I am Leaving Academia
My introduction here will require some explanation. If you are unfamiliar with the above image, that is from “Curse of the Golden Flower,” which is a wonderful Chinese movie about an Empress trying to overthrow her husband, the Emporer, who spends the whole movie not doing a very good job of trying to poison her. SPOILER ALERT: The Empress sacrifices everything she is and everything she has do do what she believes is right only to lose it all and still be subjected to the slow death by poison at the hand of her husband. The movie ends with a very poignant scene whereby the Empress, now defeated, is miserable as she is brought her tea (the poison delivery device) and is expected to drink it and slowly die.
So now I can say it because it is official: I have quit academia to take a job in Silicon Valley.
For those who know me, particularly professionally, I imagine there are a lot of jaws on the floor. While that is to be expected in the leaving of any job, it seems that the shock when someone leaves a tenured or tenure-track job is particularly profound. My decision will be, I expect, met with many different reactions by my colleagues and I do not expect all (or even most) of them to be positive. My intention in starting this blog is to document the process of leaving the tenure-track world to join the tech world of Silicon Valley.
Why document this? Well, for one there are a lot of people like me that have done the same thing and those numbers are growing. These departures always seem to confuse academia. Several like Zachary Ernst have written up their reasons in a blog while others like Sydni Dunn at the Chronicals of Higher Education have written about why. I am likely just one more to add to the list. But allow me to state a few things for the record:
I am not leaving because I didn’t get tenure. I have no doubt that I would have gotten it. I am just at the end of my fifth year at an R1 institution. I have plenty of research funding, some decent publications, have already graduated 2 PhDs, get excellent teaching evaluations, and have more service than I should. I CAN do the job. I just don’t want to anymore.
I really want to start a dialog about why people leave the so-called “job for life.” There are reasons that I am leaving that could have been changed, but it requires all of academia to want to change them. One of the hardest things I have learned over the past 15 years since getting my PhD is that I can’t change them all. (I know, I know…but I was once young and impressionable and believed the rhetoric!)
My experience is just my experience. I cannot speak for everyone or even a subset of everyone. Yes, I am a female engineer on the tenure track (or, at least I was on the tenure track until today). I cannot speak for all women in engineering. I am mother to a 6 year old daughter. It doesn’t mean I can speak of the experience of every mother on the tenure track or every parent.
So I will work on figuring out how to get some method for allowing readers to comment onto this blog in hopes of a rich and productive (and respectful) discussion!