Life is funny sometimes. Today was my second week of my Out-Ac job. I realized going home on Friday last week that I had an entire weekend to myself. I had no papers to grade, no articles to write, nothing to research. I had no guilt about taking an entire weekend to do whatever I wanted, which was incidentally watch professional wrestling and make apple butter. The important thing is I had both free time and peace. I used a bit of that time to think about whether or not I missed the academy, the tenure track life, and the grind of research. And for a few hours, I did.
Fast forward to today, where a couple of big things happened. I got an extremely touching email from someone who reads the blog, and sounds extremely unhappy in their tenure track position. I also had a former student reach out to me to ask me about things they've heard about my departure. I also had some former colleagues reach out to me with similar questions. These are three things that really closely encapsulate what I've been thinking since my departure, and wanted to address here.
First, to the scholar who emailed me, I am so sorry you are feeling this way. While you are in your current situation, I would like to offer this small advice that I gave myself:
1. Every day, do something, no matter how small or big, to take care of yourself. Self care, especially in isolating and demoralizing circumstances is a revolutionary act.
2. Make and stick to a viable plan of both self care and movement.
3. Know you are not obligated to go on a field trip of someone else's feelings about you. People are going to say what they want to say. You are not required to walk through their feelings about you with them. You are not obligated to entertain them. You are not obligated to respond to them.
4. I'm still serious about the imagination thing from my first blog.
I'm seriously wishing you luck and sending support to you. Despite what you've been told, suffering is not in the job description. There is a difference in doing hard work, and feeling sad by it on occasions, and suffering for the sake of suffering. This narrative of suffering in the academy is just as toxic in my opinion as the narratives of busy-ness that tells professors to work 80 hour weeks, neglect their families and health and happiness for the possibility of tenure.
Good luck, and always feel free to reach out.
I'm going to combine points two and three here, because I feel they overlap. I want to start with the best advice I've ever given myself; which is, again, I am NOT required to take a field trip through someone else's feelings about me.
I guess the round about purpose of this entire post is about dealing with "fallout." I've gotten a lot of questions and requests for me to be specific around the exact reasons I left the academy and my former position. I'm going to use this space to publically say that I'm not going to do that here. Having bad experiences in a situation does not mean you need to say bad things about a situation, especially not in a massively public forum.. And that is the philosophy I'm going to take here.
As far as dealing with fallout with former colleagues and former students, I'm of two minds. There are students, from every institution that I've been at/worked at that I keep in touch with. They are always free to ask me questions, and I try to make a habit of telling them what I understand of situations. With former colleagues, I as always, respect them and their work. I know institutional politics are a thing, and I do not begrudge them for doing what it is that they do.
I suspect that I'll be dealing with "institutional" fallout for a while. Especially since I am planning to still attend a few conferences I was slated for this year. (I already paid, and I miss my academic friends. I'm also loathe to give up a chance to talk about my side project, Professor Dresser in Exile). In the midst of parts of this fallout, I miss parts of the academy. I miss my students. I miss aspects of the community. But then I have moments that sharply remind me of why I left. I also am happy so far in my Out-Ac role. Ultimately, when I receive letters from people who appreciate the blog, or think about fall out, I remind myself about not having to take field trips. I have no regrets about leaving.
If you make the decision to leave the academy, you will most likely deal with similar "fall out" issues. There will be backlash. Things will be said. Ultimately, you are responsible for taking the best care of yourself that you can. Let people run through their own feelings theme parks by themselves.
I have come to hate the word "gratitude".
This is not to say that I am not extremely grateful for the years of excellent mentorship and friendship that I received in graduate school and undergrad. It is not to say that I am not thankful for the program I worked in taking a chance on me and giving me a tenure track position. In all of those locations, I learned a great deal about myself, the academy, and exactly what I could take and grow from. I am extremely thankful that I had all of those experiences. I hope that I served well in them and gave as much as I got. But this isn't the kind of gratitude I've been told to feel.
Ever since my first year in graduate school, I've been told to be "grateful". What was always implied in that statement is that I should be happy and quiet and never critique or examine my environment, peers, professors, and program. That I should offer unwavering allegiance, despite what was happening to other marginalized bodies in the program, or myself. That I should absolutely not negotiate for more pay, better treatment, more humane conditions. That I should not dare make moves that would make my life better. That I better not dare.
I've been getting a lot of mixed reactions about my leaving the academy as word officially spreads. Some people, including my fantastic advisors from my grad programs, are extremely supportive. Some people are hurt, angry, and feel abandoned. Some people have already decided that my decision is their story to tell. I'm also getting a lot of "you are selfish and ungrateful."
Let me make this plain. Both for folks who have decided that I am ungrateful, and for folks who are thinking about leaving the academy.
You are not ungrateful for assessing your needs and following them. You are not ungrateful for engaging in acts of self care, especially within an institution that was designed to do nothing but dehumanize and marginalize you. It does not mean that your program, your dept. you peers or professors are bad people. This does not mean you are a bad person if you leave them. It does not make them wrong for staying. You do not owe the academy your blood, your tears, and your identity. You are not dependent on the academy and those in it for your self worth or identity.
Ever since graduate school, the narrative of "gratitude" has been used to silence me. "Be grateful I'm even in the program. More Black people will show up if you are here. Be grateful we even talk about race and gender. Be grateful you are here." I am thankful for the things I've learned, the student's I've taught, the friends I've made. I'm thankful that I learned enough about myself to fully learn what I can handle and live with. I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had, but I'm not going to let myself be bound to them. Especially if they are wearing me down to the point where I'm losing myself.
How do you say goodbye to something that you have worked most of your adult life for?
A few days ago, I quit. I walked away from my coveted tenure track position at a majour university, away from a prestigious humanities center fellowship, and away from the academy in its entirety. After one year of being an Assistant Professor, I decided I couldn't do it anymore and left.
I know how flippant that sounds, but leaving was by no means an easy decision. There was a lot about the academy that I used to love. I had some amazing students, and worked on some really great projects. But the love I had for it always felt one sided. And staying in a system that was designed from day one to exclude me, at best, was something I could only sustain for so long.
Before I keep typing, let me make it plain that my leaving the academy, nor this blog post is meant to be a sweeping condemnation of the program I worked in. I worked with some of the most passionate, smartest, and interesting people, both in terms of other faculty and students. My year on the tenure track was no harder, or no more isolating than that of many Black women in the academy. Some of the problems I had during my first year are problems I would have had, regardless of the program I was in, because it is what it is. It's the academy.
But I couldn't stay.
I left in part because honestly, it's not the life for me. Simply, the tenure track life is not a life that I want for myself, and I did not like what my year did to me. I felt diminished and isolated physically, emotionally, and in countless other ways. I did not have the energy to do the emotional labour that being a Black professor requires, especially at a PWI. The toll that this year took on me damaged my family, health, and perception of myself.
I spent a lot of time during my year telling my students to imagine themselves in places that fulfilled them and made them happy. I told them that the fundamental beginning of being the change they wanted to see was imagining it and then taking tangible steps towards their own happiness and empowerment. During those talks, I thought about myself, and although I had achieved a goal that I had worked for during the four years of my doctorate, I was not happy, nor being fulfilled by the work that I was doing. But I refused to imagine myself in something else. It could have been in part that nobody ever leaves the academy, ever. There are no models on how to get out, how to translate your skills and experiences, or how to practically enter that process. There are too many narratives that your identity is tied into what you are researching, writing, and where you are teaching. I've been bound to the academy for too long to see myself out. So I didn't imagine.
Over this summer, several things happened that shifted my view of myself. I honestly owe a great deal to the late Brook Stevenson, who not only saw so much in me, but inspired me to be my happiest self. He made me promise to seek things that made me happy, and reminded me that I deserved them. I owe an infinite amount to my partner, who supported me through the year, worried about me, and encouraged me to be honest with myself. I owe a lot to my former students, from several institutions, who checked on me and held me accountable for the lessons I taught them.
I've said in a few spaces, that while my year on the tenure track was not as damaging as the years that other Black women have experienced (my story did not make national news), it was enough to encourage me to look outside the academy for my happiness. My exodus was not wholly because of this year. This leaving has been years in the making; the "breaking straw" events just happened to happen this year. Some inside of the academy, some outside of it.
This blog is meant to be a model to give people options. I learned about my options in the Rhode Island Writer's Colony, from my friends, from my former students, from my partner. I want to be a model to help grad students turn CVs into Out-Ac jobs, and give adjuncts, lecturers, and professors options on other things they can do. I want to be honest with myself as I was with my students when I told them to imagine the things that made them happy and to actively seek after them.
I'm really serious about the imagination thing. Seriously. Imagine your perfect day. Imagine a career that would be fulfilling. Imagine not feeling degraded and dehumanized by an institution. I'm not saying that the Out-Ac life will be unicions and high fives. It will have its problems and downfalls, and issues. But it's something I'm willing to explore, and will of course, keep tabs on here. I'm out here imagining for myself and blogging it here for you. The imagining is powerful. I had several former students tell me how much that imagining changed them, saved them. Right now, in my imagining, the life I save needs to be my own.
For those interested, Professor Dresser is still going to go on. It's renamed to: Professor Dresser in Exile, and it will be my Out-Ac outfits. The website remains: professordresser.com.
One of the biggest decisions to make after you decide to leave the academy is to figure out if you want an "Alt-Ac" or "Out-Ac" position. Alt-Ac is alternative academic (there will be a bunch of posts about this from Dr. Lease) and are usually academic adjacent. This includes things like curriculum development or instructional design. Roles like this can be found in universities, and function more on the administration and staff side rather than tenure track.
"Out-Ac" are a different animal entirely. These are roles completely divorced from the academy and are largely in the corporate or non-profit sector. They may have totally different cultures, mores, and work systems than you may be used to from the academy. These may also have stricter, or more rigid rules around appearance, and gender conformity. Or they may not. It all depends on the culture of each corporation. So if you are considering an "Out-Ac" position, these are all things that you will have to take into serious consideration. As always, do your research. Out-Ac jobs also require you to change the way you represent yourself on paper. See the Resources page for more on that.
Deciding which arena you want to enter is a big decision. I'm providing ya'll with the "pro" list I made for each. We'll discuss the con's list in another post.
-you'd be working with a familiar university system
-you may have already begun networking with people through conferences or your current department
-Alt-Ac jobs often understand how your skills transfer into work off the tenure track
-Document to use to apply: CV/Resume hybrid
-often better financial compensation
-removed from academic culture
-flexibility in terms of location. (you can move to where ever you want rather than being bound to college towns
-Document to use to apply: Resume
These are all things to think about while you plan you "out".
So, applying for “real world” jobs is awful.
When it came to the academic job market, I was EXTREMELY charmed. I don’t say that in Billy Mays font to sound vain. My academic job search was impossible. I applied for one tenure track job, ever, and got that one job. Let me reiterate. One cover letter. One skype interview. One in person. And then I started my life on the tenure track. I realize how this sounds to absolutely everyone else who has applied for hundreds of jobs. I’m not trying to salt the wound here, but the only story I can tell is my own. My experience applying for “real” jobs is much more similar to an everyday reality.
In the course of 2 months, I have applied for 130 jobs. The experience has been horrible, demoralizing, soul crushing, and terrifying. Even though two members of my immediate family work in corporate hiring and recruiting, I was largely flying blind throughout this process. Partially because they were sick of me asking them to look at my resume every other day, partially because they thought I was making a bad decision leaving the academy. I may seriously be making a bad decision leaving the academy.
I wanted to write this post to document some things I’ve learned about transitioning between a CV and a resume, and how to write a cover letter. When I get a “real” job, I will post examples of my cover letters on the site. Here are some things I’ve learned through this process:
1. CVs are a measuring contest. Resumes need to be short. I cannot stress this enough. Resumes are supposed to be no more than two pages. Nobody in the corporate world cares that you presented 3 papers at a single conference. Nobody cares that you went to every regional MLA. No one wants to read every book review your advisor pulled strings to get you.
2. Academic skills are super transferable. You just have to sell it right. All those humanities skills you picked up in classes are transferable. Did you make a syllabus? That’s curriculum design. Did you teach a class? That’s training and instruction. It’s all about telling the story right and figuring out how to repackage yourself.
3. Research Industry key words. Know what words to put on your resume that are specific to the field you want to get it. Recruiters search resumes by looking for key words. If you don’t have the right ones, your resume doesn’t get looked at.
4. Learn how to read again. Being in the academy really messed up my reading comprehension. I have a really hard time reading every word of every job post. While it may not seem like a big deal, it is something that you have to do. Skimming over job calls is not going to get you anywhere.
5. Get a LinkedIn account. I found it really helpful and a great way to connect with recruiters. Spend the 10 minutes to build a nice account, upload your resume, and have a good head shot.
6. Have multiple resumes. I have different resumes for the two different industries I’m applying for. Because they are so short, they have to be specialized. I will also post examples of my resume up somewhere.
7. Cover letters have to be specific, but not too specific. I have 3 major cover letter forms; one for every industry that I’m applying for. Each one talks about specifically why I want to relocate, why I want to work for that company, and what skills specific to the call I can do.
8. Save every cover letter. Every single one. So when they call you, you can remember what you told them you can do, and what the company does. That’s why it pays to be specific in the cover letter about why you want to work for the company.