It’s OK to Quit

“You showed me how graduate school had somehow transformed me from a smart confident 24 yr old to a self-doubting anti-social 30 yr old. You alerted this frog that he had been boiled, as it were. Even more than the edited documents, I want to thank you for giving me tools to self-reflexively assesses my deteriorated situation and then do something about it” – Academic client (Anthropology) who went post-ac and never looked back

I completely support and endorse leaving academia.  I left academia.

It may not be apparent on this site, but if you are struggling with a desire to get out of academia, I support you, and will help you with that.  I left academia AFTER being successful and getting tenure.  I know why you want to leave.  And I’ll help you deal with the emotions, the feelings of failure, and get past them, and get a plan.*

What I do not endorse is telling anyone to give up their dreams just because their dreams are difficult/close to impossible to accomplish.

Achieving financial, emotional AND intellectual well being in academia is hard to the point of being, frankly, impossible for many. You’re not going to get there without massive, simply massive logistical advance planning and preparation, and ongoing strategizing, and realistic goals, and a strong ethic of self-care and self-protection. And even with those, you might “fail” to complete the Ph.D., get the tenure track job, get tenure, or sustain a career that is joyful and life-affirming.

And this is not your fault.  There aren’t enough jobs, and there are fewer every year.  There isn’t enough funding, and there’s less every year.  Graduate Student debt is astronomical.  The payscale for assistant professors is shameful.  And the culture of higher ed is increasingly soulless.

However.  I support dreams.  If your dream is to have an academic career, then I’m here to help.  If a visually impaired person asked me for advice about climbing Everest, I wouldn’t say “You can’t.”  I’d say, “ok, do you have a guide? Legible maps?  Do you have adequate funds?   If not, do you know where to find them?  Do you have a backup plan?   Do you know the dangers?  Are you in fit condition?  Have you spoken to others who have done it?  Do they encourage you?” If not, I’d tell them, “you’re not ready now; come back when you are and let’s make it happen.”   And then I’d wish them well on their journey.

And then if they didn’t make it, that would be ok.  Plans shift.  Circumstances change.  Life values evolve.

Academic careers are the same.  What starts out as an inspired quest for new knowledge and social impact can devolve into endless days in an airless room, broke, in debt, staring at a computer, exploited by departments, dismissed by professors, ignored by colleagues, disrespected by students.

It is ok to decide that’s not what you want.  It is ok to make another choice.  There is life outside of academia.  But academia is a kind of cult, and deviation from the normative values of the group is not permitted or accepted within its walls.  You will be judged harshly by others and, to the extent you’ve been properly socialized into the cult during graduate school, by your own inner voices.  Making the decision to leave involves confronting that judgment, working through it, and coming out the other side.  It is long and hard and involves confronting profound shame.  I went through this.  I know.

So, go if it is what you truly want, and blessings upon your head.  Quit if it is what you truly want, and blessings upon your head.   Either way, proceed armed not with self-delusion and blind hope, but with knowledge and a plan.


Post-Ac Transition Services are available.  Find our team of ace post-ac coaches and services here!


It’s OK to Quit — 327 Comments

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  4. Thank you – I needed to read this. I have been ABD for 4 years and I was suppose to finish this year. But I saw the writing on the wall and there was absolutely no support at my school for the research I wanted to do, let alone career advice. Fortunately, my field is one where I can combine my practical past experience with my learned academic skills and have managed to carve out a much more rewarding (both financially and personally) career than if I would have if I had continued to struggle (without support) with writing my dissertation. I think this year, because it is when I had planned to receive my PhD, I have felt guilty and stupid, like a big failure and quitter; even though my career is thriving outside of the academy. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for this – as it is helping me to accept the choices I have made and will make it easier for me to start accepting and actually saying out loud that I am not going to finish my PhD and that that is okay.

    • i’ve been an abd for longer than your entire graduate school career! i started in 1997, transferred to a different program cause my hubby wanted to be closer to home in 1998 and i just graduated with my ph.d. in social-personality psych this past May! So if you ever feel like you are a big loser for not graduating yet, just think of me. It is doable and you keep moving forward – one day at a time.

      • Cathy- what program were you in? I’ve been thinking about a career change (I’m an engineer), and when I looked up what social/personality psych was, that’s exactly what I’ve been wanting to learn more about. I tried Expressive Therapy, but it was too fluffy for me. I’m more interested in behavior/personality formation…the why of how we develop and interact and overcome (or not) the way we do.

        • @PhDwannabe, have you ever considered Engineering Education? I am currently pursuing a PhD in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. The program is quite rewarding. I get to mix my engineering background (something I value, but no longer want to pursue as a career) with my desire to work with people and understand students. It is the perfect paring for me!! I get to inspire others to be great engineers and do great things, while doing something I love and yet maintaining a connection to a field I still have some passion for.

          Best of luck!!

          • I am struggling.

            I submitted my PhD in Sept of 2011, after a torturous 6 years (working PT, losing a parent, not having much guidance when needed and a supervisor who didn’t read much of my work).

            Now, it wasn’t brilliant, but it wasn’t half bad. And it was finally finished.

            Then, after a 9 month wait, I found out I had almost failed, and was given 12 months to resubmit. Those 12 months were delayed by 8 months as I went through a move of country, divorce (all things that normal people go through) and admittingly was in no place to concentrate on finishing-reworking the PhD.

            Now I am 3 weeks out from my resubmission date. I haven’t done the level of work needed. I have done some, but not enough. Each time I sit down to it, I am overwhelmed with sadness, panic, fear, despair. I know I want to quit, but at this point it’s been 9 years. It seems to be between just getting it done after all this time and happiness. I am not even sure I can take another 3 weeks of this feeling.

            Thoughts? Advice?

  5. There is a difference between quitting and giving up here. You can quit from things that are wrong for you. If you enter into a wrong course or took up a wrong project, it is not going to be helpful pushing it through just because you adopt a principle of never giving up. Time and resources are going down the drain. In business terms, we call it cutting losses. We should quit and cut our losses when we realize that we have boarded the wrong bus.

    Giving up on the other hand is deeper. It implies that we have already embarked on something worthwhile to begin with. It has the assumption that we did our analysis thoroughly and that we have started on something correct for us. On this journey, those who give up are those who could not longer face the hardship towards their worthy goals.

    • I can’t believe I didn’t know about this blog before this. It’s pure genius. Everyone should read it in its entirety. Thanks for informing us.

  6. I finished my Ph.D. I thought I wrote a decent dissertation until after I graduated and went back to revise it for paper publications. I realized then that it was horrible! On top of that, my job as an adjunct was not paying enough (student loans). I left teaching for a full time job in the corporate world. I hate my job. It seems like everyday I come home in tears. I fight with my husband everyday. I blame him for my reason to leave academia (money). Then I realized one day that I never entered academia to teach. I went graduate school so I can go work for an NGO or government. I lost that insight some point during graduate school. Unfortunately, NGOs and governments are not hiring right now. I have given up. I am going to rot in this horrible job forever.

    • So sorry to read this. May you find peace and laughter real soon. I too struggle with academia and its ability to make people sacrifice themselves. I’m close to submitting my manuscript, but I feel it’s only remotely interesting. My supervisors tell me it’s ‘interesting’, and coming from them that’s pretty decent (they’re both renowned people in their field), but I have given up on my initial hope and perhaps expectation that I’d be able to make an original contribution to my field.

      I’m profoundly disappointed with myself. I go through deep trenches of self-hate, bouts of resentment – what have I become? It truly amazes me sometimes.

      In the end, I suppose it’s this vulnerability and (often reluctant) willingness to embrace being vulnerable that makes me feel out of place in academia – I feel so terribly awkward amongst my peers.. All. The. Time. So many people in academia seem to be doing just fine, but I often think they’re quite shut off from their surroundings. Many of them are simply pursuing masturbatory trajectories. Perhaps it will be good for something in the long run.

      • Walter, Academia is a tough choice for all of the reasons you describe. Yet some people make it work. They enjoy researching topics that sometimes lead nowhere; they enjoy writing and rewriting and editing; and they enjoying preparing course materials, grading, and interacting with young people. As for colleagues, they steer away from downers and maintain cordial relations with the more upbeat. They have circles of friends and confidants outside the university. Garnering approval from other people is not their driving force. Success in the field is a byproduct of their drive to learn and to share what they learn, whether in the classroom or in publications. The trick is to keep the focus on what brings you fulfillment. What other people do or don’t do or value or don’t value ultimately has no bearing on the career choice that will bring you happiness. Wishing you the best, Jennifer

        • indeed.. I love teaching very much, it’s so pleasing for me but when comes to research I feel so stress and cause depression. I don’t see the future of research which I pursue. I feel like quitting my academia job. but I have so many commitment. Don’t know what should I do. Plus my husband said its not a good idea. please help anybody who are same boat as me.

          • I am preparing my PhD proposal currently and planning to enter academia. I would love to teach, but don’t really enjoy research. I know it seems like a bad idea to continue on the PhD, since after I graduated I could imagine most universities would require their academic staff to publish.
            Some people has advised to opt to teach in high school instead, where I could really focused on teaching. However, I would really prefer to teach at the university because the materials are deeper and students are more matured. Most high school require teachers to teach cross-disciplinary subjects, which I don’t like as well.
            So yes, I am on a certain extend on the “same boat” as you. Feeling at the crossroad, not sure if continuing my PhD is the right move.

    • I am in the same boat. I spent a year teaching as a visiting prof at a private school with 100% selectivity. I did not even know such horrible students went to college. I felt like I was teaching high school. I turned down a TT offer there. My hope was to get a job in a non-profit, or get a post-doc to qualify me for better teaching gigs, but because I am regionally limited by my partner and by an increasingly strong desire to settle down in a place I actually want to live, I was stuck choosing between a corporate job that seemed maybe ok or a non-profit where I personally knew the previous person in the position and how much this person had hated the job. I also could have chosen to freelance unemployed, which I was seriously considering. I chose the corporate gig. I start in a month. We’ll see how it goes. Mostly, I’m just sad that after so much work, I can’t get a job doing research or teaching or writing that I want to do and that I know I would be damn good at.

    • @ Given Up. How’s everything going now? I just read your post.

      Everybody I know who looks back on their dissertation thinks it’s terrible (me included! And probably my advisers too!). Consider it a good sign that your writing has improved enough that you can recognize what needs to be improved.

      As for the corporate job situation, I hope things have improved. Maybe you can find meaningful outlets for your passions and creativity through volunteer positions? You probably make more money in corporate that you can actually do more effective work than government and NGOs just by spending or donating according to you interests. Many of my friends have had headaches working for NGOs and government (bureaucracy, corruption, politics, etc), so it’s not so rosy there either. But if your heart is still set on NGOs and government, keep an ear out. My field is marine science, and I was fortunate enough to get emails from a NOAA worker who put together a weekly digest of job positions. I can tell you there are many available in all different fields and countries in the world. Don’t give up!

      • @StillThere My field is also marine and freshwater biology. I to have long since realised academia is not for me and I would be better suited in an NGO/government position or in some form of marine education (not at a university level). My problem is though, I am ready to quit the PhD. Ready to walk away, but paralysed by the fear of ‘what if’. What if I make a bad choice? What if I can never get a decent job without a PhD (I have a BS and an MRes)? What if I don’t walk away and I fail anyway?
        I am 3 years in but I’m done. My project is drifting, the support and guidance is not there and I certainly don’t have enough for a thesis which I should be submitting by year end.
        What happens if I quit? Are my NOAA dreams at an end? Maybe as someone within a similar world, you would be kind enough to offer an outside perspective.

        • I know you posted months ago, but…

          I am here, too. My field is urban planning, but I feel this “I to have long since realised academia is not for me and I would be better suited in an NGO/government position or in some form of marine education (not at a university level)”.

          Obviously not marine education necessarily, but I think my heart is in government or non-profit work well before it’s in teaching undergrads and slogging through spreadsheets and statistical software. It’s also hard when you feel like you’re not getting the support and guidance you expected.

          You have a master’s. I think that’s the important piece, but of course I don’t know the specifics of marine science. For me, a PhD only really helps you get an academic job. My one concern is that the PhD would get me more respect (deserved or not), even if down the line; it might give a credibility boost if I were speaking to a county commission or what have you.

          I can say that I do volunteer work with an aquarium, and I don’t think that all of their scientists have PhDs. The directors of various programs do, but I think most others don’t. They’re worked damn hard and not paid a huge salary, but I don’t know how well the directors are paid either.

    • Welcome to my club. I blame myself and my husband for making what I think it is, the biggest mistake of my life. I left academia, even though I had grants and a decent although soft money permanent research position. I was tired of constantly hunting for money.i work for a government agency an my bosses are not only less educated but also not that smart, which frustrates me the most. I am totally depressed that I made the stupidest decision of my life by leaving academia. I feel like my brain is dying.

  7. Just got another rejection for a job. Not even a good one. One year VAP. I am so sick of being poor and pathetic. My life sucks. I enjoy teaching literature but I am a mediocre to lousy researcher. I actually really hate sitting down and writing crap to publish in obscure journals. I’d rather work at McDonalds. It’s a shame because I will miss engagnig with bright students in the classroom. Is there anyone out there who wants a decorated and dedicaded undergrad teacher with no interest in research (maybe a perfunctory article every few years to keep up appearances?).

    • Why don’t you look at cc’s? They don’t expect research, and pay as much as some universities. The class load is higher but that’s the trade off for no research expectations. Good luck.

    • PhDs perform research. It is what we’re trained to do. If one loves teaching then become a high school teacher or some other kind of teacher. Undergraduates need a professor who knows the latest research and can perform it. It is extremely competitive to get an article placed in a journal. The day of the “perfunctory” article is over. In fact, many scholars claim it is easier to get a book to press than an article published. Moreover, community colleges now have their pick of the rejected published PhD candidates. Again, if you love teaching then teach. There is no such thing as an “undergrad teacher.” We are professors=researchers. Imagine a medical doctor saying, “I love interacting with patients, but I hate having to do medical care on them.” Oftentimes we don’t have the imagination to know that a career outside academia can involve teaching and earnings (in fact, much higher earnings). Good luck. It sounds like not getting a job is the best thing for you, because it will push you into a career you will really love and leave the professor jobs to the professors.

      • With respect, that’s total crap. Some fine universities, like the CalStates are undergrad teaching and not research-oriented, and some very fine brains who are good teachers but not researchers teach. Many people who are research-oriented are terrble teachers and that hurts their students. Attitudes that PhDs are about just teaching are very very mistaken and some strange kind of snobbery.

      • the haughty “mm” with their self righteous tripe. MM, guaranteed there are better qualified candidates than yourself (and professors that can both teach and complete research) who cannot find work- get off your high horse- you either are from a bygone time where there were very FEW phd’s and everyone was getting work, had help getting a job or got lucky. btw MM, there is nothing remarkable about getting an article published- a system where your competition is deciding if one does, or does not, get published, is easily corruptible. try selling your writing in the real world instead of scratching each others back to get ones article published.

        • Sarafina, I think you missed the original comment that prompted my reply. I never implied a separation between good teaching and good research. I simply stated that research is the primary function a professor. (If one doesn’t research then what is one teaching? — I assume old material from a bygone era. That hardly does students a service.) I don’t know why you try to discredit what I write by imaging who I am (all wrong by the way). Is it so you can ignore the hard truths that I express (but in no way instituted)? Here it is: in order to get a job in the current marketplace, you have to show evidence of research and continue to research whether you teach at a research university, a regional one, a liberal arts college, or a community college. Older colleagues hired in the past (still competitive days from their accounts) did not have to have a publication record to find a job. Now an aspiring professor does. You’re right that many great researchers/teachers do not find employment in academia. So do you think the ones who are ONLY great teachers will? There is nothing wrong with an individual deciding I don’t like to perform research and I will enter a different profession, but it is illogical for someone to decide that he/she doesn’t like to perform research and expect the profession to conform to their whims. If you only love teaching, then find work that you can love. If you are one who loves research AND teaching, then I wish you hearty good luck in the bloodsport of academia. You’ll need it.

          • MM, you have some good points and it’s OK to be a little “righteous” every now and then, but do you really need to be so harsh?

          • You answered your error in your response. No – you do not generally teach your research at the undergrad level. Professor != researcher. My belief is that many fields are now overpublished or have matured to the point that the undergrad curicullum is more of less fixed. Much of the research in my field looks increasingly trivial/pointless to the degree that studying the harder well published work from the 50’s is harder than the so called new work.

          • I teach at a two year regional campus of a large state university. The reality: Profs are overloaded with heavy teaching loads (4-5 courses per semester), increasing number of students per course, increasing coursework, and classes that are plagued with under-prepared students, a majority of whom should not be in college. Only a few can competently read, follow, and analyze a primary text (e.g. essay, novel, short story). Forget trying to get through secondary critical texts or theory. The luxury of research is reserved for the elite few. I am guessing you are either not in the humanities, or if you are, then teach at an Ivy League or Top 10 university, and/or teach only graduate students. I would love to be able to complete my research and writing. Universities unfortunately do not utilize the skills of their “employees” (profs) well, such as moving them into positions that would make the prof happier, and in turn benefit the students and university. I have been searching for over five years for a way into a position that’s a better match for me, and ASAP, as I am considering making an exit. I have been tenured for a while. My friends who are in the private sector cannot believe the goings-on at universities today. Some have even stopped giving money to their alma maters.

      • I’m sorry but this is just spouting off all the nonsense that is part of the mythology of academia. I’ve worked at universities and they call me a lecturer as a candidate. It also depends on the field. Languages are generally taught by non-professors.

        Also, that nonsense about knowing the most recent research is also a myth. Most professors in my department know very little outside their area of research.

    • YOU ARE NOT A LOSER!! You could also look for a position in a small liberal arts college. These are teaching-focused. I left my PhD program with a master’s. I went through a series of life events (breast cancer, death of mother, parental caregiving) and all these events helped me realize that I did not want to “waste my time” on research: I wasn’t interested in it, but loved teaching. Fortunately, I am teaching a class at my university and hope that this will continue. I feel sad, though, that I left the program, but I hated running statistical analyses and felt unfilled publishing in journals – and this from someone who loves to write (but not journal articles). Thanks for listening – hope this helps.

    • Have you considered getting your teaching certificate and teaching high school instead? There’s very little difference between junior and senior high school students and first-semester freshmen, at least in my experience at a major state university.

      • I am in my second year of teaching at a high school in Oklahoma. I left OU, because I needed to be close to my family to help financially and emotionally. However, my take-home-pay after two years is $1602. per month. Not to mention that I drive 110 miles round trip each day just to get to and from work. I do not know hat the answer is , but I have concluded that there is no future in education.

    • If you love engaging with bright students in the classroom, teach literature at a high school with an AP literature or International Baccalaureate program! There are so many smart, interesting, engaged, and energetic high school students who love literature. You can publish just for fun every few years if you are in the mood.

  8. I quit. In the middle of my PHD I quit. I was working my doctorate in church history and saw the handwriting on the wall. Was about to travel the UK for a year to do research, when I saw a dramatic political swing in my denomination.
    I left and taught high school civics and World History for almost 30 years at a tiny rural high school in Texas. If I would have stayed and IF I would have gotten a job at one of the denominations seminaries or colleges, I would not have been able to receive a pension. ( I received a disability.) The powers that be eliminated pensions about 10 years ago at the college/seminary level.
    I saw men who devoted their lives to the denomination and who had tenure, lose their jobs because either they didn’t agree with the “new” power structure or, in some cases because their doctorates were from European universities….

  9. I am a tenured assistant professor, and I hate my job. I actually like teaching students, but my life has become intolerable because of a culture of mediocrity that seems to stifle new ideas and promote complete ineptitude. My coworkers are mean, bitter people, with even more controlling dictatorial people who lead them. It is a toxic place.
    As soon as I am able, I am leaving. What is ‘tenure’ if only I now have the opportunity to work in this hell permanently if I like?

    • Omg! I can’t believe I found this website (guess what I googled to get here?) I became a professor b/c I love my research and enjoyed teaching as well. I went to a top grad program, ive had some great fellowships, etc. I love the intellectual engagementnpart of what we do. For a variety of reasons, I am now so utterly disillusioned and disappointed. I feel as if I am surrounded and thwarted by cruel, banal people and I’m tired of working so hard for them. I usually LOVE hard work b/c of the challenge and pay-off. I cannot tell if it is this miserable mediocrity carnival I currently teach at, or if its the career itself, but I think I want to leave the profession for a while. It’s so hard to admit and I’m crying reading all of these stories, but I actually feel jealous of the secretaries at this point because they get to stop working at 5pm and never again have to think about work til the next morning. But I’m scared. I’m nearly 40 and this is the only career I’ve ever had… I think I want to work for an international aid organization or transitional justice NGO, (or even start my own non-profit)

      • I am entering my third year in a tenure-track job in a public liberal arts university. Like many others, I absolutely love teaching and advising students. The students I work with are very diverse (racially and socioeconomically), and it is exactly the population I dreamed of working with.

        I am doing very well in my position. I am respected across the campus and people view me as a leader. I have been told that they want me to be department chair as soon as I reach tenure (not a desirable position, but the encouragement is still appreciated) and the administration often contacts me for assistance on new initiatives. If I stay, I have no doubt I will receive tenure and have a strong presence in the university.

        With everything, however, there is both good and bad. I find that I am very unhappy in my position lately. The politics of my university are horrible (department and university-wide), and it seems like it is an uphill battle to help my students due to power struggles among departments. I have to be political and “please” people in order to have them help the students, even though it is their job. If they have a problem with the person advocating, they will fight against the best interest of the student. The emphasis on service at my university makes it very difficult to get a lot of my own research and publications finished, so I feel that I am no longer as marketable as I should be. The pay sounded good initially, but I live in a very expensive part of the country where I cannot even afford to live on my own (PhD forced to live with a roommate). There are very few resources available and it is a struggle to get basic software and equipment to complete my research. To top it off, my partner cannot live here due to work, so I am stuck in a long-distance relationship.

        With all of this, I am torn about whether to stay or go. I find that I am only happy when teaching and speaking with students, but I dread every other part of my job. I don’t love the geographic area in which I live, and I very much long for freedom to move (I grew up in a “nomadic” family). If I leave this job, I don’t know where to go. I don’t know if I want to try for academic position elsewhere, since I’m not sure any other place would be much better, and I don’t know if I can get a job elsewhere. I’m also stuck wondering who to get letters of reference from since it will create hurt feelings that I am looking elsewhere. Does anyone have advice for me in my very confused state?

        • Kaye, I graduated with a PhD and because of my awful experience as a PhD, I swore off academia. I work in corporate America and I am bored to tears. I literally do nothing and it’s killing me. I was thinking of going into academia but after reading your post, I was reminded of why I left.
          I used to teach high school and am thinking of going back. I wish I could wave a wand and know where to go and what to do in life. I feel so confused.

        • well said that “I don’t know if I want to try for academic position elsewhere, since I’m not sure any other place would be much better, and I don’t know if I can get a job elsewhere. I’m also stuck wondering who to get letters of reference from since it will create hurt feelings that I am looking elsewhere”

    • I totally connect with what you are saying. I taught at a 4-year public university (4th tier, very mediocre place) as Assistant Professor. There were no ideas, not even sharing ideas about how to teach. You had to publish but most professors did not know what my field was. It was not toxic because everyone avoided problems. They taught and went home. The Chair was a total manipulative dictator whose main ally was one of the full professors and they decided almost everything behind the scenes. The students were mediocre, some were good. What is completely discouraging is so much hard work, enthusiasm, faith, and persistence in my Ph.D. and M.A. (good experiences) to end up in a place like this. I am so glad. Karen has this website. Is this the “academic dream”?

    • You have captured the reality of most University positions-what is so sad is realizing that unless you are in the sciences, your skills are not readily suited for life on the “outside”

      Been tenured at two Universities and HATE the culture.

  10. Thanks for sharing Rita. I fear the day I come up for tenure at my current place because of the same reasons you outline – except I like the majority of my colleagues. Not a day goes by when I don’t contemplate leaving without a job to go to – I would rather be unemployed than work here. The worst thing is how excited I was when I was offered the job – my first tt job – I thought great, it has all been worth it: The student loans, the years of poverty and part time employment, the rejection letters from job applications and journals – the questions from family – “so do you have a job yet?”; teaching as an adjunct at my PhD granting institution after completing my Phd (humiliating)….
    Yet not six months in I regretted accepting this job and have tried to look at the positive and find a new job for the past 3 years. The real sting in all of this is that we are some of the lucky ones.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response Ally. I have been at my work for about 8 years, have tenure, and you are right – we are the ‘lucky ones.’ Like you, I was so happy to have seemingly ‘made it’ when offered (and accepting) the job. The pay was solid but not outstanding, and my student loans might finally begin to fade. However, it was disappointing what academia had become at my institution, and I am a part of it.

      Tenure was frankly very saddening for me (would I just stay here forever?). The reasons I stay are embarrassing to admit. If I am honest, I stay for the schedule/breaks, the healthcare, the retirement, and the security. The students are wonderful, it is everything else about the job that is intolerable. For me, I am channeling my money into real estate investments that should allow me to quit, and have even a better quality of life.

      • Rita,

        thanks for your thoughtful comments here. I don’t think you have to be embarrassed about your reasons for staying at the job; those are good reasons for anyone to stay at a job. You are very smart to put money into investments. that’s exactly what the prof-turned-entrepeneur did whom I met on the chair lift at Mt. Bachelor this past weekend. And I had plenty of colleagues over the years who spent more time thinking about their portfolios than their research. No, it’s not the respected/authorized choice, but it’s a very good and legitimate one.

        I think that tenure is saddening and demoralizing for many. It is common to have a year in the dumps after tenure, because all of a sudden the huge external validation imperative is gone. Most ‘successful’ academics just find new external validation to seek, and keep going. But plenty of others begin to consider the requirements of a balanced life, take up entertaining hobbies, spend time with families, garden and restore their house, and all the rest.

        do be aware that you CAN write your way to a different job. Whether it would be better or not isn’t guaranteed, but people leave bad jobs ALL THE TIME! tenure is not a death sentence. Stay productive in your field, and you’ll be competitive for a second job.

  11. What? You left academia? I just stumbled on this website looking for images on google from your book because I’m preparing a lecture on ‘gender, race and sex in intimacy and romance’ for an Asian Studies course that I’m teaching.

    You are probably the scholar I admire most in the world….your stuff is brilliant. I read Women on the Verge when I was in Japan for fieldwork and fell in love with your stuff because you articulated so wonderfully what I had been thinking/feeling/observing as a white woman in Japan, studying gender.

    If the academy is losing people like you then my worst fears have been realised. I’m not in the American system, but here ‘down under’ getting a job is tough too. I’m thinking of quitting if I don’t get something permanent after my next ‘one-semester contract’…not sure what I’ll do, but I yearn for stability and academia doesn’t seem to be able to provide that anymore.

    • Emma, what a nice note! thanks for the kind words on my book.

      Yes, I did leave academia. But please read my post on Worst Professor Ever, called Death of a Soul on Campus, to understand why. It wasn’t a rejection of the academy writ large. It was the outcome of a range of circumstances, and my growing realization that in the end, I’m a bit too much of an individualist and entrepeneur-type to ever be completely happy as a ‘company man’ in a university hierarchy. But that’s not a wholesale condemnation of university hierarchy, just a realization that tempermentally, I’m not ideally suited to it.

      • Wow. I found your website when looking for an advice on writing a book prospectus, and did not realize who you were until reading this comment. I am an anthropologist working on Japan and teaching on Japanese women and family, so naturally I know and use your great work 🙂 I have a lot of doubts and anxieties concerning my place in the academia, but never thought of sharing them in public. This is the first time in several years that I feel… normal. Thank you very much for that.

          • I concur with Helena that both your book and website here have been helpful and inspiring, and for very different reasons to me. Thank you for your scholarship, and your frank advice, your encouragement. All are greatly appreciated.

  12. I am a nursing clinical assistant professor. I’ve taught clinical nursing in a number of community (mostly grassroots, homeless shelters, small nonprofits in the inner city) sites for several years… this year, was ‘promoted’ to a ‘leadership’ role. . . had a mourning period of informing my clinical community sites that I would not be returning, and shared many moments with the clients in these long-term settings. Am disillusioned by the ‘cult’ of academics, as you wrote, and the leadership team. and spending long hours in my office vs in the city. Am thinking of leaving academics, putting on my t-shirt and jeans and working directly in the community myself… without the distraction of supervising students, the pressure to make tenure, the expectations that I “tap into my leadership potential more”, and be in a direct service role with the patients and agencies I so deeply love
    . thanks for this site.

    • Miguelita, I hear you. I’m an assistant prof of nursing at an R1 university. I’ve been advised that I must give up my clinical practice (Trauma ICU) in order to succeed in academia, and I was criticized for not helping PhD students “move away from thinking about practice” so they can think about science (as if the two were unrelated!) The arrogance and ignorance that drives academic nurses to consider practice lowly and unsuited for the educated elite makes me crazy, and flies in the face of all that I believe in. I entered academia under the illusion that nurses might be different, but that assumption was deeply flawed.

      • Thanks for the reply, Nurse PhD…and I hear you also, esp about the caste system that some academic nurses have created. I got a lead on a direct care position at one of our clinical sites — case management within a homeless agency setting… thinking about pursuing the first steps…baby steps… cut my pay, take the initials after my name and throw them in the lake — don’t care. Let me put on my t-shirt and jeans and let me work among the city’s people…
        thanks for this site. You’re all an inspiration!

        • well, I did it… I applied to get certification as a nurse practitioner, and I want to focus on homeless health care…direct service, right in the community. Have no idea how/when exactly it will all come together, but I found my passion and don’t want to lose it. thanks

  13. I’m a TT assistant professor at a mediocre university. I teach a “secondary” subject at a small engineering school in the absolute middle of nowhere. I have numerous problems here:

    -Zero research support. When I mean zero, I mean my collection of books is bigger than the entire library (slight hyperbole here, kinda). They charge me in inter-library loan as well. I also do not have access to jstor.

    -Students are, “meh”. Engineering students taking non-engineering courses. I’m sure you can put two and two together to speculate how much they care.

    -I’m really, really far from home and very, very isolated. Six hours to drive anywhere isolated. The town I live in is very small and has minimal “culture”. There are very few non-chain restaurants and even fewer non-American places.

    I am currently looking for another job but my prospects are pretty bleak. I have some stuff published but it’s been an uphill battle with the lack of any research capability. This place is, in my opinion, the worst place I could have chosen to work at. The worst decision of my life. And pay isn’t even that great. I’ve been told that if I quit this crappy job I will never again get into a TT situation. I’m young (early 30s) and I have a fairly active research agenda, despite the obstacles. I enjoy teaching, despite the mediocre students. .I don’t want to spend the next 35 years here. I would rather adjunct back home that consider that possibility. I’ve kind of transitioned to a hopeless mindset. I don’t know what to do, help?

    • I hate to say it, but first, just be thankful you have a job at all to work from, in this economy. Ok, now second, I don’t think you should quit per se. I think you should put your head down for a year and crank out major publications (you weren’t clear how many you have so I can’t really judge your record, but you’re aiming for the highest and best in your field—a book mss under contract if you’re in a book field, and/or articles in the top journals in the land). And then after a year of that, go on the market. If you just quit and kick around with no affiliation, it will be very hard to land the second job. But applying from the position of strength of a first tt job is an advantage. You’ve been pre-vetted so to speak. Last, keep in mind it does sometimes take 2-3 years to get the second job. If you want more targeted advice, consider working with me, as I can evaluate your current cv and see how competitive you might be right now, and how to strategize the next steps.

  14. I truly needed to read this as well. Like many of those that have already commented, I am reluctantly going up for tenure, and have been assured that given those that have preceded me, I should have no problems attaining it. My issue is, that I did not enter academia to teach. I was originally hired in another capacity and because students identified with me, became a full time professor. Now at the end of my fifth year, I am bored out of my mind, not committed to regurgitating quantitative data and unchallenged by the repetition of teaching. While I do not disparage those that love teaching, I’ve always been a dreamer, and I am TIRED of everyone saying tenure is my stability and contingency plan. I guess my question is, do I go ahead and submit the dossier, as I plan to resign at the end of the academic year, because I’ve been accepted to law school? I’ve wanted to be an attorney since I was a child, fighting for human rights and civil liberties. I simply haven’t had anyone tell me that following my dream makes sense! I welcome any feedback.

    • Niles,

      I think you should do what you believe in, although I would suggest staying until the tenure decision comes through. Life is weird and you want to have tha t ‘credential” under your belt, just in case. And then, I’d check to make sure just what kind of a financial situation you’re getting yourself in for law school. Can you afford it? Can you pay off the loans? Have others actually succeeded in the kind of career you envision? Check all that before leaping. But if it pans out, leap!

      • Niles,

        I am in a very similar situation. I teach social sciences at a private liberal arts college, and I have come to hate it for too many reasons to state here. My reasons, however, are not about my college per se, rather they have to do with the state of academia in America in this point in history. It’s a field I find increasingly suffocating, and I already know that I want to leave it to pursue something else. I’ll be coming up for tenure review next year, and I dread putting my file together with the knowledge that I am certain to leave academia in the very near future. Like you, my mind is already going off in a different direction. Leaving the financial security of tenure to pursue something entirely different is certainly risky in this economy, but the alternative vision of me toiling away at a job that feels more and more oppressive with each passing year seems even worse.

      • Very well said, Karen! Those are totally legitimate questions for someone who consider giving up tenure and going for law school nowadays.

  15. Good advice. I have come to the realization that academia is a soul-shredding life that requires endless effort with little reward. I earned my PhD in 2005 and I taught at four very different universities in the six years that followed. I enjoy teaching and I am good at it, receiving excellent student and peer evaluations. I have an ambitious research program, and I am published. However, after applying for many positions, I have not landed a tenure track position, and probably never will. While a scarcity of jobs is a factor, I began to question whether I wanted to continue my search for other reasons. Although surrounded by students and colleagues, I lacked the feeling of connection that I needed to survive. Outwardly I seemed content, but I was dying inside. While my intractable epilepsy made it difficult for me to earn my doctorate, my professors were always supportive. However, after I became a professor I experienced how mean-spirited, rancorous, and petty department life truly was. At every department at which I taught, the reality was the same. At more than one department, my epilepsy was made an issue, and it was assumed that my disability disqualified me from obtaining a tenured position. Why would I want to subject myself to the pity of people who were no more qualified than I was? My experience is not unique. Disabled candidates face greater obstacles in the search process than those who are not disabled. I must admit, however, that I still find myself examining the Chronicle of Higher Education for possible jobs – and I may still apply for the “right” job. Nonetheless, I am hesitant to continue the struggle in what has become a blood-sport – landing the job.

    • Brian,
      I stumbled across this website, and your note, completely by accident. Unlike everyone else here (it seems), I enjoy academia. But that’s me, and I did not have an easy time either at first. I had three one-year visiting professor positions before getting my tenure track job. I now have tenure.
      But I am not here to talk so much about that as about your epilepsy. You call it “intractable” — I don’t know what that means, and I have epilepsy as well. In my case, I have a grand mal seizure now about once every year or so. In my earlier years, epilepsy affected my graduate school performance more than it does today (in part due to better medication). I gather that in your case, perhaps, your career is affected more by seizures etc than mine. But it is hard to tell from what you write.
      That being said, bias is bias. I am utterly shocked to hear that people in your department are talking about epilepsy as possibly disqualifying you from a tenure-track job. As you well know, we with epilepsy are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Universities have to make accommodations for people like you (and me). This is not a a question of being nice. It is the law. Now, there may be a point at which you cannot fulfill job duties — but if that point has not been reached, it is INCUMBENT that your college/ university be very careful in making any determination about whether or not a person with epilepsy can do the job. If they don’t they open themselves up to a lawsuit.
      BTW, I tell my students I have epilepsy. No need to hide what is part of me. Other students with disabilities have appreciated this.
      Anyhow — I have written a long bit , but — keep the faith. We still live in a world where many, obviously, don’t understand the situations of the disabled — Shawn

      • Brian, thank you for your post. I have type 1 diabetes, which I got hit with right after graduating with my Ph.D. My colleagues at my first job were horrible and the Dean threatened me. I have never felt the same way about academe since then. I may have to go back to it, but if I do, it will be in a more liberal school–maybe out in the West, like CA or Washington State, where people are more open-minded.

      • Those who say that one is not discriminated against because of epilepsy are dead wrong. I was subjected to neurological tests (8 hours worth) after being diagnosed with epilepsy. I was also pushed out of a position directing a writing program after I had a seizure at the university gym. They simply decided not to renew my contract, after working there four years. I am well aware that they felt I was maxing my insurance. They hired in another person, paying them much less after I upstarted their program. The problem with epilepsy bias is that universities think one is incapacitated and less intelligent. There is a real demonizing that occurs with brain issues-it does not occur with heart conditions etc. I have friends in academia much worse off that me who get tons of sympathy-I have never experienced this having epilepsy. I received my PhD in 1996, have received writing awards and presented at many national conferences but remain without tenure or hopes of finding a full time position. It is very defeating.

  16. Pingback: Now That I Have Your Attention… | Sarah Kendzior

  17. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I am doing research in a European university in Science. Like Rita I see the promotion of mediocrity in my departament also the dictatorial behaviour. I am now starting soon my 4 year and ready to leave with almost nothing in my hands. I spent my phd years working for never-ending requests/projects/possible research ideas, making the work of others. All work not realtes to my Phd thesis. For some reason I don’t have supervisors, is not that they are bad supervisors, I have really have no supervision. I wonder if this is normal, I don’t know anymore, I listen to other people complaining about bad supervisors, mine doesn’t exist at all.

    I thought that it would be great to do a PhD when I was working in the “normal world”, but I see even more mediocrity in academia, sexist behaviour, racism(nationality)… so I wonder “what the hell am I doing here?”, I should just leave, I have so many people trying to climb on top of me that they will be so happy if I just leave a give them the place.

    Even so I believe that there are places in academica where you can actually do your work and receive the minimum supervision you are suppose to, I just ended up in the wrong place.

  18. Dear professor,
    Thank you so much for this website.
    Your article on how to contact a potential PhD advisor is the reason I’m here but I just couldn’t leave without posting a comment on this one.
    I am applying for a PhD abroad. I started in my home town almost 3 years ago and due to the whole mess of mediocrity, bureaucracy, and vanity (which is by the way quite normal for my country), I had to pause. And being one of the top five in the class was irrelevant for getting a job. Less qualified people were hired. I had the option to do something that my supervisor wanted for my thesis though it wasn’t my area of specialization (and to get sick) or to stop. I got sick anyway. But I didn’t give up PhD, just that faculty.
    So I really understand people who make that decision because sometimes all that worry may not be worth it.
    But it is not easy even if it’s temporarily and not quitting. Since with this economy, there is not so much job for urban planners, I am really starting to doubt. This year I got accepted to the master at three prestigious European universities but didn’t get the scholarship. I am afraid that I’m old for their criteria, is 28 really that old? Is it for a PhD? Because I am looking for applications now but hearing all these stories…

  19. Wow, how refreshing. I am at the Thesis point on a Masters degree, and feeling the same way. To complicate things I am at a University different then the religion I was raised in. I finally heard the word “myth” though. The two old guys in my dept. have been here for twenty years, and are teaching about teaching. Their class plan is, “What should I vent about tonight.” There is no enthusiasm for the field, Art. I am afraid I will walk into the classroom and do the same thing, it is all they’ve shown me. Then there is their observers point of view about everyone, when I feel they have led a sheltered life in comparison to mine. I am back in school at 48.

  20. I love research, and academia, and teaching. I really do. I am in the unfortunate situation that this really is the one and only thing I want to do with my life. But I’m coming at it a little bit late–mid 30s when I finish up next year–and not in my home country, so I need a job in order to have a visa to stay. I’m terrified, actually. I’m good, but so are a lot of other people, and there aren’t jobs for all of us. There are fewer jobs all the time. This is where my life is, and while I do think that things tend to work out the way they’re supposed to, it’s hard to be optimistic sometimes. I’m really afraid I won’t get a job, will have to go back home, and will lose touch with the work and the surprisingly good research environment (emotionally, not financially, alas) and the people and be left with nothing but the memory of how I almost made it down the right path in life. Anyway, nothing anyone can do really, but it seemed like a place where people might understand. All of you who left, I definitely understand, and for what it’s worth, really think you should do the thing that’s going to make you happy.

  21. I am currently completing a PhD, and have experienced discrimination by my department due to a disability they became aware of through paperwork they should have had access to. My life has been made a living hell, and I confronted one of my perpetrators in a supervised meeting and I received nothing but verbal abuse. I am now dealing with Human Rights. Even though I passed my first comprehensive exam, I was instructed by my chair to take time off to think about whether I want to move to the next one (i.e. they don’t plan to pass me). When I consulted my academic advisor, she provided no support nor interest either way (stay or leave), as she has for the duration of this program. I have invested two years and a lot of money. I am debating whether to jump into the trap (the comprehensive exam) or just walk away. All I know is that I am exhausted and tired of the flare ups of my illness. If I walk away, at least I have 2 masters degrees.

    • I have a profound hearing loss and have also been told that I had to ‘understand my limitations.’ I want to teach (I am in the 2nd year of a PhD program, I have a Master’s already) but everytime I suggest I would like to TA or anything ‘people related’, it gets turned back on me that I may not be able to do it due to my disability.

      Honestly, often the professor/administrators do not know the law on disabilities and I am sorry for your struggles.

  22. How do you know if you really want an academic career or if you have internalized the brainwashing?
    How can you tell the difference between wanting to quit because of momentary weakness, or a lack of self-confidence, and wanting to quit because the job is not really what you want? In other words, suddenly, once I hit ABD, things got really hard and intimidating whereas before, in grad school, everything was new and fun and exciting. Do I cry sometimes and lose sleep at night because I don’t really want this life in academia, or do I cry sometimes and lose sleep at night because I am going through the growing pains necessary to help me morph into the mature professor I really want to be?

    How could you tell what you really wanted? How do you know how to shut out the voices of others’ expectations in order to be able to listen just to yourself? Hypnosis?


    • Pedro – you have voiced my thoughts EXACTLY! I have a tenure track job at a very pleasant institution – my colleagues are lovely, I have been productive and supported, and the students are humble and friendly, though I don’t love teaching. However, my husband is 4 hours away at a tenure-track prof at another institution. So, I constantly wonder: do I hate going to work because our living situation is so terrible and I see no end in sight, or do I hate going to work because academia is not for me? I have seriously been considering resigning, but I am terrified that I will regret it.

      • Hi Catherine, we must be twins! I am in the same quandary as you – far apart from my partner, working in an environment that’s alright, but dislike teaching. And wondering if I’m making a mistake by quitting. I’m just about three years in, and about to ask for a one year’s leave of absence to look for a non-academic job in my partner’s city. We only live once, and I am unhappy here. My rationale is that I’ve been longing to leave for three years even as teaching got better, and that I’m making this decision based on the best information I have about myself, what I want in life, and my chances of finding satisfying work post-academia. I’m still scared to take the plunge. I would love to talk more with you – we seem to be in a similar place.

    • @Pedro, I actually would recommend a card reading or something like that. It is very hard to tell.

      I initially had difficulty committing to academia, or to myself as academic, because I was so thoroughly warned about the difficulty of publishing and getting jobs, and because at my school saying one was not committed seemed to be the way to show that you were in fact destined for this (all the people who got jobs were those who had said they did not expect them).

      Then, what I disliked about it was not what I had expected. Somehow, though, I missed internalizing all the things about how you were a failure if you quit. When I was actually quitting, I got guilt tripped into staying — or so it seemed — by people who were trying to me out of shame of quitting that I did not actually feel!

      It is all so paradoxical, especially when in my case one adds the consideration that I went to graduate school because it was a great school and program and I was funded and it was in a great town where I already had an apartment, and I knew it would be good for me personally … but *also* because I lacked confidence to do *anything* else.

      ABD does seem to be where it gets strange. Can you get to a different university as a visiting researcher??? I did this by chance and it was great. Back home everyone was freaking out and getting odd, whereas where I was people thought I was new and interesting. Back home you were sort of expected to get stuck, and where I was they assumed you would make progress so beamed that at you without pressuring you.

  23. I’m so glad I read this. I finished ten years ago and still wonk around feeling bad about not being an academic and being a failure. This is in spite of a nice job in higher ed working with students balanced with parenting. I just have to stop feeling bad about it and suspect that I made a decent decision after all re: the job market.

  24. I just stumbled across this website–thank you! I left my tt job several years ago and can’t shake the regret because I haven’t found another job that compares, despite the fact that I was losing my hair from stress, working around the clock, reeling from unkind student evaluations, overpreparing, basically incapable of creating a healthy, sane life in the midst of the enormous pressures. I have three degrees from the top schools in my field and loved classroom teaching, research, writing, everything about academia. I just couldn’t handle the job emotionally. Still shaken to the core.

  25. Dear Karen: I have been following this site for sometime now and have noticed the very frank and open discussions concerning either staying with the Ph.D or leaving it altogether for something else and I can agree with everyone. And you my friend have given out much good information so I do have a question for myself. I have a Master’s in History with many years of experience working in the museum world. It really got me ready for teaching and currently I am a reading tutor at a small rural elementary school which is not far from my home and I love it. However I would like to teach a course or two online one day and am currently considering at least two graduate certificate that will help me towards my goals in doing this. My concern is that I have never had my own classroom and the only other experience besides the elementary school that I am at currently is a one year job at a rural high school in a nearby county that I also completed my undergraduate degree in and also did my student teaching in. I like high school students and also have re-discovered elementary school students. I really love the older ones because if things work out I many one day get to work with the 5th grade social science teacher at my school. Acquiring a high school history teaching job is now off my radar because most of these jobs require coaching and this usually means a man so there. I love taking online courses and have kept my teacher’s certificate up to date and will need any advice from you and any others on this site on how to approach my potential professors in whichever program that I get accepted into as to how to become marketable for both online K12 teaching and post-secondary (i.e Community College Teaching) before I spend my money on a graduate certificate that will equip me with these skills. Both certificates include student teaching courses. Take your time and thanks so much. Your site is one of the best and is truthful for all academics. Jane Steele,MA

  26. I am a tenured academic failure. In trying to find a position close to my partner, this has become glaringly obvious. I spent most of my academic career builing a program that has basically made me little more than an event planner, at least in the eyes of the real academics that bring their students to it. As a result my once (at least I thought) promising research agenda went down the toilet. But what can I do? One of the posters is right, I am nothing more now than a glorified high school teacher. I cant even find a private sector job (and I allegedly have a “marketable” degree), except an offer for a part time sales job at $15 and hour. I now regret going to college, let alone graduate school. I honestly would have been better off staying a secretary.

  27. Thank you for this website.
    I am a senior lecturer at university and am currently strongly contemplating quitting academia. The warning signs have been there since my PhD days tbh. I am lucky since I have lots of interesting results from my thesis that I could write up into several articles. However, since I am encouraged to always be actively do research I really cannot see when I will ever get chance to write it up. When my annual leave comes around I really need it!! Have been burned out for a long time; took a break after my PhD and missed the intellectual challeneg so got a job as a lecturer but it is all such a big effort for very little in terms of progress.

    My other main issue is that something has seriously gone wrong because the search for new knowledge is a pure thing to do but somehow much of academia is filled with fear, insecurity, lack of integrity, egosim and fame-seeking. The problem seems to me that for an academic the most important thing is self-promotion and continuously bumping up the CV. Thus what should be the most important thing i.e. new scientific discoveries, regardless of somebody’s career, should take precedence, but does not. A possible solution could be that when an article is published the names of the authors is not revealed and perhaps just the name of the universities are listed. It might help to take the ego out of it, because that does not matter, but the findings do…

  28. I joined engineering with half heart. parents wanted me to pursue engineering and I wanted to do arts. am always a big time motorcycle enthusiast, so thought “fine, am going to be ok with mechanical engineering ” . what I found there in college was all math and nothing related to my dream :-/ I failed and got many arrears. when I turned back to see what I have done all my life, I got nothing ! but fortunately my college gave such motivation and inspiration to start my business. after 4years of struggle, now I decided to giveup, because i dont want to waste time by struggling with math, integrals and differentials. am going to build motorcycle cult in south India. am going to build custom motorcycles. am fedup , breaking head against maths. am done. and am givingup , but will start over! :-/ thanks for the article.

  29. Wow, look at all of these unhappy people. I am a second year tenure track professor. Some days are good. But today was so bad I sat at my desk in the dark in a paralyzed stupor. Giving exams sucks. Giving out grades sucks. Being challenged by snot- nosed students that think they know more than me just because my skin color is one of a “minority” (although I have a PhD and they don’t even have a masters yet) sucks. Entitled brats! I sit here in the midst of my papers, while everyone else has left the building, and I wonder why in hell am I doing this? Big f- – -‘in deal about tenure… why should the pursuit for stupid tenure take up my life? What happened to my ideals and dreams of changing the world? And then, I find this website. How serendipitous.

    • Dimecter and others, I completely relate to your situation. I am too exhausted now to write much, because I was in my office until midnight working. I am a tenured professor and I have been teaching at the same small university for 12 years. I NEVER planned to teach, life just seemed to take me along and I someone ended up here. I thought I would give teaching a whirl for a year or so, and quit if I did not like it. Then I got cancer (cured now), and medical bills, a mortgage for a house I never should have bought, student loans, and on and on – all those obligations and responsibilities I always told myself when I was younger that I never would never let happen. Now I feel trapped, when all my life I have wanted to be free.

      It is horrible to be trapped and hate your job. My colleagues are awful, faculty have only received 1% raises every year since I have been here, the administration is terrible, just full of a bunch of highly paid “yes” people, and faculty are completely demoralized. To top it off, I absolutely hate living in the small town where I work. I have always lived in different, vibrant, exciting cities my whole life – Santa Fe, Nashville, Asheville, NC, Durham, NC, Charlotte, and many others.

      Dimecter, like you, I also keep wondering what happened to my ideals and dreams. What happened to that young person in her 20s who never wanted to be tied down, who loved exploring new cities, who wanted to roam around and see the entire country, meeting people in different places with different outlooks and perspectives on life, that young person who only kept enough possessions to fit in my car so that I could be free and mobile, to go wherever I wanted? I never wanted to end up like this, and sometimes I think that the person I was in my teens and 20s was much wiser than who I am now, 44 years old and stuck.

      We have no savings, quite literally, and mountains of debt. But we just have to get out of this place, and I have to find a way to leave this job. My husband and I have become so depressed over the years that we have been here. I am anxious all the time about work, and all my life has become is mind-numbing work. I love my students, but I really never look forward to actually teaching in the classroom – I love working with them one-on-one. But academia is often thankless. Monday I received an email from a student berating me, telling me that something I said in class offended him (it is too long of a story to go into). And like you, I just sat in my office depressed, anxious that I had offended this student, and he claimed others were offended as well, and thought about how much I hate my job.

      We have no money, but my husband and I are determined to get out of this place this summer for our mental well-being. Life should not be miserable just for the sake of the security of tenure, which I know I am supposed to be grateful for. However, one of the many downsides of academia is the inability to move where you wish. If you can get a tenure-track job, you must go where the job is.

      I’ve had it. Everyone thinks I am insane, but I am probably going to law school in the fall with the hopes of being a civil rights lawyer (I am a professor of sociology). We don’t even have money to move, going to law school is a sure way to accumulate massive debt, I would graduate when I am 48, and who knows whether I would get a job at that age. Oh, and I would only be going to law school for public interest/civil rights law, which pays less that the paltry salary I currently make as a professor. I may be making the best decision of my life, or the worst. I am racked with anxiety every day, but I want to try to remember that young girl who did dream of changing the world, of fighting for social justice, and the person who at least got some enjoyment out of life. I figure millions of people will still have student loan debt, among other forms of debt, when they die, so what does it matter. I guess you can tell how desperate I am to get out. In reality, I don’t know what to do.

      Well, despite my exhaustion from working an insane number of hours today, hours and work that no one at my school will appreciate, I did end up writing quite a long post. Sometimes you just have to vent, and it helps just knowing that other people are out there in similar situations – that you are not alone. I thank you all for that.

  30. Reading this gives me some hope. I am not a professor, but a special Ed teacher of lower elementary students. When I started my career about 7 years ago, I was excited because it was new and different. But now, I dread going to work! I love my students, but seem unfulfilled and dissatisfied as their teacher. I think about leaving but have no idea what else I’d do. I feel depressed! I’ve been offered another position as a teacher in a different school with more pay. I’m considering taking it but fear that once the newness wears off, I’d find myself right back here. Is it that I’m not cut out as a teacher or is it just my environment or new demands of the job? Help me

  31. My PhD is just months from completion and I have long since decided that I want nothing to do with academia, if I can help it, when I am finished. I’ve been working at it, off and on, between other life endeavours, for almost 20 years, and it really is the only thing in the whole world I am qualified to do. For the life of me, I can’t think of anything else that I would like to do. I have been fairly successful at scholarship and teaching. But to be honest, I have disliked it for a very long time, and just kept thinking that if I stuck it out things would improve and I would work out the nerves, etc. Also, I have had a really hard time admitting that I may not be cut out for it. But I detest teaching more than ever, and the spectre of administrative work/meetings and the years of politicking and CV-padding—not to say the dull hours of irrelevant research—in a poor job market causes me nothing but despair. So far I have been able to hold it at bay, committed to finishing the degree and hoping that some epiphany would strike. But the end is approaching. What then?

  32. I SO needed this. I am struggling. I’m ABD–took comps a year ago. I have three chapters written and in final revisions. I have come to the realization I really HATE the field (higher ed administration). I have no desire to publish academic papers, although I like having the cred in research because I want to write books. I taught English; I moved to administration. I’m miserable. Do I want to spend 6 months to finish and have the letters, or cut my losses and move on? My passion is counseling/advising/helping individuals and groups through writing and the arts. I want to do workshops in journaling and art therapy and humanities in psychology and I think I probably need to be in a medical setting. I’m 35 and had no idea when I got two degrees in English–and I started the PhD to get the job I have that is just not right for me. Sigh.

    What to do? Do I finish just to finish? Do I see if I can salvage some credits and move to the Ed Psych department? Do I take a relatively useless Master’s in Education? Do I try to move the Master’s to include teaching certification to be safe? Ugh. So depressed, but working through it.

    • This is a very personal decision of course, and not one I offer firm advice on, but I would suggest that you walk away, BUT walk away with a usable degree if you can. If that is the Ph.D. as the basis for your credibility in your chosen next career, then struggle to complete it. If a masters will serve, do that. But just quitting in the middle can have deleterious effects on a person’s psyche and self-esteem. That doesn’t mean it’s always the wrong choice though, if your heart is really sick in your current situation. Just something to weigh.

    • Hello Amy,
      I don’t know what you decided to do because you wrote your comment in November of last year, but I would recommend finishing the Ph.D. and then doing something else. You have worked really hard. Get that advanced degree, you deserve it. It will help you find another job outside academia.

  33. Been in a small private university in East Africa that has changed its vision from primarily teaching and learning to research. The pressure to research and publish is immense as annual salary increments and promotion are awarded on performance in this area. While there is a mentorship programme, mentor/mentee relationships are riddled with problems because they are imposed. No one is talking about these things and tensions are mounting. Those that can leave the institution have left. This university is a classic case of acdemic careers and people’ s lives under ferocious attack.

  34. I was all for the PhD. and upper level academia. While doing my thesis research, the department had a coup de etat. That coup cost me $60,000 in school loans alone. That experience was greeted with a “… so sorry … good luck attitude.” I had to start from the bottom again, literally! I did go on and get the advance degrees but it cost us thousands and the rewards are minimal, but my experiences on my resume were every school’s dream. The pay not ideal, but I refuse to do any more schooling. At some point, it is pointless! As a side note, I donated all my research to a local archive for a public school and that was nearly 10 years ago.

  35. Pingback: When to Leave the ‘Academia’ (University Cartel)? « Homologus

  36. I have recently completed my PhD in Chemistry and was never so disappointed as I am now. I am regretting for leaving my country to pursue PhD in the United States. It is hard to find job both here and in my country. Even the jobs are less paid than an undergraduates earn after their degrees. I would never encourage people to go for PhD degrees if they want a descent life.

  37. Hi Karen,

    My advisor just told me he wasn’t willing to advise me anymore–by e-mail. It was quite out of the blue. He says I have made too little progress over the last year. I am worried what this means for my research, because he is the obvious authority on it. Is this situation common? What recourse do I have? Is my academic career finished?

  38. I initially came upon this site while I was looking for advice for writing academic cover letters and I started reading the blogs and posts. I’m shocked at the responses to this particular discussion. So many unhappy people hating the very career I can’t wait to start. I have to admit, I got a late start on my academic career because I chose to start a family first. I’m 43 married with young adult children. I’m ABD and currently on an extended leave of absence because I can’t afford to finish my dissertation right now, I might never be able to finish. I’m sort of angry, yes I’ll say it, angry at the whining going on by people who are so unhappy in academia. One poster said he’d rather work at McDonalds-if that’s the case then why aren’t you there now? One even said life as a secretary would be better because of less work related stress and home by 5 pm. What reality do you people live in? I work in the real world and guess what?? We hate our jobs too. Everything you think is wrong with academia is wrong in the outside world to my friends. I have a master’s degree and am ABD. I teach preschool for a federally funded program and make half what the board of education teachers make (<than $30,000). I have 0 respect from management and even less from parents. My job description includes "bus aide". Yes bus aide. Swallow that as you are writing proposal chapters. The other day a parent threatened to beat me up and it's not the first time. My employers constantly tell me they don't care about my education, to them it's a joke. I work in a place that discourages education unless it's about how to write a better lesson plan on balls. I was actually told not to talk about current research in my field because "noone cares". One previous boss even called me his "educated idiot". You think real world jobs don't have baggage and cause sleepless nights and hours of crying on the shower floor you are wrong. I've worked as a paralegal. Try defending child molestors and then tell me how horrible your academic job is.
    The reality is you all have made it to where me and thousands of others want to be. I can't even get hired as an adjunct and I've been trying for years. If you hate your job stop complaining and quit so that someone who does want it can have a chance. And trust me, your students know when you are burnt out or just don't care anymore.
    You should be me. I have over $100,00 in student loans. I've put my family in terrible debt and I have nothing to show for it. My children make comments that I'll never get a college job and my oldest son is disillusioned by college because of my failure to finish my doctorate and find a job. I look at him and wonder if he sees me as a failure. I hope he doesn't but I don't know for sure because I'm afraid to ask him. I've worked my butt off and know I'd be a good professor but no one will give me a chance. So, the next time you are feeling so sorry for yourself think about all the me's in the world who can't even get in the door.

    • A-men Patsy! I’ve just gone through the job-market BS for the second year, and this time I almost got a good permanent position (lecturer, but it would’ve been convertible to TT upon completion of the PhD), before the search committee eventually decided to give the job to someone else because he had his PhD in hand and I didn’t. In this case, I had a close friend ON the hiring committee, I worked my ass off for two months making sure I’d do stellar interviews with them, and it was all for naught. The complaints of the people here who have TT jobs would just be funny if it weren’t for the fact that you idiots are OCCUPYING POSITIONS THAT OTHER PEOPLE REALLY WANT. Maybe if/when the rest of us get hired for TT jobs, we will also hate them, but let us be the judges of that.

    • I hear you; I hold two Master’s, and am entering my ninth year as an adjunct. I’ve applied for 30+ cc positions without any interviews, and am 0/4 in Ph.D. applications. However, at every college that I have attended since I was 18 (4), I have encountered HORRIBLE educators who are there for a paycheck and nothing else. Yet, they endure. Those that really want it (you and I, for example) can never get there. It is a complete crapshoot, and I am to the point of offering hiring managers a portion of my pay if they hire me.

    • I just read this and started to doubt myself and felt guilty for complaining. But then I thought about it. I just had to make my reply in case others are reading this and are feeling guilty too.

      I don’t think anyone here is saying there are no terrible jobs outside of academia, but academia is a life-consuming career choice, especially when you get in young. For instance it’s hard to start a family when you and your partner are on different continents. Many early academics I know are now trying to choose between children or career. That is a whole different kind of bad.

      I hope you got your degree and a good job you enjoy. I hope the same for myself, plus, finally, a family.

  39. Dear Karen, I am having a problem with one particular course at university and professor of that particular course is advising me to rethink my choice of studies. I am discouraged. Is it reasonable to change department because of failing in one subject, although i am reluctant. Please help me with your advice.

  40. I recently completed my Master’s, got married, moved to a foreign country, and began a PhD program. I realize that as I type this that I am insane. I also opted to take my qualifying exams three months after beginning the program on the ‘good advice’ of my advisor. I passed the first exam, but after a very intense Oral exam and some extreme verbal abuse from a committee member, I am completely disillusioned. My committee has offered for me to take the exam over again, and normally I would jump on the chance. I have failed many times in my life (and I will many times more) and the idea of trying again and proving myself to be better is inspiring to me. In fact, my best work is often done when I am in competition with myself. I know that I am still very early on in my academic career, but I want to run away screaming. I am just having a hard time actually quitting. My research is fully funded, I work in collaboration with many great organizations, the grant offers the whole overseas experience, it is meaningful, and I am young, somewhat ‘not tied down’, and wanting to experience the world. I see that this is the perfect recipe for many grad students. In fact, a big reason I agreed to this project was that it was an incredible opportunity and that I would look crazy if I said no. I have thought of getting a PhD for a long time now, but my ‘life plan’ was always to get a Masters, get a job, and then after getting experience in the field, get a PhD, and then spend my early retirement being an assistant professor at some small, liberal arts college. I guess I am naive as they get. I like teaching, but am perfectly fine just doing research or something similar for the rest of my life. I interred at my dream job for three years as an undergrad, and all of my colleagues had Masters (unfortunately for me, it is not a stable career at this time). I even asked my former colleagues what I should do, and they all said PhD now and that I would be crazy for not jumping on this chance while I am still young. I like the research that I am doing, but I am not passionate about it. But the question remains, do I have the courage to quit what is seemingly the perfect opportunity?

    • Wow! you have the same life plan as me….get a master’s degree or two..get an industrial job…then end up teaching some day with a wealth of industrial experience. It makes sense to teach practical aspects of industry in addition to theory.
      I am expected to follow the phD path at 28….I am not psychologically and emotionally prepared to commit to scientific theory for the next 4-5 is pointless. If a phD can get me a senior management job in industry, great…but that only works for a takes a special knack to make it that way.
      I have decided to follow my heart and mind instead of being coerced into academia..I have been a TA for 3 years and I during that time I let go of great opportunities in the 1st year because I needed a job and finish my masters, I was harassed by my supervisors in the 2nd year as I struggled with my work, and I relaxed in my academic work in the 3rd year as I committed to co-curricular activities/hobbies which give me strength and diversity….I will miss the freedom of time to follow my gifts/talents outside academia but every dream involves a sacrifice. I am headed for a 4th year im my masters!!!….that is a red flag that graduate school is not my place.
      Thank you for your post.

  41. I am in the second semester of my first year and I am throwing in the towel after this.. I “know when to fold them,”. I think the overall culture and climate of PhD is hard to deal with. There are so many things wrong with graduate school to the point where I feel like i am getting scammed. To get to the pinacle of a career( I am in the sciences) and find out ” welp there is no money in this.” feels like i have been hoodwinked. The long hours, low pay, advisors who seem nice but get upset when you want a weekend to yourself, classes that are overwhelming and resulting depression aren’t worth it in the end. The research process that is never ending and experiments that don’t work for some unexplained reason…Years of Post-Docing to hope to spend the rest of my life writing grants?!?!? No thank you. The pressure is unending and soul numbing and I have never dealt with so much for so little return. The job market is terrible because america doesn’t value research in the main culture, the bread and butter which pays our bills. I want to eventually have a reasonable salary and to have to wait almost 10 years to make more than $35,000 a year is not going to work..

    I think lots of people, myself included, are consistently told ” You’re smart, grad school is the way to go ” Seriously?!?!! It would be better spent getting real world experience in a paying position vs learning in an academic setting…
    I’m out 100%.

  42. I’m a postdoc in the middle of the job market process. I have a job offer from a non-academic research organization and two offers for a fly-out for a tenured-track faculty position at two fairly good universities. The non-academic org needs an answer before the in-person faculty interviews are going to happen, and I’ve been leaning toward accepting the job offer because it is a “cool” city, especially compared to where the two universities are located, and the organization prioritizes research that has an immediate impact on practice and policy. But, I’m also very torn because I feel like I would be giving up on a potentially amazing opportunity to be a tenure-track faculty. I’m also ashamed to tell my advisor and other colleagues that I’m not sure I want the academic track anymore. This decision has been keeping me up for nights on an end. It does feel like academia is an intellectual cult and I’m ashamed/scared to leave.

    • This is a dilemma that nobody can advise on. Except to try and play hardball and negotiate an extension with the non-academic place so that you can at least fly out to visit the university jobs. And also, you can tell the universities that you have a time constraint. I guess my advice is, try some negotiating before you just become a victim of timing.

  43. After 15 years of work experience in engineering…which has…to me…dwindled down to a pathetic career choice stemming from inept morons at the work place, egotistical jerkoffs running the helm, and even bigger idiots with business degrees knowing nothing but making more money than most engineers put together…I realized it’s time to quit this lame industry filled with socially inept arrogant fools who have no loyalty to one another whatsoever.

    I have also learned that for the most part, getting an education has been an incredible waste of time….time which I could have spent learning a trade that would have made me far more money than any engineering degree could have made me….not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars I wasted getting these stupid degrees.

    Much like many scams and traps in today’s society, going to school and getting an education is an well run institutional scam….where if you are not willing to get a formal education, you are ridiculed, belittled, and made to feel like a loser who will never make it.

    So everyone goes to school like a good little boy or girl, gets into mountains of debt, which the financial institutions love you for, and you obey the norms of society by buying your house, your fancy car, and pay your payments on time as an obedient slave should.

    What a world we live in.

  44. Karen and Colleagues,

    In reading many of the letters on this discussion forum, I have been struck by the magnitude of disappointment many academics are facing in their lives. It is disheartening to hear individuals who once were and probably still are passionate about promoting a culture of teaching and learning crushed to the point of dismay from untold stress. To those of you feeling crushed, I hope you rediscover your passions as there are many other ways to contribute to and improve the world we live in. For those of you determined to seek out or stay in the academic world, it is a tough one for sure, but it is NOT (as Karen mentions in several places) an impossible one if you set realistic expectations and goals for yourself. In the end, whether you choose never to enter, to leave or even to stay in academe, I think it is important to remember that being a professor (tenured or otherwise) is a job. Nothing more and nothing less. Good luck to all!

  45. Karen – Thank you so much for this website. I relate to what so many are saying on this post. I am in the first year of my TT job, and it is sucking the life out of me. Sigh.
    I know I have to make a change, and I will eventually. In the meantime, I find great solace in the words on your site.

    • Yes, I also want to say that I think Karen’s website is truly a blessing. It’s about time that people started looking at reality and Karen knows because she’s been there. Many graduate programs accept students merely because they need students. If professors of French literature, for example, had no graduate students, then they could not teach their discipline. The student is there because of merits, but he or she is also there so that the class can exist. And that student also teaches lower division classes because that is “cheap labor” (I hate to use this expression but it’s true). There is an economic reality that is usually not talked about, it always lurks in the background and is just accepted because that is somehow part of the overall sacrifice.

  46. I don’t think anyone should work in Academia. I’m a super-smart guy who does a ton of research on everything. My specialty is all languages and writing systems, especially hieroglyphic ones (not very lucrative right now, by the way), combining linguistics, anthropology, religion, history.

    I found after talking with a bunch of profs and grad students, then reading a ton about how college is done overseas and in the past, that post-GI Bill America-USA-Canada is NOT the place to be a professor. However, any of you could get a degree here and have a vastly different experience in the 3rd world : China, Latin America, etc. The West has had a recent philosophy shift and has become soullessly materialistic, and secondary education has gone from being a rewarding atmosphere to being an unlivable nightmare.

    They’re not being paid enough for what they do, they can’t write what they want, and the students and other faculty don’t treat them with dignity, compassion, or value.

    I just graduated undergrad a few years ago, so I’m sorta young. I’ve traveled extensively over the whole globe and taught English overseas, talked with a lot of people, and examined documents from all eras and places.

    Please, thank me later, and find a job and a place in the world where people treat you well, you at least sort-of like what you do for a living, and have all the time you want to contribute to the search for truth.

    Believe it or not, America is the nightmare that American media portrays China as. America is a freedom-less police state filled with the world’s richest, most ignorant, most scared, and most abusive people. But because the government controls education, we rarely travel abroad in any non-superficial way, and thus do not discover reality. China is a lot better, but no paradise : people are left alone by the government, but minorities are still killed by the millions for their religion and people die daily as a result of a lack of safety and quality-control. Health care is the best here, but it can be better, good, or good enough elsewhere. Even if you died a bit earlier elsewhere, it would be worth it in terms of improved quality of life : less stress, more dignity, friendlier people.

  47. Pingback: ‘I’m Outta Here’: Deciding When to Quit the Academic Job Search, Part 1 | Jobs on Toast: the blog

  48. Thanks for this, Karen. Your website has been a great resource for me as I have mulled over the possibility of leaving academia in the past few months.

    I finally decided to make the switch when I found out that the last TT position I applied for had over 250 applicants. Over 250! I am a post-doc in biology with lots of pubs and I still didn’t get an interview for this position, which was a perfect fit for my background and skills. My decision was solidified by reading the current outlook for funding in the USA. Grim!

    Thankfully, I have cultivated other skills during and since my PhD, including writing and editing, which I truly enjoy. I just accepted a scientific writing job within the pharmaceutical industry, and I couldn’t be happier to 1) work as a science writer 2) live where I want/near my family 3) get paid what I am worth and 4) not have to take my work home with me at the end of the day.

    Thanks for being the voice I needed to hear during a difficult time.


  49. I am questioning whether I want to continue pursuing a job in academia. There are many things that I love about the job: I love doing research and I enjoy teaching most days. (I’m a VAP at a large state school). But after my second round of unsuccessful job searching, I am not sure how much longer I want to keep trying. Especially since I fear that the pay in the end won’t be enough for me and my family. But where do I look for a job outside of academia? I haven’t the faintest idea where to start. I’m a medieval historian, so it’s not like there’s an obvious back up plan. Any places to get help or start looking?

  50. Hi Karen,

    I am a struggling mom in academia who has a very young kid living with my partner in another state. This is my fifth year in the faculty position, so I am supposed to go for tenure in a few months. However, I have been wondering to quit the job recently and move with my family being a full-time mom. Am I crazy?

  51. Bless you. Bless you. Bless you. These posts and article make me feel less ashamed of my situation. Academia is not at all what I thought it would be. I am only in my first year and have seen bully behaviors by profs and backstabbing amongst my cohort – so much for a shared love of learning! At every turn I am discouraged by my committee about tenure possibilities. I have officially fallen out of love with higher education. I always wanted to be PhD, but I do not have the passion, time or financial resources to essentially waste my late 30’s to pursue a degree that will, I fear, ultimately price me out of potential business world careers. My biggest dilemma is a feeling of guilt. I feel like I am letting my down my family, friends and committee. Does the guilt go away?

  52. Dear Prof. Karen,
    I have visited this page repeatedly for the last 10 months. The first time I came here, my subconscious already knew the truth, but my frontal cortex didn’t want to listen. “Who is she… she’s just one person… what does she know?!”

    But I kept coming back. Reading, re-reading, crying, therapy, worrying, stress.

    Retrospectively I was such a good student during my undergraduate years, so dedicated to learning, so curious about many, many topics. Why was I losing it? Why did I feel jaded, bitter, lost, confused, hopeless, and terrified that I would never find a career? I was terrified I would never climb out of my undergraduate debt… and terrified I would eventually need to take out more debt to finance an 8 to 10 year PhD. And for what? A starting salary in my field that was, mediocre, at best? And writing papers on such an obscure topic that I honestly felt already contained literature that was a mess, full of biased opinions and rhetoric that brought little development and substantial achievements to the field.

    Knowledge is free. Time and effort exploring the system of one’s local library usually yields access to books, library-loan systems, and access to academic journal article databases that most institutions have. And it can usually all be managed via the internet from the comfort of your home. It doesn’t have to be paid for with money for degrees, and long work hours towards projects that seem ‘bullshitty’ at best. And worse case scenario, you can take a one-credit painting class and obtain the same access as other students to university libraries, if you really want to. It might take time to acquire the content, but it can be done, downloaded, stored, and read critically over a nice cup-of-coffee from your own kitchen. And anyone can learn anything they want, on their own time, after working a 9 to 5 job that is more gratifying–and more lucrative–then the ridiculousness of the academic social-game.

    Glad to say I’ve found a job that pays me MORE than what my PhD would have gotten me, in a field that really enhances my personality type and skills. I’ve set my long term goals even higher on a professional career that will allow research, writing, and publishing on my terms. And the one thing that academia gave me was an even stronger bullshit meter… so the corporate world better be prepared for that skill of mine…

    The world is changing. We can all write publicly as you do, and have our “peer-review” come from anyone that we want… providing our content is sound-enough to draw an intellectual audience who cares to help us grow… And, providing we too will do the same for them. We can all peel back our layers of ego, and do our best to leave that waste behind as we crawl to the future… There’s no need for an Ivory Tower when we can all find our intellectual conversations by sharing knowledge in e-communities that celebrate acceptance, and not limitation…

    ^^^ Perhaps I am still a bit jaded, and too idealistic. Nonetheless, you’ve been fundamentally life-changing. The time and effort you placed into your words and this website have shifted my neurons forever. For the better. I can’t thank you enough and I honestly mean it when I say your words kept me alive at the darkest moments. All I can do to thank you is to work hard, keep learning, and keep sharing. Paying it forward. Changing neurons. And giving as much as I can while being sure to give back to myself when needed.


    • Thank you so much, GYWJITPTWTS! I am so glad that my blog was meaningful to you in your journey. Congratulations on making the change, and I wish you the best of luck.

  53. Pingback: Back to the Motor League? « two men enter . . .

  54. I thank you for the wise words you have given us all here and I want you to know that you have help make a huge decision in MY life. I attend Melbourne Uni studying MSc in Chemistry and I struggled to make the decision rather not to quit but to take a leave of absence of a year.

    I ve struggled with this decision for well over 6 months and this post really clarified some ambiguities I could not figure out. My parents had pushed me and i have never went against their decisions yet but, I went to talk to my prof. Yesterday and he told me that he would rather not let me live in suffering and denial and would fully support my decision since only I know what is truly best for me. I wasn’t going to quit with being able to justify the question “why”. But now with out any self doubt, I can. This means a lot to me and I want you to know that I am truly grateful.

    I am not giving up, but I will come back to challenge this again having bettered my self! I will relearn “how to study” and be the student I always wanted to be!!

  55. I’m a successful assistant professor at a decent liberal arts college in the Midwest. I left a good, well-paying career to take this position and I’ve just recently accepted the fact that I simply can’t make it on the salary. I’ve given up big salaries in the past in order to chase my passions –and I truly believe that money is not the most important consideration. But when you work 12-14 hours a day, nearly every day, and work hard (unpaid) over the summer, that 49K salary is just shameful. I thought the lower cost of living would help, but there are fixed costs in life (like your student loans) that make it very hard to make ends meet. Add a family to the mix and I simply don’t know how I can do it. I’m sliding deeply into debt in the process. I believe I am just now accepting the foolishness of this toil, and coming to grips with the idea of leaving.

  56. I’ve been reading through this post and feel it may be a good place to ask for some honest advice.

    I’m currently debating if I want to pursue a PhD. But my reason to do it entirely for personal achievement- not to ultimately pursue a career in academia- in fact, I would prefer to not have a career in academia. Is this a naïve, foolish life goal?

    I’m now 31 years old. My undergraduate degree is in biology, I graduated cum laude in 2009. I’m about to complete a Master’s of Nonprofit Management and have been bored out of my mind. I’ve worked in conservation biology and with various international animal rights NGOs. I would now like to return to the hard sciences and am considering either the biology or statistics field, with career goals of working for peanuts with a conservation NGO (my initial goal before sidetracking with this Master’s). I’ve had practically all of my education paid for through grants and scholarships and believe I could get a doctoral program at least partially paid for.

    Basically, a PhD is a life goal-although a career in academia is not. And in my mind, I’ve convinced myself it would open more biological research opportunities. But my main reason is simply to fulfill a life goal. Is this naïve, foolish, and idyllic? Or is it viable option? I greatly appreciate any advice!

  57. If you do a Ph.D. in the sciences you can get jobs in industry, but you can also get that just with an M.A. It sounds to me that, apart from talking to academics and professors, you should talk to friends to get their input. School is school and you already have an undergraduate degree in biology, cum laude, and a Master’s in Nonprofit Management. If you think that graduate school could be a refuge from the real world or just a place to idealize the world, I think that you should seriously consider not doing a doctoral program. I hope this helps. Good luck!

  58. I was a PhD student in one of the prestigious institutes in India. I discontinued after 8 months because i did not like the lab. I screwed up my coursework (i failed in first sem)(i consider all as guide’s fault, she forced me to take tough subjects, which were not even directl related to my work). My guide, she has been one of the good scientist who has earned her mark over the years. She is about to retire in 3 years. Lab is like a sinking ship, she does not have projects and even seniors from lab are not publishing well. She is a very strict lady. She took my failures as important message to her and just simply doubted my ability to pusue phd. I somehow could not tolerate it till date. Forecasting all the situation after 6 yr wt it will be like, i decided to resign. But i really wanto do phd, it was like i really felt im on a wrong train. But, now its seems soo tough.. sometimes feels like, i should have given more time.
    please help me..

  59. “But academia is a kind of cult, and deviation from the normative values of the group is not permitted or accepted within its walls. ” yes, this, especially in the design and art fields. cant tell you of an example of a, proven, outstanding, professor (their student work went above and beyond expectations -with admittance by their colleagues that this was so at the final year review, lectured -not read off slides, excellent student reviews, and even an admittance by several senior faculty- that they were one of the best in their department) and they were still given a hard time -even when applying for adjunct work. When asked to continue adjunct work into the next term the phd holding prof had to wait until the senior hiring staff pandered to the nepotistic line up of friends. In one particular case the “friend” (who just graduated with a masters degree) was vacationing in Europe (oh poo poo!) and the phd, (the one with the described proven track record above), had to wait until the “friend” decided to extend his European vacation- only then was the phd offered the job. where is the oversight here? can you explain this?

  60. interesting no one wants to touch serafina’s comment with a 10 foot pole- perhaps too ugly a reminder of what plagues the working world these days.

  61. I think this thread is particularly helpful. I was until January of this year a tenured Full Professor of Finance at a major University in my country. I worked my way through a postdoc and then 3 years as Assistant and then 6 years at Associate Professor level before my promotion to Full Prof. I have had a successful career, published in the top journals in my field, successfully received grants from major international bodies, supervised 7 doctoral students and 29 master’s dissertations to successful completion but I increasingly wanted out. There are several items on 100 link that I can identify with but perhaps the three relating to internal politics, salary scales and delayed social life are particularly relevant.

    I think that Karen’s advice that you should have both knowledge and a plan are essential: The first thing to know is that no matter what HR people say about transferable skill, your experience in grad school or the academy is likely not to be fully appreciated. In practice most employers approach a recruitment company with very specific ideas about the candidate their looking for in any particular vacancy and because they rarely use only one agency it is highly unlikely that a HR consultant will push for a candidate that doesn’t “tick all the boxes”. Too often the positions that you may aim for in a public interest or governmental body are already spoken by the time job ads are placed and even private sector employers in your related field may be reluctant to take a chance on someone “untested”.

    I actually had a frank discussion with an international recruitment agency (Robert Walters) where the consultant told me straight off the bat “Prof, someone at your level would only get placed through the use of a network!” [and she was right]. So if you’re thinking about leaving make sure you build as substantial a network in industry as you’ve had to in the academy. Second, the transition isn’t going to be easy and may involve a period of “retraining”. [In my case there are professional bodies examinations that are very well regarded in industry that are normally only considered after a B degree but I have taken a year out off to gain this type of qualification (I am probably one of the oldest candidates) which I wouldn’t have even have looked twice at since entering grad school]. So an important element of that plan has to be financial (bills will not disappear once a decision to leave is made).

    Also remember in the transition while a small piece of something big is better than a large piece of nothing, don’t sell yourself short! The skills you have gained in the academy are very valuable and will be undermined if you do so first. [For me as a b-school professor was making a firm commitment to myself that I was not going to go through the high-jumps that management consultancy firms make potential recruits go through to prove my worth, if I had a record of producing new knowledge in the field I wasn’t going to allow myself to be poked and prodded about by people who could well have more recently been my students].

    I have no regrets since leaving the academy: I decided whilst still an Asst. Prof that I wanted to be recognized for my research and teaching and being a rated researcher with at Full Prof. level I can leave knowing that the academy is a closed chapter in my life. All I need do now is hope its not too late to save my social life.

  62. Dear all,

    I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has commented on this page, you have really helped me. I finished my PhD in 2012 and was rather burnt out and disillusioned at the end. I am an excellent researcher and have had many successful publications and at times I enjoyed it. At times I thought I would quit but I don’t know if this was born out of stress or the fact that my personality was not suited to the environment. At present I am in a predicament, a rather fortunate one but a stressfully one nonetheless. I have been out of work for six months now and I have received two job offers at the same time…one in academia and one outside of academia. The academic role is an actual permenant position in a university, the other job is 9 to 5 lab job. I love research, but it doesn’t love you back. I am afraid if I take the university position I will work too long hours and stress me and my partner out. The other job although rather routine and only available for two years is a good job but others have said it is below me ( i think it would be good experience but it would mean leaving research) Help I am in a fork in the road. Should I give up the security of a permenant, yet stressful job or should I take the less permenant 9 to 5 job where I can have a life. I am only young early thirties and really dont know what to do?? Please help. Many thanks

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  65. My experience with the actual process of leaving an Ivy League PhD program in Biochemistry was so easy it was alarming. After a year of being reclusive and miserable few people noticed or cared. I could have been suicidal, or homicidal (I wasn’t), but no one even noticed. I was so scared of all the questions I thought I’d have to answer to when I started the conversation about leaving. It pretty much consisted of me saying I was leaving and my adviser saying: “Ok. I’ll sign the paperwork”.

    No matter if they pay for your tuition and give you a stipend or not, grad school is a business. And a very competitive one (between schools, professors, and students). They very rarely care about you. And even when they do it’s because you’re their golden goose.

    Leaving is not as scary as it seems! I’m a chemist now at a large company with a lot of potential for growth and glowing recommendations! Plus I’m so much happier and don’t feel guilty for not slaving away 24/7. If I can do it under the thrall of depression, you can to!

  66. Hi guys,

    I need your suggestions. I have good job in an central bank. I wanted to be an ‘independent researcher’ and hence got into a PhD program just a month ago. The thing is that after 5 years, my salary will less than the salary if I choose not to do PhD and continue to work. I accepted this for the love of research but as time is passing I can’t think of sitting in chair for next 5 or 6 years to read, absorb, think, write, and bear the uncertainty as well that how my research will proceed. I need your sugestions

  67. I have my PhD, I have been published and have left a job for multiple reasons. The essence of being a professor is three fold, teaching, research and service. It is not just about research, though that is the norm for research R1 tiered universities. I think the whole system has strayed away from what we are supposed to do. I think the system needs to change. It is prevalent in today’s society that students are not gaining the skills and capabilities within the university setting that they need for their career aspirations. This isn’t about laying a foundation through books and even research. Research, I might point out, that has no relevance to some students or to industry. Research has many forms, not just published in journals. Research is so much more and we need to recognize that. I can come into a classroom armed with research that hasn’t been published, conceptual ideas and let my students run with it. Again, a host of academics are myopic about the needs of the students, even myself on many occasions.

    Many articles, look to Chronicle of Higher Ed to see just how many, point to this face from industry professionals as well as the student’s vision of what a professor is supposed to be. The students feel that the professors, tenured and not, are too engrossed in obtaining tenure or that research status that they lose sight of what is needed in the classroom. And having been a student for a long time, I can see the shifts of change to this fact. Mentoring students has taken a backseat and that is a shame.

    Ego has no place in the classroom or in academics. MM it is all well and good that you see the importance of research and that it is vital to obtain your career aspirations. But for some of us academics are ripping the soul out of bodies and hanging it out to dry. It sucks the life out of us and I for one want to find that balance between the three parameters that allows me to achieve my goals and enrich the lives of my students. This is about them first and foremost because without them, there would be no university steps on which to mingle and conduct research.

    Things have got to change or more than one generation will be lost.

    • Hmm…”Research, I might point out, that has no relevance to some students or to industry.”

      With respect, I disagree. The process of engaging in research (and research training) provides a framework for which to conceptually understand the world (and the work) around us—without it, how does one inquire, learn, teach–think? It’s foundational to high education. Students don’t know what’s relevant and what isn’t—They want love (and entertainment)—and professors who know what they’re talking about. Industry wants well trained/educated students.

      Perhaps the academy is crapping out—but what are we going to do about it— it is the “new normal”.

  68. This website has a good description of what has happened inside of academia. Administration are striving to optimize the fiscal profitability. Some tenured professors see non-tenured professors and adjuncts as a threat. I have seen some visiting professors and adjuncts so incredibly good at what they do: teach, research, prolific publications, active in boards, winning awards from accrediting organizations, multiple certifications, etc. I have overheard tenured professors talk about how they have not kept up with their skills. They haven’t published in awhile or even been to more than one conference a year. To this category of tenured professors, the upcoming TT, visiting and adjuncts are perceived to be a potential threat to their dept as they know it. If you are good at what you do, their negative reaction is logical. They want to make use of your talent while you are there, giving you little credit or appreciation, so the next hardworking person can rotate through. It’s one of their strategies to run you into the ground, it makes it easier for them if you are worn out and decide to leave. Of course, some do make tenure.

    For those with tenure, they have more control and influence. Some work the system to push out the upcoming TT aspiring individuals. e.g. They can demand to teach the lower level courses during the summer, instead of letting the TT or adjuncts teach. They know you likely have school loans to pay, and you have to look elsewhere for work.

    For this subset of tenured professors or groups of them, the more aspiring professors that are detered, the more secure their job is. Never mind what is best for the student or the world. In my mind, you have to decide to be the best at what you do despite the circumstances, assuming you are making enough cash to make it worth your while.

    • D Berger, thank you for your helpful insight — and thank you to the blog author and others who have posted here. It’s so helpful to know I’m not alone in this. I am one of the “hard working non tenure track” instructors being kept out of tenure stream by unknown but powerful entities higher on the food chain. I have taught part time and full time for ten years at a small public liberal arts institution that is not Research One and is supposed to have a strong teaching emphasis. I was caring for children and teaching part time years ago when my Dept. Chair called me and begged me to take a four-four load for a small salary with no benefits to help cover for a tenured faculty member who was on sick leave. I made the necessary child care arrangements and took the position.

      The following year, they had me work the same four four load for a 25% pay cut. After that, the Chair requested a tenure track position for me and two other instructors in the department. The other two were given the positions, though everyone admitted they were less qualified (less teaching experience, less “prestigious” PHD, etc.). They had long ties with Board of Trustee members and upper-level administrators. I was told I could work for adjunct pay or take a five five “super instructor” load with a slightly higher salary and benefits. I felt trapped and took the job.

      I am nearing the end of my third year of the super instructor position and am about to submit my resignation letter. I was given the title “Assistant Professor,” but am not tenure track. In this five five instructor position, I have been asked to Chair Committees, take on an administrative role as the Director of a Program, train faculty across the campus, develop curricula, serve on committees, teach graduate classes, lead out of state student trips, and contribute meaningfully to the administration of the department in various ways.

      I have built up my C.V. aggressively, publishing multiple articles in top journals and participating in three to four conferences a year. I work around sixty hours a week, and spend my breaks writing articles and conference papers. Although senior, tenured professors regularly come in to my office to say how sorry they are that I am being treated this way, they do absolutely nothing to change the situation, and my Chair’s multiple attempts to have me “flipped” to the tenure stream (a common practice at my university) are met with unexplained rejections.

      Mediocrity is celebrated and promoted in my department – most tenure stream professors in my dept. have few publications and degrees from regional, mediocre universities. I regularly have a senior, tenured full professor come to me at the start of each semester and ask me to give him my course syllabus so that he can put his name on it and use it as his own. I am not writing any of this to complain — I have a job and year after year I willingly continue to return to this five five super instructor position. However, I have struggled to understand the motivation behind the university’s repeated decisions to reject my Chair’s tenure track requests. I work so hard and so much that I can rarely help my children with their homework and have stress related health problems.

      I am walking away from this “great job” at the end of this semester, though it’s hard for me to admit that I am leaving the only profession (college teaching) I have ever known. I passionately love teaching and have excellent student evaluations, and while I think the research I do is often arcane and somewhat boring, I can force myself to do it. I just want other young PHDs to know that it is possible that senior faculty or administrators will “block” your success and progress if you are very good at what you do. It goes against everything I believe in, but it happens.

  69. I am so happy to find this. I joined PhD in 2010 and became ABD within 6 months. Life changed in 2013, family needed me more than ever. The adviser had wavering priorities and didn’t honor scheduled appointments. The worst was when he starting fighting when I explained my ambitions and my personal commitments. For the past year before this, he chided me for being selfish about my goals. This year, I could take no more. I bailed out, found a job in industry. I am happy with my job, I am making contributions to science and I have time for family. But I have been bitter about my experience and the lost family time, I have been broken mentally, until I read this !!

    • RS,
      I can identify with you. I am currently working as an adjunct professor at several different campuses, while balancing job applications and a dissertation. I feel like most of my committee is absent, and my supervisor is a ghost. Currently, my work is taking a toll on me. My students are becoming increasingly harder to teach each semester, an issue I feel is exacerbated by my overload of everything. I feel like, when my head is in the game, I am a damn good teacher, but currently a student is challenging my faith in my ability. I just wonder how to make it through this.

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  71. My background: I am a fairly successful Mid-level National sales manager for a stable technology company. I have been in sales for over 22 years, and have always been gainfully employed. My earnings are routinely north of $100k. My work schedule is tolerable (35-45)hours per week. I pay a portion of my health benefits, have an expense account, receive travel reimbursement when I do, which is roughly 1-2 times per month domestically. My boss is fantastic, although regrettably this has not always been the case.

    Our children are all grown, and we have no debt surprisingly) to speak of. I graduated with my MBA in 2006, and undergrad in 1985.

    Until coming across this blog, I was entertaining the thought of getting my PhD in Economics. The idea was to quit work in a couple of years, and ease full-time into my selected program. I don’t need to make a lot of money at this point, but desire to move into a field where I could seek employment in the private sector and/or teach at a CC. Seeking tenure is not a driving priority.

    My concerns are being confirmed in this blog. I have been successful in my world of work in the private sector for over 2 1/2 decades. My concern is not so much fitting in; rather, having mental and verbal battles with academicians who wouldn’t survive outside of the walls of their schools. I deal with back-biting, career sabotage, and mass layoffs EVERYDAY. I have carried a sales quota the entire time, which if not met, brings the threat of unemployment along with it. In my world, Non-performance means unemployment.

    I don’t want to stop working, and don’t mind the idea of working into my 70s–assuming I get there. Since I have about a 3-5 year window before I will likely be whisked out to sea by someone younger who can be paid less, my path is either A) go back to School so I can possible consult/teach, or B) buy a small business, and work until the wheels come off. My Health is a priority–as it should be for everyone in any University or Corporation. So I also want to continue to train for triathlons which is a 10hour/week commitment–need to fit this into the PhD track.

    I welcome any thoughts/comments as to the clarity and sanity of some of my assumptions and plans. Sorry for the lengthy post…dumping a sweet corporate gig that has a shelf life in order to plan for the future ain’t no easy task.

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  73. Been reading almost all the posts and I finally I can think someone can understand. I’m a Physicist and a Mathematician (both), with a Masters in Cosmology in the UK. My supervisors tell me my research job is excellent and I graduated as the best among my peers in the UK. I had excellent offers from top universities (Oxford between them), which I surprisingly found myself rejecting…

    I have had the same concerns as some of you about an Academic life: Mental health in academia, physical health, family time, time for hobbies and lifetime academic pressure. Therefore, I took a time off for 2 years. I decided to start my own tech company and after a very long hardship, have started to note things are moving on.

    I still break in tears when seeing my reports and my dreams in the past. It’s a matter of fulfillment. Despite I’m increasingly liking my company, nothing would ever come to the toes of my previous inspiration. As a matter of fact I can still do a Phd, but I’m not sure that when put again under stress and pressure I’m going to respond positively, despite the passion (this is pretty sad).

    There are many other aspects but I just wanted to share this experience with you.

  74. I have found out this website only today, and I am glad I am not the only one freaking out or going through a bit of a hard time.

    I honestly could not read all of the comments, but I see that most people found a great disappointment as what they found in academia was very different from what they expected it to be.

    I have a bit of a slightly different situation. I just don’t get why academia is interesting at all. And with this state of mind I am two months away from the end of my second year in Art History. I graduated with full marks from Uni in Italy, and won two scholarships for the n.1 Uni in Australia. I am writing my dissertation in English, which is my second language, and I am being complimented on my academic and linguistic skills.

    In those moments, I feel well. I think ‘I like it’. Then I go to conferences, I go back to my study and I simply feel like I don’t fit in. One day I find out I like gardening, I like building furniture, I like manual jobs. Yes, me. Top marks, full scholarships, original contribution to my field and ‘brilliant’ findings, in the words of my supervisor (I am lucky enough to have a great one). But only when I am building stuff I can really feel fulfilled. I make a coffee table, I sell it. I get the money. I feel my work has a value. And I get to be creative. And express my creativity.

    PhD? Nothing like this. I have to sit in a room, read stuff, take notes, read other stuff, say that X said this, but Y sad that. Oh so interesting. I am smart, I know I am, and probably for this reason I don’t understand the point.

    To be fair, I am sick of it. Countless articles read, written by countless academics focusing on the most irrelevant issues on Earth (what color, what paint, what brush, what little aspect about this or that painter), who I realise have spent their life or spend their life entirely dealing with this tiny, irrelevant crap. But hey, they write books, go to countless conferences and in the end they become emeriti and get an oil portrait of themselves in some library room nobody will ever give a real damn about. And when I realise this, I feel sad.

    We are the most self-referential species on this planet and these people don’t get it. Nobody cares about what we do or do not do. The universe does not give half of a sh*t if we paint, write, etc. If I had a dog (I wish) he/she would not care if I am a poet, a painter, a writer or a plumber. He/she would value me being alive and interacting with him/her.

    And when I think about this, well values change, academic titles (arbitrary titles we give to each others to celebrate equally arbitrary achievements) mean less than nothing. We are just here selling each other stories of ourselves. I just don’t get it.

    I am sorry to sound negative and a bit (or a lot) of a whinge, but in all honesty, I just don’t get it. I feel these people pursued academia because they are absolutely incapable of doing anything else and cannot see the bigger picture.

    The more I am in academia, the further I feel from reality.
    Btw, I may finish anyway (even though I will hate most of it), as finishing what I have started will not kill me.

    But seriously, close your books and go out in the garden, look at insects, plants, get a dog (or a cat, a hamster or a crocodile, your choice) and listen to what they have to say.

    We are irrelevant. And should stop wasting time writing about it.
    The rest of

    • Oh I can relate to you so well! I make jewelry and run a little business on the side. This past year with writing my diss. I’ve had little time to make jewelry or read for pleasure–it’s so disheartening because I began making jewelry as an escape from academics (but now I can hardly find the creative mental space to make jewelry). The funny is that advisors, profs, and friends in my dept. are always asking about my jewelry and how my business is going. Ha, I love doing that more than research. However, I do love, love, love to teach!

      I’m going to finish my degree because I’m so close, but, yes, I often reflect on the fact that what I research and write about has such a little effect on the grand-scale of things. At least with teaching I know I’m making a difference through my students’ comments and successes. And, when folks buy my jewelry, I know I’m sharing my beauty with more people than my scholarship may ever reach!

      Good luck, Anto.
      I don’t get it either!

  75. I am a TT assistant professor, going up for tenure next year. I am good at teaching, good at service, and ok at research (I do have several pubs and I was successful in getting one decent-sized grant). My problem is that I have lost all of my passion and excitement for life in academia. Every morning I wake up dreading work. I can’t find the motivation to write any more. Even though I have several pubs at this point, I am always being pressured to get more in more top tier journals. It is such an individualistic working environment, with so much rejection and criticism. Any intrinsic motivation I had has disappeared, and it is only extrinsic motivation that guides me now. I want to get another job, but with the kind of PhD I have, (it turns out that) I am not well-qualified for much else, other than academia. I keep finding positions I want that are more community-based, working with homeless and mentally ill. This seems to be where my heart is lately. I just applied for one of those positions. However, my salary would be cut in half! Can I live with that? Has anyone left a reasonably well-paying job in academia for less salary at another job and been happy with their decision? I’m so grateful for this outlet so that I can even share this with anyone….often I think I’m just spoiled and that I have no right to complain because I actually have a TT job and it looks like I could even get tenure. But the pressure, the criticism, the rejection, the individualism. Would I be happier in an organization that works together towards a common goal? Is there such a thing? I’ve been in education/academia all my life…I don’t even know what it’s like out there…

    • Please do a google search of “post-academic blogs” and you will find a veritable cornucopia of people who have left academia to pursue other passions. Read deeply and widely. Get inspired. You can leave. You’re allowed.

  76. oh, wow, @Stuck: we’re in very similar situations! Am also TT, tired of the isolated life of junior faculty TT living… have a background in HIV/homeless/mental health case management & direct service. I think all the time about returning to those roots. How does one take an academic CV and modify it to reflect service work?

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  78. I am an assistant professor in my third year on the tenure-track. By all rights I should be happy with my station in life — I obtained a pretty good academic job in the humanities in an area of the country I do like, in a field that is simply teeming with applicants for every position out there. How I was chosen I’ll never know, but here I am. My problem is that I’m incredibly unhappy, and I don’t know what to do about it.

    I love, simply adore, working with my students. I relish the opportunity to help them think historically, about their own lives and how people have influenced and been effected by the world around them. I’ve led study abroad courses that were the pinnacles of my teaching experiences. I know my students learn from me and that they’re better people because of my courses. I take pride in that realization, but I can’t overcome my major flaw.

    What I cannot do any longer is the actual work of a historian. I’ll be honest: I never really enjoyed reading monographs or articles in graduate school, and even those that were closely related to my own writing, I only used for background information. I rarely read monographs or articles now, and have very little idea what’s going on in my subfield, not to mention the larger profession (I understand it’s impossible in the modern world to completely keep up with literature, but I’ve simply given up). I’ve never been good at analysis, argument, theory, or engaging in scholarly debate with other works or scholars. Yet my work gets published, sometimes. I like to tell stories about the human experience. That’s it. In the rare moments when I actually do have to read a historical monograph (say for a book review or a seminar) my eyes gloss over and I have difficulty focusing. I also dislike my general subfield and feel completely lost as an academic.

    I’ve felt incredibly isolated for so long. I can’t keep up with academic conversations, as I have no idea what people are talking about, both in terms of ideas and books. I hate going to conferences and interacting with other academics, as have severe anxiety about such interactions. I’ve lost touch with most of my network and just don’t care about what I do or the work of others. I’d prefer to (and in practice do) read fiction over history. I’m basically like a medical doctor who isn’t keeping up with the newest practices (and thus should be fired), instead spending their time doing something elese, though of course the stakes are much, much lower for me.

    I can’t figure out if I’m simply not cut out for academia (probably, since I don’t want to actually read any academic works), or if something else is going on and I can find a away to focus on what I do well. But can I really be a historian who doesn’t like to engage in the work of other historians? Can I remain in academia when I consistently feel stupid and worthless compared to the genuinely erudite and brilliant people all around me? I just don’t know.

    • Tale-teller, I don’t know if this helps or not coming from a graduate student (although one with a master’s degree and hoping to complete the PhD this year) but I absolutely abhor reading the scientific literature as well. I do not do it.
      I see my ambitious, knowledgeable, very bright lab mate reading regularly. Does that inspire me? Nope.
      I find reading the literature so boring. I also find most seminars insanely boring as well and rarely can stay focused through the too-long 50 min usually humorless droll. But do I find science boring? No, oftentimes it’s just the way it’s presented (well, sometimes it actually is boring but that’s life!). I enjoy solving puzzles. I enjoy writing too. I don’t quite have the conference issue that you do as I think it’s interesting to talk to people.
      Anyway, I don’t think you are an imposter just because you do not like how it is currently done.

    • You love the stories, you love the excitement of introducing your students to the vibrancy of those stories. I suspect that what you really are is a writer of historical fiction.

  79. I’m about to have a nervous breakdown because of grad school and my useless university.

    For reasons I don’t understand, I am almost always the student who gets bullied in classrooms. I’ve been sexually harassed (boob staring, comments about my sex life, a professor making up a sex life between the two of us), grabbed, bruised, publicly humiliated and treated as poorly as it is possible to treat a student without getting arrested for it–I had one professor claim that I’d made death threats against the faculty. I almost got arrested for it. If I’d happened to come check my mail the day she reported the threat, I would have been taken into custody.

    I had to testify in a lawsuit against my university because they refused to investigate the complaints of myself and nine other students about professorial misconduct. Nothing was done about it.

    I finished one Master’s degree, then went to a different field at the same university to have the same thing occur.

    I came in with GRE scores hundreds of points above my colleagues, with sixteen publications in my previous field and strong letters of reference. I have extraordinary teaching reviews, including students who credit me as being the only reason they stayed in college. I tried to make friends with my fellow students, to be generally pleasant to my professors, to make a point of enthusiastically participating in discussions. Hell, I even kept up with all the reading. I tutor other students. I’ve done everything in my power to be an asset to the department. I’m ambitious, write easily and well (by all accounts), and I’m bright.

    Other students keep asking me why I don’t quit. At this point, I’m almost done with a second Master’s degree, and I’m ready to run screaming. I just had a professor fail me based on using the correct definition for statistical terms in a final exam (it’s even a version from the readings for that course.) My adviser tells me that there’s a ‘strict non-interference’ policy between faculty, so there’s nothing he can do.

    Has anyone else had to quit because their professors and institution were abusive, not just toxic?

    Is there anything to take from this except for bitterness?

    • The professoriat is, exceptions notwithstanding, a highly neurotic and often abusive lot. My husband, who has a Ph.D, advised me before I went into a doctoral program: Keep your focus, smile, don’t say much of anything in class, say “thank you, that’s so helpful” when a professor starts writing weird sh*t on your papers or your dissertation, etc. Wish I had listened to him. The way to survive in grad school is to be cryptic and mysterious (so they can’t really get a political handle on you), be brilliant, and yet do not–under any circumstances whatsoever–fall victim to the delusion that anybody in your department is your “friend” or your “supporter.” Plow forward, rely on and validate your own instincts, and carefully cultivate a mentor/mentee relationship with only one–or perhaps two–professors in your field for whom you hold respect (but even then, be discreet and non-forthcoming). Otherwise, just leave. And pat yourself on the back for choosing not to subject yourself to further abuse.

      • Sadly, this advice is helpful. And holds true beyond grad school. Even though friends and supporters are few and far between, its important to extend kindness to others, when possible (or when you feel like it)–It’s far to easy to be angry, bitter, and selfish.

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  81. I am glad that I came across this post. I am trying to finish my PhD this year and all I have heard so far from professors is ‘academia! why that’s all we know how to preen for!’
    Very few pubs, 2nd and 3rd chapter very uncertain (hell, I have been in lab every day for the past month including Xmas and Xmas eve…) so what am I to think about any future prospect in academia (and why are graduate students discouraged by professors from seeking out nonprofit orgs or industry for employment?)?
    ANYWAY, even with uncertainty and bitterness (yes, bitterness!), I pick up the sword and shield because I will get this stinking degree this year. To think you do not have to fight to get it is naïve. To think it won’t be hard is naïve. In fact, sometimes it will be downright horrible.
    If anyone seems to ‘breeze through’, either A) they are a genius (seriously), lucky them and hopefully they use their brains for the better good! or B) their PhD isn’t worth a decent bachelors (I’m just saying this right now to get through this year).
    Now, what to do after?…. if anyone has any good experience getting a position in a nonprofit organization, I’d love any advice!!

  82. Thank you, Karen for sharing your original post. I’ve read through many of the posts here and am just thankful to know other people are speaking out.

    I’m a Ph.D candidate who received a prestigious multi-year fellowship at my R1 university in a leading humanities dept. I’m often reminded that I am very lucky to have this fellowship, be at this great university–it’s like I owe it to the university world to stay in academia or something. I really do appreciate my fellowship and support from my department. But, I’m in a lot of debt due to life choices and a pending divorce. So getting a university job would be wonderful. But I want to be happy, too.

    Here’s the thing: I love teaching, and like others, I really don’t care about research in my field and would rather lesson plan than work on my dissertation. (I even edit a scholarly journal and while I enjoy reading others’ submissions, I often wonder, who reads this stuff outside of our field? What important work do these essays do? I think that about my own publications, too!) I do plan to complete my Ph.D. this August (in Aug. I’ll be entering my 7th year–avg. for my program). But now I have the opportunity to apply for a job at a local prestigious private high school. Its philosophy resonates with me and is similar to my own (public, liberal arts-intensive) high school experience. Teaching there would be a dream. A former colleague works there, is very happy, and encouraged me to apply.

    Here’s the rub: we share the same advisor and when I asked for this advisor’s support, the advisor agreed to recommend me, but commented that if I was offered the job and took it (it would begin this Aug.), I’d effectively commit academi(a) suicide. The scenario being that if I ended up hating teaching at this high school, I couldn’t leave and go back to academia. I’d be a “prep school teacher” forever. But, if I took an academic job (which my advisor assures me I will get–umm, could you hand me that super-elusive humanities TT job at a decent university?)and ultimately hated it, I could always get a prep school job anywhere.

    The thing is that I happen to love where I live (I’ve formed friendships with permanent residents and it’s a pretty awesome area to live in!) and my university dept. does not higher its Ph.D.s for TT jobs–we’re lucky to get lectureships and after the 1-year “sorry you didn’t get a job” lucky post-doc position, we’re left to adjunct at other area schools for poor pay, or take VAPs in other places.

    Anyway, I know jobs at this particular pvt. high school don’t come up too often, and I feel I must at least apply (within the next week or so). A part of me is worried though that if I am offered the job, I will take it, and in taking it, I will forever shut myself out to a job in academia (a job I don’t think I really want, but a small part of me does wonder…).

    Is this true? Does anyone know if teaching at an elite private school instead of going on the academic job market (in humanities) will kill any chances of me returning to academia (on the off-chance that I’d want to do so)?

    Also, if anyone has taught/is teaching at a selective private liberal arts high school, what has your overall experience been? Are parents a bother? Do you have any free time, etc., etc.?

    I’m sort of rambling. Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.

    • It won’t completely kill your chances, but it’s not an easy transition back. But that is not a good reason to apply for a good job in your basic field that appeals to you.

      • Thanks for replying. I’m now a finalist for the position at the high school I mentioned. My dissertation should be completed no later than July. I hope to land the job and begin teaching in late August. If I’m not offered the job, I will remain in graduate school one more year and, perhaps, go on the academic market. But, more than likely, I will utilize a placement service like Carney-Sandoe.

  83. Thanks for this article Professor!

    The best night’s sleep I’ve ever had came at the end of last May: The night I decided to withdraw from my PhD program–which I don’t think I should have been enrolled into in the first place (I went in for an informational interview about “what” being a doc student was like & left the meeting 40 minutes later enrolled, with a GAship. so flattered, I never questioned it. Shame on that Chair and me, both).

    The most surprising response I received from my professors was from one typically quiet one. She wrote to me:

    “I realize that the decision to withdraw is a difficult one but I admire you for being able to see what you want and go for it…Academic work and a PhD centered on research is not for everyone. It is a courageous thing to recognize the lack of fit and then make a break. To be honest, I think a great many people feel this way but don’t take that actual decision making step and the result is often an unfinished Ph.D. that they feel guilty about and never finish because it wasn’t really what they were passionate about. I commend your willingness to step out into what you truly love.”

    In tandem with my PhDidn’t, I translated part of my doc work & research into an Ed.M. which qualified me to teach at a community college–Currently, my dream job.

  84. Which is why I opted to stop with my MA. I wanted to get a PhD, but I didn’t want to be an unemployed PhD. Now, with an MA, I find myself a lowly paid adjunct in need of a full-time job. I can’t get one in college because I don’t have a PhD (unless I go to a community college, but waiting for professors to die of natural causes is time consuming and I’m not getting any younger) and I can’t teach h.s. because I cost too much.
    I’m over-qualified to work at a grocery store as a bagger and too frustrated with my minute paycheck to want to remain in academia any longer. The problem is that the entire work force is flooded with specialized degrees. So, how does one enter into another field without taking on additional debt getting re-educated?

  85. I stumbled upon this web site after I plugged in the search words ‘five year plan”. I am an MSN assistant nursing professor who continues to struggle with the academia environment.I have 18 years of teaching experience….which really doesn’t matter as its all about publish or perish/scholarly work. I am now at my mid-track review point which involves creating a “why I’m so wonderful” portfolio. This job CONSUMES MY LIFE! More and more pressure to complete my terminal degree is upon my head.I have felt such pressure to perform in a stellar manner in all the areas(teaching effectiveness, scholarship, professional activities,service, collegiality. There is no guarantee even with all my documented hard work that that I will be tenured. There was minimal support/guidance from anyone…no one really. This journey so far (3 years) has made me become a stressed out, pessimistic,angry, bitter person…and has taken a toll on my health. I went back to school for my BSN and MSN later in my life…which almost cost me my marriage/family. NOW, I am crazy enough to consider going back to school for my DNP or PhD…with a FT teaching load, continue to raise my family…try to keep reasonably healthy…and on and on…in finitum! I feel relief after reading all the posts…I was feeling like a failure at every turn, especially with student evaluations…which are a topic in of itself that requires additional posts!I am at a crossroads and here is my main question….I still love to teach…My strength is in clinical nursing practice (teaching students how to become great practitioners)so I approached the chair last year asking about a 4 year rolling contract as opposed to tenure track…she felt it was a great fit for me and encouraged my pursuing it.I was told by the Dean that it would that be considered because it was being phased out.I felt like I was slapped in the face!I guess it is not about what you are excellent at…but more about how you jump through the hoops of tenure track! Very frustrated and tired! Any advice is greatly appreciated

  86. In an odd way, this site and the many responses I’ve just read (without intending to do so, I might add!)has really reassured me. I’ve got my Phd, got my job, bought a house and am doing it all up. Living the dream right? Unfortunately not. I’m finding the academic game to be fraught with stress and incredibly lonely. I only have to get one paper published, and a lot of the pressures of protracted probation etc will (should) fall away. Then it’ll just be the day to day stress of academic juggling. I, like others here, have struggled to see the purpose of what I’m doing. My goal is now to get published. If I leave academia after that, then so be it. At least I’ll have no nagging questions. I know I am ‘lucky’ to have been in a position to submit my Phd on the Friday and begin a lectureship on the Monday, but I really wish I’d had the opportunity to have some breathing space first, and perhaps a short term contract where I could learn – and more importantly make mistakes or change direction. If there’s a postnatal depression equivalent for the Pdh, I feel like I’d have it and never fully addressed it!

  87. The posts I have read so far have been quite interesting. My own situation is a bit different, due to my ex-pat status. Here’s my situation:
    I am a 47 year-old American, living in Germany. I finished my doctoral program in the study of religions at a very prestigious American university in 2012. I have six years’ of university teaching experience, one peer-reviewed journal article, an inquiry in to an editor about my book proposal, and a whole lotta debt. I also have a ridiculously limited work permit. Technically, a Ph.D. is only allowed to find employment in her field in Germany. As an American, I can also teach English. I sell a host of seminars of writing and presenting in English for academics here. So far, I am surviving, but finding new gigs is tough, and I am considering either trying to find work as an English trainer in the business world or teach secondary education.
    I am interested in a topic totally different from that of my dissertation, related to the turn towards environmentalism in religions. I really cannot stand the topic of my dissertation and really have to ask myself, what was I thinking? At the same time, I do think that, if I landed a book contract, the book could sell well, because the main figure is so popular. Perhaps I just should cut my losses and change the status of my diss to open access. I like teaching and presenting, but have a harder time getting focused enough to do research and write. Perhaps I am not cut out for it, or perhaps just the insecurity of my life situation makes it hard to concentrate.
    Just in the past 2-3 days have I been playing with the idea of just stopping. Giving up. Quitting. At least for a month. For 30 days, declare myself free of academia.
    For all you folks seeking work at a university, keep in mind what a Tunisian buddy just said: the squeeze in the so-called first world is benefitting the third world, because finally countries like his are getting top-trained professors. Anyone who is open to living in another culture might consider the jump.
    Any ideas and inspiration would be appreciated,

    • Wow, that was long. And really? you’re 47, with debt, in a tight position… and want to chill for a month? That’s brazen.

      At your age I would be seriously thinking about getting a permanent position and also thinking about retirement plans. No matter where. You’re not a student anymore.

  88. I am only into my second semester of a PhD in Theatre and I already want out. The problem is I do not know how to leave. I love the faculty, the program is short already one TA due to health issues, and I feel like I am obligated to be here. After all, I did sign a contract. I am, however, falling apart in the process. I feel I was mislead (of course it may be to my own naivety) into a situation which has by all means and purposes left me unable to function. I had no prior teaching experience before I got here, on the third day of orientation I was told I would be teaching a class of 100, and if I wanted the book to go buy it at the bookstore. This was enough to stress me out but when you add coursework to the equation I have been turned into an angst ridden, depressed ball of nothing. I hit a wall at the end of the semester and failed to turn in two papers, receiving incomplete’s in both classes. I can find no motivation to complete them,nor do I want to teach at any level anymore. Is it ok to leave or do I tough it out until the end of this semester?

  89. I got my PhD in 2006, by which time I had become disillusioned with academia. I loved doing the research, but with young children I was not going to submit to an institution. I went to apply my work in a consultancy, and the commercial world was worse. BSC, MSC and PhD to learn that I don’t do institutions and organisations! So I went self-employed manual work, I am free in body and mind and get to be around my children while continuing to study and research my discipline and develop my ideas and communicate with colleagues, for my own sake rather than a career.

  90. hi,
    i just quit my graduate research position and feel that i am leaving on a bad note. I tried quitting 3 times prior to this final straw. I have been called a bitch, which should have been the first sign for me to quit, i have been told to stop my bitching, i have been humiliated in front of my colleagues, and blamed for mistakes within the lab which should have been shared collectively. After being disrespected via text message i had enough. I am still a student at the school and feel this will be detrimental to my studies. I hope it isn’t. What is your advice as I move forward? thank you.

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  92. please please, help me. I need your suggestions Hi. I was a PhD student for 8 months.I failed my coursework and was going through enormous loneliness at institute,so underwent depression and quit my PhD, thinking I am not able to do it. As such I never was extremely interested in doing PhD. But, Now After I have been in a stupid Job for >8 months, I WANTO Do PhD. But, this past is eating me alive. Was i very stupid to resign from phd ?? Pls Pls respond.

  93. My biggest disappointment is after maintaining a near perfect GPA while completing 62 credits in 48 months(42 credit hours in the first 24 months), having balanced a full time teaching job at a public high school, and not neglecting my responsibilities as a husband and father of four, that now it appears the professor in charge of quantitative studies has made up her mind that no matter what I submit, she is going to torpedo it with no suggestions of what to do next. I do not think my health, mentally of physically, can handle much more pounding. I am sorry I invested my hard earned veteran’s benefits on a dead end program, but I really do not see what other options I have, short of this lady retiring, and someone new taking her place that wants to help me find or modify a survey instrument that she can understand how to statistically evaluate, I am done.

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  95. I don’t know whether I can ask advice here, but…
    I have my M.A. and just started my Ph.D. program this semester in Comparative Literature. I just had a baby. My husband is a (brilliant) Turkish Math professor and he couldn’t find an academic job in the states near me. He did get a job at a good school in Turkey. I miss Turkey terribly, and came here reluctantly to do my Ph.D. and then return to Turkey afterward. I have decided not to finish my Ph.D. because I want to keep my family together, not to mention I’m so tired of living in the U.S. I was so happy in Turkey when I lived there, even though I’m American. I’ve resigned myself to teaching English Grammar there, and hopefully I can find something more lucrative in the future since I speak a few languages.
    But anyway, my husband is leaving in a few days to start his job in Turkey. My question is, should I tough out the semester or bail in a couple weeks when my daughter’s passport comes in the mail? Is it worth it to get one semester under my belt just in case and stick it out for two and a half more months, or should I jump ship now?

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  97. I am not intending to be confrontational but what do we really gain here? Shame of quitting is really a misnomer. If you are wallowing in NTT employment, you already failed and the shame left you with your first 4-course teaching load for 1/4 time salary (not confronting). For anyone working in a non TT position one year after completing your degree, your major professor and advisor committed do not remember who you are. For those going up for tenure and having second thoughts, why did you push it this long – haven’t you missed 6 years of your life? Worse yet, you get tenure – what did you win? How does tenure validate one’s existence (not confronting). Google “the benefits of tenure” and realize that it provides nothing, aside from protection if you have a ‘divergent opinion’ (though see folks who have applied an evolutionary bent at Baylor University). I have searched for 3 years to find a single argument in favor of pursuing tenure – nothing compelling yet (note the individual in the position is protected, not the position the individual is in – see tenure track layoffs in Florida). Everyone on this post is in the same boat – we bought into a false impression of ‘professorhood’ that was achievable years ago (all of our advisors made it look so enticing) but the reality is that we trained for a job that no longer exists – our programs have done a great job at training people to do the one thing that is no longer financially viable. For those who claim they ‘love the research’ – I take issue (but not confrontational). You might love the research but research is intended to enact/push/motivate action. While you might like the research process, does your research achieve these aims? If so, you were granted tenure and haven’t looked back – or you’re in a field where the connection between publication and meaning in the real world are two very different things. Isn’t the real help not dealing with shame, but rather, providing information useful for planning the next steps – without pushing a consultative agenda for doing so? On surface, telling folks that it’s ok to quit because you did and you can help them through it for a consulting fee smacks slightly of the kid who you can pay to help you not sell lemonade because he didn’t buy lemons (again, not being confrontational).

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  99. Dear Karen: I am one who I think has a burning desire to become a sociologist. I am currently a therapist and am burned out. However, I am trying to be very careful not to get myself into something else that I will become burned out with as well. I think I have a more global orientation than being a therapist allows me to be. I have researched the downsides of getting a PHd and frankly, I don’t like being limited geographically, I don’t need anymore student loans, and I am not sure if I want to deal with the academic culture. Any advice Karen?

  100. Hello there. I am disheartened by many of the posts regarding the discouraging and complex reality of professorship trajectory in academia. Nevertheless, I am hoping that you can illuminate me regarding my goal to teach. I have an MA in Counseling Psychology with eight years of clinical practice as a psychotherapist. I have completed my doctoral coursework in East West Psychology. Granted that this is not a clinical degree, it is rigorous and qualitative research oriented which compliments and enhances a graduate degree in counseling or clinical psychology. I have been advanced to candidacy and nearing the defense of my dissertation which now qualifies me to teach at a university. I’m looking to teach psychology courses that are clinical and skills-based, and due to the competitive nature of academe I would gladly welcome being an adjunct instructor. I’m looking for universities or programs that don’t focus highly on publishing. I have a passion to educate, particularly young adults, and though I have facilitated and taught many psycho-educational seminars and workshops, I don’t have any formal training as a teacher. It has taken me several years to make the decision to stay in my PhD program and finish. I’ve had many setbacks that nearly caused me to withdraw and quit, but I persevered because of my goal to impart knowledge on others. Thanks in advance for your suggestions and comments.

  101. I am grateful to the author for the article and to all the commenters for their input. I haven’t been able to read them all; however, the incredible number of comments made here attests to the fact that the decision to leave a PhD and/or academia is a profoundly emotional and tender issue, and therefore one worth giving thought to.

    I am experiencing an unexpected amount of mental torment as I make this decision for myself. I am in an anthropology program, one of the top 6 programs in the US, with a very generous stipend, research funding, and decent (though imperfect) faculty support. My particular issue is not that I want to leave my program – of that, I am very sure (I love the reading, ethnographies and theory alike, and the research, but the pressure of “publishing or perishing”, the constant need to be approved of by granting agencies, tenure committees, and “everyone”, and the stifling nature of grant proposal writing makes me nauseas) – my issue is what I want to leave my program FOR.

    I want to leave my program (at the end of the second year, after getting a Masters) to become a novelist and a poet. Yes, you heard me right. I am not published, and I have not finished a novel, though I have written (in my view) decent poetry and am ? of the way through my novel’s first draft. Yes, this is my backup plan. And yes, I am fully aware that “novelist” is not the sort of thing you put on a business card. Neither is it a job that pays, in fact it doesn’t pay. It’s typically a part time gig on the side. But it’s what I want to leave academia for.

    Perhaps it is the constant second-guessing “Is my art good enough? No, it’s all kaka” intrinsic in all artists, combined with the fear and guilt of abandoning my erstwhile dream of having a PhD that is tearing my mind apart. On the one hand, I want to pursue my artistic dream and I know I have the wherewithal and ability to do it (I have always been a good writer, and in fact, this is what drew me to academia in the first place) if I commit myself to practice, submissions and rewrites. In many ways my time as a graduate student has given me a certain self discipline in this regard; I am able and happy to write copious amounts, to spend the time to rewrite them, toss out what is actually kaka and to work alone without supervision. On the other hand, I am giving up prestige, a degree that would ensure a decent income (certainly more than what a poet might make), and all the (perceived) security and stability that comes with a PhD. I would also be giving up the tremendous feeling of accomplishment that all the graduates seem to have, that sense of “Yes! I did it! I have done something worthwhile with my twenties/thirties/forties!”. I would be walking away with “only” a Masters in Anthropology. It is awful to feel that a Masters degree is a failure, yet I can’t help but think that way. Several of my friends are in terminal MA programs and have just graduated, received lots of congratulations, countless “likes” on their Facebook updates announcing their graduation. I feel like I’m at the only place in the world where an MA is a failure, a shameful failure, and not something to be congratulated, but reviled.

    The question that digs into me is this: It is okay to quit a PhD and academia, but what are the acceptable things to quit it for? Of course, there is family and mental well-being. But what if it isn’t for either of those things? I suppose this suggests that I have an internal hierarchy of priorities, and I expect that everyone else possesses some similar ladder. So, is it okay to quit a PhD for something as ephemeral as poetry? Or art? Or fantasy novel writing, as I want to? Or is my creative writing alternative… trivial, ridiculous, impractical, or all the above?

    There is also a deeper social and gendered issue at stake here. I am a heterosexual female, and my partner has generously offered to support me if I choose to be a novelist and poet full time. He would be, in effect, giving me the money and the “room of my own” as Virginia Woolf put it. There is a certain sense of irony in this that I can’t shake. Oughtn’t I be making money myself? Is his offer a Devil’s Bargain with patriarchy? Or have I just read way too much feminist theory? Women of my generation are pressured to build careers, and yes, successful novelists are viewed as having careers, but is this, in my case… a career? He would be paying the bills, while I would be home for most of the day, writing, making no income really. I might be barefoot and pregnant with writer’s block. Perhaps I have spent so much of the past few years problematizing everything (so essential to being a cultural anthropologist) that my mind is twisted into knots over this when it shouldn’t be.

    This has been a long comment, and I apologize. Thank you for reading if you got this far. 🙂

    • I guess, there’s no way to combine PhD and poetry writing for you. Then if you feel like poetry is something that you want and have to express yourself in, the go ahead and do that! You should not feel uncomfortable being supported by your partner if he is willing to do so and your relationships are truly close.

    • If having a Ph.D is so central to your sense of self, and you cannot shake it, then apply to a Ph.D in creative writing. Or even an MFA (considered a terminal degree in creative writing). But, judging from what you’ve written, I’d say that you are far too concerned about what other people think. In fact, it seems to be strangling you. Ask yourself one question: When you’re engaged in your doctoral work, do you feel that you’re on the right train, going in the right direction, in terms of your deepest sense of self? Or do you only feel that way when you’re writing poetry or fiction? If the latter, then you need to do that. Period. Simple. You can be good at academic work, and it can feed your intellectual curiosity, but can it feed your soul? If so, stay. If not, leave. If leaving your doctoral program is too scary for you, then take a course in writing poetry–even an online course. Worst thing in life is regret.

  102. Like the poster above, I’m also very grateful to blog author for the article and to all the commenters. Wow. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about for months and don’t know what to do about it. I’m a newly tenured professor, and seem to have lost my love for the academic life, and for working so hard on inane topics of research. Problem is, that’s the only thing I think I might be trained to do well. Any feedback is obliged.

    • don’t make any rash moves. post-tenure depression is actually a ‘thing.’ google it. Many are afflicted, but it doesn’t always last. Give yourself at least a year to rest up. and then revisit the career question.

    • How about focusing on further perfectioning your effectivity? An effective academic is as good as an effective professional in the private sector. And… how about changing to non-inane topics?

      I just don’t get this kind of questions. If people say “these are inane/boring/trivial topics” they should have a point of reference which is “interesting/important/whatever”. Go for that reference point if you think you’re in the inane region!

  103. I am a tenured professor at an R1, and I hate my job. I love teaching, but the thought of spending the rest of my life publishing on trivial topics that nobody cares about makes me gag. I have applied for positions at teaching colleges and high schools, but they always ask skeptically why I would want to leave a job that is supposed to be so great. Honestly, the only reason I stay in it is to keep my spouse on my health care plan.

    • HAHA, sorry. I just think your post is so comical. lol I hope you find the happiness you seek. Seriously friend, I do. I think that is all we have to look forward to; happiness. Which is a conscious decision. Best of luck mate. I am in somewhat of the same dilemma, but still very far from your situation.

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  105. Hi,

    I’m a beginning 3rd year PhD student in theoretical computer science, and I’m in a hopeless phase where I started to constantly thinking about quitting. My problem is that (or at least this is how I interpret as my problem) my advisor has extremely high bar for me, maybe because I’m her first PhD student (yup, I’m one of those), yet, I slowly found out that she pretty much had no in-depth knowledge about any research topic. So, in summary, she couldn’t provide me with any help research-wise even though she really wants to.

    I tried several research topics on my own and none of them so far has had any satisfying result. I was also mistreated by other grad students of her because I am the only one working on theory, which they somehow view as offensive, while they are working on applications. Tired by failures socially and academically, I started to lose confidence little by little. Now, the idea of quitting haunts and I’m easily frustrated by any small setbacks in research.

    Unfortunately, I think research is the only thing so far I’m passionate about. I thought I had a dream in doing good research and I thought there would be no problem in achieving this when I start. Yet, reality hits me relentlessly.

    So I’m in a dilemma now. Another thing I’m also concerned about is that since I’m my advisor’s first student and she’s not tenured yet, my leaving would be extremely bad for her career either.

    Do you have any advice for my situation?

  106. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for this post! My story is like so many others. I excelled in my PhD program and was ABD. After a few years of writing and teaching, I slowly woke up to the problems of a career in academia, as your post has discussed. I decided to leave without submitting, and am now trying to redirect myself to working in non-profits. Although I am so much happier now that when I was in the program, the decision was, and still is, very difficult for me because I cannot get over the sense of being a failure/dropout. This is especially amplified when I get together with friends who are still in the program, and when I meet up with family who do not understand my decision. Although my friends have been supportive of my decision, they place a lot of importance on finishing, and inadvertently say negative things about “dropouts” in my presence. I also have extended family who do not understand my decision and are quite vocal about it when we meet. I stand up for myself and know that I have to become a stronger person and not let others affect me – and I’m working on it! While in the healing process, do you have any advice on dealing with family and friends? Thank you again for this blog and this post in particular.

    • I commend you for going where your heart leads. It is important that you surround yourself with those who are positive, understanding, and who relate to your new set of goals. There will always be naysayers and those who question your decisions. When it comes to family members, if they are negative, limit interactions with them.. that’s right, limit interaction with those who are negative and try to hold you back. In the cases where this is difficult, you should always detach from their expectations of you to pursue academia..believe in your own voice more. You can even express your reasons if you feel you must and what you learned about the process and how it does not fit with you. At the end of the day, you have to live with yourself. They will one day envy you. Peace.

  107. Hi Karen, thank you so much for this article… I’m in my third year of PHD studies and I feel unable to continue – I’ve been repressing my most passionate interest in art but bearing the responsibility to study sociology (which I like but less than art – besides, I feel it hard to do truly frank academic studies in universities). Now, I feel my health worse and worse which decides that I can only do one thing (when it’s in the worst situation probably even nothing) at a time and it kills to always want to finish the work while seeking to leave enough time for art! Now I can almost leave, but it is so hard to imagine how I would disappoint my supervisor! I’m the first student he has ever supervised, and he has been very nice to me. What would you say about my situation? Should I endure the following two years and change a career path, or quite now? I’m so lost now..

    • Do not remain and suffer because of your “nice advisor”… he is supposed to be nice to keep you. Do whats best for you. Your advisor has the power to do the same and this often occurs.

    • TALK to your supervisor! Communication is the word. And although I’ve never have had doubts about the choice of my career… you should take into account your future.

      If you need external advice, I would suggest you to think about getting that sociology stuff done and reserve your free time for art. That’s a healthy choice. If you want to pursue 100% art… just quit. What are you overthinking?

      • Thanks so much for this advice. Finally I gathered the courage to talk to him, but he said ‘phd is a job’, so the loss of interest should not be the reason to quit. now i’m only concerned about whether quitting would affect his career, as I’m his first student. still struggling..

        • Here’s a terribly un-nuanced thing I saw in academia that’s helped me, maybe it’ll help you.

          Basically there’s two types of people: 1) those that feel the passion first and then act on it, and 2) those who decide what to do and notice feelings afterwards. Most people that I see continuing in academia are type 2. Your supervisor sounds like a type 2, seeing it as a job so it doesn’t matter what he feels about it, he can still work at it. I’m a type 1, I can’t do anything unless it feels right. And for me academia felt right for a while, and then it didn’t. It was hard to step away but this little black-and-white insight made it easier to accept. Maybe it’ll help you too.

  108. I am currently in the process of a degree in I.T. Mind you I have been doing very well. I have a 4.0 GPA. I sometimes think I should have chosen a degree in computer science. I feel like the degree path I have chosen is acceptable to my terms, but I can’t get past the idea that it may all end up pointless; that it is not my calling. I want success, but don’t have it. My other more passionate dream is to just simply make music. I want to be able to influence the psych of people. This leads me to want to be a psychologist. I understand minds, and could excel greatly in this field, but instead, I am studying the mind of a computer… .. . My knowledge is sufficient enough without academia’s influence though. Academia just seems like a social requirement. I am so confused, but all I truly feel good about is making music. Doing so though would risk my future. I am so lost, and yes I am a talented guitar player. I can play pieces of Mozart if I tried, but my passion is in contemporary folk, neo classical, and death metal music. That is all I want. It is all that will truly make me feel accomplished, and happy. That is all I wanted since I was 16, and I am know 25 going on 26. I feel like Society demands something I don’t want to bring. I am very artistic, but am stuck/was born into a technological/economical business structural rule. I need help.

  109. I don’t know how long your website has been in operation, but I wish I would have come across it back in 2007 before I matriculated in a doctoral program in Colorado. While there are too many seemingly unbelievable yet true layers to my story, I think your posts would have helped me to see the writing on the wall. In short, I spent over $100,000 only to be set up for failure by my committee. Now looking back, my advisor was quite reckless in her advisement practices, while the in-fighting among the department faculty would have made anyone cringe. The feedback that I received on my written work was spotty at best, and the favoritism among most of faculty and some of the students was hands down obscene. Even though my chances of earning a doctorate are slim to none, I do find some consolation in some of your posts. Thank you.

    • Get your S**t together! Don’t be passive. You’ve invested too much to quit now. Either man up and get through with your Ph.D. or find alternatives. The world is not only your faculty. Change universities, look for a job, etc. etc. Just please, be smart about it, as many Profs. take insult at people leaving their realms and it may backfire (recommendation letters, etc.)

      Don’t. be. passive.

  110. This is a great source for people leaving or considering leaving academia. I wish people could see more clearly how the academic world is exceedingly small and provincial. I was in a Ph.D literature program and quickly became depressed as a result of outrageous behavior on the part of faculty, as well as just a generally alarming awakening that I had voluntarily consigned myself to a looney bin. I’d never been around a more self-impressed, drenched-in-faux-irony, bunch of idiots in my life. Lacan/postmodernism ruled and nobody was doing any work that seemed to have any relevance to the very real concerns happening in our world (eco-criticism was in its nascence, and being dismissed by the likes of Zizek as evidence of a paranoid death wish; I wish I were kidding, but I’m not). It got to the point where I thought if I had to listen to one more paper about “anal desire” in Shakespeare, I would shoot myself. I once gave a conference paper, and in the giving of it, realized I couldn’t have cared less about whatever theoretical, navel-gazing b.s. I was spewing. I was increasingly worried about climate change, animal rights, loss of sovereignty and democracy to globalization, etc.–and arguing with other pinheads about whether the Prioress was subject or object, seemed suddenly rather absurdly irrelevant. As did the pathetic departmental feuds and pecking orders, etc. Eventually, I just sort of . . . didn’t go back. It’s a vicious environment, occupied–for the most part (there are some good folks, too, after all)–by profoundly insecure and petty people, who have convinced themselves that they represent the upper echelon of human achievement. I have a friend who received her Ph.D over 20 years ago, decided to leave, and is STILL insecure about having left. Not because she isn’t successful in her work life (she is), not because she doesn’t like her work (she does), but because she still drags around the phantom limb of academic elitism. It’s alarming how the stupefying neurosis of academia can have such long-term deleterious effects on people. The world is BIG! People out there doing amazing work: Paul Watson fighting on behalf of the sea, Bill McKibben rallying against climate change, the state of Vermont fighting off Monsanto, as corporate psychopathy threatens us all. And most of the people doing such crucial work don’t have Ph.Ds. They don’t need imprimaturs of specialness to believe in themselves or their work. That’s freedom, folks. On the other hand: If your dream is to become the world’s most meticulous Chaucer scholar, and it is your most fervent passion, then by all means–go for it. If you don’t know quite why you’re in graduate school, however, or you’re only in graduate school because that’s what “smart” people do, or because you don’t know what else to do, then for godsake, GET OUT until you figure out what you want to really do with your life. For those who cannot find a job, despite passionate commitment to their chosen doctoral field, the problem is not you. The only people who are not aware of the deep dysfunction of the academic job market are people who are brain-dead. You’ve been lied to, you’ve been used to prop up departments and departmental egos. Get really, really creative: figure out a different professional and personal paradigm with the knowledge you now carry. Work around the system, rather than banging at the door of a system which is broken, anyway. You’d be surprised. But whatever you do, whoever you are, if you leave academia, stop thinking that this signifies failure. It’s so high school (“Who am I if I’m not popular/successful???”), and so pernicious. And particularly damaging, since it destroys your own ability to craft who you are for yourself. Very disturbing. This whole problem–very disturbing, indeed.

  111. I had an advisor who chose to give himself a 10-month-long sabbatical in the middle of my thesis. After that, he pressured me to take some language exams, since , if I passed the exam, he would get an increase in status , as well as in pay. These exams are usually taken at the time the student is basically ready to write and present, but my advisor chose not to wait for that. in total, his choices led to a waste of 17 months. Now that I am delayed, with still around a year to go, the a-hole stated he does not want to work with me anymore, “because I am taking too long, and this seems to never end”. No real possibility of appeal that I am aware of. No effort on his part to look for someone else I may finish with.
    No effort from the department to help me find a way to finish either.

  112. I struggled with quitting for a few months. I am currently one course from dissertation. Funding has run out and as I support myself and my family via adjunct positions and a part time weekend job, 20,000 is just NOT in the budget.
    With that being said, the decision was made for me. As of right now, I exist in a sea of adjuncting, sideline research, blogging, and freelance. In all, its not a bad gig. But the instability of it all makes my nerves bad.
    On the bright side, I did get this far and was on the honor society for my program. So I guess that certificate proves that I am smart enough to take on a challenge, just not funded enough to finish.

  113. I’m SO glad I came across this page! Thank you for all the posts and comments. I am too in a position to leave a TT position, right before the year I can finally apply for tenure. The reason is simply relocation. Due to my husband’s job prospects. I’m worried I won’t be able to land a secure academic job, and to be frank I’m just an okay scholar. I’m worried that I will have to start from zero again. This relocation is actually going back home for us (we’ve been immigrants), but after six years abroad, it’s hard to get back on with past connections. Plus I doubt I will ever get paid as much as what I get now. I’m in my forties and I’m quite terrified about the whole thing. I’m grateful to know I’m not alone. This page gave me much needed hope…

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  115. I’m glad I’ve come across this page. Seeing all the comments here has given me the courage to throw in the towel. I started my masters degree last September and even thought about doing a PhD after, though I think it’s not for me. I had always wanted to carry on in academia and believe that it would give me self satisfaction and a sense of achievement, but now I believe that there are other ways of doing so. Upon graduation it may open up a few more doors, though in today’s economic climate I’ve realised that there’s no guarantee in anything. Someone once told me, the day, that there’s no such thing as a perfect job. Perhaps I’m too selfish – I’ve always considered myself to be more of an ‘own boss’ sort of person, so the more I thought about dedicating my time working for others than myself, particularly in something I’m not really interesting in, the more I started to get cold feet.
    Maybe because I managed to (somehow) get on the property market, have a full time job and some free time that doing a part-time masters seemed like the best thing to do. Felt like I was going through a mid life crisis.
    Being a creative type and having mild ADHD, I’m constantly on the go. I thought that more studying would be the solution to my condition, but clearly not. One thing about starting the course is that it has opened up my eyes to knowing my own strengths and weaknesses, albeit a slightly expensive way of doing so!
    I now know how to channel my energy, and doing another course is/was not the solution.

  116. I earned Master’s and PhD degrees from a top R1 institution. I was a stellar student, but things went very, very wrong in the last year of my doctoral work culminating in a wretched defense experience. In a nutshell, my “mentor” (who thankfully was not my Chair because he was not faculty in my degree-granting dept) was a known bully. Under his wing, I was spared the worst of his egregious behavior. I was his star. Until I started thinking independently. Then he completely checked out, which was just fine with me–I had a dedicated Chair and plenty of support. He really didn’t read my dissertation results until some days before the defense. And when he did finally read them, he was furious. My findings didn’t support his work. I arrived for the defense (febrile and wheezing, btw!) and after introductions my Chair asked everyone to step out so he could attend to any last minute issues from the Committee (all of whom had agreed I could advance to the defense). Two dozens guests (my family, the Dean, the department chairs) stood with me in the hallway for some 40 minutes while Mentor railed against me, my work, my work ethic, and argued that I needed another year under his tutelage. The rest of the Committee finally cut him off, and I defended successfully but had to redo (reanalyze data in a new method, rewrite) an entire chapter AND sit through an hour-long berating with Chair and Mentor. I managed to move across country and wrap up the revisions to the dissertation from a camping chair in my empty apartment.

    One week after finishing the revisions to the dissertation, I started my postdoc at a different R1 institution. Two months later, my life totally went off the rails in ways that were unimaginable. I had to take 4 months of FMLA and even still, it was extraordinarily difficult to stay on track. Now, 16 months into my postdoc I’m looking at TT jobs, which are plentiful in my field. I am behind, exhausted, and bombed my first interview. My marriage is somewhere on the spectrum of faltering to crumbling, and I have a very young toddler. My spouse is unwilling to move to any of the cities in which my top pick universities are located. We could stay where we are, if I get the TT job here. I think I could be fulfilled but at this point I have no idea.

    I’m starting to wonder if I should just quit. I am not sure I have the stamina, the stomach, maybe even the intellectual capacity for academic life after two+ years of all the worst s**t life can throw at a person.

    If I exit the treadmill for a few years, say, to stay home with my young son and try to salvage my marriage to his mother, would I be doomed to never rejoin academia again?

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  118. Thank you all! It’s amazing to read so many people who have achieved what I’ve only dreamed of who still want to quit. I keep thinking that maybe next level up is where you become happy and enlightened, but that never seems to be the case. I even know of one Nobel prize winner who says he’d give it back because now all people want from him is to talk about 30 year old work. He has to do a huge amount of dull and repetitive publicity. If even the pinnacle is drudgery, then what’s the point?
    So recently I’ve been thinking I don’t want this anymore. I used to be so passionate but I now I just want to live with my partner and actually get to LIVE. To put some roots in the earth. It’s been really scary and stressful (and shameful!) to let the idea of quitting come into my mind. But now that I’m starting to see clearly again I see so much amazing stuff is going on in the world! There’s an unbelievable amount of exciting movements and projects and ideas that have been developing while I was locked away in grad school. Some days I’m so excited to come out of academia but other days I worry that I’ll regret never reaching my old goals. I think I’ll let excitement win over worry ?

    • Yes, yes, you just encapsulated it. I keep imagining that it’s the next step up that will make me happy and serene – but every step seems to yield nothing. In graduate school, it was once I became ABD; then at ABD, it was in the postdoc phase; now that I’m a postdoc, it’s once I reach the Golden Ring of the tenure-track job, but then I see tenure-track professors who are like “just push it to tenure…” For me, I finally woke up and realized that it’s not the next step. Life is too short to wait an additional 8 years (assuming I get a job after the postdoc immediately!) to be happy! I want to live the life I want NOW. With my husband and I in the same city under the same roof.

  119. I made the decision this morning to withdraw from my PhD. I actually had to move to another EU country for this PhD and it was only then being away from the comforts of home I realised that I didn’t want this and I questioned what was I even doing here. I have two supervisors. One has been supportive of this decision but understandable doesn’t want me to go and the other says he doesnt advise to leave but ultimately its my choice.

    I feel like I let people down so far, and even annoyed them. And I’m not looking forward going back to my university where people will see that I just couldn’t do it. But then again most people I’ve spoken to have either said that a)i knew you never really wanted it or b)it’s a really brave decision you made and I respect you for it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that leaving a PhD is not the end of the world, it’s like leaving another job. But this is academia and it’s not usual for people to leave hence you feel like a bit of an outcast for doing so.

    It doesn’t matter though; it’s your life at the end of the day and if you’re so unhappy doing a PhD then it’s not wrong to think about leaving. Jobs arent always going to give 100% satisfaction, but they shouldn’t give you constant depression, lonliness or anxiety either.

    I tried to do a PhD, maybe I’ll try again in another 10 years but for now, it’s not for me.

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  121. I really appreciate you writing this post.

    I completely identified myself with all the statements you laid down, and I’m one of those who came to do a PhD just because of others’ expectations on me.

    I’m now a 4th year graduate student (I got the masters along the way in 2012 — I took one year off, and then I came back for the PhD), and I’m supposed to be “pursuing” my PhD in Computer Science. I’m burned out, no interest whatsoever in doing research. I haven’t published any paper (I don’t think I’m capable of doing that) or even passed my quals… so, in summary, I feel trapped — looking at people being able to enjoy life, but me… I can just say: “I’m a PhD(?) student”.

    I had (yet another) breakdown last year — even worse than the one I had when I was a master student, and I’m now under psychiatric and psychological treatment because of recurrent death thoughts and after a severe depression. But still, don’t have the courage to give up — I hope something out of my powers sets me free from this situation. I know I will feel pretty bad at disappointing at my adviser, who, kindly, encouraged me to continue a year ago. But, I don’t want to have a talk to him anymore… I feel bad about that. So I avoid him in all possible matters (to the point of falling below the required number of units to be eligible for my financial support because I don’t want to take a “Quals Preparation” course that involves regularly meeting with him).

    I seriously don’t know what to do — I should be working on research, but I don’t feel is worth it. Moreover, even after “getting” a PhD, I am going to move back home, where opportunities for a “doctor” are the same as for a “bachelors degree”.

    I’m lost… doubtful about this 🙁

    • You totally sound like you should quit. I send you all the bravery and strength to do that! Do take care to properly rest up afterwards though! Take it easy on yourself ok? Be all spiritual-like and take care of your body and mind. Don’t push yourself into the next adventure until you’re properly healed! It’ll be hard but quitting is the most rational thing you can do. Much good luck!

  122. Thanks for the stories and support! I finished my PhD, writing through my marriage, a diagnosis of rapidly-developing MS, the expert opinion that I start a family immediately, and then raising a toddler. I defended when my beautiful boy was 2 and tried to go into contract teaching soon after. The MS flared up and it became apparent that the stress of academia was sending my health into a tailspin. I could choose to pursue only two of the following: family, health, academia. I chose the first two. My husband and son and I are very happy but I miss using my brain. However, I’ve done a lovely job on renovating my house myself and am proud of my work and the value I’ve added to our property. I see now that others have taken their careers in different non-academic veins and found peace and fulfillment. Still haven’t found that vein for myself….how do I even start? I’ve done some exploring but no good fits yet.

    • Heather, thanks for this wonderful telegraphic summary of the dilemma. If you’d like to know more about post-ac advising options that I offer (including a free 20-minute initial skype consult), please email me at

  123. I cannot believe that I am thinking about leaving academia at this stage of my career. I have been looking for jobs for 3 years (only got postdocs) and got more publications/teaching/mentoring/invited-talks/etc than many of my colleagues/friends that already have tenure.

    Recently/finally, some friends in hiring committees told me in confidence that the people with more power in the committees simply disregarded my application based on bogus claims (e.g. “not enough service”, “just not a good fit”), without even knowing me personally. However, for candidates with weak applications, no issue was raised. My friends protested (in 3 cases that I know of), but they did not have enough power in the department. I don’t know what to think anymore (I have a small suspicion that this is based on discrimination).

    It is very frustrating because I did all that I was supposed to do and more (good publications, teaching, mentoring, invited talks), but now I feel hiring committees will always find something to complain about and simply disregard my application.

    Are all hiring committees like that?
    I may try again next year, but now I think it will be a waste of time.

  124. I just received another rejection letter today. It’s unbearable. I feel somewhat lucky, though, because I do have a full time teaching position. But, it’s not where I want to be. I spent 10 years working in my field before completing a PhD, and stepping into this wonderful world of academics. My goal is to get at a research institution or think-tank, which I just can’t seem to breach. I got a prestigious fellowship at a well-known university, but I can’t seem to parlay this into something more permanent. I’m getting interviews for fellowships at globally recognized think tanks, but I just seem to fail every single time. I can’t even begin to describe how discouraging this is.

    • I feel like there’s no real way to tell, right? Someone could do survey with a probability sample of academics, but no one has done that to my knowledge (and even so, how many academics are not yet ready to admit that they feel demoralized and ready to leave, or are unaware of those feelings?)

      Having been in two separate institutions as a graduate student and as a postdoc, I’m guessing that the majority of academics don’t feel this way. It’s a personality thing – some people (including myself) are not well-suited for academic work, because the way we want to work doesn’t mesh well with the way academia operates. Others are frustrated with pay, location, or the improbability of finding a tenure-track job. But in my current postdoc, the vast majority of the scholars – at all levels – seem blissfully satisfied with their positions, including the new assistant professors. Maybe they are all putting up a front, too…?

  125. I want to quit too. I got into this field at a very lonely time in my life just because I wanted a sense of belonging. I woke up to the fact that I hate research and that our field is absurdly narrow and detached from reality about six months into the PhD. It’s now three years later. As I’m in the UK I’m expected to submit in about five months’ time. I’m working a job four days a week, and the job is also a research one which I feel very poorly equipped for.
    I just want to turn my back on it all. But I don’t know how I’d pay the rent as my CV now has mostly research on it for the last few years. I would like to do a broader, more generalist role for a charity or the public sector. Research and science makes me feel like I’m being lowered down a well. I think of suicide a lot. The only bright spot is that I’ve signed up to see a therapist starting tomorrow. She’s not at the School so she won’t be biased towards me staying. I just want to enjoy normal life and be unexceptional.

    • Hi, I felt compelled to answer because I see you are in the dark. Do not give up on life, focus on tomorrow when you are free of academia, which is kind of broken as a system. There is not much humanity in it. You seem to feel trapped but I am sure you will be able to do well in another environment. I wish you well on your journey.

  126. I am the second-year tenure track faculty member in Engineering school at Research University.

    My last two year have been good and bad.

    Good thing was the rewarding feeling that I have received from research with my students (undergrad / PhD) and teaching.

    As one of the bad things, I have been exploited by the department chair. He is a very greedy, unethical person. He has exploited my time and energy for department service and things that he should have done. He is not doing his job, but he is taking all the resources from young colleagues. Overall, my department chair acts like a dictator. There is no system in my university that can check and balance against him.

    I am realizing that the ivory tower has been polluted. It is no longer the ideal world filled with reasonable people only.

    I am thinking of moving to another university.. Hope my plan works…

  127. How do you know when is the right time to quit?
    I’ve gone through my PhD with lots of ups and downs, realized years ago that there weren’t job prospects and that I had other priorities, and have been waiting for the ball to drop. I’m about to defend. I have a visiting professor gig lined up for next year and it looks like the opportunity for a good post-doc the year after. I’ve been working under the assumption I’d get the degree and then have to move on because there wouldn’t be any opportunities and god knows I’ve done enough of the adjuncting gambit to not try and put myself through that full time. But I’ve been lucky. My visiting professorship is super cushy (at least so it seems now coming out of the fellowship/adjuncting world). I love the job, but… its incompatible with everything else I want to prioritize in life. For me, a lot of that means not having to move. Which is of course not realistic in academia. So for now I’m sticking it out hoping some miracle opportunity comes up, but realistically there isn’t a chance in hell. When is the right time to stop compromising and just take the leap? Risk giving up a job I love, prioritizing other aspects of life/friends/family/reduced-stress, for some mystery desk job that may be fine or I may completely despise and then be full of regret. Its hard to complain about having options, but it would be so much simpler if I didn’t.
    Certainly being a women in a STEM field I hate to think I’m joining the ranks of women dropping out as opposed to sticking to it… even though kids aren’t really a concern for me…
    What really makes me angry is the thought that if only the adjuncting system were fixed (e.g. replaced with at the very least salaried positions) there would be dozens more jobs available where I live. But that’s a whole other can of worms…
    Any advice?

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  129. I keep coming back to this post. I’m currently planning my exit strategy from a postdoc, and I’m dreading the conversation with my postdoc advisors (I have a good prospect, so with any luck the conversation will happen soon). I keep running this mantra through my head: It’s OK to Quit…

  130. I’m so late to this post but hoping I can get some advice…..I was hired as a research assistant professor recently and have only been at the job about 6 months. But I realize that this is not a good choice for me and I’d like to leave to pursue something else. Given that I have no teaching responsibilities and am funded entirely by grants, what is the appropriate notice to give? On one hand, I think more would be better to help get some papers out…but on the other hand, I think more notice could be uncomfortable since I basically just got the job…advice?

  131. Hi,
    I’m a PhD student that originally entered a Master’s program, fell in love with a topic of research, wrote a proposal and was switched within the first year to a PhD program. I’m done all my courses and have 1 (soon to be 2) publications in the works. I’m now halfway through my accelerated PhD and still loving the actually research but budding heads with the department ideologically. The program I’m in is very particular about the type of projects it allows (it has to be about sustainability and interdisciplinary).While the department claims to be interdisciplinary, it focuses strongly on social sciences while I am strongly-oriented to laboratory sciences and engineering. The research that my supervisor is doing was what attracted me to the program in the first place. The topic I picked, and my supervisors approved, is very interdisciplinary (chemistry, microbiology, genetics, chemical and mechanical engineering…) but the field of study rejects sustainability. I assumed that as long as my supervisors approved the project it would be fine. However, when the department realized this, they cancelled my comprehensive exam two weeks before the date and faculty members started to find me and talk about how I wasn’t really part of the department, that I should have never been accepted in the department as a Masters or PhD student and how I should change my thesis to be more “appropriate” for the department among other things. My supervisors are very hands-off and left most the departmental duties largely to me until all of the trouble started. The stress of that situation and the constant badgering about “being more of a social scientist” and accepting sustainability is making me contemplate quitting which is very frustrating.

    I also don’t want to be tenured professor and told my supervisors this upfront. The purpose for getting the degree is to get the technical skills and connections that I’d need to get a job in the industry (which I’m getting) and to get research experience (which I am also getting). However, I’m not sure if the department I’m in is right for me anymore and changing departments would mean starting over again. Any practical advice that you could offer would be appreciated. It’s kind of a tough spot to be in.

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  133. Really good article. I wish that I had come across you much, much earlier. I’m English, so our system is slightly different, but I won a scholarship (quite rare these, in the UK) to study an MA in English Literature at a very good university as I was hoping to progress into lecturing… And, despite getting good grades, I’ve pretty much hated it all the way through. Most of what I study just seems completely irrelevant to anything. And there are no actual skills taught, only theories to internalise and look at a text, and the world, through. Only now, towards the end my last semester have I found the courage to step off the programme and pursue something else.

  134. It’s nice to find something so supportive, even if it comes from a website, not from the people around you.
    I recently got admitted into a master’s program, after getting my bachelor degree in modern languages this summer. I have always been a conscientious student and took my studies quite seriously. I got my diploma with a high mark and I also got accepted into grad school with an even higher score, continuing in the same field (but focusing on translations).
    The thing is, before grad school started this fall, I also started job hunting. Almost all of my former college mates had already got good jobs and they weren’t even that well prepared, so I felt constantly frustrated and insecure about myself. Plus, I needed money desperately. So after a few painful interviews, in which I was frequently asked why I had no relevant previous job experience, I managed to finally get a decently paid job, where I can use my language skills. It’s not academic, it’s something more technical (some sort of technical support – I had a training for that, obviously)
    My job started the same day grad school started and it’s been two weeks already and I haven’t managed to go to a single class. I tried to contact some of my professors and a couple of them gave me the chance to send them my homework via email. But the problem is I literally cannot do it. I’ve tried to do all the projects and the work but it involves a lot of hard study, time and, worst of all, it pains me not being able to be there, in class. Coming home at night after a long day of work is exhausting and my mind only works well in the morning, when I do not have time to do my homework.
    So after analyzing my situation, I came to the conclusion that it’s time to put my career first. It’s time to focus on my job, acquire experience, and gain my own money.
    And I cannot do both school and work properly at once. I am a perfectionist.
    So I’ve decided to quit school, but my family, my friends and my school mates judge me and cannot understand my point of view and my situation. They agree that I have to keep my full time job, but they think having a master’s degree is necessary. So I’m supposed to magically joggle them both.
    Anyway, I’m mostly embarrassed because one of my professors, who was also my bachelor diploma coordinator,will be very disappointed in me, but honestly I cannot deal with the pressure anymore.
    I don’t know what I want to do in this life, but I wanna figure it out my own way and it’s hard when people keep judging you.
    Today I came across a nice quote from Alice in Wonderland (the 1951 animated movie):
    “What road do I take?”
    “Well, where are you going?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Then it doesn’t matter. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

  135. I am so glad to find your blog. I have been slogging through a PhD program for six years now. I already have one MA and…i’ve just decided to quit the PhD program. I may sit for the MA exams in this field, but seriously thinking I might now. I’m burnt out.

    The department is awful in ways I won’t discuss publicly, I’ve seen a really ugly underbelly to my field, been bullied by professors, I realize I have no future in the field and have lost any passion for it that i once had. My health has also been suffering. I would really like to transfer departments (I realized about two years ago I was in the wrong department — long story—but i don’t even know if that’s possible. My sense of shame and failure ,even though I am making the decision of my own will and after over a year of serious consideration, are overwhelming at times.

  136. Hi,
    I got my PhD in Spanish literature in May, and I am lecturer now. I love teaching and writing, but I hate writing articles to publish in obscures journals. I got married a month ago, and my husband just got a great promotion. We want to stay together. Would it hurt my career if I teach at a local high school for one year so I can stay with my husband?

    • I think that you will find teaching high school to be IMMENSELY rewarding. There are many of us with PhDs who teach high school. It even pays more than teaching in post-secondary institutions in many areas of the country. Spanish is a high needs field. I think you should go for it. You might end up loving it and making it your career. Suerte!

  137. Hi,
    I am probably not as deeply imbedded in academia as most people commenting here, but I really need some advice. I’m so lucky to find this amazing article. I am currently working on my masters (fellowship funded) in physics, but I am losing interest. It took me a year to admit to myself that I hate that my subject has everything to do with wonder but nothing to do with people. I do not feel that I help people in any ways or that my work fosters any connection. And it IS important to me. After an anxiety and depression ridden year, I decided that I do not wish to continue on with PhD. I am thinking of going to medical school to pursue an MD/PhD with concentration in biophysics. How should I broach the subject with my research advisor and hopefully get a recommendation for my post bacc and med school application? I also somehow feel weird about coming clean to anyone in the department before talking to my advisor, so I have not really been able to get advices.

    Thank you so much! It is good to get it off my chest and just type the words. Thank you for providing a place for my first confession:)

    • Isabelle, congrats on reaching some clarity! well done! I would actually recommend checking out the site Life After the Ph.D. for good advice and resources on this, as well as the many forums available on The Versatile Ph.D.. Many others have written extensively. If you’d like to consider some personal coaching, you can work with my Out-Ac team. Email me at

  138. This is one of several articles I’ve read over the past week. I’m over 50, been retired for 2 years, and last August went back to school to work on my PhD. I have a master’s degree (obtained in 1991). While I enjoy the classwork, I’ve found I have no interest in collecting a bunch of data, publishing 3 articles, and getting treated inferior by my advisor (who thinks public ridicule is the best motivator). Academically, I know I’m smart enough, but at my age, I’m just not sure I’m willing to put up with what I would need to for the piece of paper at the end. I’m not looking for a new career in academia, but really struggle with “quitting”. Would love to hear others thoughts on this?

    • Kay: A PhD is a research degree and classwork runs out after the first year or so. You have to love the quest and “be in love” with your research topic.
      The hierarchy and culture in academia sucks, especially if you have had a career where you were well regarded. However, when you are done, it is much more than a piece of paper.

  139. I took a Visiting AP position in a city away from my husband after completing my PhD. I was told that I could renew my position for up to 3 years. Of course, I have been actively interviewing this job market year to find a permanent, TT position and I have 2 campus visits coming up. However, my current employer decided to change my job title to Lecturer, made me reapply for my job and do a campus visit awkwardly in front of all of my colleagues. I just found out today that I didn’t get my own job back. I was mostly using this for negotiating purposes (in case of a TT offer) but now I have no job at my current institution after being told I could renew when I was first offered it. It has me calling everything into question — why I took this job away from my family in the first place, and whether I want to continue in a soulless field. My TT campus visits are across the country. I love my life with my husband in my current city, and I regret ever leaving it. I am considering not only breaking my contract with this awful, below R2 institution and leaving the field altogether. Lots to think about. Thanks for this post.

    • Wow, that is really shitty. It’s a big world out there–sounds like it might be time for you to leave the academic “nest” (such as it is) and explore it! We have a Post-Ac Team that can help you and the first consult is free. Email me at if you’d like to know more. Good luck.

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  141. I quit my PhD 1 month ago. I’m not ashamed to say that. I worked in a lab project for one year and I could handle the stress and hardwork, but I couldn’t handle the ego’s fight between my 2 postdocs, I couldn’t handle the 0 support from my supervisor, I couldn’t handle hear from my postdocs “if you don’t know how this device works, read this 500pages manual” or “if you need help, ask Mr. Google”. Sometimes I even worked at weekends just to be alone and without this people. Then I saw even the project was not going anywhere… So I quit.

    After quitting, I found a good paid job outside an academia in a related field and I was considering to apply for a part-time PhD in future, but for sure I won’t waste my time with such an as*****s. I understand someone can have a bad day, but after a year of bad mood everywhere I had enough and I realized I don’t want to work there.

  142. I am in my sixth year of my PhD program and I just announce to my boss that I am leaving because I am struggling with depression and anxiety. I am afraid of the stigma behind quitting graduate school but I just could not handle it for another year. Even though I am so close to a publication, my boss will not graduate me because he has a track record of wanting to keep his students for a long time. That uncertainty drives me crazy and on top of that I always feel so hopeless and inadequate because I can never finish the exhausting list of things to do. Added to the stress, my boss is lazy (had been sitting on my former labmate paper for almost two years now!!!) and a total jerk. I can’t see that he will be very productive and help me finish. I have such high anxiety that I would have panic attacks. I have not sleep or eat very well either. I have been told to stick around because you don’t want to be a ‘quitter’. Any advice?

    • I think it isn’t about being a “quitter”, it’s about having boundaries. And defining what is appropriate for you. Academia will kill your self-esteem and self-confidence if you let it–judgement is everywhere. My advice…finish up and get away from the crazy people. Life is too short to associate with jerks for too long.

  143. I have a very basic question. I recently successfully defended my dissertation and, in all honesty, while I am applying for fellowships and faculty posts, I am more excited when I see an open public sector job. So my question: at the top of my resume should it read [Name] [Initial]. [Last Name], Ph.D., or should I leave off any reference to my Ph.D.?

    • Without knowing the job and the field, I can’t really answer that. It’s the kind of thing that my excellent post-ac team parses out when helping clients create their resumes and strategize for jobs. Please do check out that page and consider working with one of them. I suspect what they’ll tell you is that you shoudl do that for some jobs, but not for others!

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  145. For what it is worth, I’ve become really comfortable with the thought of quitting the PhD this week. I’m on my last course, with the dissertation approval process running concurrently with coursework. I’ve received no support from anyone, despite multiple requests. Worse, the chair claimed to have a (non-existent) phone consult with me regarding the dissertation proposal, and filed such a report with the school. Now my advisor sees me as non-credible and won’t help.

    I started this process to have some career mobility, which I obtained last year. I’ve also calculated that I would never recoup my investment in my working lifetime. Financially, I would be better off leaving my PhD now. And no, the scholarly work is not so fulfilling as to make up for the financial loss.

    So, unless I miss something, it makes better sense to leave in some cases. Your mileage may vary.

  146. I don’t know what to do. I’m going into my fourth year as an adjunct, (third year if you count the year I went back to get at Tech Writing Certificate) and I’ve had a number of interviews, two at colleges I taught at, and the closest I’ve come yet was “top 4.” Still waiting to hear from two of the places I interviewed, but the time until school is growing short, and I think I’m on the cusp of a third failed career. I don’t know how I can make a living as an adjunct and I think I’m running out of time. I can’t figure out how (or if it’s even possible) to seal the deal with a school. I’m just so tired and depressed, but I really want to do this. What do I do? More importantly, what can I do as a failed English Prof?

  147. Hmmm, this is pretty old but I guess I’ll throw in my two cents and ask for advice (sorry for using a nick, but not all I’m going to say is very flattering towards my colleagues/environment though I do acknowledge that part of the blame for the situation lies with me as well).

    I’ve had a PhD in physics and now have moved to work in a different country. I perhaps could have been more selective in picking my post-doctoral job but didn’t have many connections so I didn’t really know how to judge beforehand. Plus, I was looking for a work in computation, so I always thought I’d have the chance to quit and work as a programmer in industry as a backup plan. As it turns out, I might just have to do that and wonder if I’m not wasting my time every day that I don’t. Thing is, the situation I ended up in is pretty disorganised. It’s not anyone’s specific fault, it’s just the kind of bureaucratic monster our ever-more contrived funding schemes tend to birth; as a result, planning is slow, feedback is rare, and in general I feel more often than not like a person working in a vacuum. I have no close interaction with anyone sharing significant research interests; more than that, since I’m skilled with code people tend to be always more interested in having me do simple development while whenever I want to do something more science-oriented I’m on my own. Publications are very slow to come, my CV in that sense is atrocious, as most of them have to pass through the joint approval/review of this whole sluggish apparatus. Again, I’ve tried doing my own projects but without ever having a chance at meaningful collaboration I end up getting into dead ends that maybe would be easy to get out of with someone else’s knowledge, but are extremely demotivating on my own – I am always self-aware of the necessity of not overstepping my boundary and risking going into crank science by trying to do things I just don’t know well, even though I absolutely do not fear learning new stuff. So in the end I have almost no publications to speak of after almost 5 years of job, my productivity is pretty abysmal, and in general I feel like I will never be able to get another academic job. Even though I ideally would like to work with research, I just can’t see that happening; I keep holding on hoping that we will finally manage to publish one of the many things we are working on so I can leave and go look for another job with a decent CV and then these too get indefinitely postponed by the incredibly sluggish pace of the project. So maybe I should just cut my losses, quit and find a job in industry, where at least I may hope to be stimulated. I’m 30 now and starting to worry about whether I can switch to a different field that easily, for all the similarities between my current work and that.

  148. I started this stupid Ph.D. at the behest of my department, because the country in which I live and work doesn’t recognize an American JD as qualifying a person to teach American law. They literally told me to “just” write the thesis so that they could hire me permanently. I finished writing the thesis back in May. My advisor told me I could defend this May. All I have left to do is revise the footnotes (like format them correctly) and now my advisor has surprised me with the news that I cannot defend until next November (of 2017) and by the way, I have to do it in a language that I don’t speak very well. Oh, and after at least two years of requests for a freaking CHAIR AND A DESK, I have to continue to spend my between-class time (three hours today) sitting in the hallway because I don’t have the right title to get a shared (with 4 other people, as is customary) office. There’s nothing like a teacher’s lounge, either. I literally sit in the hallway and work.

    At this point, I feel like they’ve been lying to me all along and have no intention of hiring me–and that the “November 2017” defense date was chosen so that I would feel obligated to continue teaching full-time for poverty wages for an additional year before they surprise me with the news that this was all in vain.

    Should I even finish the damn footnotes? At this point IDGAF. I make good money working remotely for a law firm in the US; the pay for my “temporary” (4 years and counting) teaching gig here is so low that it literally costs me money on the days when I teach because of the expense of childcare. Why bother finishing when this whole thing was done at the behest of people who clearly don’t have any respect for me? Or should I just quit the teaching part of it, finish the damn footnotes (we’re talking mayyyyybe four days of concentrated work), defend someday in the far future, and at least feel like I accomplished something, even if it got me nothing?

    I do love teaching and writing, but this is bullshit and I’m sure there are plenty of other people more willing to put up with it than I am.

  149. After publishing 12 papers during undergrad and masters, I was confident that I am designed to be a PhD holder. I’m currently an international PhD student in canada and after a year and half, I think I am an idiot! First year was a big mess and quals exam was horrible. Maybe I shouldn’t have changed the department. I did my studies in computer science but now studying in electrical engineering. Even basic undergrad courses are new to me! I have lost all self confidence that I had and it’s so bad that I feel that I can’t even work in walmart! I think a highschool student does better than me. My supervisors are amazingly nice but I feel that I’m exhausted! I have zero interest in the field that I’m working on. I tried every single method to push myself to work harder or regain my self esteem! I hypnothized myself, used positive thinking method etc but non of them worked. My hair loss doublized, got more weight, got a black circle around my eyes, lost my eyesight but I should say, it’s enogh!!! I’m quitting! I have another offer to do a funded masters in computer science and that’s the only thing I need to do in order to find a job here in canada.
    I want my life back! I want to live like normal people, work like them, find a girlfriend, enjoy the high salary, buy a car…. grad school took all of these from me!!

    • I had a PhD in electrical engineering, so I can relate. If you are really honest with yourself, don’t you kinda want to be Dr. PhD? If not, then quit. If so, then pour yourself a drink and get to work—But don’t under any circumstances whatsoever—drink academia’s Kool aid—Not even one slip!
      Basically, it’s as simple as that!

    • My experience as an international engineering student in Canada… Canada is especially cruel – there is no humanity. I’m wondering if you are at my former Uni…

      Education should be challenging – but at what point does “challenging” become abuse? “They” say these fancy degrees prove that you are smart… but I am thinking that maybe the smartest ones are the ones who have the guts to realize that it doesn’t prove that and not subject themselves to this torture.

      I always thought “smart” meant that you knew about a lot of cool stuff… not how much abuse you could survive.

  150. I am living the academic “dream.” I landed a TT R1 right out of grad school. I live somewhere beautiful. The environment is stimulating. My institutions is supportive. My colleagues are wonderful. My students are inquisitive and mostly delightful. But I am miserable. I have very little time for my family. With my salary and my partner’s part-time salary we can barely make ends meet and have had to cut back on “luxury” items like cheese and coffee. I am very spread thin and don’t enjoy the pressure of research. It became very clear to me in grad school that I did not want a research intensive job. And that maybe I didn’t even want work in academia, but I decided to stick it out, finish the degree. Then I decided to try out the job market and did extremely well. But because I went to an elite research university, teaching schools were not interested in me. Now I am here. It’s only my first semester, and I want to quit. I know it’s early to feel that way, but I know this profession. It’s what I’ve been doing in school for the last 6 years. I am mired with guilt, though, to even think about leaving after so much was done to bring me here (not that that will ultimately determine my decision), but you are so right to mention the profound shame that comes with even thinking about leaving. Like, oops, guys, sorry, I was wrong. I actually don’t want to be an academic. So sorry. Thanks for your time and money. See ya. How do you professionally explain your exit?

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  152. Dr. Karen,

    Reading your article heals my soul. I have been feeling a deep sense of sadness, guilt, doubt and loss after deciding to leave academic after being a visiting assistant professor for 2 years. I have always wanted to pursue the academic path. This is the only job I know and thought I would be good at. However, being a wife and a mother of two while trying to fight as a solder in the war zone of academia had slowly weakened me physically and emotionally. My health suffered and my relationships crumbled. However, the worst part, I did not know and did not want to stop fighting. Now, I finally decided to quit and prioritize my family/children before my crave, or addiction for work as well as other things (e.g., fame, recognition and self-esteem…)Still mourning the loss right now. My new job will be working as a clinical psychologist helping real patients. I should be grateful for having an alternative option, but still somehow feeling a sense of loss and guilt, as if I cowardly escaped from the war. I think many of us definitely hold some type of implicit bias toward certain professions, as if one is superior to another. Rationally I know I have to get out. I want to really enjoy life and enjoy relationships. Be able to evaluate myself positively from within instead of from the number of publications and student evaluation. Thank you for validating and normalizing my experiences.

    • Sunflower, I’m sorry to hear of your struggles, and I’m glad I could play a small role in helping you work through them. It is very very hard to leave the academy, and the sense of loss and grief is real. I still feel it now and again, and it’s 7 years later, and I have a successful business… Best of luck to you. I know you’ll thrive eventually! Congratulations on being brave, and caring for yourself and your family!

  153. I am at a cross roads in my career. I am tenured but not happy. I am largely ignored by my colleagues and bullied by my Dean. My department is just not the right fit for me. The only thing I like about my job is students but that’s a hit or miss. Sometimes I have had great classes and at other times horrible classes. There is zero opportunity and resources to pursue the research I want at the place where I am tenured. I am not going to settle for this unhappiness for the rest of my life just because it offers job security. I am actively exploring full time soft money research positions. I will still be within academia but I will be giving up tenure if I take up a potential offer.

    It’s been rough. I started ok but somewhere down the line the Dean/chair and me had a fall out. Now it’s too much water under the bridge. I am seriously considering giving up a tenured position for a soft money research position at a top R1. People might call me crazy but this is my calling and I am ready to take this risk.

  154. Thank you Karen. This is exactly how I feel. I am between a rock and a hard place. The security of tenure versus the uncertainty of soft money research position. I have to ask myself some tough questions and gather the courage to quit my tenured job if it comes down to it. It’s very scary but I choose not to settle for less. The Dean is not going anywhere soon and the collegiality and cliquishness of my department doesn’t seem to improve.

  155. Dr. Karen, I Hope you are doing well. I read your article and I want your wise advice. I did my bachelors in computer applications and then went for the masters in the same field but I don’t have any interest in this course. I wanna do some course in animation and design because i know this is what i really wanna do. I cancelled my PG admission yesterday and now i am feeling stuck because no one has been supportive of my dreams till now and i feel alone and nervous. I really don’t know what i should do. I lost a year by cancelling my admission and my parents don’t talk to me anymore. I would really appreciate your help in any way possible.

  156. After reading all the posts in this thread I searched online for survey results about where the happiest professors are. Didn’t find anything (but I did see one about where the happiest students are). Has such a survey been done? Are there universities that don’t suffer from all the sad and negative things I’m reading about here? I have two sons who will be going to college soon, and I want them to be in an environment where professors are treated well.

  157. Thank you for this! I recently had to leave my PhD 18 months in. I took a six month leave of absence due to ill health and went back but my heart was not in it. I was stressed, dropped behind which severely affected my health again.

    I found in the end that the stress and the effect it was having on my wellbeing was just not worth it. After years in academia I had had enough. I had loved research – really enjoyed my BSc and my Masters but stress and ill health took their toll, even going part-time did not help – in fact I felt even more stressed as I realised I had just made my PhD last even longer. I’m now just trying to de-academise myself!

    It’s okay to quit and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. I don’t feel like a failure, I tried and it didn’t work out. There’s a whole other life out there.

  158. I too got the coveted TT asst professorship at an R1 and I couldn’t be more miserable and I feel like my children have been sold down the river…what I have had to sacrifice to get my papers out and get money. WIth 2% of grants being funded in NSF why is tenure even so harsh or even exist? It is a subjective hazing, and it doesnt make people better associate profs. The Tenure system should end and go to rolling 5 yr contracts–then the Pretenders would be out, and people who achieve scholarship wouldnt be at the mercy of the professors who never work again post-Tenure. It is hard to get Industry to look at a resume once in academia awhile.

  159. I never really wanted to be a TT professor. I got a PhD, thinking with that I could be part of the think tank, activist, or applied research world. That didn’t work out. Activist organizations won’t hire PhDs, because they expect you have too much interest in research — not the day to day campaign work. Think tanks and applied research organizations want political science and/or economists to do environmental and community stuff (my field), not sociologists. So, after a stint at a water infrastructure service NGO, I bit at a community sociology position I was recruited for. I switched universities, and I have now been in the academy for a dozen years — and whenever I start to feel content, something happens to slap me back into how much I hate being in this position. The pay’s great, the freedom of what to work on should be wonderful, but the bureaucracy of getting things done is stifling/discouraging/degrading — as is the lack of administrative systems to assist until you are in real trouble. The culture of increasingly harsh deadlines, of reliance on written documents, of constant concerns about reputation and standing, and of rigid criteria for what constitutes important, noteworthy, and acceptable work is oppressive. In short, I want out…most of the time. But I don’t want the embarrassment of leaving the academy in a university community. And, I am addicted to the ability to travel for work. I have, for years, wanted someone like a professional coach to help me think about whether I really need to get out to be happy…

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  162. what about just staying put in academia, collecting a paycheck,and doing what you liven the side (after tenure, what is the problem…?)

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  165. I think I have quit. I did my PhD in Religious Studies in a wonderful department with a team of incredibly supportive profs, on a topic that I was passionately interested in but that was not the area of any professor in the department. I did fieldwork in East Africa, met so many amazing people, and ground away for two years afterward to complete the nearly 500 page final product, of which I remain proud. Shortly following my convocation in 2016, a prestigious academic publisher approached me about sending in a book proposal based on my dissertation (I have a friend on the editorial board); and I taught two courses as a sessional, with rave reviews from the students.
    But. I don’t want to do the book proposal. I don’t want to write the book. I don’t want to work on articles. I don’t want to “pursue” the “research trajectories suggested by the results of my graduate work” (ok, I have lied in every single job application). I DON’T WANT TO SIT AT A DESK AND A COMPUTER alone, staring at the wall, working on a paper or application to get it exactly right according to someone else’s vision ANYMORE. I don’t want to work until midnight, get up early and sit down again, because a deadline is approaching and I’m not sure I have it perfect and I have been thinking about the piece in my sleep and unable to sustain a conversation or enjoy the rest of life while I have work to do (i.e. all of the time).
    I’ve started working as a labourer in my partner’s construction business for more dollars an hour (MANY more dollars, if you count prep time) than I was making as a sessional, and with no commute. I’m using my academic and research experience to volunteer in the community (a tiny, blue collar, rural town where a PhD is considered an incredible treasure!), and during evenings and weekends I am making art, gardening, and hanging out with my family.
    I think I might be happy.

    I still struggle with feeling like I “wasted time,” or am “wasting my education,” but I have to remind myself that I had an incredible time in grad school, met lifelong friends, had my mind altered, learned how to allow my mind to be altered, and that the skills and aptitudes I gained and refined can’t be taken away from me. And who knows where what I’m doing now will lead? We get one life. Why continue to pursue a path that is making you miserable?

    At least, that’s what I tell myself most of the time. The rest of the time I tell myself that I’m only saying that because I couldn’t cut it, am weak, and gave up. *Sigh*
    I’ll get it eventually.

    • Dear Michelle, I want to do what you are doing! I am going into my third full year in a TT job at a small, teaching focused college. I finished my PhD while working full time. I have small children and feel like I’ve missed out on so much. I do love teaching, but I’m burnt out and disillusioned after working crazy hours and 6-7 day weeks when I’m being paid what I made 10 years ago with a Master’s. I have wonderful colleagues, so that’s not the issue. There’s pretty much zero time to advance and publish research with the teaching and service load. I’m also prone to anxiety and depression and it’s been looming quite a bit in recent months after getting no break. I really love advocacy work but of course, have no time to do it and cringe at the thought of losing more time with my family when the semester begins. My partner is an academic too but it much better paid. I want to leave but can’t figure the best way out.

    • I have been reading these posts on and off…It had been a while since last time I entered this site.
      Michele, your post today resembles so much to my present situation that it gave me goosebumps…Although I have not yet managed to find a job outside academia, I am determined to do it…I finished my Ph.D. in 2017 and the prospect of spending one more day behind a computer screen made me miserable. I studied Anthropology, and fieldwork seems the least we anthropologists do these days…I don’t want this path in my life…However, Antrhopology is so entangled with academia that it is hard for me to move my career to another path that values my training…But reading these kind of posts gives me hope.
      And of course, this blog helped me a lot to get real while I was still working on my Ph.D…It helped me to fight loneliness, which was one of the worst things I experienced while working on it.

  166. NEARLY half of existing university degrees could be obsolete within a decade leaving graduates with “more debt and poor job prospects” if Australia’s university system is not drastically overhauled, a new report has warned.

  167. Pingback: Academic Challenges | MESPI

  168. I’m considering quitting my PhD program after only the first quarter..I’m feeling like I made a very bad decision leaving my former job and starting this program.

    I’m an older student, and recently finished an MPH program at the same university I’m studying the PhD at – but in a different department (I’m now in Sociology). I’ve got two masters degrees (one from around 10 years ago), and I’ve been studying in higher education now for about thirteen years (on and off) – with this current stint being around 6.5 years..just to get to this point.

    I have young children, a really good resume and experience, and I have little concern about getting a research position at the moment. I’m currently a TA, and I thought I’d love it, but I hate it..I’ve been dreaming of doing a PhD for about 10 years (and it took me that long to make it in)…but after getting here, I’ve found that what I had before (a good paying job, with career development, research, publishing and conference and presentation opportunities), I feel like I’ve just done the worst thing I could possibly do. There is another significant research opportunity about to become available, and I’m very interested in applying (and think I have a good chance of getting it).

    The PhD is supposed to take a minimum of 6 years, with a number of students still here after 8/9 or even 10 years! I don’t have that kind of time, and while I have a solid research question, I’m starting to think that at this point in my career, a PhD might actually be career suicide.

    It’s frustrating, because I think I would have been more committed to this if I were 10 years younger (when I had the energy and time to do a PhD), but now I’ve just lost the will to do it, and see working in applied research to be more rewarding…sigh

  169. Hi Karen, I quit my first tenure-track job last year because my chair treated me VERY unfairly. I was being dicriminated straight but the higher administration closed their eyes, well nepotism wins! I do NOT regret my decision for even for a fraction of a second. But now I have a gap in my CV I also took a break of 3 years to support my family prior to this position, now with this second break, my question is what are my chances to land another opportunity? It’s depressing to read blogs and forums saying that it’s almost impossible to secure a second tenure-track without having one in hand. What’s your opinion on this?

  170. I got my PhD in 2014 at a top university in the UK. Since then I’ve been doing a mix of teaching assistant work and research postdocs. I’ve just started a 3-year postdoc, which will mean my wife and I moving abroad. My wife is an incredible support – she’s got energy, is so positive and just has this amazing thirst for adventure. I, on the other hand, am riddled with anxiety and negativity. I wasn’t like this before my PhD. My publication record isn’t awful but its not good for the stage that I’m at, and its doubtful it will be good enough for a TT position. I’m about to turn 37, and I’m once again seriously thinking of quitting the postdoc and getting out of academia. But its pretty scaring reading some of the comments from people who have quit and have become even more depressed. I just want to be happy and content, but maybe this is impossible! Any happy stories of transitioning out of academia, particular in the social sciences?

    • There are loads of happy stories of people transitioning out of academia! Please do find Beyond the Professoriate on the web, and also on Twitter. They are a great place to start.

      • Thank you Karen. I’ve started looking at that website and it looks like a really valuable resource to help me work out what I really want to do. It’s very encouraging to see there are positive stories!

  171. I can’t say how much I appreciate your work, Karen.

    There are far too many people who continue to benefit from the strange market forces in academia – hordes of excited grad students who dream about becoming professors who don’t realize (and often aren’t told about) the fierce (and I mean fierce) competition out there after finishing the dissertation… mixed with professors who are incentivized to use that excitement to push their own career forward (and many great professors – not saying all are bad, but that the system/incentives structures set grad students up to fail).

    Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed grad school, benefited from the struggle, and now have a good research job that pays a decent salary. But I continue to feel like it’s a warped system that is desperate for reform.

    Thanks again for your dedication to students. We need more folks like you out there.

  172. In my case there were 4 factors that helped me not to quit my PhD:
    – I defined my PhD goals and my post-PhD dreams.
    – I worked with (and not against) my personality qualities and pitfalls to increase productivity.
    – I focused on the process and not on achieving the outcome.
    – I worked with a PhD coach.

    There is more info on this post about quitting your PhD.


  173. I am so upset that I found this article today. I recently withdrew from Medical School this year, late February early March, I really can’t remember because everything is such a blur but I remember drinking every day after school & coming home to my mother & sibling arguing with me about how I will pay off school. Then one day hearing that they’ll never support me. Well, guys & gals, a little backstory about me, I am from the Caribbean (Guyana), I know it’s in South America but before you say anything else, please learn your Geography. Anywho, when I got a D in Maths for my exams & ever since I felt like it was a deficiency that I couldn’t change although I wrote it right after acquiring my high school’s diploma so when my previous medical school looked at my transcript and still granted me my acceptance letter without my Math grade, I was the highest person ever. I am trying to rejoin medical school but at a different institution (my medical school doesn’t allow me to write my USLME steps). So that’s my story and no one wants to sit & listen to me. Everyone keeps saying get an Associates, Bachelors or lab experience. I am currently doing the latter and working but I feel so lost & like I am wasting money trying to “look educated” to an admissions board in the future. Things like this are really irritating & they make me so sad.

    Anyways, thank you for this article and the many people who commented, you’re all amazing!

  174. I landed a TT position following a year as a VAP at what seemed like my dream institution: super-intensive research institution.(Prior to that I was 3 years on the job market). Despite that I should be thrilled to be here (and, mercy, have a job at all) I’m already burnt-out. I have a young child, add that to the demanding workload of running a lab, mentoring nearly a dozen grad students, teaching, writing grant proposals, committee work… I honestly don’t know how anyone is supposed to have time for research! I was also recently told by a colleague that this is as good as it gets (though I would suspect after teaching a course a few times there would be less teaching prep). I’ve been seriously doubting my life choices recently but feel overwhelming shame, guilt, and a feeling of being ‘trapped’ when my mind even goes there. So thank you for your post (and the many comments of others), it’s at least helpful to remember that we always have a choice.
    On the flip side: for all of you who are desperate to land that TT job: consider the expectations you may be setting up that that job will magically solve all your problems. Trust me, it won’t.

  175. I’m not quitting academia because of the job market, but because of how repulsive and hypocritical it has become and perhaps always been. Frankly, the platitudes about “luck” and “few jobs” are fallacies designed to placate the naive. Depending on the field, there are definitely more jobs than, say, in certain fields of industry. Rather, I’m quitting because ableism, racism, and sexism are openly tolerated and fostered within the walls of the Ivory Tower. Article and book publications will not help a candidate if he/she/xe is disabled or Latino. Aside from the uncomfortable fact that women, disabled, and minority colleagues end up more often than not as adjuncts or full-time lecturers, and thus their publications, first-rate or no, will hardly count in a tenure-track job search, as they weren’t published while the candidate was a grad student, tenure-track, or occasionally VAP, senior colleagues employ a variety of methods to keep them down, from the intentional misclassification of their publications during tenure review to outright exclusion at job talks, campus invites, social gatherings, and other unofficial-but-official gatherings. (Cf. Dr. Kelsey’s book; like it or not, she is also guilty of this when it comes to colleagues with disabilities.).

    I know someone will argue that the “-isms” occur in industry, as well. They do, but to a much lesser extent, and certainly not as openly. Companies won’t risk an EEOC complaint or lawsuit. Yet I know of non-ADA compliant campuses that continue to operate without fines or opposition. I know colleagues who have openly made racist and ableist comments in departmental and/or faculty meetings with no repercussions to their careers, yet at the same time are the “Biggest Supporters” of inclusive excellence initiatives.

    ABDs and PhDs really need to ask themselves if they want to be a part of such a vile system. I realize that we all became academics for the opportunities to do research and teach, but academia will NOT change. It’s not producing the most innovative research, not even in the humanities. Unless one is lucky enough to have contacts or is currently teaching in Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, or Singapore, a candidate will expected to regurgitate the same six theories and support Professor A’s work that was considered avant-garde in the 1950-60s. Junior colleagues aren’t allowed to have their own thoughts, nor are they encouraged to maintain academic standards. (This is a post unto itself.). Is this really a dream career? I honestly question the moral standards of those who are convinced that it is.

  176. 42 years ago worked and earned a BS, MBA Finance from University’s in NYC.(worked in Health Care Admin and was able to sit for NY State Hospital/Nursing Home License-youngest in NY State at 20,minimum was raised to 21 next year so I will always be the youngest)I applied to a NY University (NYU)for a DPA (Doctor of Public Administration)(a NY Billionaire funded the program,(hint his brother was Postmaster General of PO in 1986)it was not supposed to be a PhD program, it was for someone who would work in the private sector and had work experience and not teach in a University. to make a long story short I was not accepted but found out they were back filling the program with people not accepted into the PhD program. they were in direct violation of the program funding requirements. I went to the Billionaire’s NYC office building in NYC and sat in a waiting room for 7 hours……talked to about 10 people before he came out to see me. I explained what they were doing with his money, he listened, took my contact information and said he would be in touch. (I gave him my resume, grades transcript all A’s & health care administrators license & program guidelines)few weeks later the University calls and said DPA here you come(the Billionaire told them he selected ME)…..I told the school to shove it,(wrote a letter thanking the funder explaining why I decided not to go forward and told him he should review people accepted into program in future, he wrote back and said he would and told me he wished he could fly a airplane.great, warm, human being) went into Army Aviation,Pilot License, than worked at TWA/AA for over 30 years flying heavy metal.(L1011, 747, 767)I knew at 23 that University was a snake pit. never looked back. Lesson learned-highly educated people are not always that smart.

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