The sentiment is nearly always the same.
“You’ll have no trouble getting a job around here. You have a PhD!”
I’ll tell you. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I quit my tenure track job I was 90% confident I was doing the right thing. My DITK (dual income three kids) family just wasn’t functioning. Two parents trying to pursue demanding careers was not conducive to a good family life. I wanted to be a bigger presence for my children and to find a balance in our family unit. Day care failed because someone was always sick. Babysitters were ok but between the two I was spending my entire salary. I just couldn’t justify having a career given what it was costing me.
So I quit. And, yeah, 10% of me wonders how my life would have been different, regrets giving up my career, and feels stupid for bailing on something I put so much work into.
At first I assumed that jumping off the tenure track was career suicide, and wondered if I was just burned on the whole conservation biology career path. I became obsessed with beer making and decided to start my own brewery.
Things were going great with the brewery until I discovered my wife’s affair and got a divorce. In 2010 I was forced to get a job and start over.
Though there are one or two tenure-track positions near me they are both occupied and will be for the forseeable future. But I was able to leverage my education and experience to get a job two hours away as part of a larger conservation project. The job carried a weighty title but didn’t translate to anything meaningful. To me the job was really about laundering government grants to support various programs as each would take a cut of the pie until it trickled down to me and my coworker. We made decent money but there was really no job to do or, if there was, no one wanted us to finish it because that would mean the end of the gravy train.
I became very disillusioned but kept the job for over three years and they allowed me to work from home. I was only away from my kids for 9 months and I still had them every weekend while I was gone.
After that job I was lucky, again, to get a state job with a conservation agency. And low and behold, that job was also about doing nothing. I guess I was picking the low-hanging fruit, or maybe I just want to work, or many I’m a big crybaby. Obviously neither of these jobs was running a research lab at an academic institution. But surely there were elements that could be a source of joy.
Nah. Both of those jobs sucked. My supervisors were uninspiring and really just wanted me to keep quiet. My skills were not needed nor utilized. There was not much contribution to be made beyond checking off a few boxes once in a while. I was uninspired at best and depressed at the worst.
I tried to make it work. I wrote a 75,000 page book while getting paid at the state job. I looked for silver linings but there were none. I’ll admit that I am a bit demanding and expect a lot from a job, because I want to give that much. There are certainly people who could make these jobs work but it wasn’t me. Just because these jobs were ‘in my field’ does not mean I was a good fit or vice-versa.
I have come to terms with the fact that it is ok for me to leave these jobs. I still wrestle with leaving, but I am much happier exploring and searching for something better than I was twiddling my thumbs and being forced to observe the fleecing of America on a daily basis.
And I’m quite lucky to be searching because my wife has a job that supports our family. I have the luxury of finding a career that ‘makes me happy’. Or, that utilizes my skill sets, challenges me, and helps people. On a daily basis I wonder if that’s a pipe dream or whether it is possible. I truly don’t know. To varying degrees I believe it and I think it’s stupid.
But the bottom line is I prepared my self for a career path that I quit for my family. And in having done that, I closed a door. Trying to reopen that door and peek inside was bad for my soul and was not really a possibility. Despite everyone telling me how easy it is go find a job with a PhD I am prepared to start completely over. At 44 years old.