

  1. Hello! Thanks for writing this post. You mentioned that you have been using a coach since your dissertation days and I wanted to know if you could elaborate that more or in a future post. In my current academic situation, this option is not discussed and it would be great to get more insight on how employing a coach worked for you and the overall benefits of using a coach. Thanks!

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