Josh Boldt

Technology Director at University of Kentucky

Should You Quit Your Academic Job?

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    Image: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (1942)

    Are you considering taking the post-academic plunge? Join our Flexible Academics group to talk over transition strategies.

    We’re a few weeks into the new semester. Plenty of time to get settled into a routine and shake off the preliminary excitement of a new school year.

    For many Vitae readers, the job search season is already in full swing. A quick glance at the academic jobs wiki will confirm that. The competition for those coveted positions is strong and many qualified and intelligent people will come up empty-handed.

    Those who fall short may consider other options, or may even decide to leave academia entirely. We’ve all read the #quitlit of the post-academics who have chosen to leave. Maybe you have considered joining their ranks. Maybe you’ve decided to make this job search season your last. Or maybe you’ve been working in academia for a while now and you fantasize about the day you walk away and try something new.

    Quitting is certainly not always a good idea, but for some, it’s the best option. Whether you are an adjunct or a provost, it never hurts to occasionally re-evaluate your mindset with regard to your work. Of course, anyone considering such a big move should carefully weigh the pros and cons.

    Reflecting on my own decision to leave academic life, and also on the decisions of many others with whom I’ve talked, I have created a list of considerations to use when evaluating whether quitting is the best course.

    You are bored. We all feel a little bored at our jobs from time to time, but if you find yourself feeling unchallenged and disengaged on a regular basis, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.

    You continually tell yourself and others that you want to quit. Hello? This one is kind of a no-brainer, right? It’s amazing how often we ignore the signs that are right in front of our face.

    You don’t care about your scholarship. Think back to graduate school when you used to spend hour after hour buried in the stacks at the library. You loved knowledge for its own sake. Do you still have that excitement for your subject?

    You don’t like anyone in your department. Unfortunately, this one might just be part of life. We rarely like all of our co-workers. But if you despise everyone around you, it might be time for a change. And you also may want to consider Prozac.

    Your teaching is suffering and you’re getting lazy. If you’ve been teaching the exact same syllabus for more than five years, you have a problem. Time to shake things up and try something new. You know this isn’t good for you or your students.

    You’re stressed out or unhappy more often than not. Pay attention to your state of mind. If going to work makes you anxious every day, that’s a bad sign. Life is too short to waste on a job that makes you so unhappy.

    You aren’t being allowed to reach your potential. Say, for example, you are forced to teach four sections of freshman comp every semester. Everyone knows that’s a crap teaching load. Sure, do it for a few semesters, but eventually you should be allowed to teach the occasional lit section. If not, get out of there. You are being taken advantage of.

    You daydream about changing careers and it excites you. This one really hits home for me. I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and I dreamed of going into business for myself. I knew I had to leave my job if I was ever going to realize that dream.

    You long to move to another city. For some people, where you live can play a huge factor in personal happiness. Unfortunately for academics, we don’t often get to make that choice. It’s not uncommon to end up in a small college town in the middle of nowhere, which is fine if you like rural living but not if you hate it. If you long for a change of scenery, it may be time to move on.

    Your school is hiring more and more contingent faculty and/or treating them poorly. This is a major red flag. We’ve been seeing more and more of it lately as colleges try to trim their budgets. A department that is rapidly filling up with poorly treated contingent workers is a department on a crash course. Heed the warning and get out while you can.

    None of the items on this list are, in and of themselves, reasons to hand in your resignation immediately. But as you move through this season of the academic job search, keep them in mind. If more than a couple of these statements are true, you may want to consider looking elsewhere for your next position. There’s no time like the present to make a change that makes you happier.

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