how do I not lose hope in a highly competitive field?

A reader writes:

I’m in a very competitive, very niche academic field. I’m writing because I wonder if you and your readers can tell me how to keep going when I’m losing hope as this roller coaster of a search keeps on rolling.

I have been applying for jobs since last year, and I have had one — ONE — interview. A recent rejection informed me that I was one of 322 applicants for a position. This is the norm. It’s true that I was under no illusions going into this field — I made the decision to follow my passion, and I still deeply love what I do, and I can’t wait to teach full-time someday. But … reality is hitting hard. While I do have freelance work in my field, it is a “feast or famine” situation, and adjunct teaching is not consistent, i.e. some semesters I’m teaching and some semesters I’m not. I live off my gig checks and when I’m in a “famine” month I do part-time jobs so I can pay rent and eat, but it’s a vicious cycle because I have less time to apply for full-time jobs and pursue opportunities in my field that might improve my odds of employment.

Because jobs are few and far between, I apply to positions all over the world, in places I don’t even want to live and for jobs I’m not even sure are perfectly suited to me. I don’t know where I’ll be living from one year to the next. I’m going to be 35, single, without kids. I have accomplished more than most women my age, and am well known in my field. But I have no money, my life seems stagnant, and the rejections are making me feel like I’m failing. Every time I write a cover letter I feel this terrible feeling of intense hope combined with the inevitability of rejection. It’s exhausting.

This summer I finally took a vacation from applying for jobs and went off-grid for three weeks. It was good for my health and I returned refreshed. But as a “feast” semester ends and a “famine” one begins, and no prospect of full-time work waits for me, I feel myself sinking back to that place of despair. I have heard horror stories of people like me applying for positions for years and never finding work. I know this is a real possibility, but I don’t want that to be me. I’m scared, but I love what I do so much. I don’t want to give up hope.

My question is: how do you deal with this process? How do you maintain your mental health? How do you deal with rejection? How do you navigate the application process for extremely competitive jobs?

This isn’t the answer you’re asking for, but it’s the one I think is important.

Are you okay with this being your life long-term? If you knew that the unsteady adjunct jobs and feast and famine cycle was going to continue for the next 10 years, would you do anything differently now?

When you’re in a very competitive field where there are far more people who want a stable path in that field than there are stable paths available — and when the number of non-adjuncting jobs is shrinking and more competition is pouring into the market every year — the reality is that, no matter how good you are, you might not win that lottery. When something is your dream, it can make sense to give it a shot for a while … but there’s also a point where it’s far better for you to make alternate plans.

Only you can decide when you’re at that point. But do you love what you do enough to do it under these conditions for years to come? Are you comfortable sacrificing other huge things in your life (a location you like, money, security, peace of mind, maybe family) in exchange for what may be a long shot?

Or are there other paths you could be happy with? Could you, for example, be happy doing something professionally adjacent and teaching a course or two on the side?

Again, only you can make that call. But you’ve got to be really clear-eyed about the likely outcomes. If you stay on this path, your situation now may be your situation in 10 years, 15 years, and beyond. At a minimum, I’d at least look at what other paths are available to you.

You still have more than one future out there.

But if you decide that yes, it’s okay if life stays like this for the long-term, then I think the way you deal with the stress and rejections is by keeping that choice in the forefront of your mind — by remembering that you knowingly chose a tough path because you find the trade-offs enough, and by focusing on what you are getting out of it. And if you reach a point where that doesn’t feel like enough, there’s no shame in that — just make sure you recognize when that’s happening and don’t ignore it.

(The whole time I was writing this, I kept thinking that this is the same thing I’d tell someone heading to Hollywood to try to find success as an actor, or any other field where the number of people who find success is dwarfed by the number of people seeking it, which says a lot about the current state of academic jobs.)

{ 469 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    This makes me feel sad.
    The advice that Alison gives is great, but it does highlight how hard work is very often not enough on its own. I wish you luck OP.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I agree.

      It’s really sad that passion and hard work just isn’t enough and you need that spark of luck to really push you over the edge. It doesn’t seem fair.

      But I do really love Alison’s advice here. It’s kind, sympathetic, realistic, and just lovely.

      Kudos, Alison.

  2. MuseumChick*

    OP, I’m also in a competeative field. There is a running jokes on FB groups for professionals in my line of work about applying for hundreds of jobs, getting rejects letters from place you applied you a year ago, etc. Some fairly new to the field once made a post that basically said “I have a Masters degree, have done internships at Prestigious Institution and Everyone Wants to Work There Institution, plus three years of additional work experience but I can’t find a job in this this field. What should I do?” The first response was “Welcome to the field.”

    I say all this to let you know I get it. There are realities that make these kinds of fields hard to stay in. If you did get a job outside of your field, are there other ways you could fulfill your passion?

      1. Betty*

        k– Pretty much any academic field where you want to be a professor at a reasonably large university that emphasizes research or a selective small liberal arts college. It’s absolutely brutal, stories like the letter are the norm, and yet there’s a real culture where doing anything else with your PhD is a failure (it isn’t)

        1. JSPA*

          And this touches on something important. The same skills that gets you begging for a part time adjunct gig, a fill-in-the-sabatical gig, a schedule patched together at three different community colleges, can actually make you pretty darn desirable if you apply them to a non-academic job. (You do need a whole host of different soft skills and consensus building abilities that you may or may not happen to have, and almost certainly have not been trained for.) Even if you don’t actually TAKE the non-academic job, it can be a real confidence booster to see what someone’s willing to pay for your skills after you reframe them into a “real world” resume. I’m not going to say that OP MUST do that, but OP certainly could use the unexpected and undesired free time to do exactly that. If you’re used to living on a shoestring, chances are you’ll be able to negotiate a salary that works for you, plus a schedule that allows you nearly as much time to research and write, as you currently have in a semester with a full teaching load. Might be worth considering.

          1. Blue*

            As someone who abandoned a PhD program (despite being ABD) because she didn’t want to end up in OP’s situation, I agree that it’s worth considering options outside the academy. Or look for non-academic jobs in a university. There are plenty where the classroom experience can be a huge benefit, and some have flexibility to do some teaching on the side. Like Betty said, I think it’s easy for people who choose this path to feel like they failed in some way (it was certainly something I battled with), but really it’s about picking the option that makes the most sense for where you are in your life.

            Side note, though: it’s really critical that anyone looking at non-academic options invest some time in developing application materials suitable for those positions. I work in higher ed, and it is very, very common to get applicants with PhDs looking for a more stable career path. Many of them make no effort to explain why/how their teaching and academic experiences qualify them for the position they’re applying for. In some cases, there seems to be a bit of a “I have a PhD, therefore I’m obviously qualified” mentality, but more often, it’s just that they don’t know how to apply for these jobs.

            I don’t envy OP here, and I hope she finds a fulfilling way forward, regardless of what that may look like.

            1. Rana*

              This is a really good point. One reason I work for myself (after bailing on the adjunct life) is that I couldn’t figure out how to translate my skills into a language that was appealing to employers. Selling my skills to clients is so much easier (but I won’t say that self-employment is much more secure than adjuncting…but it is less soul-damaging).

            2. Librarianne*

              Co-signed! In your cover letter, you *must* delineate why your experiences and skills are applicable to the position. I’ve served on several hiring committees for academic but non-teaching positions and professors seeking more “stable” employment often have the worst applications because they assume we’ll think they’re awesome. Hint: if you spend your entire cover letter talking about your research accomplishments and devote zero space to the actual job duties, your application is going in the trash.

              1. Not in the US*

                SO this! I work in academia but am not faculty. We had someone apply for a job not really related to her PhD and didn’t change a thing! It was an application that in no way spoke to why this person was good for the job. She didn’t get an interview. It looked like she couldn’t be bothered to even try. If you know people outside of academia – get them to look at your resume and cover letter. If you know someone in the industry you might apply for – even better because sometimes different jobs / industries have different standards even outside academia.

          2. AdAgencyChick*

            Very true. I’m in a niche of advertising where having a PhD in certain fields is an asset for certain roles. I bet the income multiplier for an entry-level PhD role for my field vs a post-doc fellowship for the same person is 2-3x.

          3. Dagny*

            If the OP can find a stable, 40 hour a week job with some flexibility and stress that stays at the office, she could be very happy. That leaves time to adjunct teach, research, fulfill passions, etc., while also bringing actual money in the door and insuring that the rent is paid.

          4. katy*

            Yeah definitely. The problem is that you’re still competing with people who also have those skills, but without the baggage of a PhD. I think a lot of people are wary of hiring people with PhDs for jobs that don’t require that research background, for the understandable reason that PhD-holders trained for a very long time for a very specific type of job, and would probably leave if they got said job.

            1. Eukomos*

              That’s something of a misconception, the idea that PhDs are still waiting for the tenure track faculty job and just killing time at an industry job. PhDs with a job somewhere else cannot leave it for academia in most cases, the instant you take the pressure off the faculty job search, you are out. Even one year teaching high school instead of college is enough to sweep you too far away from the academic rat race to ever get back in. To even have a hope of getting a tenure track job you have to constantly research, publish, attend conferences, lengthen your teaching resume. The competition is too fierce to work your way back in if you step out, unless you’re so famous that hiring you adds significantly to the prestige of the department.

              1. Less Bread More Taxes*

                I’m about to start my PhD. I’ve already made the decion to go into industry after I’m done… but I always hoped to try to get back into academia in 10 or 15 years. Do you think that’s not possible?

                1. MM*

                  Unless you’re on the cutting edge of tech, media, epidemiology or similar, or play your cards incredibly right in a field that’s already closely integrated among academic, public, private, and nonprofit sectors (like contemporary Middle Eastern politics and security), it’d be a hell of a thing to pull off. (And honestly even in those cases, it still would be.) Especially on that timescale. Usually the way to get back into academia after a non-academic career is to become Extremely Illustrious and get offered a university affiliation for the good of their funding/profile in your later years.

                2. Chloé Salhani*

                  I am a PhD student on her last few months and looking for post-docs. I’m not going to te’l you it’s impossible, because there will always be weird outlier cases, but it is very, very, very unlikely to work. In most cases, it’s like people have said above, the moment you step out of the race, you can’t get back in.

                  One thing that miiiight maybe make your plan possible is if you work for one of the very big privately-owned labs where you still get to publish. But if you do anything in your in-between years that is not geared towards publishing articles, then you’re not going back in the race for tenure, because what hiring committees look for are peer-reviewed, published articles.

                3. Blunt Bunny*

                  Atleast 2 of my university professor we’re from the industry so yes it is possible it depends on the field. For STEM university and industry work so closely together they need each other. University need funding, recognition and to get the students employed and industry needs the researchers to look at new promising technologies and areas that might not be commercially relevant yet.

                4. aa*

                  Nope. Not possible. At least in my area (Social Science / Humanities), once you get off, you can’t get on again.

                  It’s ridiculous, it’s infuriating, it’s a sheer waste of talent, but it’s the way things are.

                5. Pommette!*

                  It depends on your field, on what getting back into academia means to you, and on how academia-adjacent your industry is.

                  In most humanities and social sciences, you might be able to engage with your discipline (e.g. by publishing an article or participating in conferences). Actually finding academic employment would almost certainly not be possible.

                  Things might be different in fields that have strong applied components or stronger ties to industry, provided that you are able to remain engaged with your discipline (e.g. by publishing regularly) while you work.

                6. SoVeryBeenThere*

                  I am going to do you a kindness that nobody did for me, and tell you straight:

                  No, it’s not possible.

                  People will qualify this and say “it is very difficult unless” or “very few people manage to” or “you would have to thread this or that particular needle.” Qualifying this kind of answer does not work for people drawn academia, who have always been at the top of the competitive heap and think they always will be.

                  (And, though you did not ask, my advice about starting a PhD is the same. Unless you have a trust fund that will keep you living in the style you want and expect, without worry, for the rest of your life, even after you start a family, whether or not you ever work a day – don’t do it. I wish I had been told that too.)

                7. Less Bread More Taxes*

                  SoVeryBeenThere, can you clarify what you mean about living the style I want? My current plan is to get a PhD and then enter industry for 10-15 years to pay off student debt. I think I could do that by living frugally. My standards of living aren’t super high. I do love teaching though, which is why I want to do it at some point. I’m seeing a lot of people here have gone to teaching high school after a PhD, and that is something I’d like to do also.

                8. Less Bread More Taxes*

                  I should add that my field is tech (computer science/machine learning). The reason I chose to do a PhD is because I’ve had two jobs in which I was told I couldn’t progress without one. My mentors at these jobs have all been PhDs, so I always knew that if I wanted to get to a certain level, I’d have to do a PhD myself.

                9. wittyrepartee*

                  Unless things change in the culture of academia- getting back in isn’t something to bank on. However, you’ll likely be able to teach, adjunct, or work in collaboration with academic facilities. It’s not just the publishing, it’s also that people who go into industry are often looked at as “tainted” in one way or another.

                  There’s a few fields that are a bit different, and I think that some people in public health move from government research positions to academic research positions. However, it’s still not common even in more flexible fields.

                10. curly sue*

                  It would be possible in my field, but that’s because the field has a very practical aspect to it (performing arts) and we gain cachet by having well-known performers and technicians with real-world experience. Our tenure portfolio requirements actually include public performances / gallery shows / directing / etc to show that we’re remaining engaged with the artistic community. So having industry experience is a major bonus, but we’re a very small subsection of the Arts as it is. I think Commerce likes people to have external experience as well, but I’m sure it’s not at all the same for, say, chemists.

                11. biobotb*

                  It’s *definitely* not something you can plan on. I’ve seen someone go from biotech back to academia, but only once. And I’m not sure he stayed in academia (because though he had 10 – 15 years experience, he was now being paid the same peanuts as any new postdoc and had to put in the same crazy hours as well).

                  What are hoping to accomplish by going back to academia? Because if you did manage it, you’d probably start at the bottom again. The likelihood of parlaying industry experience into a junior faculty position is probably zero.

                12. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  I’m a chemistry PhD student, and I’ve had a number of professors come back from industry or government jobs to work in academia. Those that did spend time in industry command higher salaries and respect (which is tied to funding, which is easier to get with industry contacts) and in a couple of cases got to come in with tenure as well.

                13. Less Bread More Taxes*

                  biobotb, I honestly just really like teaching. So eventually I’d like to do that. I can’t imagine working in industry for forty years.

                14. Sarah N*

                  Very dependent on field. But the thing I’d be looking at to see if this is possible is to look at the faculty at the schools you might want to work at someday — make a list of your top 10 or whatever. Then go through their faculty and see what their career trajectories are — most will have CVs posted, so this is pretty easy to do. If there are lots of people who have 10-15 years of industry experience on that CV between their PhD and the start of a tenure track job, then it’s probably doable in your field. If not, then I wouldn’t bank on something changing dramatically in the next couple of decades.

                  This is also useful for looking at whether your PhD program itself is likely to be a good deal. Where did the new hires at places you want to work get their PhDs? If the school you want to go to is never on that list, it’s not a good idea to waste your time/money. (Although, if you want to work in industry anyway, that may not matter).

                15. HQetc*

                  Less Bread, you mentioned that your degree is in tech. I think this transition can be a lot more viable in computer science, but I think you have to be very savvy about the non-academic jobs you take. The biggest theme I have seen is you have to still be working on the cutting edge of your field. So, working at Google Research or doing a clever new start-up, not basic software development at a less innovative company. I think this is because (as someone else mentioned about chemistry and pharmaceuticals, and theater) the relationship between academia and industry is a lot more obvious in cs than in some humanities fields.

                16. JSPA*

                  I suppose it’s possible the streams may cross differently in 15 years. For now, albeit depending on your nationality, much of what people do in industry is kept internal and not published (or in some problematic situations, published only if the result comes out the way that the company hopes it will). That makes it almost impossible to have a significant publication record at the point when you’d be hoping to re-enter (and needing exactly that, if you want to be research faculty). You will also not have a demonstrated history of getting grants, nor experience with participating in the running of an academic department. If you want to return to enjoy teaching at a teaching-focused institution, or return to the bench in a post-tech type capacity to enjoy the atmosphere (???) that’s likely to be more possible. You’ll have to figure out how true all of this is of your field, but I’d consider it the default assumption. Plus, what MM said. If you’re golden enough to write your own ticket, no rules apply.

                  There are moments when the overall rule doesn’t hold. When schools started forensics departments, many brought in people from forensics labs (because they were running them as pre-professional programs designed to churn out standardized workers for a new industry). Ditto computer graphics departments. But by and large, despite attempts to make departments stop treating their “gone to industry graduates” as intellectual failures or people lacking in proper grit and stamina–it’s (still) a one-way path.

              2. katy*

                I get that. My point is that PhD candidates are training to be academic researchers (and to a lesser degree, teachers)*. So in most cases, going into another field post-PhD is the second choice – I mean, that’s what this whole letter & comment section is about. And after all, if Other Field was the first choice, then the person would have skipped all those years of PhD work, and directly pursued the other field.
                I’m not saying that academics can’t succeed in other fields, or that the skills they bring wouldn’t be valuable in whatever line of work they’re switching to.
                However, people working in Field X (which I’m assuming doesn’t require a PhD-level research background, since few fields outside of academia do), might prioritise people who trained specifically in X, and pursued it from the outset, rather than people who are coming to it as a fallback.

                For example, I’ve seen advice that people who have done humanities PhDs could pursue fields that involve writing, like marketing. A humanities PhD surely could do those kind of jobs, but most likely it’s people who studied marketing/commerce/communications who are going to get those jobs.

                *caveat: not always – but on the whole.

                1. Flower*

                  Eh, I’m in a PhD program and never planned on staying in academia. I think of the seven people in my program cohort, only one is set on staying in academia and at least one other is definitely planning on leaving it after finishing the degree. Government research (NIH or related) is appealing (and not at all the same as academia) as are other things that you can do with a PhD/that a PhD would help for. We’re in the middle of recruitment right now and it’s reinforced to interviewing students that there are so many other options, that there’s an office here to help you figure out those options and what works for you, and the numbers
                  just don’t work out for all of us to stay in academia – I don’t think it’s true that everyone getting a PhD sees other jobs as second choices and would jump at the chance to re-enter academia.

                2. HQetc*

                  Caveat to this comment: My PhD is in a pretty marketable field.
                  Just to add onto Flower’s point, it’s not uncommon to discover, while working towards a PhD, that academia isn’t for you. There are a lot of reasons why academia isn’t a great fit for a lot of people, and that can be hard to know/internalize until you do the thing. That said, you need to be able to articulate good reasons for the change in cover letters and interviews. Your story can’t just be “I tried to find a job there, and couldn’t.” For me, it was “I want a more direct real-world impact and, frankly, a better work/life balance [I did say this in cases where it was something the employer was touting], and here’s why this job would give me those. Furthermore [and this is critical] here’s how my unique academic skill are going to help you, dear employer, in a way that would be hard to get elsewhere.”

                3. JSPA*

                  Flower, the red tape and politics at NIH can make your average academic department look like a limpid pool of concord and good governance. Some people float above all that and make it look easy. But it’s…not.

          5. Traveling Teacher*

            Yes. I left teaching and adjuncting to freelance because my schedule was more stable working for myself and I could make more money.

            Now, I teach sometimes when I get a good gig, but I also have the freedom to say no because it’s not my sole source of income.

            Teaching just isn’t a good job anymore, despite what many parents believe–truly with good intentions. There will be work but with miserable, underpaid conditions. That’s the problem with having a job that everyone thinks they themselves could do…

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          So brutal. I was on track to be on a tenure tack…until I realized I as killing myself, writing way more than I wanted to (I am a decent, even good writer, I just hate doing it
          ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) and still had no guarantees. So..I pivoted. I teach sometimes but it is by no means something I count on for money…it’s more about my passion. If I get offered a contract for a particular semester cool, if not I have so many other things that can fill my time.

          I’m fortunate that I’ve been associated with this particular school, faculty, and other staff for about 20 years now, so teaching gigs are offered reasonably often and am happy doing adjunct because it fits my life, but so many others have “tenure” as *the* goal and never ever get there.

          So OP no advice really, just commiseration. I get it when one’s degree(s) is/are niche and it’s hard to break into what it is you envision doing, but definitely think about how else you can use your degree(s). What else can you do that you have a passion for that would make all that effort worthwhile and interesting? Then…think about pivoting maybe?

        3. Samwise*

          It doesn’t even have to be a teaching job at a large university. It’s hard to get jobs a small colleges. It’s hard to get jobs at regional universities. It’s hard to get jobs at less selective schools. It’s hard to get jobs at community colleges.

          You can get *adjunct* jobs at these places. But those are terrible long term: poor pay, few or no benefits, no security whatsoever.

          Many universities are now setting up programs to help their doctoral students prepare for fields outside academia. Well, the responsible ones are…

        4. Prof. Kat*

          This is untrue in a *few* academic fields. Engineering is notoriously *much* easier to find an academic position in, as there are a reasonable number of gov’t and industry research jobs that require a doctorate, and many (most?) pursue those positions, as the pay and hours are often better. I was the 7th Ph.D. student in my lab, and the first to go to academia. My husband has a Ph.D. in the same field, and he’s very happy in a gov’t research position. In fact, I’m in a TT position, and I’m the trailing spouse…it was harder for my husband to find a permanent position than it was for me! My alma mater, an R1 institution, regularly interviews and hires TT faculty who haven’t had a single postdoc. Even better, our “adjunct” positions tend to be full-time, 3-year contracts, with good pay ($60k+) and benefits…this was true at all 3 institutions I’ve attended or worked at.


          This is this exception, and not the rule, by a long shot. And it could change a lot in the next decade, I have no idea. Definitely worth exercising caution before charging ahead with a doctorate. I have a prepared speech I give to ALL my students considering graduate school, because it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.

        1. No name former academic*

          I have a humanities background and my husband went to film school.

          Neither of us work in our field.

          1. Game of Drones*

            Same for me and my husband. He picked up new skills and works as a structural designer and I’m in PR.

      2. Chinookwind*

        Since your future children aren’t entering any field in the next 5-10 years, that type of prognasticating is useless.

        Growing up, my teachers knew I wanted to teach and that I would be good at it. They kept saying that my timing was perfect as all the teachers will be retiring when I graduate. Plus, we will always need teachers and they won’t be phased out by new technology or budget cuts.

        Then they changed mandatory retirement laws and then the teachers were given a pay cut which affected their pensions (which are based on their last 5 years). And then budget cuts/union negotiating higher wages led to massive layoffs of newly hired teachers. And the province doubled the number of Education degree granting institutions from 3 to 6, flooding the market.

        No one could have predicted all of these changes in 10 years that turned a good job with decent opportunity into one where you are lucky to find a spot on a substitute teacher list. And if anyone had told those same people that they should have encouraged my aptitude with computers instead, those 80’s and 90’s rural teachers would have laughed and asked what type of living could I expect to make from that?

        Basically, tell your children to train for what they can see themselves doing for a living as well as learn to adapt to new jobs and opportunities and be flexible in how they can apply their skills.

        1. CatMintCat*

          I was told all this about teachers retiring when I was studying to be a teacher. I am now approaching retirement myself and new teachers are STILL being told the same old stories. It’s like an urban legend.

        2. Leela*

          I was actively steered away from computer learning by rural teachers in the 90s because “oh a few years ago it was all ‘go into robotics’! Because of Disney and now no one can get a job.” Incredibly frustrating, because the internet wasn’t what it is now and I couldn’t really have taken it upon myself to do any computer learning, and my family didn’t even have one for most of my schooling.

        3. your favorite person*

          When I was in 8th grade, one of my teachers told me I would make a great teacher. I thought I would, too, and stuck with that path going to the best ‘teacher’ school in my state. But right before I graduated, another teacher asked me what I was going to study and when I said teaching she said, “oh honey. honestly, don’t go into teaching.” After that conversation, I decided to instead go in ‘undecided’ and take my required courses and figure out if I like something else. I ended up studying NPO management- still lots of impact and. more flexibility (even if the pay is still terrible).
          I’m really thankful for my senior year teacher’s candid answer. The state of teaching isn’t great and I know plenty of teachers IRL that want out.

        4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          My fancy suburban high school discouraged kids from taking computer science or statistics courses because they were “vocational” and “colleges will think you’re an unserious student who’s too lazy to take calculus.”

          I am the same age as Mark Zuckerberg.

          1. Temperance*

            My school didn’t even have computer science or stats classes, lol. We did have calculus, and my least favorite teacher of all time taught it. I fought so hard to drop it, and won, because I knew it wouldn’t impact me long-term.

            1. gwal.*

              Fascinating. I took calculus in high school and college and wish I had done better and continued on, because the amount of statistics I got in my undergrad and postgrad degrees makes me the least able to understand the complex work done by my analyst colleagues. One’s mileage may vary with math, really.

          2. Boomer Reader*

            I went to a parochial high-schooling’s the late 60s and we were encouraged to take those courses!

          3. anonymissy*

            I actually understand why they did this for high school statistics! The issue is that understanding relatively high level statistics requires calculus, and the stuff you learn in high school statistics isn’t really enough to become an analyst.

        5. SmartestKidOnEarth*

          I thought you were me as I was reading this! Then I saw “province” and that sealed the deal. Yup. I was also sold that line of “all the teachers are retiring!!!” back in ’04.

        6. RUKiddingMe*

          Such good advice. My great-grandmother (born in 1893), was really good at prognostication. I can clearly remember in the mid-late 70s her telling me that I should think about studying “computer stuff.”

          Keep in mind that Jobs and Woz were still working in the garage on the original Apple computer at the time. That was some pretty good insight for an elderly woman. I figure she’s seen a lot of changes (most of the 20th century) by then so could see changes on the horizon. Or else she was psychic…¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Generally though no one can really predict what’s going to happen or how the job market will unfold 10-20 years in the future. No, I didn’t follow her advice. I had a passion. ::eye roll emoji::

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Thanks. She really was. She lived until I was 20 which gave me a lot of time to learn stuff from her. Unfortunately I was too stupid young to realize what a gift it was and didn’t pay as much attention as I should have. I did actually hear a few things though and they have served me well, so there’s that.

        7. Dot Warner*

          Yep. When I was applying to pharmacy school in the mid-’00s, everyone was saying that pharmacy was a hot field and I’d never have any trouble getting a job because there was a shortage of pharmacists, plus all the Boomers were about to retire. Well, guess what? In the intervening decade and a half, dozens of new schools have opened and several existing schools have expanded their class size, and the market is now flooded with new grads. Plus, the economy crashed and the Boomers either didn’t retire or were not replaced when they did. Now we have a surplus of pharmacists, fewer jobs are available, and wages and working conditions are declining. I discourage people from considering pharmacy school these days, as I don’t see this situation improving any time soon.

          1. Eirene*

            Yeah, my dad was a pharmacist for 40 years and retired last April (he finally got the one district manager he couldn’t outlast), and he’s said more than once that he doesn’t envy anyone who’s just starting out in the field because the big chains like CVS and Walgreens are totally brutal to work for in terms of scheduling and (a lack of) technician hours, but generally the best shot at finding a job in pharmacy.

        8. Oaktree*

          Yep. I had friends with OISE degrees who were lucky to get occasional supply gigs. One of them finally got a full time TDSB job a couple years back (the holy grail) but it took her something like 5 years of supply teaching.

      3. SmartestKidOnEarth*

        My field is like this. I live in a major metropolitan city. I went to university for visual arts and curatorial studies. I’ve also dipped a toe in the water of academia and it was a future of what OP was describing that turned me away. I feel I have the best of all worlds because I’m working in an admin role at a university, so I still get to talk about academics, pedagogy, and art – but I also have a stable position and a decent salary.

        I didn’t go to art school thinking I’d be a professional artist. That’s a GUARANTEED route to the outcome Alison described, and is very similar to the actor analogy. It was my original intention to go into teaching high school, but the market for that is all but gone too.

      4. amanda_cake*

        Your future kids will be educated for jobs that don’t exist yet. Who knows what to steer clear of…

      5. It's Perks, Sir*

        Also museum work (which I’ve always assumed is MuseumChick’s field); highly competitive fields like fashion, all the fine arts, sports, and media/broadcasting/journalism; certain kinds of government work (it’s one thing to want to work in city government, another thing to want to work at the State Department); and stuff like the FBI. Pretty much anything will low demand and high interest.

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          Yeah I can echo the sports part (well, working in sports) my dad was the top North American rep for Prince (tennis company) back in the 80s. He knew literally everyone. On a side note his office is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen it’s all these awesome black and white pictures with him and all the big tennis stars of the 80s anyways, I digress. When I was growing up, I knew sales/marketing was going to be my sweet spot and I figured I’d follow my dad into sports, he discouraged me heavily telling me that you have to be prepared to absolutely starve until you make it because everyone wants to work in sports and they’re willing to do it for free and he said I could make a lot more money focusing on a slightly less glamorous industry. I, of course ignored him initially until I started interviewing for Jr. rep jobs and was appalled at how terrible the pay was. My dad naturally laughed at me and said, “I told you dummy, your old man still knows what he’s talking about sometimes!”

      6. desperate doctor*

        I have PhD in physics. I had almost 20 years interesting and rewarding (though not well-paid) temporary jobs in academia, but never got a chair and was finally thrown out when my niche field was terminated.

        Then I have had 10 years job searching, nothing even remotely close to my skills. Some interim programming work, some consultancy, even some coffee shop things. I would be able for software and hardware engineering and all kinds of management, but most epmployrs do not even consider PhD’s in respective technology as the CEO’s seldom have any degree. Got so many answers that I am overqualified except academy jobs where I am underqualified.

        So if you are young and skilled, apply to study something else, like medical sector, where you will surely get a job or another somewhere.

        1. Quickbeam*

          As a 30 year RN ( with multiple degrees) I’ve seen the stampede to get licensed in the “ last guaranteed job market”. People call me all the time from every phase of my life asking for advise on their kids’ futures.

          I tell them all the same thing. Have your kid work as a nursing assistant for a year. If that has not crushed their spirit, maybe nursing school is for them. The profession drop out rate is very high….the work is hard and physical. If you come from an academic of white collar world, know you are going firmly into a blue collar profession with time clocks and forced overtime.

          There are some great nursing jobs ( I have one) but most of the less grueling roles require a hefty amount of clinical experience. No free lunch in nursing.

      7. Jane*

        K – think about jobs that attract volunteers – these are the areas where people will work for no pay, so there will be *lots* of people wanting to do them professionally. Of the top of my head: archaeology, wildlife work, library work, museums. Maybe also travel guiding?

    1. lapgiraffe*

      If you are indeed a museum chick, I’ll add my name as someone who left that world for all of the reasons Alison mentions. I LOVED my work, I spent money and time to get an advanced degree in it, I took the unpaid gigs at all the best institutions, I did everything right, but that wasn’t enough.

      I had a grad school prof who, while being incredibly supportive and helpful in securing all these unpaid gigs, and also he himself having many un/underpaid years in the museum world during his PhD, gave me some real talk at some point before graduating – that the good gigs were few and far between, that somehow despite an astronomically high percentage of female employees in the rank and file only the men seemed to get the top positions, and between all the unpaid hungry interns and wealthy women who don’t “need” to be paid a healthy wage, know that it will be a unending fight for fair pay and advancement. And you know what – a classmate who barely graduated, no internship, no experience, BUT who could afford to live in Major City for $24,000 (not a joke!) took the job I wasn’t willing to even apply for because I knew that wasn’t a sustainable reality for me, all because she had a trust fund. (And I was close with this classmate so I’m not assuming anything, all facts from her mouth to God’s ears).

      I don’t mean to sound so cynical, despite it all I loved all my unpaid time in that world, but I definitely relate to this question despite shifting gears completely almost a decade ago. I cobbled together a life in and adjacent to what I had wanted to do for three years (adjusting, lectures, volunteer, service industry, part time retail) before I had that hard look in the mirror and said this isn’t the life I want to have.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Your comment about the trust fund can be read as resentment from the outside, but I know it’s a very real as someone who has benefited from that kind of thing.

        I can do the work that I do because I come from a wealthy family and supportive parents who paid for school. When I negotiate pay, I don’t have crushing student loans to consider. I don’t have to face down food insecurity or dread medical bills in the same way because I know that if I’m facing a financial crisis my family will bail me out. My peers and I worked equally as hard in school — it’s not that I didn’t “earn” my job, or that they “couldn’t cut it.”

        It’s that I could take the underpaying gigs that helped me build the connections and reputation to land in the stable place I am in today. It’s economic privilege and how the socioeconomic divides are self-reinforcing in our society. Any organization that doesn’t recognize this is likely to be shrugging and saying that their staff all has the same [academic/work/cultural/etc] background because the applicants meeting their requirements all consistently just happen to match that background.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          (I don’t mean to imply that my classmates aren’t working in our field — the majority of them are. But many of them have had a much rougher road of it, and several have opted out of the race. When that happens, it’s really a victory of making the best choices for quality of life, not any kind of defeat.)

        2. lapgiraffe*

          Oh most definitely, and no deep resentment intended, guilty of the shoulder shrugging and mild irritation. I come from plenty of money and privilege and opportunity myself, all those unpaid hours were possible because my parents were paying my tuition and for a long time my rent and giving me extra money on top of that. So in many ways I, too, fit the same mold and wasn’t breaking any barriers or glass ceilings for those particular institutions.

          But where I think my experience relates to the OP and Alison’s response is that it took me scrounging through it a bit, and trying (and for a long time failing) to forgo taking any more of that parental support, to realize that I wanted more. I wanted more money, more opportunity for growth, more diversity of colleagues, basically more than what museum life was going to be able to give me, and different things than museum life could have given me. What I miss the most is gallery access during those quiet hours before the crowds poured in and being with the art without any interruptions, everything else has more or less worked out :-)

    2. Emily*

      I didn’t notice your username, but as I was reading this I *knew* it was about the museum field!! It’s so brutal.

      1. FellowMuseumChick*

        Yep to all of these! I finally found something museum-adjacent that has decent salary and benefits, and they’ll have to pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

    3. Passiflora*

      I absolutely hit Ctrl+F to search for ‘museum’ in the comments because I knew I’d find our kind here.

      I work in a famous museum now and of course I enjoy it, but I live somewhere expensive and my pay is bang-average. To be where I am now I had to survive grad school, literal years of unpaid museum work alongside non-museum jobs (several of which were shocking by AAM standards) to pay rent, some extra non-museum freelance work to build up my emergency fund, plus couple short-term museum contracts that I should have known would never turn into permanent gigs even though I was told otherwise. All while living in a city that’s unforgiving on us job-hopping millennials.

    4. UghThatGuyAgain*

      As the only person in the history of the planet who has ever gone into libraries *for the money* I endorse everything MuseumChick says. I was fortunate to have a previous career in libraries to fall back on when I finally burned out on interviewing for unpaid positions. Interviewing. For. No. Pay.

      I’m a history person, and people love to hate on history majors, so that added some extra sting. I just had to get over it and focus on what I was gaining: the freedom to finally get on with the rest of my life!

  3. in a fog*

    I feel for you, OP. I made the decision a long time ago to go for the less competitive side of my industry because I knew I couldn’t handle the constant hustle it would have been otherwise. You’re incredibly brave for going for it.

    Without knowing the specific field you’re in, it’s tough to offer suggestions, but if you are enthusiastic about teaching, there’s always community colleges and K-12 schools. Public schools likely require a credential depending on the state (if you’re in the U.S.), but private schools usually don’t. It might not be the level of teaching you were originally thinking about, but it’s something.

    1. Jessica*

      Depending on the field, community college positions are nearly as competitive (or transformed almost entirely into adjunct positions). :(

      1. 2 year college academic*

        If you look like an applicant who sees a community college as a back-up option, you probably won’t even get an interview. At my two year regional institution, it is common to have hundreds of applicants for a TT position. Hiring committee are adept at weeding out candidates who don’t understand and prioritize our mission and student population.

    2. Kj*

      I’m going to second looking at private high schools if the LW has a passion for teaching. My high school had a number of Ph.D level teachers who, becuase they were amazing, got to teach basically whatever they wanted in their classes. One teacher told me it was the best part of teaching- she got to pass on her intense love of Shakespeare and Dante to impressionable minds. She did adjunct work at the local college as well, but said high school was really satisfying to teach.

      1. Kris*

        My child attends an independent private high school where the teachers have a lot of academic freedom and support. As a result, the school gets fantastic teachers, many with PhDs, who as far as I can tell are extremely happy.

        1. Kj*

          Yeah, sounds like my high school! It was great for everyone. My sophomore English teacher remains one of the most influential teachers I have ever had, including college and grad school. She was amazing and we even hung out and went to plays outside if school.

          1. entwife*

            Wow, I had no idea there was a world out there where high schools had so many teachers with PhDs! Don’t get me wrong, my public school teachers were great, but this seems like a whole other level.

            1. Chinookwind*

              It is also a completely different type of skill set to teach high schoolers. Hopefully, those Ph.D.s have also taken some “how to teach” and “educational psychology” courses as well.

            2. jb*

              I went to one of those too. Generally these schools are elite and expensive and so may not be as satisfying, if you went into teaching to help people who need it. But the quality of life is accordingly better.

              1. Museumopolis*

                I have an advanced degree in Museum Studies and work in a private school with a museum and archives. I have a lot of freedom with my job, excellent benefits and a good salary. I would really suggest that the OP look beyond academia.

            3. WS*

              My public school did, too! It was unusual in that it was in a town where the main employers were the air force and mining, so there were a lot of couples where one of them (usually the man, but not always) was an engineer or in the air force, and the other one was equally qualified in their field but there were no employment opportunities. The school principal actively recruited all these underemployed professionals to become teachers and it was really great.

            4. LondonBridges*

              I’m echoing this. Man, the only teacher with a PhD that I knew of in my high school was the absolute witch of a chemistry teacher who gave me literal nervous breakdowns. Brilliant woman. Terrible teacher.

          2. Seltzer Fan*

            same, down to the subject and year! shout out to my all girls catholic school for having so many incredible, influential teachers.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              Hah, mine too. I wasn’t at the school yet, but there was most certainly a sophomore english teacher who met that description (and who I still had a bit of a mentored relationship with despite not being in her class.)

              There were several teachers with these kind of advanced degrees at that school. My favorite was the incredibly imposing English teacher I had junior year. I still want to be just like her when I grow up.

      2. Portia*

        Yup, this is me. I have a Ph.D in English, applied to jobs all over the country…and was grateful I didn’t get one. Because I realized I wasn’t invested enough in these jobs (any job, really) to move across the country, live in (probably) a small town, make all new friends, knock myself out teaching and writing and trying to publish…and then still risk a contract not being renewed and going right back to it.
        So, I teach at a private high school, in the city where I wanted to live. I make more money than most of my friends teaching college (including my husband), and I love what I do. It lacks the schedule flexibility of college teaching, but other than that it’s perfect for me. I know it’s not an option for all fields, but I feel lucky it was an option for me.

        1. C'est moi*

          Another Ph.D. here. I taught as an assistant prof. at a small public university for three years after finishing my doctorate. Last year I switched to a private high school, and I am so much happier. The students are, overall, more motivated, I have way more flexibility and freedom in what I teach, and my colleagues are a lot nicer. Plus I still get to do research! I presented a paper at a conference last year and my school paid for the whole shebang – food, lodging, fees, airfare. The university where I worked gave us a $400 stipend for conference attendance.

      3. CatMom*

        Bear in mind the pay for that might not be as good as some of the non-academic options available for someone with a PhD (depending on what it’s in, of course). I work in an education-adjacent field and could easily become a teacher at one of my city’s private high schools, but I’d be taking a nearly 50% pay cut. That may not matter if LW loves teaching or is coming from academia or another not-super-well-paid field, but it’s something to consider.

      4. beckysuz*

        About that. My husband (PhD in organic chemistry) was recently offered a job at a very well known private high school in our area. Boarding students pay roughly 50 grand a year to attend. Wanna hazard a guess at the salary they offer ? Keep in mind most of their teachers are masters level or higher….48k. My husband nearly fell out of his chair with incredulity. Sad thing is he loves to teach and would have been thrilled to do it. But his current pay as a full time officer in the Navy is more than double that. So clearly it was unworkable for our family. But also when you’ve invested an insane amount of money in your education and that’s the type of pay you can expect in return it doesn’t make teaching terribly appealing.

        1. K.*

          Same kind of experience here too, except for a public school in a rural area. I have a PhD in literature from a university ranked in the top 100 in the world, teach high school English and make less than that. I also have to pay a significant amount toward healthcare. The pension isn’t great either. I love teaching, but it involves long hours, high stress, and low pay.

    3. INeedANap*

      At least in my neck of the woods, community colleges were equally difficult to get full-time, stable work in. I think because they’re seen as the “backup” for PhDs who don’t get tenure track in a traditional university, but there are not nearly enough community college openings to absorb all the “extra” PhDs.

      1. Rainy*

        A large community college near the uni where I did my undergrad required 2 books before they’d even look at applicant’s materials. For a community college.

        It’s pretty easy to get contract or adjunct positions at smaller CCs in underserved areas, but that’s because they pay in bags of circus peanuts.

        1. INeedANap*

          Yeah, when I was making the decision to leave my program before finishing the PhD, I had many people within and without academia suggest that I just take my MA and teach at a community college. Which, yeah, I don’t live in a very prosperous, thriving, or populous area and no community college within 75 miles (I know, I tried) will even look at you without a completed PhD.

        2. emmelemm*

          Bags of circus peanuts made me laugh, then cry a little. (Such terrible candies, but I digress.)

          I myself am not in education, but my mom was a part-time instructor for a reealllly long time before she became a full-time instructor at a community college, and I have friends now who do the adjunct part-time what-have-you classes thing. It’s sad, and it’s scary. And the money is CRAP.

          1. Sandy*

            It’s really sad how hard higher education leans on adjunct positions to teach the lower level classes, meanwhile giving them no pay, no support and really, no hope of anything else. My sister did it for a little over a year and saw the writing on the wall.

            1. Anne (with an “e”)*

              When I was in grad school at Large University in the mid 1980’s a large number of undergraduate classes were taught by us grad students. They called the gig a “Fellowship.” The University “paid” an extremely small stipend and gave all of us grad students in-state tuition for our labor. Plus, of course, we had the “honor” of having received a prestigious fellowship from Well Known Large University. Looking back, the amount of money that the school was saving by not hiring professors, not even adjunct professors, to teach all of those classes must have been astronomical.

        3. Dankar*

          Yeah, I picked up some adjunct classes at our local CC. At the end of my interview, I was pulled aside by other faculty who said, “It’ll be great to have you, but the pay is terrible. Will that work for you?”

          Luckily I work full-time as staff at another university, so I just wanted to get back in front of the classroom. It’s just not livable otherwise.

      2. Eukomos*

        Same for us. There’s room in secondary level schools, but community college positions pretty much involve waiting for someone else to retire. I know a guy who was looking into it because he can’t move for a job, his wife is the breadwinner, and he’s a great teacher. Everyone knows it. The local community college basically said they’d love to hire him and wish they could, but they simply don’t have room or budget. He’s had more luck getting one-off classes at the four year universities in the area, at least they have the cash to squeeze in one more class for a friend.

      3. LaurenB*

        I’m in another competitive field (librarianship) and it does get frustrating to be told to look in less popular areas. ANY job posting that mentions certain keywords and that is looking for certain skills got hundreds of applicants – it’s not like the corporate libraries or municipal records offices are hurting for applicants!

        1. MM*

          Yep, another librarian here with 15 years experience. Moved to be near my elderly parents (also can’t stand the advice to move to less popular areas) and after a year of no offers except a sub job,which I still have, I took a job with a vendor.

          1. LaurenB*

            Oh, I hate the whole “move to a small town” thing! Real small towns don’t have librarians! They have part-time clerks and the library is managed by a librarian in the city two hours away. Nothing against those clerks, but they’re usually locals who have houses in the area and another means of support, not new professionals launching careers. If a city is a populous enough area to have a library manager on staff, it’s going to get applicants from around the country.

            1. Rachel Morgan*

              Thankfully that’s not true in my state! In my state, there are requirements for every library director. Each library has it’s own director (a county-wide system will have one director and multiple managers). A class 3 library (population from I think 7500-11999) requires a bachelors degree in something, while a class 4-6 requires a master’s degree.

              My last rural library job had a director (aka librarian), and 5 part time people. When she retired, there were a good 20 applications, though.

              1. LaurenB*

                That population range includes the third-largest city in my province. I guess that’s not what I’m thinking when I hear small town. :) And yes, I expect that they’d get out-of-province applicants at least if they were hiring a librarian.

    4. Maya Elena*

      Yes so much on the teaching here.
      I got so little out of my college classes compared to high school it’s laughable. It think daily lessons and a more protracted time scale (common core and testing regimens notwithstanding) make a difference.
      And even if it’s teaching very basic things to bad students, rather than imparting Shakespeare or Calculus to honors ones, there is still someone who may benefit more than the generic college student.

    5. My Cabbages!*

      My husband has a Master’s and teaches high school. I have a PhD and teach at a 4 year university. He makes almost twice what I do.

      1. My Cabbages!*

        I also wanted to add that I really do feel for you, OP. I did manage to find this job (as an adjunct, but full-time, and with only a year-long but renewable contract) after several years at a CC working for what ended up being less than minimum wage. And I love my job and I’m really happy here.

        But I went into grad school thinking I could do research that would cure disease and save lives. That…did not happen. And that will never happen. I probably will never do research again, and making that decision still makes me feel like I’ve failed and let down all the people who mentored me. I still grieve for what I could have done (although knowing myself–I never could have actually done it).

        Making the decision to let go was absolutely the right call for me. But it is hard. It hurts. Good luck.

        1. TCPA*

          I’m sorry this is so off-topic but I cannot scroll past without acknowledging your amazing user name! Thank you for making me laugh and reminding me of a wonderful show :) My cabbages!!!!

          1. Chameleon*

            I’m rewatching it now, with my 4 year old seeing it for the first time! She has declared she is an ice bender.

              1. Carlie*

                I’ve been greatly enjoying your username too :) It was one of the few shows our entire family loved. (we all usually have very different tastes)

    6. JSPA*

      Community colleges are their own special circle of hell, as far as teaching load, pay, consistency in pay from semester to semester, job security, resources, and respect–and they still have hundreds of applicants for open positions.

      1. Det. Charles Boyle*

        The community college where I taught (Milwaukee Area Technical College) was a very good-paying, stable, terrific job. But this was 15-20 years ago. The faculty is unionized and I had great benefits and colleagues. I’ve since moved away, so I don’t know how the recent past has treated them.

      2. LaDeeDa*

        The community college where I teach 1 class every other semester doesn’t want academics. They want professionals who work in the industry/field they are teaching. I am sure it is different for the “core subjects” English, Maths, etc.
        I was actively recruited by the CC, and I have always thought once I was ready to leave the corporate world and just work part-time I would teach, but holy cow. It is a lot of work. I have to advertise and basically drum up enough students to fill my class. If I don’t have enough students, I don’t get paid.
        I do it because I enjoy teaching, but I honestly can’t imagine if it was my only source of income.

    7. KJ*

      I had a similar experience in my field (also competitive, also academic) and I decided I didn’t want to live that lifestyle. I went back to school (which A LOT of people gave me trouble about) to get a teaching degree-lots of places do 1 year programs, and they seem to like people with experience “in the field,” so I got a really amazing scholarship. This is my second year teaching my subject in high school. I love it. I use the same problem-solving skills I developed during my PhD and postdoc research, I talk about my subject and how amazing it is, and I get to have an impact on 100 kids every day. It is so much work, and can be emotionally draining, but is also the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.

  4. Peggy*

    When I was on the academic job market, I vividly remember being stunned when the only non-academic who *immediately* understood what it was like, on both the psychological and practical levels, was my friend who had been a screenwriter. That really told me something.
    And, FWIW, it didn’t work out for either of us. Despite producing good work, having sterling credentials, great networks, and loving what we did. I’m still grieving. When something defines you for so long, and has come to form the bulk of your community, it is incredibly painful to feel that it has rejected you, and to have to rebuild your life.
    Which is not to say it can’t be done – it can, and I have many friends who are SO much happier for having gotten out of that soul-crushing job market cycle. But it takes time and support and a kind of intellectual deprogramming.

    1. mf*

      Screenwriter here. And I used to work in academia. And yeah, both fields can be heartbreaking. This might be the toughest part: “When something defines you for so long, and has come to form the bulk of your community, it is incredibly painful to feel that it has rejected you, and to have to rebuild your life.”

      You love what you do and you work really REALLY hard at it. And at the end of the day, it still feels like there’s place for you in the field of work that you love.

      1. Properlike*

        Adjunct cademic here who was former screenwriter. I had it worse, because there was some success as a screenwriter. (What’s that saying? “First taste is free?”)

        But one of my present students came to ask me about film school, which he thinks is kind of cool, vs. getting a PhD in philosophy, a field he is madly in love with, and I could only ask, “What’s your third option, besides ‘marry rich?'” Both my academic and my writing identities are time-intensive side-gigs for me. It was hard to let go of those identities, and now I do it only because I love it, not because I’ll get paid for it.

    2. Reba*

      I’m glad you brought up grief.

      I’ve been fully prepared to leave the academic market almost since I began the grad school process. I was even kind of thinking of it in the past tense before I was done. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to do my PhD, pursuing the project that I wanted in company with great mentors and meeting amazing people. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m proud of it.

      And, if that’s all it ever is–some interesting years and a dissertation–I am ok with that. But I still feel sad that it can’t work out. I have a damn cool research trajectory planned and I’m a pretty darn good teacher. It IS sad that I likely won’t be contributing those things to the world. I know I’ll ultimately be happier outside of academia than in, and it’s not a failure at all. But you still have to let yourself have the feeling of grief. A career you imagined isn’t going to come to pass, a subject you care deeply about is going to be put at least partially aside, and those are not small things.

      Maybe it would help to think of it as a chapter that may be closing, that you may choose to bring to a close (rather than like a test you are failing, or quicksand!). You did the good things that you did, and they don’t disappear. In the future, you will do different good things.

      best wishes and solidarity, OP.

      1. Prof*

        This is a really good attitude to have, to be honest. I entered grad school during the recession, and I tried to think of my PHD program as a pretty cool six-year job with no guarantees for the future. I think it helped me a lot to not see it as a promise of anything more.

      2. JobHunter*

        I also gave a lot of thought to leaving academia, and considered not finishing as late as a few days before my defense. The sense of loss and failure (due to having all my PhD-level job applications rejected up to that point) was strong. Reba has some good advice…and don’t be afraid to talk to someone about processing your feelings.

        I co-sign on the advice regarding seeking field-adjacent positions. I have found more success with applications to positions that ask for skills I picked up outside of grad school. Maybe applications to positions related to your older work or even volunteer experiences will be more fruitful.

      3. MM*

        I’m in the first year of my PhD now, and I’ve tried to go into it with a similar mentality basically from the first second it occurred to me to even do a doctorate. I promised myself I would only do this if I would be happy to do it for its own sake; if I were looking at it as a gateway to an academic career, then there’d be no rational reason to do it. (Which is INSANE, in theory, but realistically speaking there it is.) And on one level, I do think that’s where I’m at–there’s certainly nothing else I’d rather be doing for six years–but at the same time, I think it’s really difficult to truly convince yourself, deep down, not to invest in the fantasy where *of course* it works out. After all, the odds were tough getting even this far, and you did, so why not the rest? I have several successfully tenured or TT faculty in my family, and while that’s a HUGE advantage for me (none of them are in my field but the advice, insight into academia, etc has value despite its varying vintages), it’s sort of tough sometimes because…they’re all people for whom it did work out. So when I try to mention this they’re all like, “Oh, but if anyone can do it you can!” And I’m like, thanks, I love you too, but please don’t say things like that; I really can’t afford to think that way.

        1. nbsp*

          Professor here. This is an excellent way of looking at it. So much of it comes down to luck. I probably owe my career to a person being sick and missing a meeting, and the rest of the committee making the so-called “unexpected choice” of me and offering me a job while I was still finishing my Ph.D. Without that, I would probably be years gone from academia. Thanks, random virus in particular human!

    3. No name former academic*

      I work primarily with people who are either trying for or (having been trying) realize they need a Plan B from academia, and something we do a lot of talking about is the loss of identity that people suffer when they have to change their career plans that drastically. There is a definite grief process that you have to work through as you give up those dreams and choose new ones.

      I myself left my PhD ABD because I did the math (the so-called success rate for my discipline is about 3%) and realized that it was never going to happen for me, and I couldn’t justify spending another year’s worth of money I didn’t have in one of the most expensive cities in North America to chase an outcome that just wasn’t going to happen for me. I also had an advisor hostile to my project, which added another layer of shit to the sandwich I was trying to choke down.

      So now I get paid to help other people going through the same thing.

      1. Tau*

        This is so real. I’m several years post-academia, talked below about how leaving was very clearly the best career decision I’ve ever made and I’m so much happier now, and I still have those moments of grief. I miss the community I was in, I miss the conferences, I miss the incredible heady feeling it was when the research was going well and you were drawing connections and advancing the sum total of human knowledge. And I’m not an academic anymore, even though that was a cornerstone of my identity for years, and sometimes I still feel just plain lost when I remember that.

        I’m glad someone is out there helping people through that process!

      2. Chinookwind*

        Ditto in the grief with a side order of “now what do I do with my evenings/weekends.”

        Deciding to embrace “I am not a teacher” has been very hard and one I still struggle with, 10 years later. I was lucky to have my first office job working for someone whose mother was a teacher and he was able to gently change my methods of interacting with others (that is a polite way to put it) and was understanding about what I left behind.

        The unforseen side effect is that I no longer had anything to fill up my evenings and weekends. As an English teacher, I always had lessons to plan and homework to mark. It took me a few years before I got comfortable with have an evening with nothing that needed to be accomplished.

    4. seller of teapots*

      I just had a weekend away with two of my best friends, who I met through grad school. We all speak of “escaping” academia. The grieving process was years long for me. Now I reference to academia as that ex boyfriend who you know was really bad for you, but you can’t help but miss because man the sex was great.

      Of those friends: one is a marketing professional by day and writer on the side, one is a computer programmer & poet, and I manage a sales team. We all have some combination of partners, families, stability, financial freedom, etc, all of which was really hard to maintain in the world of academia.

      It breaks my heart, how much the world of academia grinds you up and spits you out. I wish things were different. I still miss it some days, if I’m being honest, but I’ve never once regretted my decision to chose my quality of life over my work.

      1. AlternativePhd*

        Same here. I left academia 3 years ago and I’m much happier. My partner and I had the dreaded 2 body problem, both of us in academia, different fields, him already with tenure. My second year on the market, I landed the top postdoc in my field–there was no question that I would take it, even though it meant my partner and I would live 10 hours apart, maintain 2 households, and support moving one of us (twice) for a year (all this without being paid over the summer, of course, which means moving to new place in August, not being paid until October, so yeah…debt). After my postdoc, we both went on the market and the best offer I got was a spousal hire at a place that wanted my husband. The spousal hire (2 jobs in the same place!) is somewhat of a unicorn these days, and we were so grateful that we felt we couldn’t risk negotiating anything else so both of our salaries were super low. As the “trailing” spouse, I was treated like shit–lowest of the low–in my department (not the same as spouse’s). Many of you will recognize this–candidates now have accomplished more that the folks hiring had to achieve in order to get their tenure. In my experience, the worst, the super vicious folks who made it their job to make it known that I was not chosen through a tenure-track search, were the ones who had received tenure in a bygone age when a candidate didn’t even need a peer-reviewed article published to get a job.

        I could not take it because it was simply too discouraging to my self-worth. Further, it was undeserved, frankly. It was about other people’s insecurities. I’m a great scholar and teacher, but was treated as if I had zero experience or training. So, I finally made the jump to an alt-ac career and I’ve really never looked back. There’s alot about grief mentioned above, and that really resonates with me. But, there’s also something about shame, at least for me there was…and still is, sometimes. The academy trains you to see success as one thing: tenure-track job. When that’s not possible, it is really hard not to feel like a failure for leaving. I still feel like that sometimes, especially when I encounter someone who is wholly in that mindset. But, mostly I feel, wow, I can’t believe how long I thought that was my only option.

        There are resources for alt-ac (alternative academic) careers popping up everywhere (and maybe someone has already mentioned them here–apologies if so; I’m actually not going to read all the comments just to preserve my inner peace because this still gets me really emotional). There are some articles in the Chronicle of Higher Ed as well as support groups and boards online. I read The Professor is In’s post “Its OK to Quit” several times (in fact, that post was so helpful to so many people, Karen Kelsky now has a whole business built up around helping folks make the transition to post-ac…she charges for those services and I can’t speak to their efficacy, but there are some good, free resources on her website). Reading around in some of these might help the OP to imagine what alt-ac could look like for them. I still teach in my new career, but in a different context (no grading!), if that’s what is particularly important. I also still pursue research and use knowledge form my diss on the daily. So, I don’t really have to grieve the loss of those things; I just had to reframe how they might be used in a career.

        Best of luck to you!!

      2. Gloucesterina*

        I can relate to the idea of mourning the field, not one’s individual path. I’m an ABD who has never planned to apply for faculty positions; that commitment to a “non-traditional” route (as if not getting a faculty job is something newfangled, LOL) has given me great peace of mind and more bandwidth for creative experimentation, both in my research and in my career interests. But I would love to hand out faculty jobs like popcorn to all my desirous and deserving colleagues!

    5. SoVeryBeenThere*

      Same situation. I left academia about 9 years ago now. The transition period was very rough and was quite painful for three years and more. I kept trying to make it work, even after I’d left – grabbing adjunct jobs on top of work or trying to see if I could maybe work after the kids were in bed and grind out a paper that would get published and save my career.

      There is a lot of loss, when you leave. You lose all of your accomplishments – nobody outside cares about them, no matter how impressive they were in the academic world. You lose your social circle. You lose years of work experience – I transitioned to non-academic work better than some, since I had worked lots of odd jobs through grad school, but looking for entry-level jobs in your 30s, with all of your achievements being academic ones… Well, at least the OP won’t be doing it in the Great Recession.

      BUT… this is the part where we talk about the sunk costs fallacy. The years to a degree, the fancy fellowships, the dissertation, the conference presentations, the papers, the bitter slog – it was never going to yield anything anyway. There was never going to be a payout. There comes a time to stop throwing good years after bad.

      Now that I’ve been out for a while, looking at academia as an experienced outsider? It looks insane. I can’t remember why I did it for so long or worked so hard on it. It’s like being deprogrammed from a cult.

      I am much happier and wish I had cut bait years before I did.

      1. seller of teapots*

        It’s like being deprogrammed from a cult.

        God, yes, this.

        It’s funny because my program liked to talk about how unfair capitalism is, but was never able to acknowledge how exploitative it’s own universe is. Capitalism is *certainly* flawed, but also my 9-5 job has never asked me to make the kind of sacrifice that academia asked of me.

        1. MM*

          I feel like at the moment, the issue of adjunct labor isn’t seen as a true-blue labor issue outside of the circles directly concerned with it, because academia is traditionally not (seen as) blue-collar. But the day will come. I made a point when I was choosing grad programs of picking a university with the most militant grad student union I could (by American standards).

      2. Pommette!*

        I left my PhD program six years ago (ABD, with a partial draft on my hands). I left because I realized that there was no professional future in it for me and because the isolation and hopelessness were soul destroying. The intervening years have cemented my conviction that leaving was absolutely, unambiguously the right choice… and yet I still feel loss and shame at what still feels like a failure.

        I think that leaving academia can be a bit like leaving an abusive relationship or a cult. You have spent years making yourself into something that doesn’t make sense outside of the context of the thing you are leaving, and all of your efforts and sacrifice feel so wasted. By the time you leave, your sense of self has been warped, and many of your relationships have been transformed or lost. You have to re-think yourself and remake your relationships, but the only terms you have left to think with are those of the system you are leaving.

    6. Yikes*

      I’m in a different field entirely, but had a virtually identical experience. Due to the economics of my field, after years of advanced education and hustling, I finally had to admit defeat and pivot into a different space. Thank you all for sharing here, because it was something I needed to hear today.

    7. Mockingbird*

      Yes, the grief!

      Not quite the same, but I’m in a professional field and decided to skip further, specialised training to get a stable job. My reasons were that intense training was becoming bad for my mental health, I wasn’t truly interested in all aspects of the specialised field, and I wanted time/freedom for my other interests*. Oh and the job market for that field sucks!! It’s probably more likely I’d just end up with a general job after all that training anyway. I’ve been working toward said specialisation since the beginning and do love a lot of aspects of it so it was so hard to give up. But the minute I thought of getting out I knew it was the right idea.

      Reading Dear Sugar/Cheryl Strayed and her account of her divorce helped me. (She was conflicted about it but knew it was right for her.) That’s how deep the grief felt. I have a great job lined up and I’m excited but sometimes it still hurts.

      *One of which is an arts field which I purposefully put on the back burner to have a “stable career”.

    8. Working Mom Having It All*

      I decided to go into the entertainment industry after college because I realized that academia — which is the path I’d been pushed toward and which was my other potential goal as an undergrad — was every bit as risky as Hollywood. In the end, while I didn’t become a successful screenwriter or filmmaker, I did find a niche within the entertainment industry that makes me happy. And I absolutely don’t envy folks who are pursuing an academic career.

  5. Steve*

    I agree with Allison – I pursued a career in the business side of the entertainment industry. It is similar to your situation due to the sheer competition.

    After a while, I thought about what I was really after in my career pursuits – I found many commonalities in advertising and went that direction with my career.

    I don’t know the specifics of what you do – but would you be willing to teach at a community college or high school – or start a non-profit or work in a different sector.If you are in the sciences – you can go into industry.

    1. Samwise*

      It is hard to get fulltime teaching jobs at community colleges. They are generally funded even less generously than state universities and colleges.

  6. HereKittyKitty*

    MFA here- when I first started grad school I thought I wanted to be in academia, by the end I didn’t. The job market is nearly impossible and I didn’t want to go through that (plus other reasons) so I went into marketing instead. I still write, publish, do workshops and have even thought of adjuncting in nightschool if I ever need to scratch that itch. Is there a middle ground between a stable job and also pursuing your passion? Maybe it’s something worth considering?

    1. Have you listened to Charly Bliss' new single?*

      In the exact same boat — also an MFA, and I taught full-time for a while, but never in ideal circumstances (commuting two hours to a for-profit college I hated; working for low pay on a year-to-year contract basis; etc.). Now I’m working full-time as a paralegal, which is what I did before I got my degree. It’s hard, in a way, to think about the fact that I spent three years and went into debt to get a degree that I now don’t “use,” and sometimes I feel ashamed when I talk to people who knew me as a student/teacher, like I didn’t “make it.” But I also make really good money and have a job that I leave at the door at 5:00, leaving me more energy and headspace for my writing and my family and the other things in my life. It’s a trade-off that I think overall actually works really well for me. I hope whatever happens and whatever your situation is, LW, that you’re able to find some balance in your life where you feel fulfilled but also get that stability you need!

      1. HereKittyKitty*

        You’re using your skills regardless of whether you’re in the industry or not, that’s a success! The beauty of humanities is that it totally is transferable to almost any industry that supports itself on critical thinking, problem solving and communication! <3

        1. Sarah*

          I have a Masters in Creative Writing and work in an analytical, client-facing field. Almost every presentation goes through me, our COO has told me multiple times that they love having somebody who understands how people process information so we can design decks in a way that actually highlights important information, and our CFO loves chatting with me and seeing the ways I “make abstract ideas concrete with the most unexpected associations.” There’s huge, huge benefit to being somebody who has studied the arts in a very traditional, buttoned up field if you’re willing to advertise that you have those skills and show people how they’re useful. (In my case, that looked like saying, “No, I know we love that chart, I know that’s a useful chart, but you cannot put that in a deck and expect people to make sense of it on the screen. We need to highlight the important information and this is a supporting document in the appendix.”)

    2. R*

      Another MFA in marketing here!

      Yeah I thought I would want to be a professor and am so happy I did not go that route. Among my friends who have successfully found professorships, most are in random places, and one is living a 2-hour flight from her husband. I think all are making way less money than I make in my corporate career.

      Another option to consider if you want to stay academia-adjacent is librarianship. There are some opportunities to become a librarian without a formal degree, you’re still in a university, you still get opportunities to research and write. I think these jobs are becoming more competitive but they’re not at the competitiveness level of professorships at all.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Hi, R —

        Unfortunately, the library field is also grossly over-subscribed right now. Getting a full-time job will require a master’s degree from an accredited program. A former Ph.D. could probably do that blind-folded, but it makes it more complicated to switch fields.

        I’ve also noticed that many academic librarians are suspicious/intimidated by job candidates with Ph.Ds. , e.g. “She has a Ph.D. She will look down on us.” And there’s also the usual crap about the candidate being overqualified and probably won’t stay, yadda, yadda, yadda.

        1. Eukomos*

          That suspicion will show up in any field that doesn’t specifically recruit Ph.D.s. One of the realities of leaving academia is that there’s a stereotype out there that academics are arrogant and look down on people with less education (and also that we don’t know how to work, which, WTF, this is not an easy job!). The only way you can convince people that stereotype doesn’t apply to you is to go in there and be a decent, kind human being and not the condescending asshole they expect.

          1. pancakes*

            Those of us with JDs encounter similar suspicions. I’ve often felt trapped by them when trying to apply for non-lawyer jobs.

        2. Annette*

          Seems very egotistical to assume librarians are intimidated. Just as likely – you are underqualified because you lack an MLS and experience in the field.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            They’re not intimidated. They’re tired of people assuming that a Ph.D. somehow stands in for library training, because all they do is shelve books all day, right?

            1. katy*

              +1. I think librarians are pretty tired of people thinking of librarianship as a backup career to academia.

              1. R*

                My husband actually is a librarian and I think it is true that librarians are tired of this, but it also seems to be true that nonetheless PhDs are somewhat frequently hired.

          2. Librarianne*

            THIS. I’ve served on several hiring committees and PhD-holders/professors are often the weakest candidates because they have not considered the ways being a librarian is different from their current work. No, we don’t read all day. No, you can’t spend your work hours researching in your former academic field. Yes, we have our own conferences/journals/research methodologies. Yes, you will have to work your regular hours during the summer.

            My god.

            1. LaurenB*

              And someone who really does want to be an academic in a particular field IS going to be frustrated by just pointing researchers to relevant resources without getting to read or analyze them. I’m a humanities grad working in a science library, and while I do wish I had a bit more of a science background, I also found it really hard while, as a student working in a more general library, I dealt with undergrads looking for resources in my exact old field. We were just getting started and I had Thoughts about the sources they were finding but… none of that mattered. I wasn’t there to give them (increasingly out of date) historiographical advice.

        3. Librarianne*

          Yes, the library field–especially academic librarianship–is insanely competitive. When I was about to graduate from my program in 2014, I stopped counting once I’d sent in my 50th job application. I got 3 interviews and 1 firm offer, which I accepted even though I had very little interest living in that part of the country. Many of my classmates still hadn’t secured a professional job 6 months after graduation. Several have never worked in the field.

          R is correct that librarianship isn’t as competitive as professorship, but the gap is ever closing…

          1. Rachel Morgan*

            With my MLIS and library experience, it took me 1 full year to get a professional job, and 6 years past that to get a full time professional job.

            A PhD (in any other field) does NOT make a librarian.

            And for the record – when I was a reference librarian, I did analyze the information that I was giving people – because I wanted to give them the best information I could. That’s part of what makes a good librarian good.

      2. No name former academic*

        As Sara without an H says, academic librarian positions are very very hard to get right now because for the last decade or so people have been going to library school after their field-specific advanced degree.

        The new hotness I’m seeing in people who are seeking outside academia for options is instructional design for humanities/social science people, and data science for STEM.

        1. Carolina*

          Seconding the Instructional Design/Data Scientist route for people who can’t do academia. Pays much better (especially data science; there’s a MASSIVE shortage of qualified people on the market), and it’s interesting work.

        2. KayEss*

          I do visual design and web development for online education, and our instructional designers are all people who started out teaching (at middle-school through college levels) and decided they wanted a stable, better-paying career where their workday ended at 5pm.

          (And I’m a trained illustrator who decided I wanted to have health insurance and get paid by people who value my expertise instead of questioning it, so I’m clawing my way further and further into programming.)

      3. ArchivesGremilin*

        Hate to break it too you but 99% of all academic librarianship you need a MLIS/MLS. And most often times a second masters.

        1. Oaktree*

          Yes. MI/MLIS/MISt from ALA-accredited program, and if in academia, an additional master’s in the desired subject area is the minimum. Many institutions prefer PhD in subject area + MI/MLIS/etc.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        The library/archives field is saturated, too. I know people who got MLIS’ and CA certifications and then did other jobs and volunteered for years until a library position opened up. And they’re the first jobs to get cut back when funding takes a hit. I work in an archive and I haven’t gotten and MLIS because my job has nowhere to advance me, and I’m not sure I’d ever find a job to justify the expense of the degree. I’m probably better off as an assistant.

        And I don’t need an MLIS to work in archives–pretty much nothing we do couldn’t be learned by an apprenticeship–but you have to have one on paper.

      5. Meh.... It’s just an opinion*

        As an academic librarian, no….just no. Librarian positions always require the MLS (or like 20 years experience). Is there the extremely rare position where they want a researcher but stick them with the ‘librarian’ title and don’t require the MLS? Sure, maybe. But you’ll be up against 75 others with the same PhD AND the MLS AND experience as a subject librarian, so good luck. I’ve had professors tell me that they received over 150 applicants for a PT job. I had an interview where the woman had a 3in binder STUFFED with application materials for a job where the pay was so low she wouldn’t even give me a RANGE (and one of the FT degreed librarians had to rush off to her 2nd job). I had a contract position that was for 6 weeks only and open just to local candidates, my boss said she had stopped reading after 25 resumes (she received more, but just didn’t bother).

        You could find a paraprofessional position with just a BA or Associates but the pay will suck and there will be no upward mobility until you get the masters (a bunch of people in my program were there for just that reason).

        I wouldn’t recommend this career path to anyone who was doing this as a fail-safe option. It’s still academia, with everything that entails (even public libraries are difficult to get into).

        I have good experience, good references, good projects to my name. I’ve been told both my resume and cover letter are impressive multiple times. I’ve also been job hunting for another academic position for the last 18 months after leaving a university where:

        I had 4 bosses in under a year
        The building blew up and caught fire (I do mean that literally by the way)
        My entire staff was fired without even altering me until the day of
        My budget for the year was 3 months late and then revoked entirely 3 weeks later (ever try to buy books without money? Some of our items were over 25 years old in a field that is constantly changing)
        My assistant caught a student drinking hard liquor at a computer
        I was physically threatened by multiple students
        I had to go to admin about a potential stalker situation when a student tried to follow me home (thankfully that particular boss was awesome and had already received multiplie complaints, but no the student wasn’t formally disciplined.)
        Another dept head tried to physically attack me when I told her since I had no staff now we needed to make different arrangements for some work I did for her (and no, she wasn’t disciplined either)

        Yes, I’m considering leaving academia entirely. I’ve taken a part time position as a law librarian and also worked as a contractor for a corporate library (for a fabulous company that I loved and my boss is trying everything she can to bring me on permanently but the budget isn’t there).

        You do this because you love it, not because you think it’s a good back up.

        1. polkadotbird*

          Sorry, your building blew up?!

          Also so many of your points sound dysfunctional and horrible. I’m sorry.

      6. mousie housie*

        In addition to what others have said about the field being saturated:

        * you need the patience of a saint, the empathy of a mother, the conflict resolution skills of a social worker, and the authority of a security guard to deal with the wildly variant personalities and situations inside a free public space.

        * many libraries are now adding bilingualism as a requirement even for pages and restockers. Ugh.

      7. Oaktree*

        Being a librarian is not a consolation prize or an easier option if you can’t make it as a professor. That’s actually really insulting. Becoming an academic librarian is a pipe dream for most of us, frankly; it’s an extremely competitive field and hard to break into. There’s a reason a lot of us work in corporate/special libraries.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      “Is there a middle ground between a stable job and also pursuing your passion?”

      Heck if I know. I never tried to pursue my dreams because I knew I’d be a loser from the getgo, but the older I get, the more my soul is screaming because I am not doing it.

      Not that this helps anyone any.

  7. Stephanie*

    OP, some of my friends in academia swear by The Professor Is In. She’s a former academic and writes a lot about the feelings you’re experiencing.

  8. AnonAcademic*

    Hello from a fellow academic, currently relying on contingent soft money to fund my position. I agree with Allison that deciding if academic precarity is a worthwhile tradeoff for work you find fulfilling in other ways is the key. There is so much pressure in academia to not go “alt-ac” as if it’s some sort of failure, but the reality is that I know plenty of PhDs who are happy working in industry, and plenty of postdocs who are getting by in academe but planning to leave. “Alt-ac” is what everyone else calls a “normal day job.”

    I would also think long and hard about what parts of the job you have entangled unnecessarily with your identity and self worth. You are not your CV. Your “failure rate” for getting a job is the norm for people in your field (I got 0 interviews last job cycle). It’s not a reflection on your value as a human being.

    1. the_scientist*

      I think there’s a lot of internalized shame around leaving academia because in that environment, the Ivory Tower is the be-all and end-all, and if you’re not in a full-team research/writing role you’re seen as not being fully committed to your field. Which really, is BS.

      OP, check out the website The Professor Is In. It’s run by an ex-academic who does consulting work for people searching for academic jobs, but also provides a lot of advice about how to navigate the guilt and self-doubt that comes with deciding to leave academia.

      1. Forrest*

        I find it fascinating how many academics, particularly on the arts and humanities, are experts at recognising and describing ideology but are extremely unaware of the ideologies surrounding their own work.

          1. JSPA*

            That’s a piercing and shockingly perceptive statement. Every bit of me is trying to reject it, but I actually can’t.

            It might explain the strange abuse-adjacent interactions that pass for leadership in academic departments.

            I wonder if actual cult deprogramming materials might help those of us who still linger inside, looking out, or hang just outside, looking in?

              1. Pommette!*

                This is one of the most intriguing comments I have encountered on this site.

                (I don’t mean to make light of what I am sure was a difficult experience – it just sounds like an interesting perspective).

        1. gecko*

          Most of the humanities professors I had couldn’t stop talking about the ivory tower ideologies surrounding their work :)

          1. E*

            Yeah, that’s always been my experience too. Lots and lots of academics inside academia are aware of its flaws and will hold forth at length about it. Most either don’t have the power or the capacity to change things.

    2. Sara without an H*

      +1000. Graduate school is designed at least partly as a professional formation program. After a while, it becomes difficult to remember that there’s more to you than your professional role.

      You are not your career. Repeat this until you believe it.

      1. EtherIther*

        YES! I think academia is really toxic in the way that it’s often expected for people to tie their self-worth to their jobs. Particularly when the reality is, with how competitive it is this days, it takes both luck AND hard work to get an academic job.

        1. My Cabbages!*

          Yes! And in my field, there is also a feeling like if you don’t want to spend 24/7 on the science, you aren’t really dedicated enough. I remember my mentor once talking about a former student who went into government saying with utter contempt, “Well, I guess she’s got that 9-5 schedule she wanted.” He also got quite angry when he’d call the lab on the weekends and no one would pick up.

          That was really the beginning of leaving for me. I like science as a friend; I don’t want to marry it.

          1. Boba Feta*

            I legit feel like i’m having an emotional breakthrough reading these replies talking about academia like it’s a cult that warps one’s sense of self worth.

            Cuz hot damn if that ain’t some truth.

            Holy shirtballs. The last 10 years of my life make so much more sense now.

            1. No name former academic*

              One of the things I attempt to impress upon the grad students I work with is that grad school, regardless of their department or discipline, is in part designed to make them underrate and undervalue their skills and experience, and that if they plan to be successful at anything after grad school, they have to start appropriately assessing their level of expertise in the things they do, and appropriately valuing their potential contributions to whatever organization they choose to join.

              1. My Cabbages!!*

                I remember a Facebook post I made during grad school: “Grad school is the place you go to suck at the one thing you’ve always been really good at.”

          2. Lalaroo*

            I notice that your mentor was somehow calling the lab on the weekend from a different location though…

            1. My Cabbages!*

              Once you have your own lab you basically don’t do benchwork. He was writing grants on the weekends.

    3. Yorick*

      I tried for a few years to get a tenure-track job. My academic field has a lot of jobs, relatively speaking, but I still didn’t find one despite having good publication and teaching records.

      After several years on the market, I got a research job at a government agency. It’s in my broad field but not at all my subfield. I felt like I was pretty much settling. But my job is actually awesome. And as much as those several years with temporary jobs and temporary moves and whatnot sucked, I feel like it’s ok because I wouldn’t have applied for my current job if I hadn’t felt desperate after all that.

      1. Yorick*

        The moral of my story is to look outside of academia for jobs that you can use the skills you learned from your degree.

        If you get some other job, you can still adjunct here and there if you want. If you love teaching you don’t have to completely give it up.

    4. INeedANap*

      I think there’s many of us who had side-stepped into staff roles in academia as well. I know that when I made the decision to leave my PhD program without completing, I got a lot of lofty, pitying “Well of course if you couldn’t handle the PhD, it’s best for you to try something more suited.” The implication being that faculty are the only contributors to a students’ experience, and that the lowly staff were just there to serve faculty needs.

      Five years down the road and I am thriving in a well-paid, stable job with benefits and retirement – and every single day I am helping students, I am making a difference in their lives and their education, and while I am not doing exactly what I thought I would do, I am fulfilled and happy and most importantly – I am actually living that identity that I wanted! It just looks a little different.

      1. No name former academic*

        Yup. I help students every single day. Often students who’ve been set up for failure by their advisor or their department faculty, and I help them snatch a different kind of victory from their academic experience.

        It feels pretty damn good, I have to say.

        And when I go home at 5, I leave work at work.

      2. KHB*

        I hate, hate, hate the idea that the only successful outcome for PhD students is to become tenure-track academics. Realistically, that’s just not possible for more than a tiny fraction of people: Each academic will supervise many PhD students over the course of her career, but she’ll leave only one job vacancy when she retires.

        I made it through my PhD and a year and a half as a postdoc before I realized I didn’t want to play anymore. I started applying to other jobs, and I lucked into a stable position at an academic-adjacent nonprofit. I told my grad school roommate, and rather than being happy for me, she was “shocked” and “disappointed” and stopped speaking to me. (I wish I were making this up.) Even now, a decade-plus on, I still grapple with feelings like I’m a failure or less-than because I’m not doing research of my own. It’s really screwed up.

      3. Cafe au Lait*

        How did you transition out of academia? I’m a librarian degree holder but without a librarian job. I work in a library, but I’ve gotten all I can get out of this job. There’s intense competition for library jobs that are available, and I never make it to the final round.

        I’ve thrown my hat in the ring at other jobs, with nary a call back. (All academic staff roles. They tend to lean towards academic advising). I think my cover letter is well written (I did follow Alison’s advice). I related my experience to what was described in the responsibilities portion of the job ad. I’m doing something incorrectly, and I’d like to figure it out.

        1. INeedANap*

          Personally, I started at the bottom, but for the record – it wasn’t easy. It was just easier compared to academia. I was lucky enough that there is a prestigious school about an hour’s commute from where I live. I started as a part-time admin assistant on soft money, added a second part-time temporary job after 3 months to get to full time hours, and used the combined experience and references from those two jobs to get a full-time, permanent position. It was at a lower range, but it was good experience, and after about two years there I was able to jump to where I am now which is a comfortable, stable position with upward mobility.

          I probably would not have had to start quite as low if I had work experience but honestly, a MA and nothing but teaching experience is basically useless work experience.

          Advising in particular will be very difficult to get into unless you have prior advising experience.

    5. Tau*

      I left after academia after my PhD, when I went in with the mindset of academia or bust. Leaving seemed to be such a hard decision to make when I first began to consider it, but turned into such an easy one once I had the following paradigm shift:

      The question you should be asking yourself isn’t can you hack it as an academic. The question is will being an academic make you happy.

      I’d been stuck on question one for so long because it felt to me like leaving academia would be admitting defeat, admitting I wasn’t good enough, and that I had to stick it out as long as I could. But, actually, the entire time the answer to question two was a very clear-cut “no, being an academic would make me really miserable”. And I didn’t owe it to myself to prove that I was good enough to the world – I owed it to myself to live a life that would make me happy.

      It’s also easy to fall into very black-and-white thinking: either you go into academia, or you will end up in some horrible soul-crushing industry job that’s actively making the world a worse place. But there’s fulfilling and valuable work out there in less competitive fields! I work at a nonprofit and my job is super cool.

      FWIW, not pursuing a career in academia was the best decision I have ever made. I am so much happier than I was during my PhD that there is really no comparison. I really recommend seriously thinking about this as an option to anyone who’s struggling, because I know from experience that the academic environment makes it really hard to consider objectively.

        1. Tau*

          When I thought about this I implicitly included that under “will it make you happy?” but I agree that it definitely, definitely deserves to be spelled out explicitly. Turns out a steady income and job security give a significant boost to your overall quality of life! Who knew.

    6. Forrest*

      I left academia after my PhD on 2008. I’m a university careers adviser, and I absolutely love my job. I’m not quite as well-paid as a fully tenured professor, but I avoided the part-time, casual-labour years. I don’t work more hours than I’m paid for. I’m an expert in what I do. I get to talk strategy and manage people and work directly with students. I work with other people who love their jobs instead of people who are stressed and miserable and over-worked. I know some academics who love their work but generally I kind of feel sorry for them that they’re still trapped in the “this is the only work that could ever make me happy, even though it’s actually making me sad!” place.

      (This is not necessarily a comment on all academics! Most of it is me projecting my feelings about academia onto academics! But, uh, it’s also not 100% inaccurate sooo… )

      1. No name former academic*

        *fistbump* Me too! I’ve been doing it less time than you, but yeah, the atmosphere in my office is so collegial, supportive, and kind, and it’s nice to work alongside other people who are also getting a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment from their work.

    7. Dan*

      In my field, a majority of the technical staff are advanced degree holders. Most of us have an MS (includes me) but quite a few have a PhD.

      Job: 40 hours a week with flexible hours (er, 80 hours every two, I like taking every other Friday off), work from home when necessary, one month of PTO, a hella 401k match, and the majority of us making well over 6 figures.

      If that’s the definition of failure, sign me up.

  9. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP —
    I’m sorry, but Alison is right. The job market in higher education has been rotten for decades and isn’t likely to get any better. Higher education is an industry that runs off one of the most iniquitous labor systems on the planet. Things will not improve because exploitation of adjunct faculty and graduate students has now become “normal” within the system.

    You say this field is your “passion.” You’re 35 now — how will you feel about it at 45? 50? With no retirement savings? No family? Living someplace you dislike?

    Even if you decide you want to keep trying for now, you need to develop a Plan B. Spend some time and serious thought investigating fields where your skills would transfer and develop a strategy for identifying possible jobs. Try rewriting your CV as a resume — AAM’s archives can help.

    You’re clearly bright and thoughtful, and I hate to tell you this. But I went through this process a long time ago, and you will feel much, much more hopeful if you start creating career — and life — alternatives for yourself.

    Good luck!

    1. nonprofit nancy*

      +1. Maybe OP can put a mental deadline (one more year?) so that she can feel like she put in her all, before she moves to that Plan B.

    2. Anne Elliot*

      And if I can add to what Sara[noH] says:

      You already work in academia. And it is adjuncting and temping for very little money, few opportunities for growth, and no path forward. The depressing reality is that this is what academia _is_ today, for a _lot_ of young post-doc professionals. So when you are thinking of leaving, please remember you are not leaving the ivy-clad walls of a prestigious institution where you publish yearly to great acclaim and lecture enraptured young students. You are leaving a job situation that, to be honest, sounds pretty crappy. It’s hard to give up a dream, but it may be slightly easier if you realize that you are striking out in a different direction to make your REALITY better, and that the dream is something you actually never had. I don’t mean to be brutal, but it can help to realize The Dream was never anything more than that.

      But it’s a deeply personal decision. My sister chased an unattainable job until the process left her in such agony and distress that giving it up was the sweetest release. She works for The Man now and is _much_ happier. My cousin went to Hollywood to be a movie star years ago and she’s still there, working at a coffee shop, taking acting workshops, and auditioning for commercials. And she’s happy, because for her, the passion is worth the financial precariousness and the continuing blows to the ego. She can’t imagine doing anything else. But I think if you _can_ imagine doing something else, maybe now is the time to thing about what that might be, and what that might look like.

      1. AVP*

        oh man, this is such a big thing that we talk about with young people in my field. “Can you imagine yourself doing something else? Is it more stable, better paid? Then do it. If you ABSOLUTELY can’t, then I guess continue this path, but if you come up with any other options later please think about them seriously!”

        Myself, I *can* envision other paths at this point, and I’m half actively working to get out, half waiting around to see if something will come through on this one…and I’m in at least the top 10% luckiest people when it comes to my field, I can’t imagine how hard it would be if I weren’t.

    3. ten-four*

      So this is a story and I know the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but I have a family member who actually WON the tenure track lottery in a niche, unloved corner of academia. She got the two best offers in her field that year, and chose the more prestigious institution. It turns out that she really hates her job. Her students don’t take her field seriously and blow off her class and her expertise, her colleagues are crappy and make her life harder, tons of her time is sucked up by departmental politicking, and she hates the city she landed in (even though it’s a big city on the coast – tons of people love living there). So even if you somehow manage to win the lottery there’s a solid chance that the job will STILL not be the great dream you’re shooting for.

      This sounds really bleak, I know. I guess I just wanted to throw out there that getting the brass ring still isn’t a guarantee, and that you should take that into account as you plan your future.

      1. biobotb*

        Right? There’s so much toxicity in academia in general. The departments with collegial, supportive atmospheres where everyone is actually invested in your success are very, very rare.

  10. Emmie*

    Since you mention acting, perhaps this will be helpful for some. Jay Leno said to give your acting / comedy career four years, much like you would a college degree. Go all in. If it doesn’t happen in that time frame, pursue something else. That philosophy could apply to those of us in other passion careers. I agree with Alison with her ten year suggestion. If a person decides to do the passion career, setting a time limit could be helpful too. There are also other ways to pursue adjuncting, such as working full-time in a role and adjuncting in the evenings.

  11. Madame Secretary*

    “You still have more than one future out there.” I want to put this on a mug, t-shirts, tote bags, fridge magnets, canvas prints, memes, subway signs, billboards, everywhere. Life can be extremely fulfuling even it doesn’t go down a traditional path.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Author Jennifer Crusie was mentioning that on her website ( after her latest book was rejected from her publisher.

  12. EtherIther*

    OP, this is exactly why I didn’t follow my passions and go into academia… I knew that I wasn’t willing to make sacrifices about where I live, type of position, etc, and would rather just go into a different field all together. It sounds like you are approaching this point as well.

    But to answer your questions… I think you maintain your mental health by creating and beginning to follow an exit strategy (to what extent you continue trying to find work in this field is up to you). I’m not sure how much you have worked outside of academia, but it really isn’t as soul-destroying as some academics make it out to be (and in my experience, it’s often less so… pays better, at least!).

    This is the reality you’ve got to accept and work with: There is a chance you will never have the success you want in this field. Now what? What do you need to do to find happiness?

  13. the_scientist*

    When I started my master’s, I was thinking about doing a PhD, but by about halfway through I’d decided against it. But I want to echo everyone who is said that if what you really love is teaching in your field, there are other ways to scratch that itch while still providing things like, you know, health insurance and a stable paycheque. I work in the public sector and many of my colleagues adjunct or teach at at the college level. My dad has actually been teaching and designing college courses for nearly a decade and it’s not his full-time job!

    I took classical piano lessons for well over a decade and for a while considered pursuing a career in music education….but I realized that it’s a lot easier to make music a hobby than a full-time career. Unfortunately, this seems to be the way academia is heading as well.

    1. JenLP*

      You can also find ‘teaching’ positions in the corporate world. Learning and development (corporate training) is where I ended up when I decided that getting a PhD wasn’t in the cards for me. I love teaching, even if it isn’t my passion subject!

      1. kittycritter*

        This is so true and a very good point! A friend of mine is a technical trainer at her company – she designs all the e-learning courses and also holds big in-person training classes whenever a shiny new system rolls out to production. She told me she wanted to be a teacher a long time ago but makes a much better living as the corporate tech training leader at her current workplace.

  14. Fact & Fiction*


    Only you can decide what is best for you and your mental health/happiness, but I’m going to share my own story in case it’s helpful. I always dreamed of becoming a wildly successful published author, but that field is just as competitive as academia and has about the same ratio of people who manage to make a steady, stable career at it versus those who experience feast and famine modes and those who never manage to get traditionally published at all. Indie publishing has opened up more paths, of course, but not more stability. Those who indie publish have to hustle hard and become great at marketing as well as writing.

    So from the start I decided to pursue other career paths by day and write by night and weekend. I worked full-time while finishing up my education, and then began working my tail off writing books and learning the intricacies of the publishing field as far as querying agents and publishers go. I vastly improved my writing skills and then I wrote what I thought was “THE ONE” just as the huge boom in the urban fantasy genre was beginning to fade. I then hit what seemed to be the writer’s jackpot by scoring multiple agent offers and then multiple editors bidding on my book at auction. The publisher who won was the first one who offered and the price they paid went up exponentially from their first offer. All seemed amazing and I thought my career would be set. While secretly worrying it would not be.

    Unfortunately my secret fear proved to be correct. The urban fantasy boom faded and my publisher lost interest after publishing the first few books in my series. I haven’t had any luck in selling more books to traditional publishers despite working my butt off. I have suffered a lot of personal grief and depression over the past few years that stole my joy of writing when paired with the whole not selling more books thing. What saved me during this time was focusing on my “day job,” which is writing adjacent. I write and edit online content and also have another side job that I find very fulfilling. I nearly gave up on the whole publishing thing because I felt so hopeless and out of control.

    BUT. Recently I have found a lot of inspiration and hope from some successful indie publishers who have taken me under their wing. I am feeling more mentally healthy than I have in a long time because I DO have a successful “day job” career that I enjoy. This leaves me more emotional bandwidth to start channeling into writing and pursuing a publishing career again. Maybe someday I’ll find the success in publishing I’ve always dreamed of finding, but maybe I won’t. Either way, I find it so much less stressful to be making enough money to live in an “adjacent” career while pursuing my dream/passion career in my spare time.

    Now, all this said, that may or may not be the right choice for you! But I just thought it would be helpful to hear a firsthand experience so you know that if you DO decide you maybe want to look into academia-adjacent career paths and teach part-time, there is NO SHAME in it. You have to do what’s the best and most healthy option for you. Also, you can always try that out and if it improves your quality of life, great! But if it doesn’t, no harm in that either. You can always keep pursuing jobs in academia even if you DO find other work. Nothing permanently bars you from that. And in fact I’d argue it can often be better for you to be gainfully employed doing something related and then selectively applying for just the right position in your dream career.

    Either way, I’m so sorry you’re going through this and hope you find something awesome soon! I once thought about pursuing a career as a literature or creative writing professor, so I definitely feel for you!

    1. nonprofit nancy*

      Wow, I wrote a very similar comment below. Writers man. The fact that your books are out there reaching people that you may never know is what keeps me going – I know there were obscure books that I came across randomly that affected me throughout my youth. I think that’s the true of many creative jobs and I hope OP has an equivalent sense that by having put her stuff out there she may have already made a big impact.

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        Writing leads to both the best of times and the worst of times! ;)

        And yes. It’s amazing the impact you can have on people without ever knowing.

    2. Justme, The OG*

      I still love urban fantasy and want to read your books. But I don’t want you to out yourself if you’re not comfortable doing so.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I too love and buy urban fantasy.
        (Stating it here for the record for any publishers that happen by.)

      2. Fact & Fiction*

        It’s so awesome to hear from other people who still love urban fantasy! That’s one genre that still seems to be having a lot of success in the indie publishing world since a lot of publishers are pretty set on not publishing new UF (except for mostly “sure things” in already popular series or by already popular authors) right now. I’m sure it will cycle back in for trad publishers eventually but it’s great that I can supplement my UF love with a lot of great indie-published stuff!

        I will see if I work up the courage to post something sharing my UF writing identity (probably under a different handle so I can pretend to keep this one at least somewhat anonymous for those who aren’t regulars) on Friday’s Open Thread. On the one hand I am always grateful for new readers but on the other hand, I suffer from the same angst that most other writers get that deep down, I ACTUALLY SUCK! Hahahaha.

        And it just stinks that we can’t all make comfortable livings pursuing these creative passions of ours! Those who want to, I mean. Some people are perfectly happy just pursuing passions as hobbies, which is awesome as well.

    3. Ey-not-Cy*

      If you are who I think you are, know that I am waiting patiently for when you decide to independently publish and will autobuy your work. Until then–do what you need to do for your heart and health. That is what is most important.

  15. AMT*

    Nothing but sympathy here. Right now, I’m in the midst of applying for a prestigious federal job that involves a long, intense hiring process. If you fail a particular test or step in the process, depending on which one you failed, you are either barred from applying again or must wait for a period of time to reapply. Like academia, it’s one of those “dream jobs” that a lot of people end up having to give up on. The thing that’s keeping me going throughout the process is having a career to fall back on that I’m still relatively excited about and professional projects outside of my day job that I enjoy. I’m not sure what kinds of work the LW might be considering outside the dream field, but it might help to be able to reframe it from “if I don’t get X job, I have failed and wasted my life” to “I am a competent, qualified professional and could be happy doing X, Y, and Z jobs, among other kinds of jobs I can explore that I might be good at.”

  16. puppies*

    I’m so glad Allison compared this to Hollywood. I used to be an actress and the competitiveness, lack of stability, and “feast or famine” aspects of OP’s post reminded me of it. I agree with Allison’s advice. I got so frustrated with my acting career that I decided to quit (I had also given myself of timeline) but while pursuing it I kept reminding myself that I had to accept this uncertainty as part of the package. Best of luck!!

  17. Adjunct Gal*

    I went career adjacent, and while it took me a LONG time to get there, it has been so worth it. This advice is spot on.

  18. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I am an optimistic realist. Which means really, when I picked a major and a career path, I picked something that I liked AND knew I’d be able to get a job in. Would I have preferred to do X? Yes. But I also like not worrying how I’m going to pay the rent/mortgage, and I’m happy doing Y.

    Shoot for your dreams. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by going for your dream. It’s a balancing act.

  19. anonforthis*

    Nothing but sympathy for you OP. I started my career working in the sports industry, which is hard enough and even more sad, still tough as a woman trying to make it into the industry. After years of internships that paid a few hundred a month, if anything at all, I realized if I wanted a family, a home, travel opportunities, the simple ability to pay my bills someday, something had to give. And so I went into marketing.

    Not saying it is for everyone but I will never forget the toll that took on my mental health. More bad days than good. Best wishes to you.

    1. Tigger*

      Wow you and I have very similar paths. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one it took a mental toll on.

      1. anonforthis*

        Especially during season…you couldn’t work enough hours… in office during regular work hours, then expected to stay for the games.

        I was in baseball, how about you?

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          I can sympathize with you two. My dad was in tennis back in the 80s. Sports is a brutal industry.

        2. Tigger*

          I have been in baseball too and it is so brutal. Everyone in my class went to other sports. I did basketball for a bit then switched to the product side of hockey and I am so much happier. I wish we had each others emails to swap baseball stories

  20. That Redshirt.*

    This reminded me of Ask A Spaceman podcast (Dr. Paul Sutter) and the episode “Why Cant I Be an Astrophysicist?”
    He talks about the challenges of being in a supremely niche field of astronomy/astrophysics. Both the positives (yeah! I’m going to still try for this career!) And the negatives (most will not have this career despite being very good employees. Its worth a listen, even for us non astrophysicists.

    1. Anon for this*

      And honestly, astrophysics is one of the better fields of academia, when it comes to getting a stable job! For one thing, it’s pretty standard to only be accepted to a PhD program if they can give you full funding, so PhD programs tend to be small. There’s also non-faculty jobs (project work, observatory staff), which is where I ended up – I do scientific software engineering at a research institute. And the field depends a lot less on adjunct instructors, because we don’t have those giant first and second year courses to teach that a lot of other programs do, while at the same time there’s a lot more money for postdocs than many other fields. So people tend to get stuck in the post-doc stage, rather than the adjunct stage, which is not exactly stable but does pay a living wage with benefits. And with a PhD in astrophysics it’s not too hard to step sideways into a data science job when you get fed up.

      That said, I have discouraged people from following the astrophysics track – I was giving advice to a young undergraduate who was thinking of switching majors and didn’t understand that he’d need a PhD and likely need to leave Canada to get a job. I’ve also realized that starry-eyed undergrads simply aren’t going to hear you when you tell them the reality of academic life. They know that *they* are smart and driven and talented, not to mention single, so your warnings don’t apply to them. It’s not until ten years later that they look back and go “oh, that’s what you meant!”

      The worst stuff I’ve heard comes from arts and social science programs – large PhD programs with little funding, so it takes a long time to finish, big undergraduate classes staffed by adjuncts, few postdoc positions, few academic adjacent positions, and a ton of people competing for the crumbs.

      Overall, though, the advice I’d give is that if you’re not happy with the job you can get, it’s time to move on. And that’s where the OP is. The reality of her academic career is irregular adjuncting and freelance work – if she’s happy in that, stay, if she’s not, move on. Because sticking it out longer isn’t going to make getting a better job more likely.

  21. Cordoba*

    It is OK for your passion to not also be your meal ticket.

    There are many significant advantages to having a decent stable good-paying day job that you can then unplug from entirely while off the clock and pursue whatever thing you love *without* having to worry about how that thing is also going to pay your electric bill.

    I’m not saying that the LW has to do this, or even that they should. I just wanted to reinforce that it’s a valid option worth considering, and that deciding to pursue it does not make them a failure or anything of the sort.

    I, as a random person on the internet, officially give everybody reading this permission to balance their passions with the practical demands of their life without feeling like they’re doing it wrong or selling out etc.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Could not have worded this any better.

      We really need to stop telling people to “follow their passion” or “if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”. I think it’s pretty rare to end up in a position where you can support yourself by doing what you love and that’s okay.

      1. Tigger*

        I hate that saying. It made me feel so inadequate in college because what I love to do doesn’t translate to a degree.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I recall a discussion from an open thread here–even people who did work they loved, if they inherited a trust fund tomorrow they wouldn’t do it in the same way. They’d scale back their hours, only do the parts that interested them, etc.

        1. hello*

          Yup! I love what I do and it’s what I dreamed of doing as a kid… it’s still work! I still deal with broken printers and long hours and frustrating moments like anyone else.

      3. WellRed*

        I don’t think I love what I do. I like it, it can be very satisfying, but at this point, I think I love the idea of it more than the day to day (writer/editor). Honestly, I am surprised that so many people comment on Saturday’s open threads in the writing threads. You mean, people want to do this in their free time? ; )

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The standard use of that phrase also ignores that many people love more than one thing. I enjoy what I do — but it’s already adjacent to what I thought I wanted to do. (This nerd is just old enough that she got talked out of engineering — eventually I found technical writing.) If I’d rolled the dice a LOT differently, I’d also enjoy making & repairing jewelry, growing plants, or selling books.

      5. Dust Bunny*

        I LOATHE that saying. I do not want my passions saddled with the expectation that they will also provide me with food, shelter, and long-term solvency.

        I have a job that makes use of my passions but fundamentally relies on much more concrete things (I’m an assistant in an historic archive. I’m also a vintage car and clothing wonk and I’m *deadly* at Internet research. I did not develop these interests through school or my job but they are extremely useful at work nonetheless). I was never going to make a living designing retro clothing, but, man, can I date photographs based on it.

        1. Tau*

          I do not want my passions saddled with the expectation that they will also provide me with food, shelter, and long-term solvency.

          THIS, so much. I can frankly think of no easier way to make a passion become an ex-passion than to put all that on its poor shoulders.

          I actually have a job in a diametrically different direction from my passions. My interests are generally artsy, craftsy things – I sing in a choir and am doing vocal training on the side, I knit, I’m learning to sew my own clothing, and my capital-P Passion is writing. But my day job is as a software developer – which I enjoy and am good at but is not something that excites me to the point where I’d do it in my free time. I feel having the two very different sides to my life keeps me balanced and makes it easier to draw boundaries around work. Also an option if that’s the way you’re inclined!

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Seriously, this advice almost literally makes me want to cry. I cannot think of anything that would ruin my beloved interests for me faster than the stress of a financial stumbling block (and all the things that can snowball from there).

      6. Alice*

        I like that saying in some ways. Obviously work will always be work, but I had some experiences that made me feel like work was living hell. Realizing that I had some control and that if I picked a job etc that I liked better I wouldn’t feel as bad about it, and I would like doing some of the work made me feel much better.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          But doing something you like doesn’t automatically mean it’s a *passion*. I like my job. It’s not my passion. But it doesn’t need to be because it’s generally painless and interesting enough, so I don’t actually feel like I’m losing out by not doing my biggest passions for a living. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.

          1. Alice*

            I think I had the opposite mindset – work is work is not fun is work. Agree – doesn’t need to be all or nothing!

      7. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Typically speaking, the less someone loves a job, the more it pays.

        No one’s passion is unclogging toilets, that’s why plumbers are rich.

        1. Cordoba*

          There’s a reason that media/fashion/etc can offer unpaid internships and get a bumper crop of applicants but a company making airbags or refrigerators has to pay engineering students to work there.

      8. Â*

        I love what I do.

        It took me decades of tears, frustration, failure, and fear to get here. And it’s still financially precarious. I don’t recommend this path to anyone, and I definitely have some regrets.

        The idea that everyone should “do what they love” is incredibly damaging, not to mention completely classist.

        We spend far too much time working to detest our jobs or do soul-crushing things all day. But your work doesn’t have to define you or be your primary source of fulfillment. In fact, it probably shouldn’t. There are more important things in life.

        Life is short. (Shorter than you think.) ENJOY THE RIDE.

    2. Reba*

      A lightbulb-moment thing I read on this topic that has stayed with me is in the afterword to Lewis Hyde’s book “the Gift.” He describes the day-job-plus-hobby situation as actually “protecting” your art form (or substitute other passion thing), because it means you don’t have to worry about shaping your creative work to be something salable if it isn’t that. You may have less time and resources to put into your passion, but you also get a kind of freedom. You don’t have to fit into a certain box when your passion is not, as you say, your meal ticket.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Rita Mae Brown says something similar in “Starting From Scratch” — she wanted a physical day job to pay the bills, not an advertising copywriter’s job. It’s worth a read for writers.

      2. the_scientist*

        I think this is such a good way to look at it. My husband studied film and political science in university and quickly realized that it was going to be very difficult to make a living in the film industry. But he kept doing film stuff on the side, and got to produce niche feature-length documentaries and interview Canadian arts luminaries! And get one of his movies shown at a number of festivals, where it won several awards! If he was worried about making something that would get picked up by a major distributor, he could never have made the films that he did.

        And then he got a part time paid gig for a series of TV episodes where he got to pitch ideas in addition to the other work. He doesn’t necessarily find his day job fulfilling on an artistic level, but he has an outlet for his creative energies without being completely stressed about money and the feast/famine cycle.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      It is OK for your passion to not also be your meal ticket.

      This should go on the AAM throw pillows. It can be really healthy for the thing that gives you joy not to be the thing you need to force yourself through when you aren’t feeling it but need to make rent.

    4. MM*

      I knew someone who did get the opportunity to make her living with her passion, and realized it was killing the passion. So she went back to having a “day job” and was/is much happier.

  22. BRR*

    My husband had his sights set on a tenured professor career which sounds similar to if not the same situation. While I hate to give this anecdote, he eventually gave up and moved to an academic adjacent field. This was after only a handful of positions even opened up that he was qualified to apply to based on his subject area (some years there were no openings). While he’s sad about it, there are a lot of things he likes about a more traditional office job. Things like a predictable income, a fairly even workload (no periods of heavy grading), and I think he’s happier being part of a larger structure vs the independence that comes with teaching.

    That’s all not to say you should give up. But as Alison said, you’ll have to decide what you’re ok with. Also don’t feel like a failure! The academic market is ridiculously competitive. There are probably dozens of applicants to each of those openings who would do an outstanding job.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Obviously this is dependent on temperament and some other things, but the nine-to-five is unfairly maligned. I love being able to leave work and work and do whatever I want in the evening and on weekends. Yeah, it’s routine, but sometimes routine is great.

      1. BRR*

        I personally think it’s better for our marriage and his personal for him to not have the evening/weekend commitments of grading/research/night classes etc. It’s tough to stop working when there is always something more to do.

        1. It's Perks, Sir*

          My husband and I both gave up designs on academia at least in part because the whole culture would have been hard on our relationship. There were other factors, for sure, but it definitely figured in.

      2. noahwynn*

        Yes to this! I enjoy my work most of the time, but early in my career I was married to it and it was harmful. I love my current role where I work 8-5, Mon-Fri and get an hour for lunch everyday. It is amazing to have evenings and weekends free to do something besides work or think about work.

  23. Higher ed, on the staff side*

    I’m so sorry, OP. I doubt you’re doing anything wrong; the academic job market is absolutely set up to make smart people feel like failures. There simply are more Ph.D.s than jobs available, which you’re likely all-too-aware of. Alison’s advice is perfect. You CAN have a happy, fulfilling career and life, but the path may look different than what you anticipated.

    You’re 35, and IME, that’s a big turning point. What seemed acceptable, even exciting, at age 25 or even 30 starts looking less rosy around this time.

    1. nonprofit nancy*

      It’s funny that it happens around that time. I began to long for more certainty and stability just after 30 and began to dream of buying my own home, which I hadn’t wanted to do only a few years prior. I could picture myself gardening and decorating and doing mundane things my parents did like mow the lawn. Not sure what the heck happened to me but it made me glad I had sowed some wild oats when I was younger and that appealed to me more.

      1. Daniel*

        LOL, I’m 31 and in exactly the same boat you were in. I wasn’t dreaming about the backyard grill even three years ago.

        1. nonprofit nancy*

          I had just moved to the big city a few years prior on a whim and for no money, and was leading a glamorous life downtown – thought I’d be a happy renter for the rest of my life. No lawnmower fantasies to speak of, lol.

  24. Bye Academia*

    I would seriously consider all of your other options. It’s really hard to see other choices when you’re enmeshed in the academic job market, whether it’s tenure track, adjunct, or bust. But there are other jobs out there that can be just as fulfilling.

    For example, location was really important to me. I was ready to jump ship into an adjacent non-academic industry (hence my username) when a staff position came up at a local university in my research specialty. I was lucky enough to get it, and now I LOVE my job. It’s just as stable as a professorship and I get to use my favorite skills every day.

    The choices to explore for you will depend on what you enjoy most. If you really like research, there are other staff positions like mine, industry jobs, government jobs, etc. If teaching is really what excites you the most, there are high school jobs, community college jobs, etc. If you start to want stability more than either research or teaching, you can be creative about what skills you could have that transfer to other fields. Project management, consulting, law….

    Only you will know when you’ve tried as much as you want to try. The academic job market is tough, and so many people have the skills. Who gets the jobs in the end really comes down to luck once you pass a certain qualification bar. Choosing another path does not mean you are failing or quitting. It doesn’t hurt to see what else is out there, and you may be pleasantly surprised. If you’re not ready to choose another path just yet, Alison’s advice is great. If you see your adjunct life as a choice rather than a trap, or a limbo, you may find it more fulfilling.

    Best of luck to you, wherever your career takes you.

    1. epi*

      This is really good advice.

      There are jobs in research staffing and administration that involve a lot of the actual work people get into their field to do. You get to research, or write, or talk to patients, or analyze data, in a good resarch position. It’s how I got into my field actually.

      I think sometimes people going for academia forget that there are other forms of stability besides tenure– and those forms of stability are superior if they are more within your reach! There is nothing like being needed– and having more than one funding stream.

      This may be field-specific, so I didn’t put it in my original comment, but my goal has always been to find something where there are operational and research sides to my role. By working in a formal or informal shared resource, or maintaining a necessary tool that also has a research application, or consulting on lots of projects.

      Early in my career, I worked with a PhD-trained technician who had a staff role maintaining a *very* advanced piece of equipment that was essential to our organization. As she won research funding for her own projects, she was able to buy more of her time back as protected research time, to the point they eventually hired a second person. Then both did a mix of operations and research. My dream is to be her.

      1. Entry Level Marcus*

        “There are jobs in research staffing and administration that involve a lot of the actual work people get into their field to do. You get to research, or write, or talk to patients, or analyze data, in a good research position. It’s how I got into my field actually.”

        The degree these positions exist varies a lot by field, though. There are many of these positions in certain sciences, for example, but almost none in fields like philosophy or pure math.

        1. MM*

          Ah, that explains it. I’m in social sciences and I was like, “What are these ‘staff’ positions and where do I get one? Why have I never heard of this?!”

    2. Blunt Bunny*

      Yes there is also academic societies that you could work for that support people in your field also organiser of conferences, websites and magazines/journals. Also I have seen recently a lot of vacancies for STEM graduates of any field to go into patent companies. You could go into speacilist recruitment, outreach organisation. My friend had to make the decision that she would never have a stable career in animal conservation and started widening that to environmental roles (still not many jobs) and is now working in ones those roles in industry. If you want to continue job searching get a back up job that is none stressful and that you don’t hate doing and is not a huge commute, get used to the stability and save up some money.

  25. Maya Elena*

    It looks like most things academia have been rotting at an accelerated rate lately. It id maybe good to get out before it collapses. Also, read everything you can by Emily Roth, aka Ms. Mentor, including her column in the Chronicle of Higher Ed and her books (Ms. Mentor’s Impeccablr Advice for Women in Academia).

    I have two friends – men with STEM PhDs, one going the academic track and one opting for an industry job. The degree of sacrifice that Dr. Future Professor had to and will have to endure to attain his lifestyle – which he will, because he is well positioned for it – is heavy: years of ongoing commuter marriage, foregone earnings, years of postponing children, sheer hours of work. Mr Corporate, with less effort and a less good school, has a child and a (non evil iBanking) corporate job, with the disadvantage of no tenure but a lot more flexibility and money.

    Now, we all make our choices and have to own them. Not everyone wants children or a corporate job or any specific thing. That’s not the point. The point is, if the cost of academia is so high for someone in the BEST position, what is it like to someone not that lucky? I shudder to think.

  26. nonprofit nancy*

    OP, I really feel you. My dream is to be an author. Writers are a dime a dozen and what pay exists is very low and very uncertain. Most people never make it. It’s not unlike Alison’s example of being a movie star. So far in my career I’ve made about five thousand dollars – for over five years of work unpaid – and I’m still one of the most successful authors in my circle of fellow writers.

    In my case, I’m happy to continue with this dream because I love writing and I would do it anyway for free (the fact that so many other people feel this way is part of the problem … plus declining book sales plus a bunch of economy factors around how book are sold – but whatever).

    The reason I’m able to feel this way is because I accept that I will always need to have a “day job” and I will likely never, ever be able to make my living doing what I love. It was hard to accept at first but I can say ten years in that it was the only possible option for me. And in a way, that actually freed me to take more risks in my work. So much love and sympathy as we all grapple with realizing that our talents and passion are just not a good fit for our current economic system.

  27. epi*

    I left a graduate program in history many years ago now. Despite the warnings, nothing but being there really brought home how competitive– to the point of hopelessness– the situation was. I’m now a masters-trained cancer epidemiologist, working in public health, and working on a PhD.

    Alison’s advice is exactly my reaction to this question. I had a long gap before deciding to do anything requiring grad school, in any field, because of my experience, and only changed my mind when I was committed to my field and it was clear I needed the degree to continue. I even compared my time in history grad school to deciding that “rock star” is your chosen career path, and no other will do.

    My advice to the OP would be to try to find the high level view of what you like about your work, so you can find out if there are other paths that would offer you something similar. There are opportunities to teach and mentor outside of academia! Research and analysis, ditto. Some people (me) find that they like filling a particular type of role on a team. Or that bite size interactions where they help or advice members of the public are just as fulfilling as semester-long relationships with students. Or that a fascinating dynamic from their content area is mirrored in a less competitive industry. Or they care most about the social impact of their work, and can be flexible about other things as long as that is there.

    Good schools are trying to offer more education about alternative career paths for PhDs. Those types of resources can help the OP do what I described, especially since they are a relatively new grad. If there is truly nothing but academic work in your specific field that will cut it right now, you need to know that too. But I would recommend writing your priority list down somewhere. Return to it occasionally and reflect on whether it still feels right.

    1. Chuck*

      If it’s not too off-topic, would you mind talking about how you ended up moving from a history undergrad to a public health/epidemiology career? (And if it is too off-topic, would you mind talking about it in the open thread tomorrow?)

  28. Falling Diphthong*

    If you knew that the (present state) was going to continue for the next 10 years, would you do anything differently now?

    I think this is the best advice. For lots of life things, not just jobs, but it’s very apropos to one’s career.

    I’m coming out of a hellish project I felt obligated to finish off (but not take on extra work for) and my timeline on “if you knew it would continue like this” was extremely short.

    1. nonprofit nancy*

      I believe Captain Awkward calls this “sheelzebub’s principle” after a popular commentor there – and uses it in many contexts, particularly relationships.

  29. KDO*

    Oh, OP, do I feel you, and it is a lovely feeling to read all of these comments by people who’ve been through what you’re going through.

    About 3/4 of my way through my master’s degree in music (jazz), I watched my friends move to NYC and pursue the dream of the jazz life. Every one of these people — incredibly talented, dedicated, hard-working people (certainly not the “guitar-in-a-garage” stereotype) — struggled financially, professionally, and emotionally. I know a guy who lived in his car for three months. In my last semester of grad school, I had an epiphany that I *didn’t* want that life, I *didn’t* want to be a musician enough to wade through the years of misery for a completely non-guaranteed future.

    So I learned to code and became a programmer. I found something that scratched a similar itch — the creative and analytical thought processes of music map pretty well to programming — and, 2.5 years after getting my first internship at age 30, I have a six-figure salary.

    This was my path, and I feel both really good and really bad about it almost all the time. My husband is still a full-time musician and makes about a third of what I make. He’s been playing for over 20 years. But he gets to do the thing we both love most in the world every day. That said, he also has to take the really crappy gigs that pay well (weddings) and if he wants to play serious music with incredible people, he often loses money paying his band.

    All of this word salad is to say: this has worked for me. I’m still a musician on the nights and weekends. I really enjoy my day job even though it’s not what I’d do if money were no object. I can afford to go on vacations and visit family and I can also afford to hire a really great band if I want to. But Alison is, as usual, exactly right here. You have a choice here, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I feel the weight of my choice every day, in positive and negative ways, but I’d make the same choice again.

    Best of luck. I’ll be thinking of you.

    1. RedBlueGreenYellow*

      I had a similar experience. I completed my PhD and looked at my friends and colleagues who were going from post-doc to post-doc, commuting hours a day to cobble together a decent income from multiple adjunct positions around the state, and taking assistant professor gigs with no change of tenure at marginal institutions. So many of my brilliant colleagues spent the 6+ years of graduate school living on crumbs, and then spent the next decade moving every year or two to find work.

      I couldn’t take the uncertainty, so I looked at my skills and became a technical writer. I did go through a few cycles of academic interviews, but I never came closer than second place.

      So here I am. This isn’t a job I ever dreamed about, but it’s something I enjoy, and I’m good at it. There is a lot to be said for being able to pay the bills.

  30. Umvue*

    PhD ’08. I opted out of the tenure chase, and I am so glad I did. I decided the lure of permanent job security was illusory and that it would be better to have a skillset lots of people wanted, because then when life happened I’d be able to find a new path. I was right. I don’t know what subfield you’re in, but whatever it is, I believe that you have skills you can sell to other people for a steady income, where you’ll eventually have better-sounding choices than “5/5 job at East Nowheresville vs another full year of penury,” and that your life can have a different meaning than the one you set out to find at age 22.

    1. Reba*

      your life can have a different meaning than the one you set out to find at age 22

      Thank you for this!!!

  31. Snargulfuss*

    I think you’re going to find people to encourage you to continue pursuing your dream and those to advise you to find satisfaction doing something else. I’m one of the latter. I stopped after an MA degree in an academic field and some adjuncting because the “cons” of continuing on for a PhD and an academic job search outweighed, for me, the “pros”. I’m now 10 years into a different career that provides a lot of satisfaction and some teaching opportunities too.

    I’m making an assumption here, but I imagine that you’ve spent so much time and energy devoted to your chosen field that you probably haven’t explored enough to discover that there are other career fields that could provide you true satisfaction and a more stable lifestyle. I’d recommend reading Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book Designing Your Life, which says (among other things) that there are many lives you could lead; not just one that will lead you to happiness.

  32. Academic Librarian*

    You could consider academic libraries, depending on your niche. It’s often hard to find librarians for the STEM fields. Of course, I would strongly recommend obtaining the Master of Library Science degree.

    The other thing to consider is – as your degree gets older, you won’t really have a shot at the jobs regardless of your track record. The real jobs will go to the recent grads. Straight up – you need to come up with a plan B.

    1. Another academic librarian*

      We’re averaging 200-300 applications for academic librarian positions. I have *so* many MLIS-holding friends who can’t get their foot (feet?) in the door, I’d hesitate to offer that track to OP.

      1. Academic Librarian*

        How in the world are you averaging that many? We get maybe, maybe 20, with about 5 of them being viable candidates. I’m in a popular, major metropolitan southern city with a pretty good pay range at a R1 university. We have to take the Ph.Ds for the subject librarians, none of the MLS holders have the experience or education necessary to be a subject librarian at a R1. I’m in tech services, so for the few professional positions I manage, I do require a MLS. But I’m about to post for a cataloging manager, and I know that’s going to be nearly impossible to get more than 2 viable candidates.

        1. Another academic librarian*

          We’re not an R1, so no PhD requirement. I’m surprised y’all have that- sometimes I see it preferred, but not required. But yes, tech services have smaller pools- but those would never go to a PhD, non- MLS.

          1. Academic Librarian*

            We don’t require the PhD. It just ends up that hiring the failed academics is better than the MLS candidates we get for subject librarians. The MLS candidates are often people with a BA or BS in the field and an MLS. Unless they already have significant experience as a subject librarian in the field, they’re not really qualified for the position.

    2. ArchivesGremilin*

      I know at my current library, you won’t even get considered for a librarian position without an MLIS/MLS.

    3. An Archivist*

      I don’t recommend an MLS (as someone with a history Ph.D. and an MLS). I landed well after a few years of struggle, but it’s nearly as hard as the regular academic rat race.

    4. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      I ducked out of the tenured librarian competition for the marginally-less-competitive tiny college staff position, and love it. But it’s not research focused the way tenured positions tend to be (100% of my job is student contact or preparing for student contact or waiting for student contact), so that might not be a good replacement for someone whose priority is academia.

  33. Amber Rose*

    Do what you love, and you’ll work long hours with no boundaries and also take everything personally.

    That’s been floating around my FB, and it’s kinda true. Can you do what you love part time and do something you like most of the time for the stable income? Cuz it kinda sounds like you’re doing what you love part time, and then doing a bunch of stuff you don’t even like also part time, and the instability is causing you grief.

    1. lapgiraffe*

      Ooof, I’m finding that true and I’m already working the Plan B career! But I figured it was more the virgo in me to overload myself with work to the point of absurdity ;-)

  34. Colette*

    I’d advise the OP to think about why she loves what she does. Is it the teaching aspect? Research? Presenting at conferences? Planning lessons? Evaluating data?

    The more specific she can be about what she likes, the easier it will be to figure out how to apply those skills to a job in a related field. (You enjoy explaining stuff? What about an adult trainer or technical writer role? Like evaluating data? Statistics or market research. Like troubleshooting? IT support.) Some additional training might be required, but there are ways to do things she likes in a different environment.

    1. nonprofit nancy*

      Yeah this plus, if you truly have a passion for, say, French literature and you are driving to spend as much time as you can reading and reflecting on it – do not feel that academia can take that away from you! That love and passion are yours and will go with you. You could start a blog, or an ambitious side project, or just use the money you gain elsewhere to indulge your love of French literature in travel and scholarship. You don’t need a stamp of approval. In fact disconnecting your passion from the grind of income and security may allow it to blossom (or not, but I’m just saying it can happen).

    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      This. In many cases, the elements you love about your job can also be found in other jobs. For example, I really enjoy problem solving and I’ve been able to experience the joy of it in extremely different jobs, also ones that you wouldn’t think of as problem solving jobs. If you have an open mind you can find yourself enjoying some really surprising things.

      I have a somewhat similar situation as OP. When I did my degree in oatmeal (thanks Alison for this!) I had no idea how hard it is to find oatmeal jobs in my country, there are just too many of us. Then I also moved (for family reasons) to a city that has very few oatmeal companies so oatmeal research is pretty much the only option, and academia isn’t easy either. I’ve studied in another field, worked some periods in my field, some periods doing completely different things, and been unemployed. It’s hard. At the same time I keep the dream alive and try to be realistic and try to find something that would give me money and be somewhat tolerable.

  35. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler*

    While this may vary by field, if you do opt into a job that’s outside of what you’re currently doing, you may find some satisfaction if you’re able to be involved with your field in a non-job sense – almost like a hobby. Perhaps you can still write or speak on the topic, or do educational outreach, or similar. (This is how I’ve managed to keep the arts incorporated in my life, but also design – which is an area of deep interest and professional experience for me, but not something I’ve made my primary occupation.)

    There are obviously some caveats with this: it’s not universally applicable, it can be demoralizing to realize that you’re not engaging with your passion in the way that you thought you would, you may not get paid for it in the same way. But it does mean that you don’t have to say goodbye to your passion in a permanent way.

  36. Eukomos*

    Get out, OP. The academic job market is a shambles and it’s getting worse. It’s been getting worse for decades, and the degradation has sped up in the past few years. In the 60s 70% of faculty were tenured or tenure track, now it’s 30% and falling. And even the people I know with tenure track jobs end up leaving them a lot of the time because they don’t want to live in that town or work with those people forever, and tenure track jobs get rarer every year. Is there any kind of industry related to your field? I study Ancient Greek and even we have industry jobs, we teach high school Latin or do pedagogical training since we tend to have heavy grad school teaching loads.

    322 sounds normal to me too, we always get around 400 applicants per TT job. We’re hiring in my department right now and the top candidates include someone with a book in publication and a guy with a JD as well as a PhD, the competition is nuts. People who stay in the academic market are adjuncts for 7-15 (!) years before getting tenure track jobs in my field, so you could be stuck in this phase for a very long time, moving all over the country, getting paid nothing, getting no respect. There are other ways to do the part of the job you love without putting yourself through this meat grinder of a job market! There are other jobs where you can research, other jobs where you can teach. This is not the only career that will make you happy.

  37. Overeducated*

    I left academia because it was more important to me to have a salary, health insurance, and a job in the same place as my spouse and child than to endure precarity long enough to be a professor or curator. No shame in that. A month from now, I’ll be making almost twice my last job offer in that world a few years ago.

    I am sometimes wistful and frustrated thinking of the work I don’t get to do, teaching and research are very rewardin. But what brings me comfort is that a) statistically, grad students do more research in terms of proportion of time than most academics at any time in the rest of their careers due to admin demands, and b) non-academic careers can be quite long and non-linear. I did a bunch of informational interviews last year, and just about every single person I talked to said, “It’s a funny story how I got here, I never expected…” If you do decide to look elsewhere, which I’m not pushing, have faith that there are entire worlds of opportunity that haven’t revealed themselves yet.

  38. Lily in NYC*

    Ugh, this sucks. My BIL is still an adjunct at 52 years old. He is lucky because he is at one of the few schools that pays them well (and my sister is the main breadwinner). It works for him because he is not all that ambitious and was the primary caregiver of their kid when she was small, but I don’t think he would have been successful at getting a full professorship – it seems like they all go to people who are already well-known in their specialty. It’s similar in so many fields – I worked in print journalism and completely switched careers after realizing how bad it was getting. We had 600 applicants for a position and it was very eye-opening that I would get nowhere in that career.

  39. Ms. Meow*

    What is it about academia that you find is your passion: teaching, research, training, collaboration? If it’s just one of those, you should focus on maybe switching gears to focus on that. However, if it’s a mix of those things, you can still find all of those aspects in many other fields.

    My dream since middle school was to be a science professor at a college. After I finished my Ph.D. and reflecting on what I saw my research advisor go through during his first 4 years as a tenure track professor I ran far, far away. My industry job provides me with plenty of opportunity for research, personal development, chances to train others, and collaborating with people across many different disciplines. For the teaching itch, I tutor. Tutoring give me lots of flexibility and also lets me share my knowledge and passion with kids grades 6-12.

    Please don’t think this is the end of the road. You may never know the opportunities that are out there until you look for them.

  40. Cassandra*

    Couple of books that might be helpful here (in the “not feeling alone with this dilemma” sense):

    Barbara Lovitts, Leaving the Ivory Tower (about Ph.D attriters, but a lot of the thought process is similar)
    Wilfred Cude, The Ph.D Trap

    Love to you, OP,
    Cassandra, Ph.D attriter who has gone on to a perfectly fine life

  41. Kendra*

    Fellow musician-turned-programmer here! I was fortunate enough to figure it out in high school, and I’m also really happy programming at work and playing the piano and organ at home and church.

  42. Maya Elena*

    I also wanted to comment on the social life aspect. If you figure out a way to manage financially and settle in one general location, you can begin putting down roots, making friends, volunteering, dating. Even if this doesn’t yield bosom friends or a future spouse, it’s new people, new possibilities, a change in priorities and a new source motivation, energy, attention.

    Who knows – maybe a lesser focus on the jobs search can even improve the vibe you give off in interviews…. I don’t know if there’s any basis to that but there are all sorts of “I changed something and things started looking up” anecdotes out there.

    Good luck!

  43. Professor Ma'am*

    Academia is bad enough as it is and to be in a competitive field… it’s just so so hard. I opted to go a slightly non-traditional path by taking my engineering PhD to teach in an undergrad only institution (I had no desire for the dogfight that is R1 institutions).

    Everyone always says “do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life” but they leave out the fact that life satisfaction isn’t only dependent on your job. Plenty of people have jobs they dislike but find joy and satisfaction in their life because of hobbies, family, friends, etc. The OP sounds like they’re putting all their happiness eggs in one basket. Maybe it’s time to consider how you can gain satisfaction and happiness from other aspects of your life.

    1. chickaletta*

      Totally this. The best career advice I ever got was “don’t go after your dream job, go after the job that will help you achieve your dreams”. It really made me think because similar to OP, I was in a career field where everything else in my life was sacrificed and I was always frustrated and anxious. I changed careers, and while it’s not on a list of “dream jobs”, it’s allowing me to do the things with my life that I want to do. I actually feel a lot better about myself and about where my life is headed. And the career I left behind? I still get to do some of that work in a volunteer sense, so it’s not all given up.

    2. Overeducated*

      Not to mention that sometimes people find satisfaction in doing work, even if it’s not work they are inherently passionate about. I find more meaning in being part of a team and doing work tht has a positive social impact than in the content of the work itself right now. And that’s ok!

  44. your vegan coworker*

    I’m academia-adjacent myself, and I know a lot of people in your position. One year is not that long to have been looking. As Allison said, tenure track jobs are increasingly scarce. So, I think it’s not quite time to give up, if it’s really true that your CV is solid in comparison to the competition. (You said you were well known in your field, so I’m assuming you’ve got publications and conference presentations. You should also have strong references concerning your teaching skills as well as the ability to articulate your pedagogical philosophy.)

    So, it’s not time to give up yet, IF your credentials are as strong as you say. But, even so, as Allison says, you may not win this lottery. So, it IS time to start thinking about what other career paths might feel equally satisfying. Not knowing your field, I can’t make specific recommendations, but there are plenty of ways to use PhDs. For me, working in a nonprofit job where I frequently lecture at various colleges while regularly publishing and sometimes adjuncting has turned out to be very satisfying. I have a friend who runs a nonprofit in her field while teaching one class every semester, and she is relieved by the lack of pressure to publish. I have another friend who does research in her field, publishing regularly, working in a non-academic lab; she likes focusing on the research so this is a better outcome for her than an academic job that would have required teaching would have been.

    The key at this, I think, is to keep hope alive — because, again, being on the job market for only a year is really no time at all in academia these days — while simultaneously envisioning and maybe even starting to implement Plan B.

    1. your vegan coworker*

      Oh, and I meant to say that, in imagining Plan B, don’t forget technical and community colleges. They may not be as prestigious, and they won’t fund research, but if you like teaching they can be a way to stay in your field and (unless your field requires expensive equipment) you can still research and write on your own.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      On the other hand, only OP knows how miserable she is given the uncertainty. Some people are happier with security versus years on tenderhooks even if there is ultimately success – it might be a sign that this is not the career for this person. If I was told it was an expectation of my field to work like a dog for 2-3 years without a living wage, I’d probably decide to switch fields.

  45. agnes*

    Totally sympathize. I finally had to expand my dreams and not just focus on “what” I wanted to do to earn a living, but where I wanted to do it; with whom, and what kind of lifestyle I wanted to have when I wasn’t working. That opened up a lot of new options for me. And I also realized it was possible to be pretty satisfied even if I didn’t have the entire package.

    1. mf*

      I like this point of view a lot: “expand my dreams and not just focus on “what” I wanted to do to earn a living, but where I wanted to do it; with whom, and what kind of lifestyle I wanted to have when I wasn’t working.” It focus not just on the job but also how it makes you feel, the culture of the workplace, the effect the job has on the rest of your life, etc.

  46. Dr. Vanessa Poseidon*

    Hi OP, I have been in your position and I think Allison’s advice is spot on. I finished my phd a little over 2 years ago in a humanities field in which there are typically 2-6 available jobs per year. I actually didn’t even attempt the academic job market because I was so worn down by the toxicity of the environment and no longer willing to make the sacrifices you speak of. I’m working in a different career path that I definitely didn’t plan for, but that uses my brain and talents and lets me have a more stable life. I have no regrets about this decision!

    So, I get how hard and demoralizing this is, but I’d second the idea to really confront your worst case scenario — never getting a tenure track job. What else could you do? What kinds of desires would drive your next step (living in a particular location, money, family, etc.)? Meet with and read about people who’ve made this transition. Check out versatile phd, the professor is in, from phd to life. I think once you start thinking about possible alternatives in a serious way, the outcomes you fear won’t seem so scary and your approach to the job market will feel healthier.

  47. Clementine*

    I was struck by this phrase “I have accomplished more than most women my age”. If you are in that mindset, it will make leaving the field much harder. Lots of women have accomplished a lot of things, even if they don’t have a Ph.D in a niche academic field. I think you could move to a corporate role that is relatively reliable and well-paid, especially as you put your time in, but your viewpoint might hold you back.

    1. pomme de terre*

      Yeah that jumped out at me too. Yikes. Life and career are for sure frustrating, but wowza if that attitude is coming out in the application process, it may contribute to OP’s difficulties in finding a steady work in a competitive.

      1. n*

        I don’t think that’s what’s holding back the OP. Academia can come off as elitist because there is a lot of open talk about the quality of an individual’s credentials/how many publications they have/etc. However, that’s *because* the field is so competitive. Depending on your field, there may be 5-10 openings a year in your specialty, if you’re lucky. *Hundreds* of people just as qualified as you are also applying. Hence, the focus on increasingly impressive credentials just to have even the faintest hope of getting a tenure-track position.

    2. Wednesday*

      This jumped out at me, too. I know it’s a pretty common ideology in academia, but I’d encourage OP to reconsider what she considers to be an accomplishment. For example, women with full-time jobs might consider themselves to have accomplished more than OP. . .

      I empathize with OP but this statement was pretty classist/elitist.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        And the gender component surprised me. Has she really not out-accomplished most *men* her age by the same standards?

        I’m admittedly one of those over-35 women who has a full-time job, is only working on a lowly Master’s degree, and has been married with a mortgage for over a decade. While I admire my friends whose achievements more closely resemble the OP’s, I certainly don’t envy their predicament now. (And after nineteen years in the workforce, I no longer see other women as my only competition.)

      2. Birch*

        Sorry, I get where you all are coming from, but telling the OP to reconsider what she considers an accomplishment is way too far. Getting a PhD is a GREAT accomplishment. Yes, we all know that there’s layers and layers of privilege involved and that other people’s accomplishments are also valid. It’s still an accomplishment in itself and OP doesn’t deserve to have that devalued here.

        I don’t know that all the academia bashing is really helping OP at all. It’s great to get ideas of how people have used their academic skills in non-academic jobs, but the comments are making it sound like anyone staying in academia is naive and foolish. There are ways to stay in academia and work on your mental health. We can’t just say everyone should abandon the sinking ship—academia is how we get higher education and research making for a more educated society and advances in technology and medicine.

        1. Wednesday*

          I didn’t mean it in the sense that she hasn’t accomplished a lot, but that she doesn’t think other women have accomplished as much as her – academic accomplishments aren’t inherently superior to others.

    3. epi*

      I agree. I totally see why the OP feels this way, but this belief will hold her back.

      I use some technologies for my PhD research that have many commercial and hobbyist applications. When I go to Meetups or conferences or trainings in them, academics make up a substantial minority of the attendees. People who work in tech, or in a technical role in governments or non-profits, are the majority.

      To say that those people have practical skills would really undersell them. They know how to do things that would make my job easier, too, only I didn’t know those methods existed. They’re doing things I should be doing. And the type of person my work is supposed to help will see the results of these people’s work months or years before mine. I often find my colleagues in those fields quite flexible and creative. I’m impressed not only by what they know, but by how they have found such interesting and fulfilling work in roles I didn’t even think to look for. And they have lives! It’s like meeting a lifestyle blogger and finding out it was all true.

      The OP might benefit from meeting people outside of academia who use some of the same resources, techniques, or tools that she does. It is a great education in how big the world truly is, and all of the things she might be able to do with her skills.

      Smart and accomplished people are everywhere. Lots of them are outside of academia because academia does not meet their needs, and they have options. But even more than that– there is more to life than being smart and accomplished. The OP can do something other than grab the brass ring as defined by a narrow slice of the population, and still be a worthwhile person who deserves to thrive and be happy.

    4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      To put it in perspective, one of my lifeguards back when I worked at the pool did his first full-scale crash rescue at age 15. Guy had a heart attack, lifeguard responded, provided CPR, guy lived.

      Though *this* is a bias I carry forward into other jobs: I consider it a good day as long as no one’s dying, and I see no reason to get worked up about [whatever] because the majority of what goes on in business is not life or death.

    5. EtherIther*

      Wow! Now that you say that and I see it, I totally agree. What does that even mean? It’s totally ridiculous, not everyone is trying to accomplish the same things you are! You are not better than any other woman because you got a PhD, including those who decided to raise children instead (and I say this as someone who does not plan on having children). Frankly, at least those people are doing what they want – which OP is currently not.

      But that’s not the point either, OP. You need to divorce your entire sense of self-worth and accomplishment from your job. You are not better than anyone else, nor is anyone better than you, based on your job.

    6. HannahS*

      I understood it to mean that she’s become an expert in her chosen field and invested in her career to a degree that few women she knows have, but that other women have invested in other areas of life accomplished more there. Career vs. family in academia tends to be knottier for women that men (as it does in most fields), and the time pressure (and social pressure) are harder on women, so I don’t think it’s out of line that she’s comparing herself to other women, rather than to her male colleagues.

    7. MM*

      I took this to be a much more limited statement–comparing herself to women in academia and in her field, by, e.g., number of publications or similar academic metric. You may be right that she meant it more broadly, but I took it as part of her attempt to calibrate what she brings to the table vis-a-vis the market, like the remarks about her CV.

    8. OP*

      MM is correct when they say, “I took this to be a much more limited statement–comparing herself to women in academia and in her field, by, e.g., number of publications or similar academic metric.” That is indeed what I meant. In my field, we are measured by our accomplishments, so that is how I calibrate my hiring qualifications. In no way does this mean that I view myself as “better” than anyone. I cannot imagine looking down on anyone, and my comment was written in the context of my own niche field and what is expected of those who pursue a job in that field, not as a depiction of my self worth as a person or — even worse! — other people’s life choices. I am horrified that this sentence could have been taken in that context in any way. If my wording made it seem that way, that’s awful and I wish I had phrased it better. As far as comparing myself to “women” in my field and not simply “people,” I guess it’s hard to divorce myself from hyper-awareness of my gender, especially as I have struggled to come to terms with what it means to be a woman in my particular line of work. I am still learning. In the end, what I should have written was “people in my field,” which would have more accurately portrayed my meaning. I’m very sorry if I have offended anyone.

  48. Jennifer*

    I admire people who have the guts to pursue their passion.

    I work to make money and pursue my passion in my off hours. I’d love if I could get paid a living wage to pursue my passion but that’s just not how things worked out. Maybe things will change one day but I’ll be fine either way.

    I hope you figure out the path that’s the best for you, OP. You’re the only one that can determine that. I hope you take Alison’s words to heart. Best wishes on your journey, wherever it takes you.

  49. pomme de terre*

    My first job out of college was at a university press. I was 21 and knew nothing about anything, but I could do the math of seeing our budget and seeing infinitely more book proposals arrive in my mailbox than we could ever hope to publish for that amount. It broke my heart to see all those carefully created proposals and know that the vast majority of them would never even make it to the peer review round, and so many of the authors had gotten so far into debt just to get to the point where an acquisitions assistant was holding their sure-to-be-rejected proposal. As Allison alluded to, I felt like I was looking at the head shots of fresh-faced actors at a Hollywood agency, knowing that most of them were going to be chewed up and spit out by the system. I was on the front lines of “publish or perish” and it was such a bummer.

    Academia should absolutely be considered a high risk/high reward field along the lines of the fine arts. If you want to do it, do it, but go in with your eyes open and know that you may have to have some side gigs and/or day job to support that kind of work.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      It’s just so sad though, since college is more expensive than ever and students need good teachers. There *should* be money to pay a living wage. I guess I didn’t realize that we needed so many fewer professors than are graduating with PhD’s, but if that’s the case (? – aren’t more people going to college?) then shame on the schools for not preparing their graduates for other job opportunities or reducing class sizes.

      1. n*

        The problem is that universities are spending more on administration and less on faculty. So, it’s not that less faculty are needed. More *are* needed, and the solution is to hire contingent labor (adjuncts) so that you don’t have to pay them the salary and benefits that you’d need to pay a tenure-track position.

        This is compounded by the fact that research institutions solve their faculty shortage by admitting more phd students. Grad students teach intro undergrad courses and are only compensated with a tuition waiver and stipend (usually $12-15k), which ensures a pool of cheap labor. But it also creates an oversaturated workforce.

      2. Agnes*

        A, in the US, more people are going to college, but the size of the college-age population is shrinking (no more baby boom)
        B, many more people are doing non-traditional routes (something like half of higher ed is not full-time, 4 yr, 18-22 yr olds)
        C, state legislatures have cut support dramatically, so universities can’t balance their budgets unless they hire part-time teachers.

        Especially C. If you’re complaining about tuition at your state university going up, look how much it’s been cut at the state level.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Not complaining! Just literally confused since it seems to me from the outside that it’s an industry where at least there’s a clear revenue stream – I understand why something like fine arts is tough to make a living at, because there’s very few people who want to pay a lot of money for great art, and a lot of people who would like to make it. But these comments are helpful, thanks all.

      3. Entry Level Marcus*

        More people are going to college, but universities are relying more on cheap adjunct labor than on tenured professors or permanent non-tenured lecturers to cut costs (a single tenured professor is a multi-million dollar commitment, and unfortunately with the rising costs of higher ed and the commodification of education, universities are feeling pressure to cut costs where they can). There are jobs, but they’re underpaid with no job security or benefits and you can’t be picky about location. That isn’t exactly a desirable or sustainable lifestyle. Also, while there are lots of college students, keep in mind that one tenured professor will teach dozens or even hundreds of students every year for 30-40+ years.

        I agree with you, though, that things should be different.

        1. J.E.*

          Also, a lot of the day to day functioning of a college/university outside of the classroom is accomplished on the backs of very underpaid support staff.

  50. Zona the Great*

    Is there already a national membership or collaborative association in your niche field? Could that be a way you can remain in the field you love while carving out a different role for yourself?

  51. Quickbeam*

    OP, my brothers-in-law are both PhDs with post-doc credentials, have written successful books in their fields. They gave the “tenure track professorship” dream 10 years with only one offer between them. The one turned down that offer as he’d would have had to move while his wife was in her 9th month of pregnancy. He never got another offer.

    They both ended up teaching at private prep schools. One retires this year with a really nice pension and the other will retire in 2 years. They have had good careers, doing what they love…just not the way they envisioned.

    Is there a work around for you? Can you tweak the dream a bit?

    1. Mrs. Smith*

      Was just coming here to say this. I considered the PhD in my humanities discipline but stopped with an MA, plus an MLS. I work at a private prep school (using both!) and it is FANTASTIC. We have multiple PhDs on staff and they do meaningful work with students and have summer off at full pay to pursue whatever they like – publishing or research in that model is entirely possible. Longevity here is good, benefits are great, students are lovely – this is a great gig. I have a nice life and I do not feel I compromised one bit.

  52. Unicorn*

    This will be long and depressing, OP, so you might not want to read it.
    I got the golden ring a decade ago. How? Right place, right time, and knew some people…so lots of luck with a bit of pluck. It wouldn’t happen today and I do my best to steer students away from considering getting a PhD in my field.
    Are there exceptions? Yes, but pretty specific ones. Students who have an independent income and can afford to be an adjunct for life. Some minorities who are underrepresented in the field, but only a couple of groups.
    My friends from grad school have mostly turned away from academia. Years of adjuncting resulted in impoverishment, frustration, and bitterness. Why did so-and-so get the job, I’m more qualified/was a more loyal adjunct/am a better choice.
    Your degree has a fairly short shelf life. After about 5 years it’s likely considered out of date. Your advisor is writing letters for their more recent grads. Your best hope is to consistently adjunct at a college and hope that people in the department see that as a positive and aren’t in love with the idea of landing the biggest possible fish, the most recent graduate of the most prominent school.
    Other options? Private high schools? Nothing like colleges. Your autonomy is gone, lots of pressure to inflate grades, and your students (and their parents) are seen as customers even more than in college.
    And if you get that tenure track job? Colleges are cutting back. Financial aid has become more restrictive and students have been forced to choose their major and are discouraged from being curious and exploring other fields with their few electives. Department chairs are pressured to fill classes not encourage classes that only appeal to handful of students. I love my discipline, like my students and really dislike the college administration…so not a magic job. Good time off, mediocre pay with COL raises when the legislature feels like it.
    Would I do it again? Probably not, and definitely not in today’s market.
    So, if you’ve read all of th

    1. LQ*

      I think that the point of the degree having a short shelf life is important. You need to know (realistically) what your degree shelf life is, I don’t think there are any salt like degrees. And a lot are raw chicken.

    2. Carlie*

      Also, in the calculation of whether it is worth it, the OP should be considering what the tenured job actually is. The “life of the mind” part is one thing, and OP may already know what the grant race is like, but a surprisingly big chunk of the position will likely be grading, assessment reports, committee meetings, student recruitment activities, and so on. And those portions only increase over time, as long-time faculty pick up the service slack to give new ones their shot to do good research when it counts most for them. Be sure to weigh what the job is, not what it seems to be.

      The other downer is to think about lifetime earnings after spending so much time in school and on the job market. You don’t really notice until you hit 40 or so how far behind you are in retirement investment, savings, and general stuff accumulation you are compared to people who started their full-time careers at 22 right out of college (or earlier). And that you never catch up from.

  53. Det. Charles Boyle*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this, OP. Academia is brutal. There are jobs out there outside of higher education, if you want to go that route. My husband and I both escaped and are very happy. He had an easier time than I finding a job (he’s in STEM). My degree is in English, but I was able to find a stable, very good-paying (and low stress) job in technical writing. Good luck to you!

  54. anon librarian*

    I think it depends on the institution. We’ve hired people, for functional specialist roles in biomedicine/sciences, and for liaison roles in the humanities, who have a PhD but not an MLS. But it’s true that they have to show in their cover letter and during the interviews that they are actually interested in information/data discovery or another aspect of librarianship, not just looking for a university job that’s hard money. You definitely have to like teaching and collaborating too.

  55. sange*

    Oh, OP….please, please, please read these comments! You might be one of my classmates, or me or my husband writing from five years ago…and here is my advice. Academia pretends it is a zero-sum game. You are either a suffering academic, producing brilliant treatise after brilliant treatise while shaping young minds, or you are a paycheck-grabbing slave to the bourgeoisie. Even the tenure-track route is incredibly demanding, not as well-paying as it used to be, and benefits are diminishing every year for professors. Please get off your current track, focus on getting stable employment (I switched to working for a nonprofit in my academic field and love it), and then adjunct the way it is supposed to be done – as a side gig for a respected professional who is sharing their insights with students. Keep some involvement in higher education, go to/present at the occasional conference, and maybe one day you find yourself in academia…but I really encourage to broaden your idea of professional success and how it connects to your happiness. Good luck!

  56. n*

    There have been a lot of great comments above. Just wanted to throw my hat into the empathy pile, as well.

    I planned on an academic career in a very niche subfield of philosophy, so I know that saying that academia is highly competitive is an understatement. It’s Hunger Games out there. I think AAM’s analogy to Hollywood is spot-on. Having a 3% chance of a successful career (academia) is akin to wanting to be an actress or professional athlete– it’s a beautiful dream, but highly unlikely.

    The reality of that fact sank in for me when I was having issues with one of my research supervisors (who was a bully) that prevented me from receiving a stipend I was counting on to cover my summer expenses. My electricity was shut off and I was sitting in the dark trying to read Thucydides by candlelight and I thought: “I am a very intelligent person doing something incredibly stupid.” I decided to give up on academia and find a job that allows me to pay my bills and not be dependent on the precarity of the academy.

    That was an incredibly painful decision. I think it took me a full two years to mourn the loss of (the idea of) an academic career, to realize that I’d never live the life I’d worked so hard for. But after going through that mourning process, I was able to see that there are a lot of other career options out there. Now I’m starting over in a different field and getting an industry-focused masters in a field that is challenging and exciting and well-paid, that still allows me to do research. I’m a lot happier and feel a lot less anxious about my future.

    I’ll echo advice others have given to do some soul-searching and figure out what you love most about academia, and see if there are other fields where you can get those some emotional/intellectual needs met. The APA has a great guide on pursuing careers outside of the academy. I really appreciated the personal essays they have from other philosophers who have pursued alt-ac careers:

    Another piece of advice I’d offer is to think very carefully about your timeline here. If you do decide to stick it out on the academic job market for a few more years before deciding to pursue other options, do you think you’d feel comfortable starting over in a non-academic field when you’re 40? Possibly having to be in an entry-level position with an entry-level salary (depending on your prior non-academic work experience, of course)? This has probably been the biggest challenge for me. I returned to non-academic work when I was 31 and it was pretty difficult to deal with co-workers and managers who treated me like I was much younger and less experienced than I am, and to have to build up a network and professional reputation again. And it was hard on an emotional level to see colleagues who are younger than me be further along in their careers because they started earlier than I did. YMMV, of course, but just wanted to put that perspective out there.

    In any case, I’m so sorry that this is something you’re going through right now. It says something very disturbing about the state of higher education that academic careers are no longer a viable option for many disciplines.

    1. Reba*

      “I am a very intelligent person doing something incredibly stupid.” LOLsob

      thanks for sharing your story!

  57. Lora*

    Another agreeing that the job market in academia is for the birds. Or, as others have said, it’s like deciding to be a rock star. I feel like at this point, if you have a trust fund, then cool, chase that dream. Otherwise, understand that even Juilliard grads end up playing cruise boat shows for a side gig. You can work extraordinarily hard, you can be the very best, and still not get what you want, because the odds are just so very very stacked against you.

    Most of the adjuncts who hang in there and even TT folks I know either made their money on stock options from a startup that got lucky, or have family money. They don’t need a paycheck to eat. What may be even more galling for you is, people who have the PhD, make it big in industry and then get a TT job just handed to them, because they are just that big in industry or because they come with their own money. I know of a few, but then I’m in STEM where if your choice is to have a faculty member with a few Cell/Science/Nature publications vs a faculty member with a bunch of wealthy donor industry connections and a track record of actually curing cancer, you’re going to pick the latter.

    I am not getting into what it does to diversity in academia when you create a system that basically excludes people who need a paycheck to eat, because that’s a whole other can of socioeconomic worms, I’m just saying it really frosts my @ss.

  58. RecoveringAcademic*

    I’m so glad to see discussion of mourning your definition of yourself. It’s hard, especially after many years of rigorous training and education, to think about who or what else you might be. And I think it’s especially hard after you’ve spent 6-10 years in academia to conceive of life outside of it.
    I also spent many years doing the freelance, itinerant, adjunct patchwork thing, which sucked mightily. Then it occurred to me that when I finally “succeeded” and got “the job,” it was only going to suck marginally less. The most likely “success” scenario was that I would end up in some place I didn’t want to be geographically, working insanely hard with little work-life balance, being underpaid and undervalued, and frustrated by academic bureaucracy to boot. Once I re-framed my thinking to include what my entire life looked like, not just my profession, it freed me to ponder what job would fit into my desired lifestyle, and not vice-versa. I now go home at 5:00 every day, in the city of my choice, with enough energy and soul left to actually enjoy my non-work time.
    Try reading the Chronicle of Higher Ed on a regular basis — there is nothing like it to dispel the notion that FT academic jobs are all rosy, fulfilling, high-level research and creation. Good luck!

  59. Pingles, Cheddar Cheese*

    Oh man, I can hear the frustration and defeat in the LW’s words. That is a really tough spot to find yourself in. I don’t know what your field is, but I have a woman working for me right now who has her Ph.D. in Poetry. She has never found a teaching job- university, community college, or even an online for-profit schools.
    I have had several former academics who have worked for me in corporate learning & development. If you enjoy teaching adults it is a transition you could make by getting a few certifications under your belt-
    First I would take a train the trainer, which could be completed in a weekend and usually costs about $1500-1800. If you get a discount where you teach- you can take an e-learning development class. Those 2 things would likely have you working pretty quickly. Junior trainers can usually get a starting salary of around $50-60,000. If you can also write curriculum and design e-learning start is a $65-72,000.
    And if you want to start working right now, before getting certified- google SkillPath. They will hire a former teacher as a contractor and you will get as much work as you can handle if you are willing to travel every week. It is also a great way to learn the industry, and get some training under your belt to make you less junior when you do apply for full time corporate trainer positions.
    My other recommendation is technical writing. Especially if your field of study was English, creative writing, etc… it is boring writing if you are a creative writer, but it is steady work and uses the skills you already have. Technical writers usually start at a salary of around $50-60,000.

    Good luck on whatever you decide to do!!!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I used to work with a guy who had a Ph.D. in Renaissance literature . . . and then went back and got an MLIS so he could feed himself. This was in the days before the library/archives job market got saturated, too, though.

  60. Rez123*

    I really feel for the LW. I feel the same. Excpt my field is not competative. Where I’m from the unemployement rate is high and therefore 300 applicants per job is totally normal. This includes all types of work. I’m lucky in the way that I have a permanent job, but it is low paid and a lt of work and I would love to move on. But I’m not getting interviews. It’s hard to plan when my salary doesn’t let m have savings and therefore I cannot do the things I want and the new job could be anywhere. It’s frustrating.

    I’m sorry I don’t have any advice LW. But which aspects of the field make you passionate? Maybe those can be found somewhere else?

  61. FormerActress*

    Even before reading Alison’s last sentence I was thinking how much this reminds me of my old days as a struggling actress. I sympathize so much with what you’re going through OP. Alison’s advise is pretty spot on, although it is a hard pill to swallow. It certainly was for me a few years ago when I walked away from acting. But it gets easier. And having a steady paycheck and a career that doesn’t depend on luck has done wonders for my mental health. I was able to buy my own home, own car, and have money left over to travel. I still dream of what could have been if I’d held on a little longer, but then I think of how much healthier and happier I am now and remember it’s worth it.
    There’s no right answer here, only what is the right answer for you. But please know that even though it might feel like you’re giving up something wonderful, the pain/sadness doesn’t last forever and there might be something better on the other side.

  62. CR*

    Yes, this sounds like my private girls school I attended. My best teacher was in English – she was a PhD and she taught me more than I learned when I actually went to university.

  63. Meißner Porcellain Teapot*

    OP, I would like to highlight this specific passage from your letter, because I think it really summarizes everything you really need to know to make your decision:

    “I don’t know where I’ll be living from one year to the next. I’m going to be 35, single, without kids. I have accomplished more than most women my age, and am well known in my field. But I have no money, my life seems stagnant, and the rejections are making me feel like I’m failing. Every time I write a cover letter I feel this terrible feeling of intense hope combined with the inevitability of rejection. It’s exhausting.”

    Here are some harsh truths, not grabbed out of thin air, but extrapolated from your own words, and I want you to read and consider each and every single one of them for a minute:

    – You have no feeling of residential stability and it is bothering you.
    – You are 35 and have no partner/kids and it is bothering you.
    – You have no money and it is bothering you.
    – The rejections are eroding your self-worth even though you know you are smart and capable and not to blame and it is bothering you.
    – You have accomplished great things, but they don’t make you feel like greatness, and it is bothering you.
    – This stress has poisoned you to the point where you can’t do something you’ve been doing hundreds of times (applying for a job) without feeling very intense, exhausting emotions and it is bothering you.

    Please read this list and think about it. There is so much negativity in your words–you sound like a deeply unhappy person and I am not blaming you for it. Anyone in your situation would feel awful, even though I am sure many of the people who did manage to snatch one of the mythical sparkling golden unicorn spots in academia would laugh at you and tell you that /they/ never had these problems. These people are either filthy rich, filthy liars, or have more luck than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    So I encourage you to employ the Sheelzebug principle, which originated in the comments sections of Captain Awkward and ask yourself:
    If nothing changes about your current situation, if you remain partnerless, childless, frequently broke, constantly on edge, constantly in doubt, and constantly grudgingly ready to move out of necessity, then how much longer will you be able to tolerate this situation? Can you see yourself living like this, so utterly unhappy, in one year? Two years? Five years? Ten years? Can you see yourself living like this at age 40 and not be a complete nervous wreck?

    If that sounds too daunting, I offer and alternative thought exercise. Hell, I encourage you to do this exercise even if you /do/ have an answer to the Sheelzebub principle:

    Sit back, close your eyes, and imagine, just for a minute, that one year from now, you have taken a job adjacent to your academic career, but not in academia per se. Say it has maybe… 50% in common with what your dream job looks like. So imagine that, one year from now, you “only” have 50% of your dream job, but you also have 100% enough money to live on, 100% security to sign a lease without internally panicking about “What if I get accepted for that post in Malaysia???”, 90% security that you don’t have to write another damn job application for at least two years (the 10% I left out are for the off-chance of a truly toxic job that you’re better off quitting in your probation period), and 100% security that you have accomplished SOMETHING. I mean, you will not have accomplished what you had originally planned to do, but you will have accomplished a LOT. Imagine that, with this stable income, schedule and prospect for the next two years, you will actually have had time and resources to grow roots where you are? To have taken up a hobby or a volunteering gig that you always wanted. That you will likely have made new friends and maybe, potentially, even have found a partner to maybe potentially have kids with in a few years.

    Imagine both of these scenarios and then ask yourself: Which of those two futures seems to be the happier one? Is the miniscule, pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow-chance to get your /dream/ job truly worth all this aggrevation?

    Also, and I may not know enough about your field to make a qualified judgment here, but I have met soooooo many people in my life who /got/ their dream jobs… and then realized five years later that the glitter had worn off with the novelty and their priorities and private lives had changed and suddenly it wasn’t a dream at all anymore. It wasn’t a nightmare either, just… not a dream.

    Honestly, there is no shame in deciding to stop chasing the dream as the end-all-be-all. Not every dream needs to become reality. You can find something that’s close to your dream and keep a piece of your dream alive through hobbies or volunteering and still live a very happy, very fulfilled life.

    This choice is entirely up to you, OP, but I encourage you to make your choice sooner rather than later, because time waits for no-one. I wish you the best of luck and all the happiness!

  64. SoNotLivingMyDream*

    Would love to hear from the OP regarding Alison’s advice if he/she is willing to share. Will you share your answer to whether you would be okay if this is your life in the long term? To me, it was a jarring question but (as usual) Alison cut right to the heart of the matter and addressed the OP perfectly. I ask because I am seeing many people give you alternative suggestions but I am curious to know whether that’s helpful. If so, let us know. If you do, can you give more detail about what you are doing? I work for a fairly large well known company that employs MANY Phds (sorry, sure I didn’t get the capitalization correct) who are no longer teaching. Maybe we can connect offline? Best of luck to you!! xo

  65. Yikes Dude*

    The best advice I can give is to start applying to professional jobs at one of the colleges you have a good relationship with or would like to teach at. You will have that steady paycheck, excellent benefits, and makes the feast-famine aspects of an academic career much more manageable. It’s much easier to go semester to semester, you actually get a chance to bond with the full-time faculty and deans/chairs/people who make the department run in ways you never could as a on-again, off-again adjunct. You have the same (or better!) access to the school’s facilities and you are able to maintain affiliation at industry events.

    1. RunnerGirl*

      That’s very much know-your-institution advice. I can think of one person in my R1 university who went from staff to faculty, and that’s a non-tenure track “teaching faculty” appointment. It’s better than adjuncting, but it’s not TT. Only go the staff route if you truly feel it’s for you and that you would thrive in that staff position should it never parlay into a faculty job. Don’t be the bitter phD who took the staff gig and hates every second of it, shirking the more menial aspects of the job and making others’ lives miserable. My institution has *way* too many of those. Staff positions can be awesome – you get to help people and I love being the person who upsets the stereotype of bureaucratic ineptitude – but don’t look for one hoping it’ll turn into something else.

  66. Prof*

    Every time we have a job search in my department, I get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when we meet to evaluate applicants. We don’t get hundreds of applicants, but the 50-70 we do get per position still creates a huge pool. Typically, half of the applicants are hireable and any one of the top ten would be great. Not only that, but even at my lower-ranked, rural, not particularly desirable institution, our applicants have multiple publications (in the humanities), awards, fellowships, and degrees from the very top schools. The fact is, the really excellent second “best” person — even with an Ivy League degree, a book contract, multiple articles, etc — still doesn’t get a job here, and sometimes, anywhere.

    And every year there are more people with brand new degrees (or, better yet, the shiny new ABD who is about to get their degree) to compete with, and the older your degree is without having achieved a TT position, the less shiny the “old” (by PhD date) candidates are by comparison. Staying in the game does not give you a better chance to win.

    The system is a tragedy, one I’ve seen time and time again with my own (very impressive) grad school colleagues who didn’t luck out on the market and who are still going through the adjunct grind. The only move is not to play.

  67. Anonymeece*

    I think Alison touched on this, but I want to add: just because you haven’t won the lottery yet, or don’t ever, does not mean you didn’t try hard enough. There’s this idea that if you were good enough, if you were smart enough, you could have found work by now, and it’s insidious. I’ve met absolutely brilliant adjuncts who were caught in that trap. They were awesome people, but kept getting bypassed for jobs, and then they turned it into a, “Well, I just need to try harder”. But the thing about lotteries is that no matter how good you are, you still might not win it. It comes down to chance and luck.

    So I’m not trying to be a downer, but it’s good to keep in mind because I think society often reinforces this point that we can do anything if we just try hard enough, which is a great message, until you’re trying your hardest and still not succeeding. There was, weirdly, an analogy from a Cracked article that stuck with me: if you give a hamburger to ten guys to fight over, one of them will get it. And we say, “Anyone can be the one to get the hamburger!”, and that’s technically true, but only one of them can be that anyone.

    I have so much sympathy for where you’are at right now, and my heart goes out to you just reading your letter. I hope, whatever you decide to do, that you know that you are not alone, and I hope that things get better for you soon.

    1. Hidden Trout*

      I’m not the OP, but your reply is so helpful to me. I’m in a competitive field (not in academia), and I’ve been one of the final 2 or 3 candidates four times now (typically there are only 6-10 openings per year; I’m heading into year 2) without landing a job. I’ve been beating myself up for not being “good enough” because I almost always get a screening interview, 50% of the time get to stage 2, and make the finalist stage, and yet…I come up empty.

      I’ve got another finalist interview next week, but now I also have your words reminding me that there’s a certain amount of lottery in the mix. Thank you, kind internet stranger. I’ve read all the comments to this post but yours was the one I needed.

  68. Boba Feta*

    I saw this post “late” and started eagerly reading replies but quickly began to feel overwhelmed and had to jump down here just say:

    My people, I have finally found you.

    All of the above (I’m sure of it), is me. Someone mentioned grieving, and I had never put it in those terms but now see so clearly how accurate it is. The sense of shame and “failure“ when things don’t go according to the ridiculous rules that I didn’t create nor fully comprehend even as I fooled myself into thinking I had agreed to them.

    I just applied for “one last” tenure-track attempt and if this one doesn’t work out I will shift my energy 100% away from academia and pivoting my skills elsewhere. Adjuncting was fine for a while, thrilling, even!, but it’s unsustainable physically, financially, and psychologically. And it’s so damn hard to admit that when we not only love it so much but are so damned good at it.

    I wish you so well in figuring out how much longer you’re willing to give it before something has to change. I have given it 5 years, one as a full-time sabbatical replacement, which gave me a taste of the good life and in many ways made it worse because now I know what I’m missing.

    The only advice I have is to avoid the trap of regretting the past or the degree: when I begin to lament the “wasted years” or money or what-have-you, I remind myself of all the amazing things I got to do or places I went in grad school,and remind myself to be grateful for those opportunities. And that helps a lot, because I got to do some pretty awesome things, and those stories will never not impress people at parties. ;)

    Good luck, OP! Know that we are legion.

  69. LDN Layabout*

    As the child of an incredibly successful academic…it’s a shit field. A field where you might be bringing in millions (STEM) and still be fighting administration to be able to provide semi-decent jobs for your subordinates. My parent lost a lot of very good people to the corporate world and helped each one of them get as good of a job as possible because they wanted them to be able to support a family like they were able to.

    It literally took my parent threatening to leave (and take grants/projects/relationships/prestige with them) on a number of occasions to get positions opened up for people. It’s ridiculous.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      I also wish I was close enough to a friend who’s done a museums masters and is working a terrible job against the hope that she’ll get a museums job this post :(

  70. Memyselfandi*

    I wish I had the time or energy to respond extensively to this. Academia is a pyramid scheme. Get an advanced degree if you really can’t live without it, but try not to pay for it yourself. Enjoy the experience for what it is, but do not do it with the expectation that you will get a faculty position. Maintain your professional relationships within your field, but broaden your scope to include other venues. I use my PhD every day to help people and it is just as satisfying as when I was teaching and doing research in an academic setting.


    I like the line from Alison, “You still have more than one future out there.” I think that’s true, that you dont have to live the life in front of you. Sometimes bills and kids and circumstances force us unto the path we are on and we stay on those paths because they seem right or are paths of least resistance but we can change, take a different path, no matter the age or the circumstances. We just need to suffer the pain of change.
    There is a light at the end of every tunnel.
    When a door closes, somewhere a window opens

    1. Anoncorporate*

      The “dream job” is the career equivalent of “soul mate” – there is NO SUCH THING. We need to stop trying to model our lives after inspirational movies and rom coms. No one’s real life is a fairy tale with just one happy ending. There are many ways to be content, but you will go through highs and lows just the same.

  72. Sob Story*

    I’m one of those people who tried to get into a highly competitive field and didn’t make it. I got the required master’s degree and did the unpaid internships at great organizations and then ended up only being able to get temp jobs or poorly paid jobs that were totally unrelated to my field after graduating. I’ve been unemployed for a long time now, and can’t seem to get a job even though I hide my master’s degree. At the last interview I went to, the hiring manager was suspicious about why I wanted a job that required a high school degree and no experience. It was because I NEED a job, but I told them I was interested in the job because it satisfied my interest in x and I thought I’d be good at it because x and y skills that were emphasized in the job listing. I’m over-qualified for anything that only requires a HS degree and no experience, and I’m under-qualified for anything that requires a specific degree or any experience. I hate when interviewers ask where I see myself in 5 years because the real answer is that I see myself homeless and suicidal because no one wants to hire me.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      Oh, no, no, no. Please don’t think like that, Sob. There’s lots of good advice on this site that will be of great help in your getting your foot in the door. Really. I wish there was something I could tell you that would give you a little bit of hope that this is true, because it *is*. As you can tell by reading this thread alone, people do manage to parlay their academic credentials into actual jobs, even if those jobs are outside their academic discipline. And you can be one of those people, too.

    2. Pommette!*

      Your experience sounds a lot like mine. I have no advice to give, so I just want to chime in to commiserate and to wish you well.

      When I left my field, I got a lot of good advice. People suggested that I look for adjacent industry jobs (my field does not have an industry equivalent), that I look for education or library jobs (I tried and tried, but those are niche fields already, and most jobs require specific credentials), that I look for editing jobs (I tried and tried, but employers prefer with English degrees and professional editing experience), and that I look for policy and government jobs (I tried and tried, but the jobs kept going to people who had actual policy training and experience). A few of my peers were able to make the transition brilliantly, but many struggled, and some of us are still struggling.

      The last six years have been incredibly difficult, but things *have* improved, in fits and starts. I’ve gone through bouts of unemployment and bouts of under-employment. I’ve found temporary minimum wage jobs, without having to hide the masters’ degree (and cried with gratitude when I got them, because they are hard to get, for the reasons you describe). I’ve found work in an alt-academic field where the conditions (long hours, precarity, low pay, the sense that you are your work and that your professional accomplishments can and should define you…) are akin to those that convinced me to leave academia in the first place. I’m still terrified and under-employed and still trying to figure out my next steps, but I have managed not to become homeless, and I have gained a lot of work experience that I hope will help me dig myself out of this hole.

      It sounds like you are experiencing one of the worst-case scenarios for someone leaving a highly competitive field. I went through (am going through) something similar. It was (still is!) hard and dispiriting, but it’s not hopeless. Five years ago, if asked where I saw myself in five years, the honest answer would have been: dead. If you asked me the same question now, the honest answer would be that I don’t know exactly, but that there are a few interesting possibilities.

      Which was a long-winded way of saying: this really is hard, this is not your fault, you are not a failure, and there is hope (at least I hope that there is!). I wish you the best of luck.

  73. Boba Feta*

    Another thought, forgive me if this has been raised- I’m scrolling on my phone and never realized how bad an idea that would be.

    Would many of you who successfully transitioned out of academia be willing to share practical tips on a friday open-Thread topic on how to pitch or reframe this kind of niche background when attempting to land “normal” jobs? I mean, when literally all your prior work history for the last ca. 15 years is academic or related, it feels impossible get past the initial screens that require X amount of on-the-nose experience. I wonder if it may help the OP and others like us to hear how, exactly, we can be more proactive in successfully getting out of this unwinable “game.”

    1. Foila*

      Seconded, I would love to see this discussion of how to reframe an academic background for a non-academic job!

    2. Chatlala*

      I would also love some advice on this! I feel pretty confident figuring out, say, grant applications, but non-academic jobs are beyond intimidating to me. I’m 28 and have never held a full time job because–well–it’s all been full time school for the most part, with part time gigs filling the gaps. During my one year between undergrad and grad school, I literally worked 4 different part time gigs at once because I couldn’t find anything with a decent number of hours. Now I’m a 4th year PhD student with some college teaching experience and a whole lot of odd jobs to my name, not much to put on the résumé to satisfy the 3-5 years experience that most “entry level” jobs seem to require. How do you go about applying for jobs that actually pay from this position?

      1. Chatlala*

        I’ll add that my father is a professor at the university where he finished his bachelor’s and did his masters and PhD, and my mom has primarily worked in part-time admin jobs at the same university and done a bit of independent contracting, so… I don’t really have a good model for what a “normal” career looks like.

    3. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      I wouldn’t consider my transition ‘successful’ per se, in that I’m looking for a new role after a couple of years, but people with PhDs are often in demand in government work, particularly in the policy area. Being good at analysing and synthesising information and writing reports is a skill that’s valued.

      Some international organisations, such as the EU, also treat a PhD as a certain number of years of professional experience. (In fact, one reason I’m looking at orgs like that now is because frankly I’m bitter that my employer will value my qualifications but not reward them – I’d be doing far better in career and salary terms if I’d taken this job right out of my BA, which … doesn’t make me feel great.)

      1. Boba Feta*

        Samwise: awesome!
        And I now realize I will be nowhere near a computer when the Open Thread goes live tomorrow, and I know how quickly things can get buried there.

        Open Call/ Plea for Help: Would someone be willing to start a thread tomorrow soliciting practical tips for Wanna-Be Ex-Academics with little-to-no “practical” jobs on their CVs, I mean resumes, who are trying to break into “real world” positions? We’ve heard the advice to “reframe our skills,” but its difficult to do so when it seems our materials aren’t making it past the initial “minimum experience required” screens.

  74. ZSD, PhD*

    Background: My husband and I both have PhDs, and neither of us is in academia. I made the choice early on not to go on the academic job market, whereas my husband went on the market for two years before giving up that dream and taking an alt-ac job. And he’s pretty happy now!

    Advice: I second what someone mentioned above about joining VerstailePhD (VPhD). In addition to the online community, we have monthly meetups in some cities. Check out whether there’s a meetup group in your area.

    If there’s not, see if you can still find a community of PhDs working outside academia in your region to whom you can speak. Their stories can truly be inspiring, or at least comforting. Similarly, read _So What Are You Going to Do with That?_ to get ideas about alt-ac careers to pursue. Some of the advice in that book is unrealistic, but it’s still helpful to hear the stories of others who have made the transition.

    Of course, if you choose to continue living the adjunct life, that’s fine! But I can tell you that it is absolutely possible to find a satisfying, intellectually stimulating job outside of academia — one that provides benefits and a reliable salary.

    Good luck!

  75. Agnes*

    You may want to check out the Chronicle of Higher Education forum for sympathy and advice, both how to stay in academia, if you want, and how to get out.

  76. BeenThere*

    I have advanced degrees in English. I went the adjunct route in community college for a while and interviewed whenever opportunities came up. I was runner-up a number of times, but I never did get a full time or even contract position. I love language, and writing, and literature, and all that. But also I wanted some security, more security than what I had.

    So I went into one adjacent field (technical writing), and then another one (medical writing), and then back and forth between the two. Neither were my first choice, but I like them both — they’re challenging, interesting, and in one of them, I can actually do good in the world.

    And now, decades later, I’m almost at retirement age. Because of the decision I made to change fields years ago, I was able to save for retirement. I had periods of unemployment and illness, suffered through the crash of 2008, and helped family members who needed help. But even so, I kept working at my second choice-careers and saving for retirement. Soon, I’ll be able to afford to actually retire. And then I’ll get to go back to my first love in a new way.

    I agree with Alison’s advice to at least look at other avenues. When I was 30, it was really hard to imagine beyond 5 years, much less the 10 years, 15 years, and beyond that Alison mentions. Imagining being at But then I got here to 66+, and I want to stop working. And I can soon, because I took a different path.

    I wish you well and that you find the path that works best for you.

  77. HannahS*

    A lot of “dream careers”–especially ones that require many years of investment before payoff–have the benefit/fault of offering (or at least, dangling in front of you) everything you think you want. Like, here’s the subject you’re passionate about, and the skills you love to use, and friends that love what you love, and teachers that love what you love, and events centered around your passion at which you see this wonderful community of people, and also your livelihood. It’s your education, profession, extra-curricular activities, and social life rolled into one. I think that’s why they can get cult-y, because they’re so all-encompassing in a way that a 9-to-5 is not. It can be hard to picture being satisfied in other jobs, because every other job will look dissatisfying by comparison. And to be clear, an industry job WOULD be dissatisfying by comparison, if you expect it to provide you with every bit of fulfillment you’d get from an idealized academic career. But it sounds like what you’re seeing is that if you take such a job, your job will be your livelihood and everything else would be yours to find. You could live where you want, join community you want, take up the hobbies you want, have a family if you want one, etc. I think it’s an idea that’s worth exploring.

    If funding for your entire field disappeared and you HAD to take an industry job, how would you build yourself a satisfying life? Take some time, talk to some people who’ve left–what would your potential career be like? And then compare that to what’s likely to happen if you stay in academia, and see where you’re willing to make trade offs. Good luck to you!

  78. Louisa Archer*

    I felt compelled to comment on this as someone who had a similar experience in my attempt to get work in a super-highly competitive field and who has a happy ending to share. I had a full time unrelated job which I disliked and toiled for years for years on the side and on the fringes (grown up intern, volunteer, freelance, working for free, part-time work no benefits; sometime no work at all). I spent years of Sunday afternoons writing cover letters and another year going back to school to enhance my skills. But I could never overcome my lack of ft experience. What finally made the difference…I *broadened* my search, admittedly out of desperation, and started looking at related jobs, similar jobs, things that sounded interesting but were not quite the same….and low and behold, I landed a job I actually really enjoy, love even, and moved to NY. Most of the time I am too busy to think about “what if” and this jobs uses a lot of my same skills and still allows me to interact with the field I didn’t quite get into. I didn’t think I could be happy in anything but that one role, and I am really happy. Hope this gives you hope!

  79. MentalEngineer*

    OP, walk away. If you had the near-psychopathic attitude toward constant yet precarious, uncompensated, unrewarding labor it seems to take to succeed as an academic without being miserable, you wouldn’t have written in. The only people in my cohort who are going to succeed have minds of metal and wheels; the academy isn’t a place for humans any more, in a lot of ways. (Especially the humanities, irony of ironies.) Get out while you can.

    -A PhD student

  80. Jake*

    I didn’t realize there was this level of competition for higher ed.

    I considered it briefly as an undergrad, but I’m glad I steered away from it now.

    1. LibbyG*

      I love that book! The part that stayed with me was imagining the working world as a gifting process. I received the gift of learning from my teachers (and beauty from artists and food and care and countless other gifts) and keeping the gift alive means that I continue to give to others. I love that.

      1. LibbyG*

        Oops – nesting fail. This comment referred to Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.

        But, yeah, I’m in higher ed and I have this cold-water talk with a few students a year who say they’re thinking about academia. Killer of dreams over here.

  81. Singin in the Rain*

    OP, be gentle with yourself. There are fields out there that don’t care how hard you work or how much talent you have. So much of the success found in academia or entertainment comes down to luck and knowing the right people. When we’re young, we all think we can make own luck. But very few of us actually do, and it isn’t for lack of trying or talent.

    I have a friend with a PhD in Poetry. He’s had work published in well-known journals. He ran his own literary journal for a time. He’s the most successful person I know in the literary sphere as far as publishing credits and accolades go. And he’s been adjuncting for almost 20 years. Every two years, his contract is up and he has to find a new adjunct position. That usually means moving to other states. I can’t even remember all of the places he’s lived. He doesn’t get paid well, he takes on a lot of classes, and it’s wearing. These past few years, he’s started to question how long he can continue to live like this. It’s not that he isn’t working hard or doesn’t have the chops – there’s just a glut of candidates for a very small number of available jobs. The lucky and well-connected will get those. That’s the unfortunate truth.

  82. Beth*

    As a grad student hoping for an academic career (not quite to the job-applying stage yet, but headed that direction), this sounds so familiar.

    I’m trying to approach my work with an attitude of “I’ve gotten to do this work I love for several years now, which has been hard and exhausting but also fantastic. When this stage is done, I’ll have a chance at seeing if this can work out as a longer career. If it doesn’t, I might have to figure out something else for what’s next, and that’s ok.” Even though my specific field isn’t as oversaturated as some, there are still more qualified job-seekers than there are open full-time positions. No matter how great you are, you’re going to be neck-in-neck with other great candidates–it’s basically a lottery pool, at some point. So while I want an academic career really badly, the truth is I might not get it…and as a result, whatever work I put into this field has to be for my own satisfaction right now, as well as for the chance at winning this lottery. If I don’t end up winning it, well, I can move on knowing I gave it my best shot, and hopefully I can look back on it as an experience where I got to do the thing I love rather than a bunch of wasted years.

    1. EtherIther*

      One of my friends got a tenure track position, but he was still preparing with skills and additional coursework in order to best be suited for the non-academic job market if necessary. I recommend doing something similar. The easiest way to look back and not feel as if you wasted time is to not waste the time! :)

      1. Beth*

        My field isn’t the easiest to transition to the non-academic job market (we don’t have a direct industry equivalent) but I have some professional experience from before I started this track, and I’m definitely keeping in mind how the skills I’m learning might translate to the ‘real world’. So at this point I’m figuring I’ll take it as far as I can, and if I hit a point where I can’t get further…well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

    2. Samwise*

      I would just advise you to ALSO work at acquiring skills and experience in another career, can be career-adjacent. This is what made the difference for me.

  83. coffeeforone*

    I know OP says they want to teach and I’m not remotely trying to dissuade them otherwise, but must share Beyond the Professoriate for fellow hopeful academics (or “questioning academics”). It’s such an incredibly valuable resource:

  84. NL*

    I have sort-of, kind-of, achieved stability in an oversaturated humanities field, and you know how I did it? 40% luck, 20% privilege, 20% overwork, 20% willingness to burn my personal life to the ground. I’m content, but not exactly happy, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

    1. tenure track librarian*

      I was trying to figure our how I did get to this position, “40% luck, 20% privilege, 20% overwork, 20% willingness to burn my personal life to the ground” This sounds about right. I might say 30% luck (I was uniquely qualified), 30% privilege (I learned about the opening at a conference that I could afford to go to) Yes, overwork, and zero personal life. And to stay in position, the knowledge that 40% continues.

  85. XYZ*

    I’m sorry LW. It’s selfish but I appreciate this letter being run and reading all of the comments because I’ve struggled with this exact situation. It’s very hard and complicated (and painful) to let go of something you’ve been working at a longgg time because you get just enough hope to convince you to keep going. I am too aware of applying and interviewing for jobs in places I don’t want to live because it’s a job and my field, and that must mean something, right? So frustrating.

  86. HereKittyKitty*

    Also this might resonate for any job field, but I think particularly with art and academic grounds: You do not have to suffer for your craft. Repeat: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUFFER FOR YOUR CRAFT. Institutions and communities sell you the idea that you have to “pay your dues” with suffering, or that suffering is part of the gig, or suffering is normal and IT IS NOT. You can be influential and work on your craft and also be in a job outside the craft, stable and happy! You are not “giving up” if you take a job outside of “industry!” You are valuing your life force! And that is a good thing!

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Maya Elena*

      In the broad scheme of things “pay your dues” can be a legitimate thing to say. But the way academia works goes way beyond “paying one’s dues” and into the realm of the ridiculous.

  87. Macedon*

    Sometimes it’s not about being good enough or working hard enough. It’s about the mystical configuration of suns and stars that will propel you in the right place, at the right time, knowing the right things and smiling at the right people to get the microscopic fragment of a chance.

    Ask yourself this: how many more years are you willing to sacrifice to circumstances outside of your control?

    I’m in journalism, where every step up the career ladder is fundamentally a jealousy crusade and a waiting game. Merit isn’t meaningless, but mathematically not the magical component. We’re an industry of truth warriors and low-grade adrenaline junkies who all think we’ll make it big, and yet what nearly everyone I know in the industry has asked themselves several times over the course of their career is: what’s plan B?

    Regardless of where you are in your life, still fighting or willing to consider options, take a few days to really think that plan B over. What could you do if you were forced to turn a new leaf tomorrow? How would you achieve that? With what resources and to what objectives?

    Give yourself some time with this project, and once you’ve mapped out the answers, try to honestly asses whether you didn’t maybe fall a little in love with it.

    All the best to you, OP. And I really hope a door finally opens for you.

  88. nnn*

    It might be worthwhile to break down the components of the situation and see if you can pinpoint which, exactly, are making you feel hopeless.

    For example, would you still feel hopeless with the same failure rate, but if you had enough money (for example, if your “famine” gigs paid enough for you to be financially comfortable)?

    Would you still feel hopeless if you were married and/or had kids?

    Would you still feel hopeless if you got the jobs you were applying for, but other areas of life didn’t improve? (What if getting the jobs you were applying for somehow didn’t improve your finances?)

    This might shed some light on where you should focus.

  89. Thing1*

    I’m also an academic–I absolutely adore teaching undergrads. I love it more than I think I could love anything else. I’m currently in my second visiting position. It’s going to be my last. If I don’t get a permanent position next year when I’m on the market again, I’m going to go do something else. My life priorities include stability, buying a house, and having kids. My priorities don’t have to be yours! If you can answer Alison’s question about the next ten years by saying that it would be worth it if you were still where you are now, then you can make that call. But if not, I suggest making a deadline. Otherwise there’s always going to be one more job season, and next year you’ll have experience teaching that other class that someone will want/that additional publication/that really good letter of rec from someone famous/an inside connection to some hiring committee/maybe just a little more luck. But don’t live waiting for next year. If your current life still feels like you’re waiting for your real life to begin, I really think that you should set a deadline–a year or two, maybe. And if you hit it, it’s time to move on and try something else.

    If you’re this frustrated and unhappy after a year on the job market (not that I blame you! Been there), I think that trying to stay indefinitely will be really, really hard on you. I hope you get lucky and make it! But please don’t put everything else that matters to you on hold forever.

    I don’t know if you’d want to read it or not–Erin Bartram has been writing some really heart-felt and heartbreaking pieces about leaving academia this year, both on her own blog and now for the Chronicle. I avoid them at all costs, because they’re really evocative of exactly what I feel, and I just can’t deal with it. But some people I know who are in our situation are finding them really cathartic.

    1. nbsp*

      Yep. I have a pretty good thing going in a sort of humanities field. It’s two in the morning and I’m still preparing for tomorrow, and the last time I slept more than 6 hours was on the weekend. I have no life outside of work and every time I socialize, I regret it a little bit, even on Friday night. I sometimes take Saturday off. Sometimes.

  90. Wrench Turner*

    After spending 20 years in a major metropolitan area trying -and failing- to land a steady path a steady creative path in a highly competitive performing arts arena, I stopped. I was at times literally a starving artist. I was missing meals, occasionally homeless, defaulting (twice?) on student loans and other debts and all around incredibly unstable. I was coping poorly with being constantly depressed, suicidal with booze and such because I really REALLY wanted to elbow my way in to this thing I’m very good at and just needed the opportunity that never materialized. Sometimes I tried to rationalize that I was just “paying my dues” and it would eventually happen (it didn’t) or would beat myself up because some of my industry friends who somehow made it were ‘better’ than me (i’m so very proud of all of them to this day, mind you). It just didn’t work for 20 years. It nearly killed me. Sometimes I wish it did.

    Now I turn wrenches, and I’m much, much, happier. I still do my own art almost every day, with gallery shows and sales and all that crap, but now my bills are (mostly) paid. I eat regularly; I sleep inside. It’s nice.

    Sometimes I still look at the industry and think, “Well, maybe I just might get it this time…” but my perspective is a lot clearer now. Good luck.

  91. Lacy*

    I’m so sorry that you’re struggling with this, OP. Allison is right — academia is like Hollywood in this respect. I was a Hollywood story editor for a while, and I second the comments above about giving your “dream” a time limit. For executive-track people in Hollywood, the accepted deadline was 5 years. As in, “If I am not a creative exec at a major studio within 5 years, I’m leaving.” Hearing my peers say that was such a gift to me; it made me feel less like there was something shameful in deciding that the entertainment industry was not for me (even though plenty of people around me did use the vocabulary of shame when talking about folks who had either intentionally left the industry or had taken an unrelated job to pay the bills). So many people who write to AAM are dealing with toxic employers, but you’re dealing with a toxic job market. That makes your issues diffuse – you can’t point to a Fergus and ask how to deal with him. But you can treat the job market like a bad employer, and make your decisions based on that. Your bad employer capriciously rewards a tiny percentage of its staff with decent middle-class jobs, and dooms the rest to toil in uncertainty and poverty, and to sacrifice other personal goals. (For myself, I ultimately left the film industry and am very happy in another field that allows me to meet my personal goals to have a family, a home, and a sassy gray cat. But even though I ended up happy, it took me years to get over the feelings of failure and loss of identity that accompanied my choice.) I see no shame in looking critically at all the data (including the emotional data) that you’ve collected about the job market in your field and saying, “Thank you, next.” Plus, some ex-academics become truly inspiring YouTube stars who reach way more people with their ideas than they could have at any college… so there’s always the showbiz option. ;)

  92. Paula*

    I’m going to tell you the harsh truth. You’ve missed the chance. You’ve adjuncted too long. It’s -not- fair and you -are- qualified but you -aren’t- going to get the job. Find a new path. You can still write, teach, etc, and there’s so much fun to discover outside academe—weekends, for example, are amazing! I say this as one who has been there. Stop. You didn’t fail— -you- were failed by a system with big big problems that aren’t your fault.

    1. Beth*

      Is there a guideline for how long is ‘too long’ to adjunct? (Sheer personal curiosity here–I know it does matter if you do it too long, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard how long ‘too long’ is.)

  93. The PhD Is Purely Decorative*

    OP, if you leave academia, your life will be different. Maybe not better or worse, just different. You will grow in different directions, love different people, and develop different passions. Maybe you could think about staying or leaving in these terms: both paths present opportunities for happiness. Which joys would you rather experience? Which joys do you want to sustain you during hard times?

    Leaving academia broke my heart, but I have found that it also allowed for growth and joys that would have been otherwise impossible. I exited academia for entirely different reasons (not of my own volition, virtually kicking and screaming), but I was successful by most measures and my field was my passion.

    Yet my spouse and I were childless at 35, lived far from family and delayed non-work-related goals. Now we live near family and have two little loves who fill me with hope. I did have to rebuild my identity when I left. I still feel a nauseating void when I think about the science I left. I still miss the culture and the people. But I’m happy anyway.

  94. Phil*

    I’m as far away from a academic as you can get but I understand because I was in Hollywood! Not in front of the camera but behind it and rejection and uncertainty are part of the gig.
    I found that the money part worries me more than anything so I made sure I had several months in the bank. We had regular breaks in the summer as do many academics so that was part of the deal.

  95. Asahi Pepsi*

    This is useful to hear right now.

    I’m considering a career in archiving or preservation, especially if it has to do with film. While film preservation would be the dream, I’m not completely wedded to that sort of job. I just like minutiae and I want to work on the backend of the museum/theater/art world, so that the artists/curators can get their work done easily.

    I went to a conference for film preservation, just to learn about the field. I was disheartened to meet so many people who had spent years in school just for the opportunity to work for free. Unfortunately, the impression I got is that I have to lose six years of my life and finances to school, without the guarantee that I’ll ever get a preservation/archiving job.

    I’m lucky right now – I have a part time job as an assistant at a local arts nonprofit and my husband is capable of supporting us both on his income – but I won’t be lucky forever. So now I have to decide how to direct my career. This post gave me a good place to start thinking about this choice.

  96. Jaybeetee*

    I saw a very similar post -possibly on Reddit?- from the SO of someone who was trying to break into a niche academic field, and it sounded a LOT like this. Short-version, the SO had started off supportive of their partner’s dream, but was getting increasingly fed up with the low pay, instability, constant moves (either long-distance or trailing every few months), disruptions to their own career, and just wanting to be able to settle down in one place and have kids already. SO was still hoping for their big break, to the point of applying for short-term adjunct contracts in developing countries. It sounded hard and exhausting, and it sounded like that relationship wasn’t going to work out.

    OP, I’ve known several people who’ve had to leave academia for all kinds of reasons. People who’d been laser-focused on one career since high school and we’re convinced doing anything else would be soul-crushing and miserable. Either curing Parkinson’s or gathering carts at walmart. No middle ground. But. Stuff happened (funding, health problems), they had to change gears. And they’re happy. They have decent-paying jobs with benefits that they genuinely enjoy. They have evenings and weekends free to pursue their other interests. They have money *left over* after paying rent and bills.

    I have spent the last decade in and out of heritage. I am actually back in now, in quite a steady position with bankers hours, salary and benefits. But I had been out for years, and prior to this totally random opportunity didn’t seriously think I’d ever go back. Few jobs, tons of competition, credential creep, toxic and crazy workplaces, weird shifts and hours, and short-term low-wage contracts aplenty but especially at the height of the Recession I may as well have been trying to make it as a rock star. I feel so lucky to do what I do now, but I had also made my peace with leaving the field.

    All this to say: you’d be surprised how happy you might be in a different gig. How quickly you’ll come to appreciate what a steady job has to offer and how little you’ll regret making the change. None of us ARE our careers. Life is made of many things that all contribute to our overall happiness. And you really never know what you’ll eventually stumble into that you’ll actually love and still uses your skills. Be open to the beauty life can throw at you.

  97. Anoncorporate*

    Before I even got to the last point, I was thinking that this is how actors must feel. An actor I follow on YouTube just recently posted a video about how even the most successful actors have to go through a million rejections before they land a role – it just doesn’t seem that way to the audience who are only seeing the actor in their success. I’m sure this is the same for anyone else. The reason I could never be an actor (and why I actually chose not to follow the academia route) is that I would have trouble putting so much work into something with so little reward. I’m impatient plus I like stability. Actors have to be okay with uncertainty, and may wait tables for years before they land a role.

    1. Anoncorporate*

      I also want to add – I work in a company that hires people with PhDs. I know Google and Facebook do, too. So if you ever make the decision to sidestep – there is room for you! And you will make more than you ever did as a grad student or adjunct.

  98. OP*

    Hello, OP here.

    Thank you to Alison for the kind advice, and to all of you for your compassionate responses. I was only now able to read everything, as I was working all day at a retail job that I do part-time. I’m slightly overwhelmed but will do the best I can to respond here.

    I appreciate the empathy and advice, especially to those who urged me to consider two paths, and to ask myself how much time I am willing to be in this place. I’d already considered Plan B, and I’m not wedded to academia; the issue is that there are very few industry jobs that are even close to what I do. I’m not unwilling to consider them, and I frequently scan Linked-In and other sources for opportunities that might allow me to do what I love in a more stable situation. But even those opportunities are few and far between. I do truly, truly love what I do; I got my doctorate because it was a way I could do the things I loved and I don’t regret it for a minute. Academia would allow me to keep doing it, and maybe certain industry jobs if I can find them. It would truly be heartbreak for me to stop entirely; I’ve seen other colleagues leave the field with the idea that they would still be able to pursue their passions in other ways, but that doesn’t always work out. Maybe for the lucky ones, who find flexibility in their chosen alternate paths, but not for all.

    That said, I’m guessing your advice would still remain the same, and I’m going to take it to heart and really soul-search. I don’t have an answer yet, but hopefully I will soon. Thank you again for your thoughts and heartfelt responses.

    1. 30ish*

      Hey OP, as a fellow academic in a somewhat similar place I just wanted to say that it seems incredibly important to gather as much data as possible about the specific situation in your subfield. We all know academia in general is highly competitive but it matters hugely what field you are in and what your specific profile looks like. What jobs could open up (due to people retiring) in the next few years and where are they located? What connections to you have or could you establish to these places in order to improve your chances? I think conscientious researchers who focus on their merits often underestimate the role of networks in landing jobs.

      Maybe think about adjacent subfields of your discipline as well. Sometimes a small shift in your profile can open up a new range of potential jobs (for example, starting a focus on the didactics of your discipline). I think having as clear of an idea as possible of what you’re looking at would be helpful to gauge the chances. (Numbers of applications for jobs honestly don’t tell you very much because many people apply without even being remotely qualified, even in academia. 150 of those 300 applications probably went right into the trash.)

      Another thing, I don’t apply for jobs where I don’t totally fit the profile anymore. It’s basically impossible to be successful in these cases and you’re just going to rack up more rejections, which is going to make you feel bad. It’s better to really nail a few applications to the positions you fit best. I would 100% get professional help for these few applications to make sure they are as good as they possibly can be.

      In terms of dealing with rejection, I try to put myself in situations where I get positive feedback – working with colleagues I like, going to conferences, teaching. I also write down these positive experiences in a journal in the evening before going to bed.

      And then, of course, you’ll need a plan B. I am currently working on this myself, mostly by establishing contacts to institutions that might offer options, and by volunteering in a field I like. There may be options out there you haven’t thought of yet and even just learning of them may make you feel better. At least for me, knowing that I am taking some small steps in terms of networking and skill building gives me some relief from the anxiety. It’s all about having a (rough) plan, even if, at this point, it’s just “research some alternative career options”.

      Good luck!

      1. Jane*

        Yes, I too have given up on the Sheryl Sandberg-esque advise of “apply even if you only match 80% of the criteria”. In my sector I will be up against people who match 100% of the criteria, and who offer additional skills.

        I will sometimes apply for a job if I’m missing one of the essential requirements, but only when I can also give evidence for virtually all of the desirable characteristics. If I only have demonstrable experience of half of the essential characteristics, I’m not going to get through shortlisting, and my time is too valuable to waste on those applications when I could be doing something else (even when the something else is Netflix!)

  99. Astrea*

    Despsir-inducing and relatable. I plunged into a highly competitive niche field right after college and have spent the past 3+ years trying to identify *any* job to which my skills and experience are transferable, occasionally applying for a dream job in my old field and feeling miserable when doing so because it’s another bit of hope that will probably be dashed but unwilling to commit to having left the field forever. I haven’t worked in academia (besides a college work-study job I loved), but I badly miss *being* in it. I adore my alma mater and wish so much that I could work there, but it’s both tiny and disproportionately famous, with job openings of any kind few and far between. The major university in my town is the biggest local employer, but still highly competitive. And yet people encourage me to seek work there, even people who *do* work there and wouldn’t want me to go on a path I would hate and probably fail at. They don’t currently tell me to attempt professorhood, given that I love (informal) education work but have only a bachelor’s degree, though they also urge me to consider grad school without giving a strong idea of what it could be good for. But is the non-academic side of academia any less awful than what everyone here is describing?

  100. AnonAnon*

    Reminds me of an article I read a while back. A woman got her PhD in Medieval History and then couldn’t find a job commensurate to her education. The worst part was that she blamed the *government* for her problems. See, if the government put more funding into education, she would be able to teach full-time. As if it never occurred to her that it was her own damned fault for studying underwater basket weaving.

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      I think that’s awfully unkind to her, and to people like myself with PhDs in fields that aren’t automatically considered lucrative.

      (Also Medieval History is in no way a niche field.)

    2. Samwise*

      Actually, government funding for higher education sucks. It’s not a completely pointless argument.

      Let me point out as well that there are plenty of people with “practical” degrees who are not getting jobs, or not getting jobs in their field, or not getting jobs commensurate with their experience.

      1. Phil*

        Even if the government increased funding 10-fold, it’s unlikely that an increase in hiring would occur for the foreseeable future. Declining enrollment is pressing every university, meaning that increased funding would be directed to hiring staff in revenue-generating activities like stewardship, recruitment and into programs that have a strong draw for fee-paying students, such as business and engineering. Money won’t solve the hiring problem at this point, and even if we made tuition free, it’s unlikely that the results would be largely different.

  101. AnotherAnonAcademic*

    OP, I too am in academia, and a very oversubscribed STEM field. These things made all the difference to me —
    1) looking at non-academic job ads and possible career paths. Not to apply for anything, but just to see what was out there. It turned out that there was a *lot* of jobs that I could see myself doing and being at least as happy as I was in academia (being fair about the parts of academia that found hard, stressful, or annoying). It was important to me to look more broadly than just things people in my field were known to move on to, which tended to have buzzwords associated (“data science!”) and be in big cities (which I don’t particularly want to live). I also started talking properly to people who had left my academic field, and none of them (NONE!) were unhappy with their choice, or their job.
    2) put some constraints on my academic job search. This was related to seeing that I had other choices that I wouldn’t hate, and over a period of years led te me deciding that I wanted to live in HomeCountry in the long term (no more moving between continents!), and that I really didn’t want to be in a city. Of course that limited my options and I had plenty of warnings about it from people in my field, but because of (1) I knew I had good non-academic options.
    3) Eventually I got fed up with the uncertainty etc and decided that I would apply for one more year, and after that I’d pursue the non-academic route (with my picky constraints above). And honestly, that felt really good and really freeing, I think because I wasn’t scared by the non-academic route (1 above) and had decided the things that were important to me in life in the long term (2 above).
    I ended up getting one of the ~5 academic jobs I applied for that year, which I consider to be complete luck. It could have gone either way, but by then I would have been happy either way. I do wonder whether my more relaxed attitude helped, although we’ll obviously never know.

    I hope this helps OP, or at least gives you some ideas. Good luck in finding your path.

  102. Samwise*

    The best way to feel better (not necessarily good, but better) is to develop a serious plan for an alternate career. What other kinds of jobs do you have the skills and experience for, or could get skills and experience? What connections do you have in other fields?

    I say this as someone who went through this situation over 20 years ago, and the academic labor market has only gotten worse since then. I earned my doctorate from a top five school in my field, I had a prestigious national fellowship, I had boatloads of teaching experience, and several articles in respectable journals. My first year on the market (before I had the articles), I had interviews, campus visits, no offers. My second year (I now had articles), same thing. I got a job that year after hiring is typically over because a friend worked at a school where a search had failed and she recommended me for a terminal position (visiting assistant professor). I worked there several years, went on the market, got an offer that I turned down (nice school, but a place I really did not want to live, plus they had no job for my spouse — also an academic in a tenure-track position). All I could find in our area were adjunct positions, which, as you know, pay insultingly low and generally don’t have benefits and don’t have any long term security. I gave myself six months to find a job at a college or university, working with students in some other capacity. Then I was going to cut my losses and go back to a field I had worked in before grad school, where I could make good money. I worked my connections hard, did a lot of info interviewing, and ended up at a university as an advisor (I had experience in this area).

    It was extremely hard to give up teaching, and I mourned it for a long time. But I am very glad I did it, because it was very likely, due to the conditions of the market and not to any lack of skill or experience or ability to do a great interview, that I would be adjuncting forever. (If you are in an arts or humanities field, the prospects are particularly grim.) That is not a safe economic position to be in. I was married so I had that safety net, but it’s not smart to count on that long term — all sorts of things can happen (divorce, death, illness, etc), and it was important to have a reliable job, with a decent salary and good benefits. You have to take care of yourself, and you have to think long term.

    I’m so sorry, because there are a lot of people who are talented and passionate teachers who are not going to be able to share their gifts with students.

  103. LadyofLasers*

    There’s already so much that has been said, that I’m not sure if I can add anything new. I’m a STEM PhD that recently decided to make the jump from academia into industry. And I wrestled with it because I felt like I was losing a part of my identity by letting go of this dream. Also academia was known quantity I’d been in most of my adult life, and industry seemed foreign.

    I’ve just started my new job in R&D and I’m loving it. I feel like I get a lot of room to satisfy my love of learning and curiosity, but with way more stability and freedom than I would find in academia. I feel a little cheated that I didn’t know this was an option earlier.

    Long story short, it’s at least worth looking at other option, to at least know what they are. You might surprise yourself.

  104. BP*

    Join the club!
    I’m not in academia but I’ve applied to over 400 jobs recently, made it through 4 rounds of interviews for a few, driven to different states for interviews, work with 2 staffing agencies and still haven’t secured a position.
    It is mentally draining and I find myself losing confidence. It’s also hard because you border not trying to get excited and not speaking about it so you don’t jinx it.

    To stay sane, I try to keep a few irons in the fire all the time. So when I get my daily rejection message, I have something else to focus on. Also I started blogging and speaking about my expertise on Instagram so I have something else to focus on. Lastly, I use the phrase “your loss”. So when I receive the rejection I mentally respond, Your Loss! lol It helps.

  105. SubwayFan*

    This is maybe not quite the advice you were looking for, but a few things stood out from your letter: you find your field related work interesting, you are looking forward to teaching, and you have some name-recognition. I wonder if your field is one in which you could teach an online version of your course for a fee during the leaner times? I used to listen to a podcast called “Being Boss” which featured a number of entrepreneurs talking about their businesses and one of them was Sarah Von Bargen, who is a writer and she earns some of her income via selling goal setting/financial management for everyday people. The podcast hosts themselves did something similar. The initial work they did to set up the courses was intensive, but then the courses could just be re-run. Or maybe you could write some eBooks on the topic? It might be one way to create some income while still doing work you find interesting, and then it might also add to your resume to help you stand out in a competitive field.

    Good luck!

  106. cheluzal*

    I am ABD and just quit for this reason!
    I have taught middle school for almost 2 decades, sailed through the coursework, and even slightly enjoyed the 12-hour qualifying exam. Then….I started my dissertation and taught some courses, and hated it. I loathe research! I found the college students worse than my middle school kids!

    After years of piddling, and with the blessing of a wonderful spouse, I just…stopped. I have 34K in loans to pay for a degree I will never have, but I have the shackles gone to finally find where I want to land. I have 2 friends who got their degrees a year ago…and still teach teenagers. We all regret it, but only I stopped.

    I felt like a failure at first, but then realized it was not indicative of my smarts. I wish the profs were more open about job/tenure prospects and not just excited to have enough people for a new cohort. But I blame myself more for not researching and/or getting out sooner. But making that decision forced me to examine my path instead of staying in this holding pattern (after ‘wasting’ 10 years).

    I’m still active in the organizations, still present at national conferences, still write and publish articles, and generally stay connected to my field…but without the albatross around my neck. It’s on my terms now.

  107. PersonWithAdvancedDegree*

    I could relate to this question and I feel you, OP. You need to honestly ask yourself what matters more, food on the table and having a family, or your fancy degree? I got a Master’s degree and took $45,000 in student loans for it. It was the stupidest thing I ever did (paradoxically enough). I’m not the most indebted person with a M.A. out there, but it’s still $45K over my head. After graduation, I could not find a job in my niche field until a friend of mine got me an entry-level job at a TV network. It didn’t pay well and I had to pick up side gigs to pay all the bills and the student loans but I kept applying for jobs in my field. In my first year after grad school, I applied for 450 jobs but landed only 3 interviews. To cut the story short, I ended up working the TV job for over 4 years, and was promoted multiple times. My pay went up 2.5 times to a nice market average, people in the building knew who I was, I learned a good variety of technical skills. However, all along I felt resentful that the TV job was “not in my field” and I felt like I had to get a job to validate my degree. I finally “got out” and got a desk job with a government agency. I miss my TV job because I was getting somewhere with it, and it didn’t require an expensive academic degree. Sometimes life puts us a path we really need to be, and maybe you’re meant to shine in a different job.

  108. Oaktree*

    I’m a librarian and got an MI. I know so many people who haven’t managed to do what they thought they wanted to in this field, or who aren’t working in the field at all. One friend is a yoga studio manager and has a number of (very interesting!) side hustles/small businesses, archival students went on to work in major banks’ archives or for ILS companies, others are doing contract after contract waiting for the big break. The smart ones in my cohort concentrated on developing UXD, ISD, and/or KM skills, and diversifying the kind of research they could do, but there are always people who have a Big Dream of being academic or public librarians, and can’t or won’t deviate from that goal. That goal, though, is a pipe dream for most of us. In my city, those jobs are extremely hard to come by. It’s a virtual certainty you won’t get one, especially in the public system. A lot of people delude themselves into thinking they’ll somehow be the exception. They won’t.

    The same is true in other fields, including acting, museums, and academia generally. Good luck, OP. I suggest you temper your expectations.

  109. Phil*

    As someone working in higher education/academia, I’m wondering if it’s time to look beyond academia and consider other options. I’m at a major university and I can think of only a few positions that will be posted in the coming 5 years – including CLA, TT and even sessional/adjunct.

    I would recommend looking at all higher ed. institutions in your area, including community colleges and see if it’s possible to work some teaching assignments there and if possible, can you attend conferences as an independent scholar? That might shake some opportunities loose, but academia is going to be a slog for at least the next 5 years.

  110. Essiedot*

    Five years ago I was in a similiar situation. I gave up hope- and it was the best thing that I could have done. Once you stop chasing the unattainable job you will open yourself up to better, easier paths. I am now employed in an adjacent field where I make triple what I had been making before. No more moving around to where the grants and fellowships were, no more worrying every time a short term project was coming to an end, no more living with zero savings and stability. I still use my education and my skills, but in a different way than I had envisioned. There is such a negative connotation in our society in “giving up hope,” but sometimes hope can be a bad thing if it keeps you on one bad path.

  111. Rockin Takin*

    Since I was young I wanted to be a research ecologist or work as a zookeeper. I realized those jobs didn’t make a lot of money, but I was passionate. I worked at a zoo in their education Dept. for years as a seasonal worker, and absolutely loved the work. I went to college for Biology, but during college I realized I would never want to go through a phD program, so research ecologist was no longer an option. Zookeeping is also a competitive world, and I couldn’t afford to take endless unpaid internships in the hopes of someday maybe landing a full-time job.

    So I changed my goal. And now I’m in a for-profit scientific field that I also love, and have decent benefits and make good money.

    Sometimes it’s ok to let your dream go, as hard as that seems. Sometimes that dream holds you back from other possibilities that you don’t even realize you would also love.

    There is no one set path for everyone.

  112. Justathought*

    I like the way Bill Gates put it, “Stop acting like you have 500 years to live.”
    We only get so many years to live. Not many, in fact. And 35 without any money, family, children… can be a lonely place, I’d imagine. If you can’t land a job in your field, can you find something lucrative in an adjacent field that will provide you with money and opportunity, AND create your own movement talking about the thing you love? You can take it to YouTube where you can talk about your passion with millions of listeners. I don’t know if academia is the only way for Ph.Ds, but the media is always looking for experts, can you become a popular, well-known expert and provide consulting services? Consulting is a very well-paid field, and you can consult on anything.
    I think the technology and the media today give great opportunities to get recognized, so YOU can become an influence through the media and social media, and not wait until someone recognizes your talents. You need zero dollars to start a YouTube channel. Just my two cents.

    1. Anne*

      Good advice. At 35 you are halfway through your career life and savings cycle but you can still have what you want re children and family. Those windows will get smaller as time passes. At 35 roughing it can be an adventure. At 45, 55, 65 not so much. Health insurance, a nest egg, a comfortable home, love, will be paramount. I learned this when it was almost too late. Good luck. I am worried about you but hopeful you will consider Alison’s wonderful advice.

  113. Jane*

    I really feel for you OP. I’m very fortunate to be in job in my sector but want to relocate to one of three cities in a small geographical area – combined population around 1 million – to be nearer my partner. In the two years I’ve been looking there has been a grand total of four vacancies in my field. Wasn’t qualified for two; interviewed then rejected for one; and didn’t apply for the other (was being fussy as it was early in the job hunt – regretting it now!)

    I know you start to doubt yourself and your career choice, but is it possible to start to reframe things mentally and accept that the career choice is intermittent work. Like Alison says, maybe think of it as being like acting, but in a positive way – “my job is short term contracts, and that’s the norm in the sector nowadays” rather than “I’ve failed because I’ve not got tenure”? I know that doesn’t help financially, but could it help mentally? (I’m trying to do that via “I’ve got a job. The pay’s good and the benefits are good” rather than “but its in the wrong city and I spent half my weekend travelling”)

  114. Canadianprof*

    I hear you – I’m just finishing my first year at a tenure-track job after 3 years of (intermittent) searching. For context, I am very highly published in my field (e.g., finishing my PhD, my research metrics were about at the median of faculty at departments I was applying to). I’ve been reasonably selective in where I applied – I’ve applied for about 50 jobs, got 3 interviews, and 1 offer (at a top university in Canada).

    A couple pieces of advice I’d have:

    – Buy and read “The professor is in”. Immediately. I read it preparing for my interview at current job, and regretted not reading it years earlier. It’s a good balance of reasons to stay vs leave in academia, and sensible advice if you stay.

    – The market is brutal, but applying to everything makes it harder. You need to be realistic about what you offer. If you truly have an exceptional publication record, don’t waste your time applying to lower level unis thinking they’re easiest to get into: they aren’t. They will not hire you. They will deliberately pursue less distinguished PhDs because they are more likely to stay there – they can smell someone who wants to get a start there and move to a better university down the road. I saw tons of lower or mid-level unis in my niche field interview only people with a fraction the number of pubs I had. Ironically, the unis that took my applications most seriously were the top ones. Applying to smaller programs was a waste of my time.
    That being said, if your publication record isn’t exceptional (and it’s hard for it to be when you’re focusing on adjunct work), then recognize that and apply accordingly, focusing on more teaching universities. You really will get further investing more time in fewer applications than casting a wide net.

    Many unis are reluctant to hire someone that nobody knows. Meet people at your conferences, and any job you apply to, if you know anyone in the department, call them up on the phone and try and find out what they’re looking for. It’s pretty rare for a job to go to a true unknown. Get allies. I don’t know how much this translates to the US, but in Canada, I’m amazed at how many jobs mysteriously go to someone who conveniently has family or some kind of roots in that city – unis are surprisingly conservative and want to hire someone they are confident will stay in that city. My current job is in the city where a sibling lives, and I was shocked when a colleague told me to emphasize that in my cover letter – it felt irrelevant to mention it but they insisted and I did. Since then, I’ve observed this uni almost only interviews people with some connection to the city. It seems absurd as it’s a top Canadian uni so you’d think they could attract and retain people from all over, but there is a strong bias to hire people ‘with roots’ here.

    As Allison noted, only you know when enough is enough and when to look elsewhere.

    Faculty jobs have been near impossible to get for the last 5-10 years, but the market is showing signs of picking up, so things may get easier for you.

    It is so hard to know what to tell you, because there definitely are more people like you than there are jobs available, but there are also people who get zillions of rejections, and then nail a great faculty job.

  115. Faith*

    I’m guessing you’ve probably already stumbled across the website, but I wanted to mention it just in case you hadn’t. The blog discusses the challenges of pursuing a life in academia and the other possible pathways that exist.

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