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Considering leaving the academic realm


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Hey, everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and an early, joyous Kwanzaa! 

I've just completed my first semester of grad school, and have been taking some time to reflect on what I want and where I want to go after graduation. While I originally thought that I want to be an academic, I'm starting to feel like my career interests are more oriented towards public history or librarianship. I have a job in my school's distinctive collections, which I absolutely love, and am looking to build on my previous museum experience through internships. I also have realized how much I love teaching. While I love historical research, I'm not certain that academia is the path for me right now (not to mention the current state of the job market). 

I guess I'm kind of looking for validation, but mostly advice. What should my next steps be? Am I a complete failure for giving up on academia?

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10 hours ago, historygeek said:

I guess I'm kind of looking for validation, but mostly advice. What should my next steps be? Am I a complete failure for giving up on academia?

I think a lot of people find themselves feeling this way during or after grad school, myself included. For what it's worth, I'm a recent graduate of a master's program that I attended primarily because I wanted to become a more competitive applicant for PhD programs, and by the end of it, I was having a lot of conversations with professors and with myself about my conflicted feelings on moving forward within academia. I'm not currently applying to PhD programs, and am unsure if I will do so in the future. Some of the advice that was given to me:

- There are a lot of really valid reasons not to go into academia. Financial concerns are a valid reason. Wanting to choose where you live and work is a a valid reason. Wanting a job that doesn't so easily consume your entire life is a valid reason. Giving up on academia makes a lot of sense for a lot of people, and if you're having doubts about continuing on the path that once felt right for you, listen to those feelings, take them seriously, and be kind to yourself. Choosing to leave academia does not make you less of an intellectual, or less impressive, or anything of the sort. 

- As you rightly point out, there are lots of careers that are a good fit for people with backgrounds in history, and that do not require a PhD. Think about the skills that being in grad school is helping you to strengthen or cultivate--how are they transferable to other kinds of work? If you haven't read it already, I'd recommend checking out this book, which is geared more toward people coming out of PhD programs, but has lots of great suggestions that are relevant to people with MAs, too. 

Finally, since you are still fairly early on in your grad school experience, and you specify a number of different career options/interests, I would recommend continuing to think about ways that you can use the remainder of your time in school to take advantage of opportunities that will provide you with further insight on what it might be like to pursue any of those paths. Keep in mind that opening up new doors for yourself does not mean you have to close the door to academia completely if you're not ready to. But if you do feel like there are other career paths that may be a better fit for you, know that needn't feel guilty for considering or pursuing them.

Edited by slouching
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23 hours ago, historygeek said:

Hey, everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and an early, joyous Kwanzaa! 

I've just completed my first semester of grad school, and have been taking some time to reflect on what I want and where I want to go after graduation. While I originally thought that I want to be an academic, I'm starting to feel like my career interests are more oriented towards public history or librarianship. I have a job in my school's distinctive collections, which I absolutely love, and am looking to build on my previous museum experience through internships. I also have realized how much I love teaching. While I love historical research, I'm not certain that academia is the path for me right now (not to mention the current state of the job market). 

I guess I'm kind of looking for validation, but mostly advice. What should my next steps be? Am I a complete failure for giving up on academia?

First of all, as some in the circles have said, including The Professor Is In (look her up), there is no failure, only success whether you stay or leave academia.

Second, congratulations on surviving your first semester of grad school!  I remember-- both in MA and PhD- finishing felt like pulling teeth. I was so exhausted and wondered if i would make through the next one or, even wonder if I wanted to finish the degree!  Questioning oneself and choices is extremely common among graduate students (and new professors!) after finishing a semester, particularly a challenging one. Deciding what you ultimately want to do takes time. You'll want to have the MA for any history position anyway.

If you aren't sure if the PhD is for you, take the thesis option and see how it goes. Do some research on what public historians and librarians have done to get their jobs though I suspect a good part is having both a graduate history degree and network connections. You have plenty of time-- consider taking time off after the MA . to see if you miss the intellectual energy of a research program.

Meantime, give yourself a real break from all of this if you haven't :)

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On 12/25/2019 at 2:58 PM, historygeek said:

I guess I'm kind of looking for validation, but mostly advice. What should my next steps be? Am I a complete failure for giving up on academia?

Belt: https://theprofessorisin.com/its-ok-to-quit/

Suspenders: https://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tburke1/gradschool.html

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I was just talking to a prospective graduate student about a similar dilemma. My advice was to consider the sacrifices you'd have to make to get the PhD versus the benefits. If you're already drawn to a different career, then it seems to me like the sacrifices would be too much to justify it. Getting the PhD can be brutal at times, you'd have to do coursework regardless of having an MA so that's another 5-7 years before you finish, then getting a job is even more brutal. One of my committee members always reminds me that the workload only increases once you're on the tenure track (IF you ever get on TT). Many of my colleagues put kids, marriage, even dating on hold (if this sounds like something you'd do, is it worth it to get the PhD? Now that I'm 31, I've started stressing about it myself, and I'm in love with teaching and research!), and those that didn't are working hard to factor their families into their job searches (limiting themselves geographically and not having much luck because of it, giving up the dream of TT and going private sector/adjuncting, etc).

The good thing is a history MA goes nicely with your current interests. You could look into MAs in museum studies and/or library sciences (I have a friend who went the museum studies route and received funding, I can contact her if you'd like), more interning or working at a library or museum, take a few years and reassess. You may find you miss history and really want to go back to grad school, at which point you can apply to PhD programs, or you'll realize you made the right choice and be well on your way to having a different career that you love.

I want to echo that you're not a failure at all. This is your life and career, and it's fantastic that you take it seriously enough to be honest with yourself about how your interests have changed. Some of the smartest, most competent people I've met left the program after comps because they had enough self-awareness to know it wasn't for them. Good luck ❤️

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On 12/25/2019 at 2:58 PM, historygeek said:

I guess I'm kind of looking for validation, but mostly advice. What should my next steps be? Am I a complete failure for giving up on academia?

No, you are not a failure for leaving academia or questioning your future in academia. The "non-academic = failure" thought process and belief system needs to be burned to the ground and the earth underneath salted. In today's academic job market, many people with excellent pedigrees and award-winning books have trouble finding non-contingent academic employment. Many of them leave academia. They are not failures. 

I did the exact same thing in full knowledge that a) I didn't want to spend more time in my program, b) the "alt-ac" thing is a total fucking farce, and c) I had grown to hate my particular field, plus the one I had the most interest in is practically dead. I don't consider myself a failure. I think leaving my program after the MA was one of the best things I've ever done.

If you really love teaching, perhaps you should see what your state's (e.g. PA) educational license requirements look like.

 

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Thanks, everyone! I appreciate all the advice and guidance.

I decided to switch into a Public History Practicum course next semester, which I'm excited about, and may be adding a second concentration in public history. I will also be helping to organize a Public History Community Forum at Temple this coming spring! I've added a couple of programs to my potential list to kind of veer towards other paths (MLIS, namely, but a couple of education as well). 

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I was going to add: something that nobody tells you but we all go through is that grad school is a learning experience. The whole point is to experiment with what you like or don’t like. This is the time to think about your future. Every step of the way, we should be asking: “Does this serve what I want to do the rest of my life?” 
 

Congratulations on asking these questions early on and carving your own path!

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19 hours ago, historygeek said:

Thanks, everyone! I appreciate all the advice and guidance.

I decided to switch into a Public History Practicum course next semester, which I'm excited about, and may be adding a second concentration in public history. I will also be helping to organize a Public History Community Forum at Temple this coming spring! I've added a couple of programs to my potential list to kind of veer towards other paths (MLIS, namely, but a couple of education as well). 

That's awesome! I'm actually applying to the Public History program at Temple (currently my undergrad institution) so I look forward to hearing how it all works out with the Forum!

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On 12/30/2019 at 5:00 PM, historyofsloths said:

That's awesome! I'm actually applying to the Public History program at Temple (currently my undergrad institution) so I look forward to hearing how it all works out with the Forum!

I'm applying to the PH program at Temple, as well, next year! Good luck :)

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