#Dispatches: How Has COVID19 Impacted Your Career Planning, Part I: Leaving the Academy

In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.

Last week we posted the question: How has COVID19 impacted your career planning? We got 70+ responses in the first 24 hours! In total we now have 85 responses, far exceeding any previous questions.

We will devote 3-4 weeks of #Dispatches to this question. I have grouped responses according to loose thematics and will combine these as best I can. The thematics are:

  • Leaving the Academy
  • Job Security and Planning
  • Schools’ Policies
  • Kids
  • Emotional Impacts
  • Finances and Funding
  • Networking and Relationship Building
  • Employee Action
  • Good News
  • Questions For TPII

These are of course loose categories with LOTS of overlap.

You can keep contributing responses. See the link below. And, for now, I’m retaining the Questions that individuals contributed after their substantive responses, so you can also see the linkage between them.

And one explanatory note: We ask respondents to provide any personal identifying information in their own words that THEY consider pertinent to contextualize their responses. Some of them go to …. interesting places. We only lightly edit them, and I think it’s worth contemplating what people feel is important to share about their identities.

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This week I share the theme, “Leaving the Academy.” There are so many responses that I am not going to try and weave them into a narrative with my own comments, as has been my practice. Just sharing.

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COVID19 has clarified that I will likely be leaving the academy. The difference between the USA and Canada right now is distressingly stark. I doubt I will be applying for any more jobs in the USA. It hardly seems safe. Given that there are far fewer universities (and, therefore, jobs) in Canada, I am thinking about how to best position myself for work outside the academy, north of the border. Beyond that, I am expecting the 2020 and 2021 hiring cycles to be slim pickings in both countries anyway. Holding out for a TT hire in an increasingly difficult (this feels like an understatement) job market seems foolish in the extreme. [Post Doc, Social Sciences, Male, legal status in both Canada & USA]

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I have a full-time teaching job at a CC. This job is on an annually renewing contract and since I’ve passed through my first three years of review, I’m pretty much secure, unless the institution should have major budget trouble (which is definitely possible but not yet likely). I am very lucky and certainly very privileged to have the gig I have, both in comparison with my grad school peers and my local community. I’m not really sure what I should be doing career-wise right now, but I am not sure I should be continuing on the path that I am on, at least in terms of academic work. I have been ABD for… a while… and have been working in fits and starts on my diss. I’m really wondering if I should bother finishing? Like, I don’t need a PhD for my job. I can think of different kinds of professional development that I could be doing that would actually help me be better at the job I do that I’m not doing because I keep talking myself out of it because “I have to finish my diss.”

Question: Question is sort of embedded above, but I’m just not really sure what I should be doing. [NTT, Humanities, midwestern hetero-passing white lady]

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Even if your anticipated career field is pretty much out the window now – like it seems things in academia are going – we’re trained to be adaptable, so it might not be what you want right now, but you can adapt.

Question: What are the best alternative (to academia) job/career suggestions for those in the humanities? [Grad Student, Humanities, 32 and clueless]

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I have a grant for a postdoc in another country but that’s obviously been pushed back. I’m currently relying on my parents for money and am worried about 1. The immediate future and making money and 2. The future of academia as a whole. I’m in anthropology and am worried that many jobs will be cut. [Grad Student, Social Sciences, 28 white female, married (to an immigrant), both of us finishing up our PhDs]

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My field was disappearing long before COVID 19. It was an absolute miracle that I found a TT position at an SLAU. Problem? The school is wretched–the administration cares so little for its faculty. The COVID 19 crisis has been the tipping point for me… I want out of academia entirely. There simply has to be a better life than this. [Assistant Professor, Humanities, 33 y/o single, straight white female]

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I’m done with academia. I finished my doctorate in August 2019, had interviews this year for TT positions, and I’m tired of doing more work than my colleagues that are full professors. The market is non-existent. I’m revamping my resume and looking at alt-ac work because even though I still have classes listed for fall, I’ll be the first to go if my small state university goes under. [NTT, Art/Music/Theatre, 30/white/cis woman/doctorate]

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I have begun revising my non-academic resume for a local SaaS job (I have previous SaaS experience and work a part time SaaS job on the side as supplemental income). My college has not yet sent out contracts and I have no idea if I have a job in the fall. I’m the head of my program and I’m non-TT so if I go, the program is closed. [Assistant Professor, Art/Music/TheatreWhite cis woman, mother of 2 under 7, married]

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I enjoy many aspects of my job, but I am seriously thinking about retiring. I have always found the politics of the university distasteful, but since the closure, they have gotten horrific. [Tenured Professor, Social Sciences, 69, Caucasian, F, married]

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COVID19 has helped me decide to pursue an alt-ac career. My training and career in the academe and related practical art have meant that I have been living in foreign countries for the last 17 years. In the last eight years alone, I have had positions in six different cities, in three different languages, on two continents. My career has been an incredible journey, but the constant moving has made it difficult to feel grounded anywhere. I think as a result of this, I have been losing interest in applying for grants to continue my research, and even for tenure-track jobs that (I anticipate) will leave me with little time to do anything other than my job. Being alone through COVID19 has made me realize how I need to feel rooted in a wider community to really feel fulfilled as an academic. And that, above all else, I want to spend the next years investing my energy locally. So COVID19 has given me the courage to step off the hamster wheel and look for a new life path that centers more around this value of the local community. I hope to continue my research, but as a hobby and on my own terms. [Post Doc, Humanities, I’m 39, white, trans, and an immigrant]

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Jobs canceled, bad market year, I will leave academia sooner rather than later. [Adjunct b/w jobs, Humanities, White cis female lesbian 29]

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I am concerned about the status of my postdoc starting in Sept so I’m starting to consider other options. [Post Doc, Social Sciences, I am a 42-year-old married straight woman]

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I lost a really cool paid research internship because of the pandemic – the whole program got canceled. I was hoping that that internship would lead to a job, but now it will be nigh impossible to get my foot in that door. Partially as a result of the pandemic and partially because of other life factors, I have decided to make a soft exit from academia. I’m finishing my MA this semester and have decided to no longer try to get into PhD programs despite being highly qualified. The instability of the world right now has just made me realize how unhealthy living in limbo waiting to get into a PhD program year after year has been for me. (I’ve applied to many programs across three application cycles and have never gotten in anywhere despite having numerous publications, 20+ conference presentations, and extensive teaching and research experience.) I’m currently deciding whether to just teach as an adjunct with my MA or to pursue an entirely different career path. We’ll see what happens. In short, the pandemic has made me reconsider what is most important to me in life, and academia has not fallen at the top of that list. [Grad Student, Social Sciences, I’m 26 years old, mixed race, queer and nonbinary transgender human, have ADHD and depression, and am chronically ill]

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I’m ABD (defending in the interwebs this summer) and, even before the COVID pandemic, I’ve been trying to push myself — and prepare myself and my family — for working outside (or beyond) academia. So my long-term plans were already shifting away from academia (for various reasons, including the toll it would take on my family and wellbeing). The pandemic was the final straw in getting my head around this reality. My immediate planning includes: taking a more active approach to preparing for and finding non-ac work (e.g., checking out webinars, reaching out to others who moved beyond academia, getting a professional certificate, following #postac folks on twitter, etc.). I still don’t feel comfortable talking openly with my advisor about this decision yet. Like many faculty in my department (top-ranked program in R1 public uni.), they seem to think everything — courses, the job market, their workloads — will continue as ‘normal’ for them and their students. And when TT track spots are scarce (i.e., always), advisors and program chairs in my school default to suggesting postdocs, never non-ac positions. I feel like my plans for a better life beyond academia is a heretical and covert mission.

Question: I’d like to hear about grad students who’ve entered non-ac jobs, including those without support from chairs/advisors. [Grad Student, Social Sciences, 42 y/o, cis male, gay, married]

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It has made the possibility of an academic job practically impossible. While I’ve been planning to pivot into a non-academic career for the last two-ish years, I now have to pivot more as the sectors I thought I would enter (higher ed admin, nonprofit) have stalled hiring. I’m not looking in tech & health sectors, despite not having much experience in these areas. [Non-ac PhD, Humanities, First-generation white, straight female, never married (30yo)]

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I can’t leave my institution because there’s nowhere to go. I was called regularly by search firms and now have no prospects, so I’m forced to ride it out with my current job.

Question: Best alt ac jobs for academic administrators? [Administrator, Humanities, 38-year-old married white female]

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I plan to apply for any academic jobs that still exist when I graduate next year, but I will also be widening my search to NGOs and private companies right away. I am mostly employing the “wait and see” approach because we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Who knows what higher ed will look like in a year? More abysmal than abysmal? [Grad Student, Humanities, Married ciswoman, 33 years old]

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Need help envisioning your transition? Drop us a line.

Definitely making me wish I’d gone the Instructional Design route instead of a subject-specific PhD. The already ridiculous competition for teaching positions is going to be exponentially worse, but the instructional design is going to be more in demand than ever. OOPS. :-/

Question: If you’re not in a top 10 program is there even any point in continuing a PhD if your only reason is that you want to teach college? [Grad student AND administrator, Humanities, Queer white woman, single, “nontrad student” (48 yrs old)]

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I’m skeptical about transition now. I’m not looking for a new job/institution, but if I were I would be cautious about the stability of higher education this year.  [Tenured Professor, STEM, Dept Head, physics prof, female, 2 kids in elementary school]

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I am a visiting faculty member at an R1. The virus has impacted my career outlook because I originally had a plan to dedicate this summer to publications, especially my book manuscript. I was in touch with an editor and was going to submit a proposal in the fall. Now I question whether my efforts should go toward non-academic job searches in the event there are no opportunities in my field for the 2020-21 cycle.

Question: As an NTT faculty one year out from the PhD, should I focus on publications this summer, alt ac jobs, or both? [NTT, Humanities, 30, Latino, Male, Gay, Single]

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I’m seriously considering alt-ac careers, given the paucity in ac. jobs and the number of hiring freezes that unis. have publicly come out with. I’m curious to know what kinds of alt-ac careers leave the doors open for academia, if at all, if and when any academic jobs open up. I feel like TPIN does too little thinking about intnl. scholars in higher ed./on the academic track – surely there’s an entire subset of folks thirsty for your advice and insights!

Question: I’m curious to know what kinds of alt-ac careers leave the doors open for academia, if at all, if and when any academic jobs open up? [Post Doc, Social Sciences, International scholar (on a visa in the US); 34; gay, single male of color]

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Every day I question why I keep playing the publishing game when I should try to be figuring out what I need for a non-academic job. [Grad Student, Social Sciences, 29, non-Hispanic white, first-gen college student, engaged, and about to start the final year of PhD program]

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My employment situation as an adjunct and professional musician has suddenly become precarious enough that I am considering that I might need to leave both academia and the performing arts.

Question: If you are considering leaving academia because of COVID-19, what career path do you plan to take? [NTT, Art/Music/Theatre, 33, white, female, lesbian, single]

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It has only further cemented the fact that as a non-tenure track (all though full time employed for 8 years with benefits) I am so very replaceable, and that academia is not a sustainable career for me.  [NTT, Humanities, 35 yo cis female, married]

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Thinking I will go to the industry instead of academia after doctorate completed. I have been full-time faculty even prior to working on a PhD. [Grad Student, STEM, Married, mid-career, female]

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I’m worried universities are going to drop my discipline (musicology) before I even graduate. I’m more seriously contemplating alt-ac options, but I plan to see the PhD through.

Question: How do you prepare yourself for alt-ac work? What kind of work is even available? [Grad Student, Humanities, 29/white/female/bisexual/single]

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Thanks to all our respondents. Please keep addressing this question: How has COVID10 impacted your career planning? Find the form for responses here.

Need help envisioning your transition? Drop us a line.


Read the second installment in the series on career planning here

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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.

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