There Comes a Day When You Gotta Go

When I taught my first college class at the age of 24, my undergraduate mentor sent me a “Top Ten List” of things to remember as a new professor.  Bill was always full of witty yet profound advice and he had a penchant for top ten lists.  My favorite “Bill-ism” motivated me for years:  “There are two reactions you should have after teaching:  you’re tired and you’re grinning.”  On the days I returned to my stuffy, windowless office and sank into my chair, if I was still smiling despite the piles of ungraded papers, the endless meetings, and the overflowing email inbox, I knew I was doing okay.  More than okay, really.  I knew I was happy.

This past year, however, I haven’t been grinning much.

I earned my Ph.D. in 2010 and dove enthusiastically into my first job search.  I was on the hunt for the elusive golden ticket that would grant me admission to the Ivory Tower of Academia.  My outlook was rosy.  After all, I had a Ph.D.  My teaching evaluations were strong.  I had a unique and promising research agenda.  Surely the gates would open for me!  I envisioned spirited discussions with engaged students on grassy, sun-dappled quads; an office crammed with books, satiric posters, and a squashy armchair; lunch dates with colleagues during which we’d debate the latest op/ed piece in the Chronicle; a generous travel budget for attending conferences across the country. . . My future was bright.

Oh the naivete!  Rather than a garden of delights, I encountered the capricious, exasperating, soul-crushing reality of the academic job market (for example, a department chair once told me during an interview that I was “too enthusiastic”).  After four years of unsuccessful and maddening job searches, I decided to jump ship.  I’m not the only one.  Recently, Ingrid Steffensen, a former professor, compared academia to a bad boyfriend:  they disappoint you, make empty promises, and lead you on.  You stay because you think “it will get better.”  But it doesn’t get better. 

I was in love with the idea of academia, not the reality.  The reality is most college classes across the country are taught by non-tenure track faculty (adjuncts, full-time lecturers, graduate students, etc.).  The average adjunct is paid $2,987 per course.  No, not per month.  That’s $2,987 for an entire semester of labor.  Thus far, this bleak outlook hasn’t stopped folks from pursuing doctoral degrees.  This results in a growing pool of applicants for a diminishing number of tenure-track positions.  Let the Hunger Games begin!

So the day has come to cut my losses and run.  I am now a “former academic.”

I decided to name my blog “Past Prof” as a nod to this transition.  I intend to chronicle my post-academic journey as a way to (a) potentially help others who are considering this scary but exhilarating move and (b) to help me process my own experience.  Having a place in the hallowed halls of academia had been my dream since I was a sophomore in college.  Giving up that dream is heart-wrenching.  I know there will be many moments of regret, guilt, and uncertainty that I’ll need to work through.  So I hope blogging will be more therapeutic than self-indulgent and a place for inspiration, not commiseration.  Let’s see what happens! 


About pastprof

Recovering academic. Starting a new adventure as a college instructional technologist. Ph.D. in Communication & Information. Reside in the lovely Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
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