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Crossroads for Academic Career


So now I’m at a crossroads. I have a year to figure it out, but I would most likely, if I choose to move, start this process in April after some stints overseas in the first three months.

But I’m stuck on this question. Should I stay? Would outside be any better? Or would it just be the same issues, wrapped up differently? All of my academic friends tell me to stay, to push through, that I’m building a great track record, that I have what it takes. Those not in Academia tell me to think carefully, and to consider non-Academic roles that can be just as rewarding and fulfilling.

I’m not looking for answers so much as some thoughts, or feedback. What are some things I should think about, consider, reflect on?

Crossroads for Academic Career

pt 2

I have weeks of not sleeping, of severe anxiety that results in physical symptoms of shaking, illness, exhaustion, fatigue. I drive an hour to and from work in heavy traffic most days. As a result I don’t eat very well (working on that) nor do I exercise much (working on that). I see a psychologist who is helping me with the anxiety/stress/eating issues.

I work very, very hard, and watch friends in similar fields land continuing Academic contracts with much less on their CVs than I (some with no PhD yet), while every job application I write is rejected without even being shortlisted for interview. I have friends and colleagues look over my applications and tell me they are solid (or offer constructive criticism which I follow), and yet still, nothing. Recently, a research assistant at my work was given (given, not applied for) a level B role, while I’m still a level A and waiting for my promotion application to come through (of which I won’t hear about until April 2018). To say I’m feeling demotivated, and demoralised, is an understatement. Moreso though, I feel like everything I do, it just isn’t enough.

I feel lucky, and grateful, to be continuing in the research centre (as at least I have a full time job for a fixed period of time, which is more than what others can say). But I’m constantly wondering if its worth it, and trying to decide whether I should leave Academia for a while. I have skill sets that allow me to work in roles such as government, project management, applied social research and not-for-profit work, and they are increasingly becoming more desirable as I struggle with intense feelings of frustration and the uncertainty that is fixed term contracts. But I might just be burnt out, and emotional, from another tough year.

Crossroads for Academic Career

Pt 1

This is for those who have left academia but might still be lurking, and those thinking about leaving. I didn’t really know where else to post this to be honest. I’m hoping someone can help.

May 2017 was my two year mark out from having my PhD conferred (2015), which is when the clock starts for early career researchers here in Australia. My field is sociology (qualitative).

I managed to land a short term Level A Teaching & Research contract (Lecturer role), which was followed by a 2.5 year Research Associate (Post-Doc) role at a research centre. I was renewed another year to join a new project due to my qualitative research expertise, so my current contract ends Dec 2018.

On the one hand, some would say that I’m doing okay re outputs. Since graduating I’ve pulled together 11 journal articles, many of which I am first or solo author in top quartile journals, 3 book chapters and a book contract with more publications either under review or in the works. The two major projects I’m on will also have a number of good outputs by the end of this year into next year. I’ve been invited overseas as a visiting fellow early next year, have awards for my research, heaps of teaching and unit coordination experience, guest lecturing, public lectures, media experience, conference presentations and conference chairing, media engagement, peer review, have earned small internal grants, community engagement, board membership of national and international associations, committee work, approached for collaborations, the works. If you looked at my CV, as people have told me, it would look pretty decent for an ECR in qualitative research only 2 years out from the PhD. I have no external grants yet, but am working on that with a variety of collaborations.

However. I am miserable. Since graduating my health has deteriorated quite rapidly. I’ve been in and out of treatment for severe anxiety and depression, severe suicidal intentions at times, and my eating disorder has come back in full swing.

Do other PhD students find it difficult to meet a partner?

Have you thought about not dating another PhD student? Maybe venture outside the fishbowl of university? While I totally understand the want to be with like-minded people in similar situations, there is also much to be said about dating people who have a very different life experience to you.

I found in my own experience that dating someone not even involved in the University environment or life was really refreshing and helped keep me grounded during those isolating times of the PhD program. Because his set of friends weren't either, I could really relax with them, party, get my mind off the PhD when I needed to let off some steam. They may have not understood my situation or the work I was doing, but they were respectful about it.

My spouse who I dated throughout my PhD doesn't even have an undergraduate university degree, we come from very different backgrounds in terms of class, culture and education, but we have lots in common. He keeps me grounded, and I challenge him to see things in new ways. Despite his 'lack' of education, he has a great job and is very intelligent. We have interests together that do not involve my academic work at all which is great, it means I can get away from it for a bit.

Do you have any interests that you could start exploring? I just think you might have better luck getting outside the fishbowl. It'll broaden your horizons, and may give you a different perspective on things.

I'm not against PhDs or academics dating each other at all, but just want to remind you that it's not your only option. There are people out there who while may not understand, respect the work that you do.

There is more to life than your PhD, it doesn't have to consume you (though I know it tends to consume everyone at some point!).

Can someone grab this paper for me?

Hi Ian,

I gave it a go as well through two different accounts but can't access it.

Someone could do a document delivery through their uni in a similar field?

Just needing to rant: Project Frustrations

Hi Tudor_Queen,

Thank you :) Yes I've done heaps of teaching, including unit coordination, lecturing, tutoring, chief examination and curriculum/unit development. I took this role because I didn't have enough research experience, which this role gives me. So hopefully I'll be well-set up for when I leave. I was an Assistant Lecturer where I was previously (post-PhD, 1 year contract) and managed two units, but took this particular role to get my research up.

It's just a bit mental I think where I am at the moment and was feeling pretty horrible on Friday, definitely a whole career existential crisis kind of deal. I think what made it worse was the one colleague who sent through the ripped up paper treated me a bit like I was an undergraduate student, 'I want you to go through each piece of feedback and respond' which is helpful, but wow I was taken aback about how I was treated. I've collaborated on papers before, I've got four that were published in the last two years and those went really well, everyone on equal footing etc.

The colleague sent a second email to another team member, but accidentally sent it to me. It wasn't particularly nasty but it was clear the email wasn't meant for me/wasn't meant to be read by me, and the team member tried to cover it up by apologising.

Just going to keep on pushing through.

Thank you :)

Just needing to rant: Project Frustrations

Basically, I'm just pulling my hair out of frustration, feeling like I'm not getting anywhere with this project, and half tempted to thrown in the towel.

I won't throw in the towel and I will keep going as best as I can.

Just need to rant and vent.

Just needing to rant: Project Frustrations

A while back I wrote about my frustrations with the project I'm in, in particular the inconsistency with what the team wants me to do. The situation hasn't gotten any better, and I've ended up in therapy for severe depression and suicidal intentions as a result (but doing okay so far).

I'm just having a really bad day today. A literature review paper I wrote two years ago is STILL being drafted and redrafted again and again, a simple lit review paper, and I got it back today from a team member wanting me to redo the whole thing again, because they've changed their mind about the direction yet again.

Another frustration is the lack of publications coming from the project, my team members all want to take heaps of time which is good and I agree with that approach, but it severely disadvantages me career wise, so of course, I'm publishing other stuff from other projects to ensure I'll be competitive enough when my contract finishes next year and I'll be out of a job. But, my team doesn't like this, thinks it's a distraction. And look I agree, it absolutely is. But I can't finish next year with no publications because they like to take their time with the data and keep changing their mind about how they want to analyses the data. They all have perm/tenured positions, I do not, and need to remain competitive. That means applying for little grants, publishing, collaborating, doing media, doing service, doing teaching/guest lecturing etc.

Then there's this massive sense of distrust. I can't present any of our stuff at any conferences because I think they are worried about someone getting to our ideas before us, and the one conference they did let me present at, I was pretty much thrown to the wolves because it was completely the wrong crowd for our research field.

Leaving contract with 1 year left to go for Perm?

Thanks everyone, will do what has been suggested :)

Where to post questionnaires (other than this forum :) )?

What's in your ethics approval? That will determine where you can post links to surveys.

Did you account for social media, forums etc? What kind of questionnaire is it? What kind of participants are you looking for?

Depending on the above, you can get into contact with moderators for specific forums that might have the kind of participants you are looking for, as well as organisations to pass through their respective networks. But, 1), this needs to be in your ethics approval before you can go forward, and 2), always get mod approval before posting on sites like forums (apart from here obviously) so it doesn't get deleted or you don't get a nasty email and a potential breach of your ethics obligations.

Leaving contract with 1 year left to go for Perm?

I have on numerous occasions’ contemplated leaving academia, or considering professional as opposed to academic roles within the university, even though I have been doing pretty okay.

There's absolutely no guarantee I would get the role, but I thought I might go ahead and apply, and a friend who works at the uni in a professional role said they would see if some people they know in a similar role would be willing to have a coffee and chat about it so I can get a better idea about what it entails, though I have a good idea from the PD.

To be honest, if I applied, interviewed and got the role, I would want to take it in a heartbeat, but I also don’t want to let the project down that I’m working on, or ruin any relationships at the centre where I work.

This seems like a really good opportunity that I would hate to miss out on, especially as it means I can stay in the city and maintain stability with a proper on-going salary, but on the other hand, I might be pre-empting myself with a year left to go, and who knows what might (or what might not) come up.

Again, I feel very lucky with the role I have now knowing how hard it is out there, but I dunno. I’m planning on approaching trusted colleagues (not at my centre/uni from a university I formerly worked at), as I certainly don’t want to burn any bridges just yet.

Any thoughts etc would be welcome as to what you think I should do.

Leaving contract with 1 year left to go for Perm?

Hi everyone,

Have a bit of dilemma and wanted to get some input from those who have completed their PhDs/left academia.


I'm on a 2.5 year contract Research Only, kind of like a post-doc (but not called a postdoc or given the prestige) working on a large government funded project. The project funds my salary, and once the grant runs out which it will Feb next year, I'm pretty much out of a job unless another project comes along or the centre can put me on another project.

A permanent job has opened up at a nearby University that is less focused on research and more on teaching and education, something I have a lot of experience in and miss greatly. It's also not a full academic position, but one that borders academic/professional, something I've been thinking about for a long time in getting into.

The position is permanent and pays a similar/more salary (has a large range). It's in the city, which is where I am now, but my uni is closing the campus at the end of this year and moving us to to regional one, which will add an hour to my 30 minute commute. This job will offer stability (or as much as you can get in this economy), a shorter commute time, and more focus on teaching which I love, while still being able to publish a little bit.

On the one hand, I feel very lucky to be in the research position that I have. It's enabled me to get 6 publications out in the past two years and a book contract (qual sociology), along with other things important for an academic career (media etc). On the other, I'm very aware of the difficulty in trying to have a purely academic career, and not interested in continuing in contract to contract, especially with a partner, a mortgage, and potentially starting a family in the near future. Nor am I interested in having to constantly move around.

Problems with supervisor

Quote From Pjlu:

I agree with everything Pjlu has said. Regardless of your discipline, you cannot go straight into the field and start collecting data of any kind until you have a firm research proposal and plan, and ethics approval. In some cases, you have to get ethics approval not just from your university, but also from any involved organisations if they have an ethics process.

I'm also a little confused as to why you would have data analysis in the first year of study? Again, not sure of your field, but my understanding is that the first year would be literature review and finalising your research plan? Wouldn't your data analysis come from your fieldwork?

I agree with your supervisor regarding the director. He needs to see a well-thought out and detailed research plan before he should assist you in any kind. As Pjlu said, he needs to have a clear idea about your intentions and motivations with the research and your plan for the data, as well as where you might publish. This is a common practice with any kind of research that requires the assistance of an external organisation.

A good way to think about it is like a business loan. You don't just go in asking for money, you go in with a strong business plan that makes your case. You need to do the same with research.

PhD Topic Help

What interests you? What's something that 'turns you on' (as I have had many profs etc ask me in the context of research).

While it might be prudent to pick a topic that is in demand, you might find yourself bored to tears with it. You want to think about something that concerns you, or interests you, and then go from there.

How important are PhD examiners' reputations?

Quote From butterfly20:
Quote From drkl:
I tend to agree with awosci. I have seen young scholars (usually fresh PhD graduates) being unduly harsh on students, partly because they were too eager to show how critical they can be and partly due to their lack of experience in examining theses.

That's strange, in my field fresh PhD graduates would never be allowed to act as an external. You have to be at the level of at least senior lecturer.

I guess it's different for different fields.

Depends on the country too. In Australia, at least in my experience because we don't have vivas or panel committees (the latter depends really on the university), both examiners were external (i.e. not employed at the university). In this case, one of the externals could be a young scholar like what I had.