Saturday, August 23, 2014

On leaving the field

I am technically no longer a part of the academic system of scientific research.

It is often the case that if you are in the academic system, there is an expectation that you will stay put. Talking about leaving is reserved for quiet conversations among friends. The expectation comes in both the form of 'what you ought to do' and 'what people assume you will do as it is most likely.'

It is hard to break the expectation - to tell people you aren't going to do what they think you ought to, or that you aren't taking the path they suspect you will take. Probably most people can hear that I have chosen to leave the system and just say 'okay.'

But to me, it feels like I will get much stronger reactions.

And it is sort of the case that I am getting much stronger reactions, and these few are the ones that stick with me.

In the extreme case, it feels like I am letting people down and that I am disrespecting those who I worked immediately under. It is hard when you have a lot of respect for those people, and yet, making a choice about your own personal life can reflect just the opposite of that. In the not-so-extreme case, you know that people will judge you. You will now always be talked about simultaneously with "that guy who decided to pursue a career in photography after getting a PhD in physics … why even bother getting the PhD??" (not a hypothetical quotation, sadly)

I still like science. I still think my area of research is incredibly fascinating. I just have more compelling reasons for knowing that a career in the academic world is not for me.

And so I am leaving.

I don't feel like a failure and I don't feel like I am making a bad decision, and I'm trying my best not to absorb those feelings from people who think I should feel that way. It is an emotional and strange time, but I certainly don't feel sorry for myself and I hope no one else will either(:


  1. I totally agree with everything you're saying and yet I think it's so stupid that our field makes people feel guilty for leaving. People leave other careers all the time without having to feel like a failure or like it's some kind of betrayal. So it's not your fault! It's just the culture in our field.

  2. So you are going to let us know what's going to happen next, right? Good luck, in any case. :-)