Readjusting to the Real World

5 Reasons You’ll Miss (But Really Won’t Miss) Academia

There are many reasons why people love life in academia. Some reasons why people love academia are highly subjective and based on individual circumstances and therefore cannot be enumerated. Other reasons why people love academia seem transparently universal to academics and nonacademics alike. However, some reasons why people love academia may have unintentionally been misrepresented to encourage recent graduates to continue on in their academic traditions. If you know without doubt that you want to commit your professional life to academia, then you are already certain of all the reasons why you love academia. On the other hand, if you are struggling to decide whether you want to work in academia or industry, then you might be considering the reasons why you love academia and might want to wait for an ideal academic job. If you belong in the latter category and ultimately decide to stay in academia because of its misrepresented benefits, then your ideal academic job could become your bane. Please consider the following five misrepresented reasons why you may, but really won’t, miss life in academia if you decide to leave:

1. Flexibility.

Work flexibility is one of the primary reasons that academics claim to love academia. Academic schedules may initially seem more flexible than is the traditional framework for the professional workday: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, academic schedules seem much less flexible if you consider how much time during evenings and weekends that academics spend doing research, homework, grading, and reading. For nonacademics, hours outside the professional workday are (for the most part) strictly personal time.

2. Free or discounted access to university information, resources, and services.

As an academic, your university tuition or employment has given you free or discounted access to information and resources that nonacademics may or may not be able to get. For example, you can probably use large information databases at your university’s library and wellness resources at your university’s health center. You may even qualify for student discounts or free services (e.g., free bus fare) in your university’s town. After you leave life in academia, even your privileges as an alumnus may not allow you to continue using university information, resources, and services at a free or discounted rate. However, if you consider how much money you pay the university with your tuition and time and how much you receive in return as stipends and other forms of financial assistance, then you may find that your access to university information, resources, and services is not actually free or discounted.

3. Academic privilege.

Academic privilege develops from the tenure system in universities and is academics’ version of job security. Academics would like believe that if they work hard enough and meet all departmental requirements, then they will progress through the political ranks of academia to secure tenure-track positions, which they hope to keep as long as they maintain good standing with their universities. However, some academics forget (a) that tenure-track positions are limited and can be difficult to acquire; (b) that once a tenure-track position is secured, it takes years to earn tenure; and (c) that budget cuts can terminate even tenure-track positions before you secure tenure. You may lose your job to budget cuts or layoffs in the professional world, but unlike life in academia, there are more jobs available for you to find.

4. Holiday vacations.

Winter, spring, and summer breaks make academic jobs seem enticing to some would-be academics. However, most academics have to do some form of work during winter, spring, and summer breaks; academics still have to communicate with their departments, to work full time on their research, or to teach classes during winter, spring, and summer breaks. Though it may seem like academics get more holidays than do nonacademics, people in both types of jobs basically work year round.

5. Travel

Attending conferences and presentations is a fundamental part of academic jobs that often requires travel to new and interesting places, which seems exciting until you consider the cost. Some universities fund academics’ travel, but others do not. Either way, any time you spend traveling for academic jobs will be limited because of cost. Consequently, academics who travel to conferences and presentations rarely have time to enjoy local attractions. If travel is something that interests you professionally, then you might be able to find nonacademic jobs for employers who fully fund work-related travel for their employees.


Saying Goodbye to Academia

Congratulations! You have finally achieved graduating from graduate school and are ready to tackle the next phase of your life! You may have decided to leave academia, perhaps because you just can’t bear to read another book or write another paper for the rest of your life or because at the moment, you can’t find the ideal academic job to support yourself and to pay off any student loan debt that you may have. For whatever reason, you have decided to escape the shadowy, musty halls of your alma mater and to join the ranks of professionals in the world outside academia, but you may have mixed emotions about your decision to leave.

Even if you have successfully completed a life goal by graduating from graduate school, you may feel scared, sad, depressed, guilty, and like you have failed if you have decided to leave academia. All of these feelings are normal and to be expected. Post academics may feel scared, sad, and depressed because a huge phase of their lives is ending, a phase which for so long had been a fundamental part of their identities. Besides feeling scared, sad, and depressed,

post academics may feel guilty and like they have failed academically because they have not committed their lives to the academic relationships that helped them develop the professional skills to sustain themselves post academia. Peers and professors you have academic relationships with may unintentionally contribute to post academics’ negative feelings about leaving academia by seeming wistful about their departure and even by spreading myths about the professional world outside academia.

If you are feeling scared, sad, depressed, guilty, or like you have failed because you’re leaving academia, please understand that you are not alone and that these feelings will eventually pass. Please remind yourself that you have accomplished a life goal that less than 11% of Americans accomplish (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Not only should you celebrate graduating from graduate school, you should also be anticipating the new goals and adventures that you will undoubtedly have in the next exciting phase of your life. Try not to care too much about what other people think of your decision to pursue goals and adventures outside academia; only you can know what is best for your life direction. If you have decided to say goodbye to academia after graduating from graduate school, you should embrace your decision and apply the same principles, ethics, and drive that motivated you during your time in academia, and you will undoubtedly succeed as much in the professional world as you did in the academic world.

Addressing Overqualification

Academic employers will undoubtedly perceive your advanced degree as a requirement, not as a liability. Like academic employers, some nonacademic employers may require you to have an advanced degree, but other nonacademic employers might perceive your advanced degree as evidence that you are overqualified for a job, particularly entry-level positions. Overqualification might be the most challenging thing that you will have to address in your nonacademic job search after graduation. You will probably have to address the issue of being overqualified for a job not only with potential employers but also with yourself because you might have developed unrealistic expectations about the type of work that you will be able to find with your degree. In the following sections, you can learn how you can address the issue of overqualification with yourself and with potential nonacademic employers.

Addressing Overqualification with Yourself

Before you can convince potential employers that you are not overqualified for a job, you must first convince yourself. After putting so much time and effort into getting your graduate degree, you probably have certain expectations about what type of work and pay you want in your first postacademic job. You might even expect to skip all the rungs and climb straight to the top of the corporate ladder to be in a higher position than are your coworkers without advanced degrees. These expectations are unrealistic; the nonacademic world is similar to the academic world in that you have to work your way up from the bottom. Therefore, you should be more realistic and accept the fact that your advanced degree does not give you special qualifications for most nonacademic positions and that you to will probably start at an entry-level position with an entry-level wage. Do not, however, let this discourage you. Having an entry-level position is still better than having no job, and you can use the skills associated with your degree to move up the nonacademic ranks far more quickly than you could in the academic ranks.

In addition, you may prefer your hourly, entry-level wage to the monthly stipend you might have received at an academic job because unlike the monthly stipend at an academic job, even an entry-level wage is more comparable to the quantity and type of work you will do in a nonacademic position.

Addressing Overqualification with Employers

After you have addressed your own personal issues with your overqualification, you will be better able to address potential employers’ issues with your overqualification. As previously stated, some nonacademic employers may require employees in some positions to have advanced degrees, in which case you would not be overqualified for a job if you have the appropriate degree. However, most nonacademic employers do not require advanced degrees for most positions. Nonacademic employers who do not require advanced degrees generally express the following overqualification concerns about potential employees who have advanced degrees: (a) employees will not be challenged by entry-level work, (b) employees will have high salary expectations, and (c) employees will leave as soon as something better comes along. If a potential employer broaches the issue of you being overqualified for a job, the first thing you should do is not seem desperate, arrogant, or defensive. Instead, you should calmly, rationally, and professionally address the potential employer’s concerns about your overqualification by emphasizing that you are an honest worker who happens to have an unexpected skill set that could only benefit the company. In addition, you should emphasize the experiences and skills that you hope to learn and gain from working with the company. You should also communicate that you have reasonable expectations for the type of work that you will do and for the compensation when you negotiate a salary.


Repaying Debt From Student Loans

Many recent graduates feel burdened by and anxious about student loan debt repayment from their student loans. This is understandable considering that recent graduates feel extreme pressure to find jobs quickly after graduation and to redefine themselves as non-students for the first time in years. To focus on these pressures, some recent graduates choose not to think about student loan debt repayment until the grace periods for their loans have come and gone; some recent graduates even choose to ignore communications from lenders because graduates simply feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what they owe. If recent graduates continue to ignore their student loan debt repayment, they can quickly end up in default on their loans, which can lead to serious financial consequences that last for years.

To avoid default and other long-term negative consequences of ignoring debt repayment, graduate students need to be proactive about their student loan debt repayment by researching repayment information as soon as possible, preferably before they graduate so that they can use their universities’ financial aid resources. Unfortunately, many recent graduates do not know where to go to find reliable information about debt repayment. If recent graduates seek help from their loan servicers or universities, they may find that neither loan servicers nor universities seem to have the time or inclination to completely answer questions or to fully explain information that recent graduates want to know about their loans. If recent graduates do have trouble finding answers or information about student loans, they should not give up and ignore their loans. Instead, recent graduates need to take charge of their student loan debt repayment by independently seeking student loan information from reliable sources. The following are some reliable sources from which recent graduates can find current information about student loans, student debt, and loan repayment:

Academics’ Myths About Nonacademic Jobs

After being in academia for many years, some academics may have developed distorted opinions about what it is like to work in nonacademic jobs. Unless individuals look for context to demystify these distorted opinions, current academics might perpetuate myths about the professional world to future generations of academics, making it harder for those who want to leave academia for nonacademic jobs. The following is some information to demystify the top three myths that some academics seem to believe about nonacademic jobs and could help you with the decision between working in academia or industry:

The hours are inflexible.

Academics become accustomed to setting their own schedules each semester, so working 5 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. may seem too restrictive to some. If you work in a nonacademic job, you will not be able to casually take a half day of work for lunch with a friend without having to use one of your limited number of vacation days. Although you may need time to adjust, you will eventually come to appreciate that outside the seemingly inflexible hours of nonacademic jobs, your personal time is your own. After 5 p.m. each day and for two whole days each week, you won’t have to grade assignments, read articles, or write papers unless you want to; instead, you can go to yoga class, read for pleasure, or enjoy quality time with friends and family.

Bosses and coworkers will be rude, ignorant, or lazy.

This overgeneralization is simply not true about either academia or industry. In life in academia, you met people whom you liked because they were kind, intelligent, and hardworking, but you also met people whom you disliked because they were rude, ignorant, or lazy. The same will be true of the people whom you will meet in the professional world. In fact, you may even enjoy working with nonacademic coworkers more than with academic coworkers because you will not be in direct constant competition and conflict. As long as you maintain an open mind free of predetermined misconceptions, you will likely find plenty of people in either academia or industry with whom you will enjoy working together toward a common goal.

The work is boring and mundane.

Again, this is another overgeneralization that is simply not true concerning either academia or industry. If you are open minded and willing to look for professional work that coincides with some of your academic interest, then you will be able to find a job that challenges you intellectually. For example, if you have a degree in math, you should not dismiss a professional position in accounts payable, a position in which you would use your mathematical skills to solve challenging accounting problems every day. Keeping a positive perspective about nonacademic jobs will help you find work that is as interesting as, if not more than, the work you did in academia.


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