I taught at five different universities over a ten year period, across five different countries. I never had tenure, just a bunch of shorter-term positions. I loved the travel of my job, and often visited remote locations to do fieldwork. However, I worked constantly, on evenings and weekends, and never had time for myself. The pay was often lousy. Employment was insecure and there was no long-term financial stability. I couldn’t afford to buy a car, or a house, and often couldn’t afford to go home at Christmas. I was a victim of my career. I have jotted down my journey to leaving academia below.
I worked in Australia, the USA, Canada, the U.K. and China, in that order. I started my PhD in Australia, then completed it while a visiting scholar at an Ivy League institution in the USA. I did a post-doc in Canada but left after sexual harassment from my PI. The Dean of my department helped me find a new job while protecting the PI, even though my complaint was upheld. I wasn’t the first to complain, and unfortunately I won’t be the last. I’m still angry that my abuser was protected while I had to find a new position, in a foreign country, no less.
I found a position as an associate research fellow in the United Kingdom, aided by the Dean, who wanted the problem to go away. I hadn’t been at my new job for a month when my old PI wrote to several members of the faculty about me. Three staff mentioned it to me, and although I never saw the letters I copped bullying from my new PI from then on. I spent a significant amount of my time either writing to HR or in meetings with them, and I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep or function. Eventually HR helped me take a payout for the bullying, which was substantial; – yes, HR helped, even though the harasser and HR were on the same side. The harasser got huge grants for the university, so once again my complaint was upheld but I was the one who had to find a new job.
I worked in consulting for a few months, while I found a new job as an associate professor in China, where I spoke the language. It was a fun gig but they were so strapped for space that I had to work at a desk in the library; they couldn’t even find the space to offer me a permanent desk. The library closed at lunch time and at dinner time, meaning I was constantly having to move my books. It wasn’t a very satisfactory arrangement, however I enjoyed getting to visit remote villages in China and carrying out fieldwork.
Eventually the stress of the past few years caught up with me and I gradually developed a severe mental illness. I spent two months in hospital, and although I offered to teach my classes remotely from the hospital my offer was declined. I lost my job, not because of the mental illness (I was still capable of working) but because I was trapped for two months in hospital. I’m still bitter about the health system that wouldn’t let me leave the hospital, even though I was perfectly capable of working.
I never worked in academia again. My home country rarely advertised academic positions in my field, only advertising a single position every few years or so. I kept an eye on the academic job postings, but it took four years to recover from the mental illness, and by that time I’d been away from the field for too long. I wasn’t competitive in finding positions; at the time of writing this blog post, I haven’t published in four or five years, and I now work full time in consulting.
I love having a job where I can switch off and just work 9-5, having evenings and weekends to do things other than work and write papers. I miss the travel of academia, but it was expensive as I didn’t always have funding for conferences and fieldwork, and paid from my own pocket. I justified this to myself by noting that some people had an expensive holiday every year. The pay was lousy, and it didn’t help that I had to move countries, sometimes on my own budget, multiple times over a decade.
I don’t miss the bullying and harassment I experienced, which is so rife in the academic industry. Far too often abusers or perpetrators are protected and allowed to continue their behaviours, while those junior to them who have been harassed or abused are forced to find a new job. Academic positions are extremely hard to come by, and I was fortunate to have found the ones I did. I don’t miss the endless papers and funding proposals anymore, although initially it felt strange to not be constantly working on a paper.
I started at the bottom when I began to work in consulting and I worked my way up to a senior level. My academic resume translated easily enough, although it helped that I took several shorter-term positions in consulting to build up experience. There are still bullies in my field (having worked at an Ivy League institution they will always be in the background), but it’s much more manageable now. And in consulting I have decent pay and supportive colleagues. Earning a decent wage, and working a 38 hour week, has made the transition from academia much more enjoyable.
This is one of the most horrific academic career stories that I’ve ever read. To be sexually harassed, then punished by the institution despite the complaint being upheld (which never happens), and then for the abuser to effectively ruin the author’s career at their next institution, without impunity, is beyond awful. I’ve been out of academia for nearly 10 years and I’ve had my share of horrible experiences, within and outside of academia, and this one is literally a horror story. I genuinely hope that the author is receiving the support they need and is able to recover.