Crossroads for Academic Career

posted
19-Dec-17, 08:55
edited about 4 minutes later
by awsoci
Avatar for awsoci
posted about 2 years ago
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.
posted
19-Dec-17, 08:56
edited about 4 minutes later
by awsoci
Avatar for awsoci
posted about 2 years ago
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.
posted
19-Dec-17, 08:56
edited about 8 seconds later
by awsoci
Avatar for awsoci
posted about 2 years ago
Pt3

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?
posted
19-Dec-17, 11:58
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 years ago
Hi, awsoci,

The decision to stay in academia or not is yours to make. You will have to think carefully as your health has been impacted by your current job, and only you can decide if it is worth it.

On non-academic career, what sort of career are you thinking of? There are many jobs out there from patent attorney, science communicator, regulatory affairs, sales, product management, tech transfer, medical science liaison, industry scientist.... the list goes on. Each role has its own challenges and can be equally as rewarding. You just have to choose one that fits your interest and personality.

The KPI of non-academic career is different depending on the role, but for the majority, papers/publications are not important. Depending on role, you will be judged by eg. how well you work in a team, hit sales quota, no of new business relationships you build...

There will also need to be a massive change in attitude. Most ppl from the industry complain about the arrogance of some academics and their inability to work in a team (always wanting to do things their way). That is not true for everyone, but do understand that you will need to change your mind set as you are now working for another company and have to follow company rules, deadlines and corporate values.

If you decide to go down a non-academic pathway, you may wish to start looking for a job now as it takes months and up to one year to find your first non-academic role. Look up helpful websites like Versatile PhD and Cheeky Scientist for more information.

All the best
posted
19-Dec-17, 22:08
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 2 years ago
Firstly, no job is worth destroying your health for - and I know far too many unhappy academics who admit that the constant rejection and criticism is really wrecking their mental health and who wish they had jumped ship rather than assuming they'd eventually get a thicker skin. And let's face it, however much success we've had, that one really mean reviewer or ob rejection can knock self-confidence a lot. Do you have any sort of sense about whether it's the lack of long-term certainty or academia in general that's really getting to you at the moment? That might give you a clue of what to do.
It must be incredibly frustrating to be doing everything right but not getting anywhere. Does looking at who is getting the jobs give you any clues? If eg as a quallie you're stuck on the wrong end of a hiring market that wants quants? Or an unfashionable area of expertise? If you were getting interviews, I'd say you'll get there in the end but the no interviews with what sounds like a strong cv makes me wonder if the market is working against you in some way. I don't know Australian sociology but i'm also a social scientist and know for my subject some australian departments are obsessed with mimicking US trends, which is bad news for quallies.
To some extent yes all jobs have their downside but there's a special something about academia and mental health that stinks. You might indeed be happier in a different field. Maybe even charting the possibilities would give you a sense that you were regaining control over your future? Final thought does your university offer dedicated career advice for postdoc researchers? Mine does, it's good and few people take up the support. It might be worth a try if it exists.
posted
21-Dec-17, 05:32
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 years ago
I have to point out that it does not need to take months to find your first non academic job.
It MIGHT, but it can just as easily happen overnight depending on what you are looking for.

Postgraduate
Forum

Copyright ©2018
All rights reserved

Postgraduate Forum

Masters Degrees

PhD Opportunities

PostgraduateForum is a trading name of FindAUniversity Ltd
FindAUniversity Ltd, 77 Sidney St, Sheffield, S1 4RG, UK. Tel +44 (0) 114 268 4940 Fax: +44 (0) 114 268 5766