It’s surprising that a year has passed since my first set of posts on PhDs at Work. On the one hand, it does feel like a long time ago that I wrote them. I’ve met lots of new people through PhDs at Work, all of them people with PhDs like me, all of them doing interesting and meaningful work outside of the confines of academia. It’s been both illuminating and inspiring to see so many people working in careers in the trenches outside the ivory tower.
Many of the colleagues, friends, and fellow bloggers I’ve met exited academia some time ago. Those like myself, for whom graduate school and dissertation writing is still a fresh memory, leaving the career path that you spent so much time and effort on can still feel like a fresh wound. I would hazard to guess that, for those for whom more time has passed, that wound has healed and scarred over, and that it still flares up in certain weather. But a fresh wound is still fresh, and meeting other PhDs who bear those scars helps bandage it. It has given me a sense of what’s possible with a PhD, after those many years thinking there was only one thing: the tenure track professorship.
On the other hand, it seems like time has flown. This September will mark two years at my current job at Berghahn Books, and it seems shocking when I say it out loud: “two years.” That’s been enough time to develop a taste for life and a career outside of academia: what it’s like to wake up every morning at the same time and undertake the same commute, to perform similar tasks every day, and to be more or less on the same schedule as everyone else. To those still on the academic track, or thinking about leaving, this might sound tedious. It often is. Like everything, however, there’s a tradeoff: I may not be able to go to the gym at two in the afternoon, or read at two in the morning, but I can divide my life from my work, live in the city I want to, and get paid a living wage. It was hard for a while to come to terms with this, but as time has passed and I’ve progressed in my job, the academic life seems to make less and less sense.
With more time at my job, I’ve gained more responsibility and more sense of purpose. I’ve become comfortable in my duties and better understand academic publishing, and the publishing industry more broadly. In the last year, I helped research and develop my company’s open access policy, defining our position in a larger debate within scholarly publishing that will surely continue as digital technology becomes more and more significant to the industry. I also revamped our system of tracking the editorial department’s finances, so that we can more easily deal with organizations that fund projects such as translations and negotiate for rights with foreign publishers. These projects have given me a much larger picture of the world of scholarly publishing in which I find myself than I perceived two years ago. As I worry less about executing the basic duties of my job successfully, I’ve been able to look at the larger picture. It’s like the system has slowly come into focus: once I grasped my function as one gear, I could see how the other gears fit and moved with my own, and eventually could begin to imagine the entire clockwork. I feel like I have started to reach that third stage, where I can start to see the clock that is the publishing industry.
So the healing process slowly begins. Getting that first job, once you’ve decided to leave academia, is hard; adjusting your life to the aftermath is also hard. But I’ve learned in the past year, by talking to other PhDs who are at work and by advancing in my new career job, that there are entire worlds I had no idea existed when I was slaving away at the university library. Sometimes I wonder if these worlds would have opened to me at all had I stayed in academia. Yet since I’ve only seen glimpses into them, I have to wonder what else is out there. A few years ago, when I was first contemplating escape from academia, I was faced with a conundrum: what else was there? Now that illusion has been shattered, and I am still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but for much different reasons. There’s so much out there for a PhD to do!