Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Choosing Academia

by : https://theresearchwhisperer.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/choosing-academia/#more-3971 

Photo by huppypie | www.flickr.com/photos/huppypie
Photo by huppypie | http://www.flickr.com/photos/huppypie
Corrie Williams is a doctoral candidate in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University, Gold Coast (Qld). Prior to this, she worked in the justice system as a frontline case manager.

Her research interests include the developmental antecedents of offending and individual and community level social support in the prevention of offending.

Corrie completed an undergraduate degree in psychology in 2006, and a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice in 2014.

My attention has been recently drawn to academic quit lit. I was not aware that it was such a prolific practice that it carries its own moniker.

Since making the decision many years ago to commence postgraduate studies, I have been very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors who have encouraged me to use my writing and research skills to pursue a career in academia.

As I approached the end of my coursework and honours journey in 2014, I also had to make a decision of whether or not to undertake my PhD. This was a huge decision, not because it is something I did not dream, strangely enough ever since I was a little girl I was obsessed with universities. The decision was huge because it meant that I had to deprioritise my public service career.

Looking for some kind of validation that this was the right thing to do, I searched the Internet to see if I could find like-minded people. Unfortunately, the rhetoric regarding academic careers is largely negative. Not only in the quit lit via blog posts but across social media in general.

As a particularly skilled procrastinator, I have a thriving Pinterest account full of not only craft I will never attempt let alone successfully complete, but also all kinds of funny academia-related memes and Buzz Feed lists. It was a combination of these lighthearted tools of procrastination and the comments (like this one) that almost made me want to quit before I started.

Ultimately, I decided to pursue my dream and apply for the PhD.

The overwhelming negativity about career prospects and the PhD journey, however, still played on my mind and I found it hard to make a decision regarding my public service career.

I completely overwhelmed myself. I had been doing my frontline job for eight years and, although I achieved some incredible outcomes, I felt stagnant and frustrated. I cut back my work hours and realised that the one day a week I spent writing and learning was the only time that I was truly happy outside my family life.

Leaving a career and stable salary behind is a massive risk for anyone, but having a young family complicates the decision. As my crazy schedule continued, I knew that something had to give. I decided for my sake, and my family’s sake, that happiness trumped money any day. I took the plunge and walked away from the public service.

I waited with bated breath for the negative fall-out and financial struggle. I expected it. It didn’t happen.

Within the first month, I received some work as a research assistant, which gave us a little money for a short break away and a few things we had needed. I was able to pick the kids up from school because I could work from home. This type of work has continued without much of a gap.

More importantly, I finally had some time to figure out exactly what I wanted to research and I no longer had the desire to distance myself from the work I had done every day for eight years. I changed my topic to align with the valuable on- the-job knowledge I had gained, and am now refocused on researching childhood antisocial behaviour. I could do this because I wasn’t living it, professionally.

I have been more available, more connected academically, and I now feel a real part of my cohort. My PhD journey is no longer lonely.

Leaving a career, any career is a very personal decision. Not everyone can or will take the risk I did, and not every one is fortunate enough to have a partner in life who will support them emotionally and financially.

I think this is the thing that annoys me most about quit lit. I’m very aware that there are systemic problems in the way that academia employs and retains its talent. The competitive nature of academia can also be very challenging and tiring.

However, climbing the academic ladder can be incredibly rewarding. I don’t know of many careers where travel and socialising are key aspects to success, but I have so far had at my fingertips the opportunities to do these things and I haven’t even reached the first major milestone of my PhD journey.

The cynic in me has wondered if the negativity serves the purpose of discouraging people and reducing competition. I don’t think this is the main intent of quit lit, but so many of pieces I have read have an underlying message of “It’s not fair” that is so off-putting to those pursuing an academic career.

All I know is that I quit my public service job for personal reasons, but I don’t for a second regret my time in that job. It was hard and ultimately didn’t fulfil me in the way I wanted to be fulfilled by a career, but every experience is valuable and those who are truly committed to life-long learning will embrace and learn from every experience.

I see my PhD as the starting rung of my academic career ladder. The benefit of having had a career I gave up is that I now understand that, in every career, it takes a while to decide what you want out of it, and whether it is for you.

If, after I have submitted my thesis, I decide that academia is not for me, then I know I’ll have no regrets and will not hesitate to tell others of the wonderful things I did and learned during my journey.

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