Making the decision to either stay in academia or venture out into the real world is a big one, to say the least.
There are so many variants to think about in this decision, but I’ll go over a couple that you should carefully consider. However, I’d like to first point out that post-academia is still part of the “real world,” so I hope no one takes offense to my terminology; but for the sake of this blog, I’ll be sticking with the language of “academia” and “real world” as two separate entities because I hear this comparison made by a lot of people.
Unfortunately, life, in general, provides us with little control. In academia, there’s even less control given to you. After you earn your Master’s or PhD and begin looking for academic work, you might feel pressured to accept the first job offer you get, even if it’s at a lower-level institution. This pressure might come from the fact that you have student loans to pay back, a family to provide for, and a life to live. So if you’re offered a job, it might be in a random state where you never envisioned living. However, it’s a job that pays money, and at the moment of accepting or rejecting the job, this may be all you can think about.
The good news about not having as much control as you would like is that you experience things you wouldn’t have had the chance to do without loosening your reigns a bit. I like to think that a big part of having a healthy life is going with the flow (as cliché as that sounds) and embracing the lack of control you have. Taking a job that is less than attractive to you might end up being the best decision you’ve ever made. You never know who you might meet, what you might experience, where you might go, and what you might find out about yourself while in a whole new environment.
Your Upward Mobility
When thinking about promotions, there is unfortunately not much room in academia. Because you won’t have much control over where you work, you might be at a lower-level institution, which would mean that improvements are rare, especially because you’ll most likely start out at the bottom of the totem pole. “Improvement” can mean a number of things, including promotion or career move. The difference between these two is that promotions allow employees to move through ranks in a certain hierarchy; however, career moves mean repositioning employees with or without a raise. In academia, a professional improvement will most likely mean a career move—not necessarily a promotion.
However, there’s still room to grow personally and professionally, even if titles aren’t labelled on your desk or listed on your resume. Staying in academia means that you have the time and the opportunity to do things you might not otherwise have time for. For example, you’ll be able to work on your own research, possibly with students you could mentor. Additionally, there are plenty of opportunities to speak at conferences, work with prestigious faculty and staff, and publish individual or group works.
If you are still wondering how you should decide to either stay in or leave academia, I suggest that you look at the items presented and decide how important they are to you in your personal and professional life. A practical way to make this potentially life-changing decision is to name your priorities, whether they include what I discussed or not, and make the best decision for you and your family. Everyone has their own experiences, and no two people will have the exact same situations.