By Dr. Allessandria Polizzi
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I became a corporate sellout because I am a big fat chicken. There. I said it. I saw the job market, my looming credit card debt on top of my growing mound of students loans, the piles of papers to grade for students who would phone it in and complain about how busy they were over the weekend skiing. I saw a future of writing papers, and trying to get tenure, and I was terrified.
I remember the first time I walked past the room of interviews at an MLA conference and being stopped cold. Getting into grad school had been hard enough. Many departments only took a handful of doctoral students, so I had ended up having to move far away from home to attend. I was fortunate enough to get a teaching spot, as well, and felt pretty lucky. Until I saw that room and the sea of applicants, all of them looking smarter and more qualified than I was, who were visiting from well known schools instead of my small one. There were so many if them and just one of me.
Fear can be a great motivator, especially when sprinkled with a bit of laziness and impatience. I share this with you because we don’t know each other well, and as I begin to share some of my advice with you I want there to be no illusions. I do not have all of the answers. I made many mistakes. What is right for me may not be right for you. All I can hope is that, if you share some of my experiences, insecurities or quirks, you will find my opinions helpful.
I also have to respect the other bloggers who will be participating in this discussion (& my very dear friends who I love very much) who have chosen other paths. I do not judge them in their choices. Rather, I respect their tenacity, their commitment, and, ultimately, what appears to me to be fearlessness.
With that, here are the top 5 reasons I have chosen a business career path.
1. The thought of not having health insurance terrifies me.
When I mentioned to a friend of mine who is a writing center director that I was talking to all of these folks who were working as consultants, she said “but what about health insurance?” This not only confirmed why I am friends with her but validated my own concerns. When leaving academia, I knew I needed to land in a place that had benefits. And I was lucky enough that the first few jobs I had even had GOOD benefits. It cost me $50 to have my babies. I never thought twice about buying medicine or going to the dentist. This was a huge comfort to me.
Karen says, when we talked about this, that it’s quite possible to have insurance when self-employed (especially now, post-Obamacare). I just worry too much that my consulting gigs would dry up right when someone got an ingrown toenail (or worse)– Side note, my husband did not have insurance when he was putting me through school and had an ingrown toenail. It was not cheap–Some people can get insurance through a partner, which is great. For me, who had a stay-at-home dad and 2 kids to support, this was not an option.
2. I get bored very, very easily.
A lot of folks move from teaching to administration in their careers. My aforementioned friend did this. I think this is great, except for after the 6th month of doing it. Since leaving academia, I have learned that I do not like doing the same thing over and over again. I was starting to pick up on that the third time I had to teach literature. I would dread cracking open the book, let alone discussing it in class. Some people like reading and talking about the same stories over and over again. I would rather have a root canal (which I can pay for with my aforementioned benefits).
In a corporate environment, if you are so inclined, you can change roles very often. I rarely stay in the same position more than 18-24 months. Just when I have gotten the rhythm of things, when I get that same feeling as I did teaching Beowulf, I am off to the next thing. At Intuit, I was able to continuously grow and evolve my role and the teams I managed, changing scope regularly. That’s why I was there more than 7 years. It was interesting work, I was constantly learning and growing, and I felt challenged.
The other thing I like about the area I have specialized in (which is corporate training) is that it is industry agnostic. I have had the chance to to not just learn about new businesses and cultures but to understand different industries from the inside out. I find it fascinating to learn about things like how Intuit developed Turbotax or what a food innovation team does. Of course, I read magazines like Fast Company and Inc. I am that kind of nerd.
3. I am a social butterfly who likes to laugh A LOT.
Teaching college was lonely, especially when I wasn’t taking classes. When I no longer had buddies to hangout with but just students, I was restless and unhappy. I actually created a norming group so we could hangout and talk about stuff.
So when I started working in a corporate space, I loved stupid stuff like “team building.” This actually became the thing I did. I was a change management leader, helping people learn about changes, understand how it would impact them, and learn about what they would do differently in the future. One of the best times I ever had was being on a project team where we were locked in a room together to test a system for weeks on end. We laughed, we shared snacks, we had a blast. It was like going to a party every day (one where you are testing a system for placing purchase orders and managing warehouses, but a party none the less).
4. I like things that keep going.
After insurance fears, the thought of a consulting gig ending is also pretty unnerving to me. For the most part, whatever job I have today has existed as long as I wanted it to (or at least until I got bored of it). I didn’t have the looming chasm of a project ending. I had an ongoing position that would/could grow into a career. There were always options for me. A job search is hard work, and as long as I am satisfied with the role I have, feeling like I am adding value, and learning, there is no reason to do anything else.
5. I like not having to worry about money and am horrible at managing it.
The biggest thing that I struggle with is folks who leave academia just to take a different job that pays very little. I also can’t wrap my head around not having a steady paycheck between consulting gigs. Also, see #4.
(Bonus— 6. I like to feel like I am making a difference)
When I taught writing, especially remedial writing, I felt like I was helping improve the lives of my students by helping them find their voice and giving them the power of the written word. What I did not appreciate were the students who would tell me they did not need to learn how to write and who could not connect what they were learning today to a future state in which they would need it. This is why I love what I do now. I can actually see the students I influence apply what they learn the next day. Sometimes, the skills they build are as minute as teaching them which buttons to push, but other times, they are learning how to communicate, to lead, to influence and make an impact. These are skills they will take with them and be better as a result of learning. So, in my own way, I feel I am making a difference in the world. And, beyond the fear, this is my ultimate motivation.
Stephanie Day says
Very refreshing perspective Allessandria! Many of these totally resonated with me. Do you feel like you are able to use your academic training in any kind of applied way in your corporate gig (teaching vs. training seems like the obvious one) or have you left much of that behind by now?
Alison Ball says
LOVE THIS! I share many of the same characteristics as Al does, and I love the honesty! As a person who loves to laugh a lot as well, I thank you Dr. Al for being the person who made me laugh all those years we worked together at Intuit, and I can’t wait to see what you get up to next! (your fan Alison)
Allessandria Polizzi says
Thanks, Stephanie. I would say I use the fundamental skills I learned to refine in grad school: planning, self-direction, analysis & critical thinking, as well as educational leadership. These are strengths I can take with me no matter where I am, be it a job or volunteering.
Heidy C says
I share your same views Allessandria. I too like job stability, pay check security, health insurance. I do not like being a lone wolf. I like engaging with other adults on a daily basis, making jokes and working in teams. I find that that makes me much happier than academia. Its great to know that someone else shares these views. Thank you!
Allessandria Polizzi says
Thanks for sharing your point of view, Heidi. I think it’s important to demystify the corporate world for academics to let them know how diverse a non-academic career can be. I truly do laugh every day at work and feel I am making a difference in the world.
Alison, thanks for posting and always being such a bright ball of sunshine!! You are just proving my point further that there are some amazing, smart, and inspiring people outside of academia!
I agree completely, Alessandria. I am a little surprised you begin with the “I am chicken” explanation for leaving academia, though. That seems to imply that academia was the best option, but you were too chicken to pursue it. However, you make a compelling case that the corporate world suits you even better (and hardly surprising, since it is a great option).
That’s like saying “I am not a stunt-man, because I am too chicken.” Actually, the fact that I have no desire to be a stunt-man may have more to do with it.
Seems like another example of the ‘otherness’ of non-academic jobs, as viewed by PhDs.