Doubts about continuing on in academia: to carry on, or not?
Doubts about continuing on in academia: to carry on, or not?




In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, Questioning Their Career asks:

I’m close to finishing my PhD – I could be done this coming year if I so choose – and I’m not sure what to do next. I’m just not sure that I really like this work anymore. In the last month or so, I have absolutely dreaded the very thought of writing, and even just talking about philosophy, whether with professor, friends, or students, feels painful at times. I know this is a common reaction to finishing up a dissertation – none of my friends have liked their work by the end of it – and so this could just be the result of burnout. I also know that I now am closer to a professional philosopher than I’ve ever been, though. I have a much clearer sense of what the job is now than I ever did in the past. I don’t think I should just dismiss my current antipathy because it might go away in the future.

I also currently have an opportunity to pursue a very different kind of work that I have good reasons to think I could find deeply meaningful and enjoyable, and my life on that path would be much easier if I started the pursuit sooner rather than later. I plan to finish my dissertation regardless, but my plans for going on the job market and all that would entail would seriously conflict with my ability to start on this alternate path.

This has all left me feeling deeply conflicted. I’ve poured so much of myself into pursuing this degree and a position in this profession. Being an academic feels like a deep part of me. I’ve also, historically, loved it. It’s sometimes been bad just like any job, but that’s never made me doubt that I should pursue it. It feels like I could be throwing something away needlessly because of a temporary setback.

I’m hoping for some insight into what sorts of factors have lead folks either to decide to carry on with academia despite some significant doubts or to leave the profession. I think hearing about others’ experiences would help me to better understand whether what I’m experiencing now is a case of mere burnout or something more serious. Thank you all so much for any insight you might have!

I’m sorry to hear that the OP is going though this, and I empathize. It is a great and very understandable query, and I’m curious to hear from readers.

Derek Bowman submitted the following reply:

This sounds much like the experience – or series of experiences – I went through finishing my dissertation and going on the job market while adjuncting post-PhD. And it was just the sorts of questions you are asking which motivated me to solicit and publish the interviews I did at Free Range Philosophers. I have lots of thoughts to share on this – probably too many to share here (but feel free to look up my contact information and reach out). But here’s a brief answer to your question: I decided to leave academia after two rounds on the job market and finding myself stuck in a poorly paid adjunct position. Then I decided to stay, at least temporarily, when I was offered a well-paid, teaching intensive VAP. Then I decided to leave again when the VAP ran out, and I’m in the process of trying to make a career shift. I don’t regret the choices I made, but I also didn’t have the sort of specific opportunity to do something else that you allude. If I had, I would have done that rather than applying for the VAP, and I would probably now be better off.

I guess I’ll just say that I’ve known a number of people who left academic for good industry careers, and virtually all of them seem happier, with better pay and work-life balance, than they were in academia. I myself pushed on through a serious bout of falling out of love with academic philosophy in grad school, and was fortunately able to recapture my love for what I do–and today, after suffering long and hard on the job market years ago, finally getting a job and tenure, I could myself pretty happy with the choice. However, if I am being fully honest, I’ve never been entirely sure whether I’m happier in philosophy than I would be had I left. My main reason for staying was that I didn’t have any promising prospects outside of academia because I never had a ‘Plan B’. 

For what it’s worth, that all that I can say to weigh in. But I’m very curious to hear from readers, particularly those who have struggled with similar things, either leaving academia or carrying on. Do you have any potentially helpful tips, experiences, or other insights for the OP?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More



Transformative Experience

Transformative Experience

[New Entry by Rebecca Chan on June 1, 2023.] Transformative experiences are experiences that radically change the experiencer in both...