#Dispatches – When Did You Know It Was Time to Quit? Part I: Sick of Being Poor, The Body Keeps the Score

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

This week, the question is: Those who decided to leave the academy–when did you know it was time to leave, and why?

We got 26 responses! We will share them in two posts. Today is Part II: Sick of Being Poor, The Body Keeps the Score

Next week is Part II: Overwork, Quality of Life, and Abuse

We continue weekly Dispatches From the Front questions for your crowdsource responses. Scroll to the bottom for next week’s question, and the link to share your wisdom and advice.

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

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Part 1: Sick of Being Poor

So, look. It goes without saying that the main catalyst for leaving the academy is the eXpLoItAtIoN and the poverty. Needless to say, many respondents told stories that revolved around that painful reality. But that’s not say the decision is easy; it’s wrenching and painful, especially when your advisor is a jerk about it.

“I knew the odds were against me at the end of my first postdoc. I was always the bridesmaid, never the new TT faculty member. But I persisted into postdoc #2, which caused me to realize that for all my education, for all my fighting, I ended up worse off than where I started (poverty), because not I was still in poverty and $90K deep in student loans. It was rough. I had no plan when I left. I had interviewed for the job I have now, but they hadn’t called me back yet. I woke up one day and sent an email to my boss saying I was giving 1 month notice— she was a total a-hole about it. I packed up my life and set off to be an outdoor guide (which paid better than my postdoc) until I could find something. When I was offered the job, I debated it but those student loans got me. So I negotiated a higher salary than the evil postdoc advisor has; worth it. Now I do some of my own research and I am learning new things like instrument development. It’s pretty good. Trust your gut; you’ll know if/when it’s time to leave. Start planning a year ahead if you can. I needed time to mentally transition and to network. There is light outside the ivory tower. [Nonac STEM I’m 40, white, married queer woman. I grew up in poverty and although my mom got a degree while I was in high school, they couldn’t help me navigate this world. She was and is an addict, which meant I did it all on my own without a safety net.]

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After two years of hourly paid teaching I needed a job with a regular salary.  [Postdoc, Hum; 50, white, female, married, part time BA & MA, full time self funded PhD ]

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Finished my Ph.D in Political Science in 2011; spouse was a post-doc from 2009-11. She received TT offer from institution where we are now. Made fatal error of not negotiating for anything north of adjuncting for me. Did that from 2012-2015, then received this position on staff, which paid solid wages, benefits, etc. Continued applying to academic positions here and elsewhere. No luck here; got a nibble from a similar institution in heartland (4-yr public aspirational) 2.5 years ago, but spouse would not consider move and we had 3 children by then. Still publishing as am able, but I do it because I enjoy it. May even pursue a book project, but not for any instrumental goal. So it was a gradual process that involved thoughts ending in “I would have never made it financially if I had stayed in the academy.”[Professional staff at 4-yr public institution; SS; CIS-gendered (male), straight, married, four children ages 18-mo – almost 10).]

The precarity can include the geographical instability as well – saying no to the need to move every few years.

After staying unhappy for one year in postdoc, I decided to leave academia and find a stable job where I did not have to move across the world considering the employment possibilities of my husband as well. I did not want to keep moving the continents for contractual postdoc positions and always be worried about future. Now, I work for a bank in the Netherlands and feel much more secured and happy. [Postdoc, STEM; I am a 30 years old Indian woman. I did my PhD from India and then moved to Switzerland with my husband for postdoc. Leaving home and moving to a new country with temporary residence (translating to limited options for spouse’s employment) discouraged me from persuing.]

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When I was no longer enjoying the research that much. I liked the reading and writing aspect, but not necessarily the being in the lab (being faced with broken down equipment and related frustrations). My role now provides me with all of these, without actually having to do (what I consider) the drudge of repeated experiments. Why? I wanted to not have to move location every few years, and wanted to stop being in a long distance relationship. I also wanted to be respected for what I do and not feel I am constantly competing with others and feeling stupid. Essentially I wanted stability. It has been great being a research development manager at a University supporting academics and being considered to be a funding support professional. I could go on maternity leave and not worry about what happens to my work load. I have a permanent job and have no need to move location to find my next job. I can have a holiday without worrying about my next publication or grant.[Research Dev Manager; STEM; 33, white, female, UK (non British)]

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How tragic that PhDs cannot afford to see a doctor when they need to. Or have more than $20 to spend on groceries a week. But it can be the catalyst for deciding: why am I still doing this?

When I hit rock bottom. I was stringing together PT and adjunct jobs, but was being priced out of the city because my jobs were contract or grant-based and I couldn’t qualify for a mortgage; my grocery budget was less than $20 a week, doctors were on emergency basis only, and my only social activities outside of work were online. I started applying for post-docs and VAPs/TTs three years ago and haven’t gotten a single interview, despite the constant refrain of “you belong here, your ideas are great, your students love you, you’re doing great work”. It really hit home when those same people wouldn’t even look twice at my application for jobs at their own institutions. So, I started thinking hard about what I really wanted to do with my life, and whether I was trying to stay in academia because I loved it or because I was still trying to get validation. Eventually I realized that I could still publish my book if I wanted to, go to conferences, be a part of the conversation; I might not get picked up by the major publishing houses, but those only matter for tenure which – and here is the crucial part – NO ONE CARES ABOUT OUTSIDE OF ACADEMIA. So I decided that I would take my talents elsewhere and try living above the poverty line for once. I’m still looking for a full-time job, but now that I’ve blown open my search radius I’m finally looking forward to the possibilities. [Nonac Humanities; 35 single white female]

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Everyone has to face the reality: the adjunct positions Is. Not. Going. To. Become. Tenure Track.

I left my full time position in the academy full time after realizing that my position as an adjunct lecturer was going to remain on a quarter-to-quarter system despite having extremely positive student evaluations (over 95% of students reported that they would recommend me as an instructor on my evals). The lease on my car was up and I needed to purchase a new one, but I couldn’t guarantee my long-term income. This, combined with my husband’s military service, meant that the tenure track would simply not be feasible for our family. So, I pursued other employment opportunities and now work as a defense contractor using my research skills in an environment where I can network with those likely to employ me as we move on military orders over time.[Nonac, SS; 33 year old heterosexual woman married to an active-duty Naval Officer plus mother to a three year old and pregnant with my second child]

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I’m Alt-Ac, so not completely free of the shackles of academia, but I now work in an administrative position, running a writing/tutoring center. I got out of teaching because after seven years as an adjunct, I had had enough of being poor and taken advantage of. I was frustrated trying to get jobs outside of academia, because the economy was in the post 2008 slump and my industry experience wasn’t “fresh” enough. So in some way the choice was made for me, and I’m still not “out” of academia altogether. I am, however, out of the publish-or-perish rat race, I get to work one on one with students and pass along my years of experience to a new generation of tutors, and most importantly NO GRADING! I’ve been able to reclaim my identity outside of teaching and scholarship and only do the academic work I’m genuinely passionate about, essentially as a hobby. I am still working on a PhD, but I’m doing it for me, for fun, because I want it and not because I HAVE to. It is incredibly liberating when your ability to make mortgage payments no longer rests on your ability to publish. [Admin, Hum; Late 40s, queer white woman.]

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In the end, the poverty, anxiety, uncertainty, and struggle just…. break a person.

I knew when I had to bail at the last minute on my field’s annual conference because of a mix of burnout and the inability to put together enough income from my odd freelance editing jobs (I was still in the thick of a nine-month-long job search in the medium-sized city my wife and I had moved to for her non-academic job—there were no field-adjacent adjunct gigs available in the city either) to even pay my share of rent. It seemed insane to pony up for a conference attending which would require sacrificing what was already a pittance of an income. I had even received a travel stipend for underemployed people, but it wouldn’t have been enough to cover the trip. And by that point, I was mentally broken from four years of post-PhD precarity.[Nonac, Hum; Thirty-five y/o white male, heterosexual, married]

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Part 2: The Body Keeps the Score*

The problem is, academics live so thoroughly at the beck and call of external validation, we often cannot register exploitation for what it is. Sometimes, it takes listening to the body’s warning signs to realize definitively it is time to stop.

When your flight response is too loud to ignore, get out. It doesn’t matter how many opportunities you have or how much money in scholarships, our bodies have a way of “knowing” reality and sometimes you need to listen. [Grad Student, Humanities, Female, woman identified, queer, married, white, Jewish, under 30]

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Do you feel your heart sink when you score an interview? That’s a sign!

I knew it was time to leave during my second year on the academic job market. This was right after my defense and I was working as a contractor for a medical device company as a contractor. The treatment, pay, and working conditions were so much better than what I experienced as a graduate student and better than what I could expect even if I got a TT job. I could pick where I lived and not have to uproot my family or end a significant relationship. I would not be complicit in propping up an academic system that preys on contingent labor. When my heart sank at an interview invite, I knew it was time to leave permanently. [37-year-old white married cis woman with an additional long-term serious partner (ethical nonmonogymy)]

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Then there is the brutal reality of academia: that it consistently refuses to accommodate the needs of sick and disabled bodies. There are folks who, with a little bit of understanding, could keep trying…. but academia makes it impossible.

I knew it was time to leave the academy when I was kicked out – my contract was not renewed in the wake of both physical and mental illness that I was not managing well. I was having trouble keeping up with emails and grading, and was unable to figure out how to ask for help – when I did, I was not offered help that would ease my workload. (At one meeting, we reviewed emails I had not answered and was told many of them were not actually important to answer, as the information was in the syllabus, etc.) That said, I have pretty consistently been told to deal with my illnesses myself and had no accommodations offered. My graduate funding was cut off early, although I was recovering from 2009 H1N1 flu with complications. I texted a colleague with supervisor authority over me for help from an ER for cellulitis in my leg that required incisions, and still taught two lab classes the next day, despite doctors wanting me to rest and elevate the leg – I never received a reply and was too embarrassed to follow up. I relocated to a climate that is less stressful to my body and searched for jobs I might be able to sustain on fewer hours. I have been with my current company for 23 months and have been promoted twice, making more money in an area with a lower cost of living. I sometimes miss the intellectual vibrance of academia terribly, but I know that I am still susceptible to infections and am increasingly convinced that I can never go back.[Nonac STEM; 39 year old cis het woman; Jewish; biracial (Tewa Pueblo and Ashkenazi Jew); single; main diagnosis: fibromyalgia, but possibly more (immune problems that are being assessed now). PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology; two postdocs; was contingent (“term”) teaching faculty at American University]

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If you find yourself deliberately taking the broken elevator so it might break down and give you an “out”? THAT’S A SIGN.

I ultimately knew it was time to leave when I started deliberately taking our unreliable elevator and willing it to break down so that I could have a moment of quiet without the constant go-go-go pressures. There wasn’t one specific issue, but the combination of pulling 80+ hour weeks, only getting paid $11,000 for 9 months (with almost no summer opportunities), and the ultra competitive environment caused my mental and physical health to deteriorate. Also the university provided health insurance was as good as useless. The History Department faculty oscillated between complete indifference and dire warnings that none of us would find employment upon graduation. At one point, during a graduate student meeting a faculty member who earned his Ph.D in the late 90’s sent around a binder of all his rejection letters from that time. The department fostered a cut throat competitive environment, and used office assignments and the limited coveted RA positions (versus the more ubiquitous TA positions) to further divide us. Actual teaching opportunities were doled out sparingly and frequently taken away. During my first year, we were threatened that our TA positions would be taken away and given to incoming graduate students regardless of our accomplishments, grades, and academic progress. During my second year, I was paired up with an adjunct who berated and insulted me in front of the class (and berated and insulted our UG students during class). When myself, and her other three TA’s filed a grievance, we were told by a TT faculty, that the abuse didn’t matter because “being an adjunct is hard.” I was told to ‘share my research’ with a fellow male Ph.D student, and when I expressed concern about my rights to my own work, I was sent an email saying that I did not know how to work collaboratively (at my previous institution I had worked on several successful collaboration projects without incidence). As I already possessed an MA History from another institution, I did not have an option to master out, however, leaving was definitely a positive decision and I only really regret that I lost two of my earning potential years to a program that clearly had no desire to support their graduate students. [Grad student; Hum; I left my Ph.D History program in 2013, after finishing up my 2nd year. I am a white straight married female – I’m not sure these played a role in my negative experience, other than perhaps my gender. The only indicators that I believe did influence my negative experience were that: 1) I started off as an F1 International student but did become a green card holder during my second year. My F1 status meant that I had less power to complain about unfair TA assignments compared to my peers 2) my SES was lower than other grad students making the ability to live on the stipend ($11,000/year) almost impossible without taking on cc debt. Since leaving in 2013, I have built a career in another field, and successfully completed a second masters’ degree. ]

*Be sure and check out the SUPERB book of the same title.

Thank you to all our respondents!

Updated Next Question: How do I prepare for a campus visit that has switched to all-online due to Coronavirus? And Search Comm members: if you’ve made the switch, what do you expect-slash-want to see from candidates?

Share Your Wisdom Here.

Coronavirus Post I: Listing Cancelled Conferences and Shaking Hands

I am determined to use The Professor Is In platform to share as much info as I can about dealing with the impact of Coronavirus on academic environments. Please know that like everyone I’m responding quickly to evolving circumstances, so if you feel I’ve missed an opportunity to take up a needed recommendation, please let me know and I’ll try and rectify. For now I’m being responsive to the many queries that are coming in to my inbox and following those leads first.

Today we take up issues related to how to list a cancelled conference on your CV, how to manage the hand-shaking impulse in conferences and campus visits, and larger questions about why shifting your conference and campus visit plan entirely online is a good idea right now.

[And because I strongly believe we all need to keep doing the things that make us happy and strengthen our immune systems, Makeup Notes below.]

Earrings by Wanshu Li, artist and PhD student in the UK.

Makeup Notes:

Aside from my usual products shared in prior Makeup Monday and video blog posts, today I am using:

Clinique All About Shadow 8-Pan Palette in Neutral Grey [OMG this palette is perfection and perfectly sized for travel as well]

Buxom PillowPout Plumping Lip Powder in Spoil Me [Found for $6.99 at TJ Maxx and not worth more than that – weird messy delivery, no plumping, not great staying power – altho really nice color]

Lipstick Queen LipLiner in Wine

Cover F/X Perfect Setting Powder [I am loving this brand more and more as my skin ages, and this is the first powder I’ve found that works without settling into creases]

Escaping the Land of Stuck, Part 2: Sailing the Sea of Change

Kel Weinhold

We are back for Round Two of How to Escape the Land Of Stuck.

Setting off on the Sea of Change.

We’ll start the same way we did last week: Grab a piece of paper and explore these questions: What happened? Why did I get stuck in this spot? 

It bears repeating: This is not the opportunity to pick up a club and beat yourself in the head for being in this spot. It is NOT an opportunity for more negative self talk. Instead, try to approach the question with genuine curiosity. “Why did I stop here?  Why did I fall off the path right at this location?” 

An important aside: Roxanne Donovan from Well Academic makes the point that most people do not “get off course.” They get pushed off course by the forces of racism or misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia or the intersections of more than one of those forces. Which is yet another reminder that you are not the problem, but the system you are working in certainly can be.

Humans do not like change. And academics are perhaps one of the most risk averse subset of the species. Why else would we choose a career that involves mostly words and experiments that we get to noodle over mostly alone. Not to mention a career that, if we get tenure, means we can get in a track and stay in it!

It makes sense then that when we have to move from A to B, we often freeze in place. After all, A is familiar and we don’t know what B is going to be like and that not knowing is yucky. 

So, if you find yourself answering the “Why did I get stuck?” question with something akin to “I have done a lot but I am afraid I don’t have enough.” It’s probably time to start exploring your fear. (That thing is keeping you from crossing the sea and getting on with it.)

When I work with clients individually who are struggling to move to the next step, I shift the question from last week’s “And?” to “Why?”

You: I read all these things, but I am not sure I am ready to write it up.

Me: Why?

You: I might need to read some more.

Me: Why? 

You: Because I might have missed something?

Now for a little reality check:

Me: How will you know when you have enough?

You: I’m not sure.

Me: Why?

You: Because I don’t know what they want?

Me: Why?

You: I mean. I think I know what they want, but I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong.

And there it is: FEAR 

Here’s the thing: Fear tells our reptilian brain that crossing the distance between A and B will end with us being dragged to the bottom of the ocean, which makes getting on that sea and paddling away nearly impossible.

With that said, the goal is not to eliminate fear. It is to learn to sail with it. Make it a passenger. Nod in its direction. “Yeah. I see you. But, I really want to get to the next thing so I am going to have to ask you to sit down.”

You can also turn down the volume on fear by returning to our old friend “And?”

You: What is the worst thing that can happen if I get it wrong?

Your Fear: I will get rejected.

You: And?

Your Fear: I’ll be embarrassed.

You: And?

Your Fear: It sucks.

You: Yep. And?

Whatever the answer is, I can guarantee you, it is not as bad as your brain has understood it to be, and by naming and engaging your fear, you can weather the storm of emotions it stirs up and get set sail from the Land of Stuck.

Next week:  Climbing out of the Quagmire of Failure

Healing Racial Trauma in the Academy (Part II) – WOC Guest Post.


I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color. These go up on Wednesday.

PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Candice Nicole Hargons, PhD. Dr. Candice Nicole Hargons is an award-winning psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky. She leads the RISE^2 Research Team, where they study sex and social justice with a love ethic. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Therapy for Black Girls, and Liberate Meditation. Dr. Hargons has been a leader in psychology and the community, serving on the executive boards of the Society of Counseling Psychology, American Psychological Association Council of Representatives, and the Lexington Urban League Young Professionals. She is also the founding director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma, where they use love, liberation, equity, and creativity informed therapeutic interventions to help racially/ethnically marginalized people heal from racism. Connect with her at www.DrCandiceNicole.com and www.CenterForHealingRacialTrauma.com.

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In the first post, I walked through some of my team’s research about how we react to racism and how racial trauma shows up in the academy. Now, I share four strategies most universities haven’t implemented that can initiate their healing racial trauma work. This is in no way an exhaustive list. There are many more, because many are necessary. 

  1. Go beyond having potential faculty write a diversity statement. We all know how to lie. Institute a course as a part of the faculty orientation that is intentionally designed to cultivate anti-racism.
  2. Place noble, flattering images of POC around campus: distinguished alum, faculty, and staff – including the staff who have blue-collar jobs, as was recently done at Princeton.
  3. Pay the POC who champion racial justice efforts on campus in bonuses or pay them in tenure points. Quantify and qualify how valuable that service is to the sense of belonging it creates on campus.
  4. Make an anti-racism course mandatory for all first-year students. If you’re fancy, like a university should be, evaluate the efficacy of the course in reducing racist action. 

For POC, if you’re at a university that is nowhere near implementing a racism reduction plan, here are four healing racial trauma strategies for you:

  1. Meditate for the first 5-10 minutes when you get to your office. Spend that time acknowledging what’s happening in your body, with compassion and deep intentional breathing. Bonus if the meditation is focused on racial healing. I love guided meditation for this (look for meditation apps for POC).
  2. Identify your work and community support systems, so you can get a hug, cuss someone out, or plot your exit strategy with people who care about you. Research shows time and again that having a social support system who can be in solidarity with you reduces race-based stress. If your university doesn’t have POC affinity groups, get some colleagues together and create one. 
  3. Preemptively write out what you fear and what you are and are not willing to risk, without judgment. When a moment happens where you need to make a decision about what type of resistance action you’ll take, you don’t want to have to figure out your risk levels then. I want to validate that fear is a natural part of the healing racial trauma process. Courage is too.
  4. Get the type of therapy where you can openly talk about how racism affects you, with a therapist who will validate the toxicity and toll of it. Many of us (I’m a licensed psychologist) were not trained to incorporate an intersectional, critically conscious, anti-racist framework in our therapy, so asking your current therapist to get this type of training or seeking a therapist that has had it is within your right. 

It’s the combined systemic and self work that create the conditions for healing racial trauma. The academy wasn’t design for this, but it can be. In the same way that physical exercise is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, but important to our health, healing racial trauma is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, but important to creating an academic environment where everyone can ultimately thrive. 

Ivory Tower in The Rearview Mirror: Dr. Rachel Horak

We continue with our new column, featuring interviews with PhDs who have charted a course unrelated to the tenure track, putting academia squarely in the rearview mirror.

Our hope is that seeing and hearing from a wide range of PhDs who are celebrating their careers rather than settling for them will inspire every grad student, ABD and PhD to add the road OFTEN traveled to their list of options.

We are excited to hear and share your stories. If you have a PhD and are working outside of the academy and would like to share your experience with TPII readers, we’d love to hear from you!


Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Rachel Horak.

Twitter: @DrRachelHorak

Currently, I work at a professional science society, where I lead a community of practice for undergraduate biology educators. I lead several professional development learning communities around essential skills for academics, including writing grants, teaching, doing biology education research. I am the primary organizer for a yearly professional development conference for biology and microbiology undergraduate educators.

I earned my Phd in Biology from Georgia Tech in 2010.

I pursued a Ph.D. because I loved marine science, doing field work, and teaching undergraduates so it seemed a great way to do what I liked. Like most others who enter Ph.D programs, I was going to research and teach undergraduates when I finished the program.

I did a 3.5 year oceanography field-based postdoc at University of Washington and gained more research skills and mentored undergraduates — still thinking that I was going to be an educator at a PUI.

I didn’t really like some people in my research lab, so I found communities of people outside my lab to socialize with. It was essential to building a supportive community with the added bonus of developing skills other than bench and field research. I joined volunteer groups centered around education and outreach, and got more interested in education. And now, all I think about is education!

What really changed my direction was accepting a 1-year postdoc fellowship at the American Society for Microbiology (where I am now) where I promoted evidence-based practices to biology undergraduate educators. It got me involved with biology education research. Here, I developed myself a nation-wide network, learned an entirely new skillset of education research, and started working to promote good teaching at the national level. I learned to communicate with non-scientists on a daily basis, work as part of a team, be more accountable for actions or failure to respond to emails and work within a different management structure.

I took a few years off to have three kids after that fellowship, had a 1-semester VAP at a small PUI, then landed my current permanent position at the society. The best part is: I was able to negotiate a majority full-time work at home arrangement. My society is based in Washington DC, but I live in Boston area.

While doing my Ph.D., I wish I had known how few Ph.D.s actually get full-time tenure track jobs in academia — My spouse, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and I all have STEM Ph.Ds, and NONE of us work in academia — we’re all making more money than we would have been in academia, have arguably better quality of life, and are happy with our career paths.

Neither my advisor nor anyone in my research lab were particularly supportive. I wasn’t the most stellar Ph.D. student — I failed both my written and oral exams on the first try but I persisted. I don’t think my thesis committee thought I was going to make it in academia because I struggled through my Ph.D.  I found more support at the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at Georgia Tech. I did several TAs at that center, won teaching awards and developed as an educator there. I found support in my future spouse and in friends I found doing extracurriculars outside of the lab.

My message to other Ph.Ds considering leaving the tenure track: Do it and don’t look back. Find yourself lots of mentors through networking with whom you can discuss other options. I have found that Ph.D. advisors just are not able to keep abreast of all the options out there beyond academia, and this is a major disservice to their students.

#Dispatches From the Front – Journal Editor Advice

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

This week, the question is: “Journal Editors! What do you wish scholars understood better about the article publication process?”

We continue weekly Dispatches From the Front questions for your crowdsource responses. Scroll to the bottom for next week’s question, and the link to share your wisdom and advice.

And one explanatory note: we ask respondents to provide any personal identifying information in their own words that THEY consider pertinent to contextualize their responses. We only lightly edit these.

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Let’s start with a long – REALLY LONG – response that covers so many bases. I’m really grateful for the care taken by this respondent, and the candor (and humor!) One significant point: don’t be rude!

I was an Associate Editor of the top journal in my field for five years. One of the issues that always struck me was how frequently corresponding authors neglected to leverage the opportunity to communicate, both with the AE (me) and with their reviewers. Beyond the standard politics of respectability, which influence virtually every bureaucratic activity within academia, here are some thoughts on communication during the publication process and its consequences.

1) At least once a semester, I fielded a request for an update that reeked of entitlement. Once, I received an email from someone (within the US) on New Year’s Eve demanding to know when he and his colleague would know if a revised manuscript would be accepted. I had received the revisions during finals week and sent it out for review the week of Christmas. I returned a form letter with our standard vague language, but not until mid-January after enjoying two weeks of holidays with friends and family. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for an update, but not three weeks after you resubmitted and certainly not in words that attempt dominance over anyone else involved in the process. Trying to hold an AE or editor hostage isn’t going to get you published any more quickly…though it does tell us which assholes to avoid when we have resources and opportunities to share.

2) One time, I had an author reach out to me to let me know that a co-author would be going up for tenure the following year. While they did not ask for special treatment, they wanted to know if I could give an honest estimate of the timeline for their manuscript, which had received a major revision decision. The requested changes were hefty and they wanted to make the best decision about whether to send the manuscript to a less competitive journal rather than resubmit to us. This opened up a conversation in which I was honest about whether I thought the manuscript would meet our expectations for publication within a single round of revision. No graduate students or junior faculty engaged in this kind of strategic conversation with me as their AE. Given the inescapable power dynamics, this is not surprising. But having someone more senior in the field who can engage in these discussions on your behalf can help authors maximize their publication portfolio ahead of career turning points. Requesting this kind of information and the AE’s assessment is entirely appropriate when done professionally.

3) As a journal, we asked authors who were invited to revise and resubmit to explain their response to the reviews. Far too often, I received revisions with no explanation of where changes had been made, why, and how each change addressed a critique received from a reviewer. An organizer like a table with this information makes the AE and reviewers’ lives so much easier – and helps ensure the authors provide a comprehensive set of revisions, as well. Whether we like it or not, reviewers have very little time to invest in the peer-review process. Making it more difficult for the reviewer to see exactly how you have addressed their original requests means they are much more likely to just start from scratch with your manuscript. It is amazing how often reviewers find new issues on the second read through a revised manuscript, prolonging the publication process. If you clearly communicate how you addressed each point from the original critiques, then as an AE, I can determine whether you have made sufficient changes to satisfy the original request. Sometimes this resulted in an acceptance for publication without going back out to reviewers. If I can’t easily determine what you’ve done and why, the manuscript has to go back out. More than once, the changes were so difficult for me to assess than I kicked the revision back to the author with a request for better information before I was willing to send it to reviewers with a request for more of their time. Invest a bit of time in communicating up front or risk spending even more time on the publication process in the long run.

4) If you don’t agree with a requested revision from a reviewer, you don’t have to make any changes in response to it. But you better explain why you disagree. Frankly, just ignoring a requested revision comes across as a petty refusal to engage the critique process. If the reviewer asked for something clearly beyond reason (eg, the requested information is already in the manuscript, is inappropriate for the methodology, is beyond the stated scope of the current study – all of which happen ALL. The. Time.), say so. Do it respectfully and acknowledge why a reader might be interested in the requested information. The review process is a conversation. No changes plus no response to a request is basically the silent treatment.

5) Fit is maybe one of the trickiest aspects of publishing, especially for those new to the field and its journals. My colleagues and I frequently had people at conferences complaining to us about pieces that were not accepted. Usually people who did not know me and almost certainly had the piece rejected for very good reason. Mostly I just rolled my eyes on the inside and found a polite excuse to leave the immediate vicinity. What happened less frequently were conversations about what someone was working on that might be a great fit when it was ready for publication. I love that kind of proactive discussion! Angles that would really get us thinking in new ways as a field. Topics that avoid the overdone trends. I was always happy to share what types of manuscripts we had seen over and over and what topics had crossed our desks that got us all talking and fighting over who got to take on that manuscript. I wish more people – especially the scholars at the edges of the field, who could provide much-needed perspective and truly innovative scholarship – would approach publishing from this kind of development perspective. It may not always work, but these kinds of conversations did seem to yield some of our quickest submission-to-publication manuscripts. (Faculty development & research staff; first gen scholar, SS)

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This editor reiterates the point: don’t be rude! Being rude WILL NOT improve your chances of acceptance, for obvious reasons. And like the respondent above, prioritize fit: ensure the article is on a topic or theme that the journal actually publishes.

*Publishing in special issues is a great way to get a lot more mentoring advice and have a journal editor work with you on getting the article into publishable shape.

*Proofread

*There is no such thing as a perfect article on first submission – do your best then send it out rather than agonizing.

*Get people you know to read it before you send it out – make sure they are people with a lot of publishing experience and who will tell you the truth. Critical feedback is worth a lot, and it is better than friends who are kind and don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you the truth.

*Look at previous journal issues – what kinds of things are the journal interested in. You will get a desk rejection for an article that isn’t on topic. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

*Say yes when you are asked to review an article and do it in a timely fashion. Journal editors notice who always says no. But don’t agonize over reviewing. It should take 2-3 hours to read an article and write helpful feedback. Make sure the feedback IS HELPFUL – and not just you wishing they had written a different article that answers you the reviewer’s desire.

*You can always write to a journal editor after 2 months to ask if they have a time frame for reviews.It’s a helpful reminder as journal editors are busy people too and if they are having trouble finding a reviewer checking in helps them put it back at the top of the pile but if you get an answer don’t then keep nagging. Checking in emails should say something like – hi, I’m checking in and wondering if you have a timeframe for X. Don’t be rude to journal editors; it’s annoying. If you need an article to come out urgently because of an anniversary date or for promotion tell them. Recognize that in the humanities it is pretty normal for it to take at least 18 months for submission to publication. Don’t have unreasonable expectations.

(Tenured Prof, Humanities, 42, British and trained in UK but working in US. Female.)

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Another respondent suggests the best way to judge good fit with the journal:

Don’t assume all readers have your specialized knowledge. Immerse yourself in the existing literature before writing. Get to know journals where you want to publish your work extremely well so you know what they want. Serve as a reviewer for the journals where you hope to publish. Make a compelling argument for why your paper is needed. (48, White, cisgender woman, heterosexual, tenured prof, SS)

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In a first, a respondent freely shared his name and bio. Dr. Robin Hardin currently serves as the editor of Sport Management Education Journal. He was formerly an editorial board member of the International Journal of Sport Communication (2006-2011) and Journal of Applied Sport Management (2013-2018). He has also been an Ad Hoc Reviewer for a variety of journals most recently Communication & Sport, Journal of Sports Media, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Sport Management Review, Quest, and International Journal of Sports Management and Marketing.

Dr. Hardin reminds everyone not to forget the basics.

  1. Read the instructions to the authors on the journal website. Sport Management Education Journal asks that all submissions have continuous line numbers throughout the submitted manuscript. Many times this is not done. Many journals have unique submission guidelines so authors should read that information prior to submission.
  2. Provide descriptive keywords that are not repeated words from the title of the manuscript. This assists in indexing the article, and enables it to be found by other scholars. APA provides guidelines for keywords.
  3. Provide a descriptive abstract rather than saying implications and findings will be discussed. Actually provide a sentence or two of the implications and findings in the abstract. The abstract is the first impression scholars have of the manuscript.
  4. Thoroughly proofread the article prior to submission or have it proofread. Grammatical mistakes distract from the review process as the reviewer spends more time correcting grammar rather than focusing on the content of the article. Finish the article, wait a day or two, then give a thorough proofreading, and then submit.
  5. Check all references to make sure what is cited is in the reference list, and items in the reference list are actually cited in the manuscript. This is a simple task but often overlooked. References change through revision processes, and this step often does not take place.

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Another respondent has been an associate editor of scholarly journals for about five years. He says: “In this capacity, I have handled about 60-70 submissions. These submissions come to me as handling editor after the editorial office already does a round of screening. I’m thus the last ‘interface’ between the authors and the reviewers.”

I love this advice because it gets at some of the NOT obvious aspects of submission.

1) Many submissions assume that the work will only be read by an expert in every technique and application used by the manuscript. If that was true, the readership would probably be restricted to the authors of the paper. Authors thus need to explain, explain, and explain some more. Papers have to be self-contained such that readers of a journal can follow most of them.
2) In my field, papers are never accepted the first time; it’s almost a tradition whereby reviewers feel obliged to ask ‘something’. There is thus a revision and a response letter. The letter should tell us what was done and exactly where it was done. It is very annoying to have a letter that vaguely says “thank you for your comment, I’ve fixed it”. Fixed it where? The editor needs to check that the fixes were indeed done before the manuscript goes back to the reviewers. The authors need to demonstrate good will in fixing the paper, rather than rushing to do a half baked job or pushing back on reviewers’ suggestions without a strong reason. The fact that “it takes work hence I don’t really feel like it” shows up between the lines, and it’s never a compelling reason for a reviewer to accept a revision.
3) Manuscripts float from one journal to another. I understand that, it’s the rule of the game. But it really shouldn’t be obvious, or it’ll tell everyone right away “this manuscript was already rejected somewhere else”. Simple ways that reveal carelessness in moving a paper from one journal to another: the formatting perfectly follows the guideline… of another journal; there are references to constraints that do not apply (“due to the word limit”… that our journal does not have) or material that cannot exist (“Supplementary Multimedia Data” is a thing… with another publisher).

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Another respondent reiterates the importance of actually engaging with the revision process.

The biggest problems I see are in the revision process. Frequently the authors will do the “easy” things like changing words, maybe adding a reference or theory, but refuse to reorganize, reframe, or reanalyze. I’ve had my grad advisees take a similar stance and it does not impress reviewers. I have rerun all analyses and then rewritten all tables with 700 participants to drop the one participant that a reviewer thought I should drop – obviously it wasn’t going to change the results, but it shows being responsive to the reviewers. Choose your battles – if there is something you truly don’t agree with, then make your counterargument there, but don’t argue against points just to avoid more work. (Tenured Prof, SS, 50’s, White, female)

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Aside from the processes involved in submission and engaging with editors, some respondents have advice on ways to think about the writing and argument. This one says: think about your introduction:

1) we already have answers to the known problems, or at least suspect them. We love it when you identify an unknown problem and then solve. But you have to convince us it’s a problem. 2) in management/organizational behavior/IL psychology, most introduction sections are obvious, long, and ridiculous in that they don’t test the theory listed but rather the theory is used as an explanation. We all want them shorter but no one can admit it because they think it makes them look less serious or less rigorous. (46, straight cis white woman, AE at a relatively new journal, psychologist. Tenured full prof, R1, SS.)

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One respondent gives the good advice of modeling your article structure and organization on a paper already published in the journal, and not forgetting that all articles do demonstrate a contribution to the discipline.

Journal articles should make compelling arguments for how your specific findings contribute to the broader field. It is important to clearly describe the purpose of the paper, your methods, analytic techniques, and the major implications of the piece. It is also important to not use too much jargon or to over-rely on older literature. Finally, I recommend following the guidelines and purpose statements from specific journal websites. One tip is to find and emulate a piece currently published in your target journal–how do they lay out their framework, methods, findings, discussion, etc. (Tenured prof, SS, white woman.)

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And a short and sweet reminder:

The manuscript should tell a compelling story that is consistent through all sections and is methodologically well supported. (Asst Prof, Social Sciences, 38 yo, Latino, male, gay, immigrant.)

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And a reminder to not let imposter syndrome prevent you from knowing that your work is publication-worthy.

Young academics don’t begin with the end in mind (e.g., they can’t see their own work like the dozens of papers that they’ve cited in their manuscript). This is in part because of imposter syndrome and being told they aren’t a contributor. (Asst Prof, SS; Cisgender gay white male)

Thanks to all our respondents! We also have a new Dispatches Question for you:

Those who decided to leave the academy: when did you know it was time to leave and why?

Go here to share YOUR advice. We can’t wait to hear from you!

When I Say to Memorize, What Do I Mean?

Today I clarify the advice that is floating out there in older webinars and blog posts, to “memorize” your interview answers. Kel told me she’s seeing people take that way too literally. In this video I explain what I mean.

(And also share some reflections about coronavirus and watching people celebrate getting accepted into PhD programs…)

Escaping The Land of Stuck, Part 1: The Isle of Perfectionism

Kel Weinhold

So you’re stuck.

Welcome. We all spend time here now and again.

How about we toss self-castigation into the bin and try a different tactic in getting unstuck.

Step #1: Instead of being mad at yourself for ending up here, get curious.

Grab a piece of paper. Open a document. Or the Notes app on your phone. Doesn’t matter what writing device you use, just ask this question: What happened? Why did I get stuck in this spot?’  

Note: This is not the opportunity to pick up a club and beat yourself in the head for being in this spot. It is NOT an opportunity for more negative self talk. Instead, try to approach the question with genuine curiosity. “Why did I stop here?  Why did I fall off the path right at this location?” 

Step #2: Identify your location. As you start that exploration, you will probably find yourself stranded in one of three Locations of Stuck: The Isle of Perfectionism. The Sea of Change. The Quagmire of Failure.

This week, we tackle escaping the Isle of Perfectionism.

Academics are trained to pursue the A+, to be the smartest kid in the room. A scholar’s intellectual value, we are taught, lies in the ability to identify a weakness or problem…and only secondarily to solve it. And we get lots of credit for being critical. In no time at all, we start to aim that same search for weakness at ourselves and our own work. So, it should come as no surprise that we can get stuck when we can’t see the “perfect” path to our goal.

If you find answering the “why did I stop here” question with excuses about not knowing the “right” direction or the “best” path to the goal, it might be time to start the work on dismantling the false beliefs underpinning them: 1) You have to have everything in perfect order before you can go forward. 2) If you come to a spot, and you stop, it is a sign that you are less than or a failure.

Hear me now: Those are both lies. You do not have to be perfect in either your thinking or your process. All you have to do is be aware and respond with intention. In this case, be aware of the lies. When you spot them carrying out their nefarious deeds, challenge them! (Think of dismantling them as creating the raft that will allow you to sail away from the island.

I have found a very effective intervention in perfectionism is the question: “And?” Here is an example of how I might use that question if we were in a coaching conversation.

Me: Why do you think you got stuck?
You: “I don’t know what I want to say here.”
Me: “And, why did that stop you?”
You: “Beca
You: “Well, I might be wrong.”
Me:  “And?”
You: “People might point it out.”
Me: “And?”
You: “I would be embarrassed.”
Me:  “And?”
You: “I don’t like that feeling.”
Me: Ah, so you stopped writing out of a fear of embarrassment?
You: (Likely slightly annoyed): “Maybe.”

I would then ask you to write about that fear and how you could best engage with and settle it down in Morning Pages, being mindful not to write what you THINK you should need. Rather, really, what would support look like?

So, if you are stuck and the story you are telling yourself is that where you are right now is not good enough to continue, get out your literal or figurative pen and paper and get curious!

See you next week when we take on The Sea of Change and how we hate, hate, hate crossing into the unknown.

Healing Racial Trauma in the Academy, Part I – WOC Guest Post


I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color. These go up on Wednesday.

PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Candice Nicole Hargons, PhD. Dr. Candice Nicole Hargons is an award-winning psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky. She leads the RISE^2 Research Team, where they study sex and social justice with a love ethic. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Therapy for Black Girls, and Liberate Meditation. Dr. Hargons has been a leader in psychology and the community, serving on the executive boards of the Society of Counseling Psychology, American Psychological Association Council of Representatives, and the Lexington Urban League Young Professionals. She is also the founding director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma, where they use love, liberation, equity, and creativity informed therapeutic interventions to help racially/ethnically marginalized people heal from racism. Connect with her at www.DrCandiceNicole.com and www.CenterForHealingRacialTrauma.com.

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You enter the faculty club, and every portrait on the wall is of a White man.

You refrain from using your mother tongue at work to avoid possibly confirming stereotypes. 

Your colleague publicly conflates the demand for a “diversity hire” with lowering the academic standard.

And you wonder why you have a headache, why you’re taking shallow breaths, or why you’re more fatigued than normal. Racist stressors – from microaggressions to direct racial harassment, and everything in between – take a physical and mental toll. Racist stressors elicit race-based stress reactions, the involuntary, immediate responses we experience in our thoughts, emotions, and bodies. 

My research team recently completed a pilot study where we played consenting Black students a five-minute audio recording of a White woman saying disparaging things about Black people. We observed their body language, measured their heart rates, and then interviewed them about what they noticed. Three different race-based stress reactions were occurring. 

We called the first one RISING ABOVE. This was a cognitive reaction where people tried to intellectualize the racism or distance themselves from the emotions and sensations the racist stressor triggered. “You don’t want to give her the satisfaction of getting a reaction out of you.” People with this race-based stress reaction style used their academic privilege to deconstruct the White woman’s rant, “You can tell she’s just not educated on some of the things she’s speaking on.” Anybody been there? Yup, me too. In some ways the academy, among other things, socializes us to enact a rising above race-based stress reaction. It feels, and in some ways can be, protective. 

We called the second one SITTING WITH. This was an affective reaction where people identified their emotions. They felt sadness, powerlessness, and various levels of anger. Someone said, “it just really annoyed me hearing that.” Another talked about feeling surprised, “wow, people really think like this?!” Many people tried to reframe their anger into something more palatable, because they didn’t want to be the stereotypical angry Black person. One person said, “I felt enraged, but I’m more sensible than that.”

We called the third one LETTING OUT. This was a somatic reaction. People experienced these race-based stress reactions in their bodies: muscle tension, heart racing, tearfulness, and even shaking. “My blood was boiling…I could feel my heart pounding.” Another person said, “I could feel myself getting tense.” 

These latter two race-based stress reactions might feel more vulnerable, because POC receive so many sanctions for expressing normal reactions to stress that many of us learn to suppress them, stuffing it down until numbness takes over. All three of these reactions are normal. We may experience all of them, but there’s usually a predominant one. When we don’t acknowledge and cope with the reactions, they can become race-based stress symptoms. You might find yourself feeling hypervigilant – always on the lookout for the next racist stressor, because to be ready for it feels like it will prevent it from hurting so badly. You might even begin to feel fatigued or tense more often. And when these race-based stress symptoms stick with you, causing you to suffer severely, it’s racial trauma. (For a formal definition of racial trauma, see my Instagram @drcandicenicole.) 

Academia requires a lot of work when it comes to healing racial trauma. At predominantly White institutions, every POC is navigating White habitus – a space designed around the norms, values, aesthetics, and interests of White people. Depending on your stage of racial identity, you might not experience White habitus as a racist stressor, but many of us do. Added to that, you might have an administrator address you as Ms. X, when he addressed your colleagues as Dr. X. You might also receive teaching evaluations that call you intimidating. It can hit from multiple angles, and over time racial trauma can wear you out.

Universities want to know what to do, but there is no panacea. Healing racial trauma requires multifaceted, intentional, and consistent effort. It requires empathy, discomfort, and change. The best efforts invite stakeholders at all levels to actively participate in dismantling the systems that uphold racism, while sanctioning and reeducating (if possible) the individuals who have bought into and perpetuate racism and facilitating healing among POC who are targeted. In part II, I am going to provide a few strategies to get universities started in the systemic work and POC started in the self and collective healing. But for now, I end with this:

You enter the faculty club, and every portrait on the wall is of a White man. Remember that every external resource was provided through the university for those men to be there and prosper. Very few of the same resources were allocated to you, and you are there anyway. You shouldn’t have had to be as good as you are to be there, but there you are. And because you are, we are.

Ivory Tower In the Rear-View Mirror — Dr. Henry Ngo

We continue with our new column, “Ivory Towers In The Rearview Mirror,” featuring interviews with PhDs who have charted a course unrelated to the tenure track, putting academia squarely in the rearview mirror.


Our hope is that seeing and hearing from a wide range of PhDs who are celebrating their careers rather than settling for them will inspire every grad student, ABD and PhD to add the road OFTEN traveled to their list of options.

Remember, 50-90% of PhDs (depending on the field) end up in work off the tenure track. Putting traditional academia behind you IS the normative path!

We are excited to hear and share your stories. If you have a PhD and are working outside of the academy and would like to share your experience with TPII readers, we’d love to hear from you!


Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Henry Ngo.

Currently, I am doing data science work with my provincial government’s Ministry of Health. 

I got a PhD in Planetary Science from Caltech in 2017.

Before starting the PhD, I had a range of careers that I found interesting, including research and teaching in academia, government and industry, and I realized they all would benefit from the training and research skills that come with obtaining a PhD.

At the start of the PhD, choosing where my spouse and I lived was more important than what we did for our careers. So we were prepared to move a bit for postdocs but planned to eventually end up geographically where we wanted even if it meant leaving academia.

During the PhD, I learned what I really enjoyed about the work. I liked the science aspect but that wasn’t my passion. I also learned that the main product of academia is a paper and most projects are not really done until this happens, which was limiting. What I did like was using techniques and solving problems. Luckily, these skills and problems need solving everywhere, not just in academia!

I got my first postdoc in this geographic area working at a government lab! There I could see that projects have lots of different end goals and purposes. It doesn’t have to be a paper in the end. This is refreshing to me!

I eventually decided that if I was going to stay in astronomy, I wanted to work at the government lab and not at a University, mainly for the work-life balance and my desire to support great science rather than be the PI all the time. The actual workload compared to the pay and work-life balance in Canadian tenure track faculty positions are not the right fit for me at all. It isn’t worth it. Especially compared to the cost of living for most places.

However, new hires at the lab where I did my postdoc are very scarce so I also looked for positions in the same city but outside of astronomy. I found a job posting that  felt like I was reading my CV. So I applied for it, got it and turned down another term position with my postdoc employer.

If you are a PhD considering alternatives to the tenure track, you should do what is right for you! There are a lot more careers out there besides TT and the (stereo-)typical post-academic path for astro/physics PhDs (i.e. data science, finance, etc.). Do informational interviews and find out what you can be doing. Many of us went into PhD programs because we wanted to contribute to the greater good of humanity. There are a lot of ways we can do this outside of academia too!