Joe has just this year made the decision to quit the academic job search and put all his efforts into post-ac work, focusing particularly on starting his own editing business. I asked him to be part of the Post-Ac Expert panel precisely because he IS still mid-process, and can share some of the real, immediate, and pressing choices and dilemmas that arise for anyone just starting out on their own post-ac path. In this post, Joe relates some of the thinking process that led him to where he is now. He asks, how do you make the decision to leave academia, find your path to reinvention, and begin marketing yourself?
- At this point, I’m probably best described as an expert-in-training for The Professor Is In. Karen Kelsky, asked me to narrate the process of my career reinvention with an eye toward using my post-ac experiences as learning moments for others. I’m currently transitioning from a 15-year career in academia as an adjunct professor of English and First-Year Writing (this is my last semester teaching). I was trained for one kind of market, yet I’ve found myself in a different, and significantly more flooded, one.
My decision to leave academia wasn’t immediate or impetuous. I’d thought about it off and on for a few years, though I always held out hope that I’d land a tenure-track position in an English Department or Writing Program somewhere. For me, 2013 was a watershed year in terms of understanding my place in academia as essentially a permanent adjunct: I was either over- or under-qualified for jobs; my pedigree wasn’t as flashy as other candidates’; I’d never move up internally at my school; or, despite deftly shuttling between Literary Studies and Rhet/Comp, I was somehow neither when it came down to full-time openings. All the blogging and adjunct activism I did may not have helped me in the eyes of a search committee Googling me or reading my tweets, but it was the right and necessary thing to do.
When applying for what turned out to be the last tenure-track professorship, I knew I was writing a cover letter for the final time. The tricky part was why I knew. Was I a lock for this job? Was this “the one”? Or had I come to the end of the line? The job was right in my wheelhouse (broad knowledge of American literature + gender studies + Rhet/Comp), so I was cautiously optimistic. Plus, it was local, which meant I wouldn’t have to have the conversation with my wife asking her to leave the great job she’d just gotten. Nonetheless, the rejection email—at least there was one this time—noted that over 600 candidates applied, and I hadn’t even made the first cut. Now I knew why I felt the cover letter would be my last for an academic job. Well, that’s it, I thought. Time to expand this freelance editing into a full-time career.
Since the fall, I’ve been working as a freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writing consultant, and I’ve made some steady money and contacts so far. I’ve written about my decision to leave academia for Chronicle Vitae; I’ve also spoken with From PhD to Life’s Jennifer Polk about how and why I’m transitioning. Essentially, I’ve reached the end of my adjuncting rope: that is to say, being a full-time part-timer who will never reach the tenure track, despite 15 years of experience and always doing the right thing.
This move to editing is a sort of homecoming for me. My initial post-college career goal was an editor for an academic publisher; I even did a summer internship with Princeton University Press’s Production Department in 1995. Luckily, I’ve never lost my editing and proofreading edge while being a teacher-scholar.
As expert-in-training for The Professor Is In, I’ll offer my case as simply one way of tackling the post-ac job hunt. Full disclosure: I’m incredibly lucky to be married to a supportive breadwinner, so I have financial wiggle room with my career change. I know this isn’t the same for everyone.
I’ve had a lot of early post-ac success by simply talking, Tweeting, and Facebooking about my career change. When I knew I’d be leaving, I reached out to two people: a good friend who runs a nonprofit and a former colleague from Georgetown who runs a small editing service. I’ve recently done editing work for both of them on a proposal for supporting Jordanian youth after college and a pair of Master’s thesis projects, respectively. I’m currently talking with Bridget on expanding her editing service to include dissertations and book-length projects.
A little luck never hurts, either. Tweeting about my post-ac decision also led to an interview: one of my followers works at a consulting firm that islooking for an editor. She emailed me about it, I sent my resume, and I had a successful pre-screening phone conversation leading to an interview request. My Twitter friend also been helpful with some inside information about the company and job. This won’t guarantee anything, but it’s helped me not fly blind going into conversations with the company.
My advice is to talk about your decisions and career change, even if it risks making your friends and/or followers sick of hearing about it. As long as you’re not insufferable or self-pitying about your post-ac career path, you owe it to yourself to be your own strongest advocate and advertiser. Allessandria Polizzi’s recent piece here brings up a great point:
It’s important when beginning to explore your career options to do a lot of soul searching. Identifying why you want to change is a big step in that process. If you know why you want to leave, you will know what to look for and what to avoid in your new career choice (or choices…There are a mind-blowing-lot of options outside academia).
To which I’ll add: do your best to be flexible and accept the change that’s coming. Yes, you might lose that professor’s schedule and have to work a more traditional M-F 9:00-5:00 job, or those summers of little or no teaching may be a distant memory. The key thing here, at least for me, is to self-reflect. What do you do well? What do you most enjoy doing? What aspects of your career as a teacher-scholar are you bringing with you?
Yet there also will be positives. If you’re leaving a career as an adjunct, you might have the same “Hallelujah” moment I did when a project manager mentioned giving her team 5-10% raises each year. Or, you might wind up with something where you legitimately leave your work at the office and, at some level, get your weekends back.
In my case, the editing and proofreading skills were always there—sometimes too much, as a few over-commented student drafts can attest. I’ve always been good at giving feedback and guidance on writing, whether as a professor, tutor, or essay collection editor. Try figuring out what you have, and use it when finding your post-ac path.