The #PostAc Wanderer: What A Real Career Path Looks Like

Long time, no #postac. As with nearly every post-academic blog, there comes a time when these issues lose their intensity and salience to your everyday existence. Last month marks the second anniversary of my decision to quit graduate school.

My comrades in the post-ac blogosphere — the quieter voices, who garner less attention but are nonetheless some of the most frank and helpful writers on the topic — have written several posts lately about the “right” post-ac job. How To Leave Academia has long acknowledged the messiness of post-academic life, positioning itself in a less popular but, IMO, more truthful narrative of life after academia in which you stagger around in search of a new path; new identity; and most importantly, an income.


HTLA also notes that as #postac flourishes, those speaking to the challenges and realities of leaving grad school fall to the wayside in favor of advocacy for appropriate post-ac pursuits: career advice for alt-ac, entrepreneurs, etc; critiques of higher ed; etc. A glance at our stats shows that our website still occupies a small corner of the #postac blogosphere. We aren’t getting national attention, even though our issue is.

ANYWAY, what is the right postac job? JC wrote last month that:

… short of contract killing or drug trafficking, there are no “good” or “bad” postacademic jobs. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do postacademia. 

In order to do postacademia “right” (according to me), you need to find a job that fulfills two goals: (1) one that pays you enough money so that you can live a stable life, and (2) one in which your employer treats you better than how folks are treated in the worst aspects of academia.

Kathleen Miller (currer bell) poignantly writes:

How did I get my post-ac jobs? Time. Persistence. Crying. Feeling like a failure. Networking. Not networking. Building a LinkedIn profile. Taking down my LinkedIn profile. Hiring a life coach. Taking classes for a new career path, but not getting certified. Taking any post-ac job because we needed to pay our bills. Refusing to take a post-ac job just because we had to pay our bills. Starting and then not starting a new career path. Applying to go back to school and then withdrawing my candidacy. Starting to open and then pushing pause on my own business. Giving up. Trying again. Luck. Dumb luck. The dumbest luckiest luck.

This resonates so powerfully with me. The truth about postac life is that it is mostly fumbling. You will feel certain one week that freelancing is perfect for you, only to dabble and realize that you hate working alone, or are incapable of meeting a deadline without an advisor breathing down your neck. The next week you’ll start reading about teaching in private schools and obsessively job search and concoct curricula in your head, only to rule it out because you don’t want to move for a job. A month later, you’re swooning over academic librarianship. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In fact, you’ll wander far down many postac paths only to turn back. It’s not a straight shot to postac paradise. It’s trial and error, and as Kathleen says, “the dumbest luckiest luck.” I didn’t stride confidently into academic advising as my postac career of choice. I got the job because I was a good teacher, and I knew people working here, and it came along at the right time – just when my final paycheck for TAing was hitting. In many ways, I had no choice but to take that job, and lucked out because it is a good job with good people.

Just before I took the position, a community college I’d interviewed at (out of state) the year before called to ask me to apply again, but the timing was wrong and I had to regretfully decline. I had wandered far down that path but it didn’t work out; then life changed. I wrote constantly during that transitional semester about my struggle to make sense of the path forward and felt like I was walking down multiple, contradictory paths at once.

And the truth is, advising probably isn’t the final destination for my #postac wanderings. It’s a stop along the way, for who knows how long, before something else arises as an opportunity, or I evolve into other roles and responsibilities that pan out. But the fact of the matter is that I have little control over my postac destiny: I’m at the mercy of the marketplace, of budgets, and geographical options. I may feel called someday to the Perfect Postac Career, but be unable to land it or pursue it, through no fault of my own. A newish post-ac blogger, …and what to do with the books?, writes similarly about her nascent postac journey:

The more I think about it, though, I need to remind myself that a job is just one step on a longer career path. (Not to mention that I just had a baby nine months ago, and she’s not in daycare).  My position and title (should they even really matter) might be very different twenty years from now than they are now. As old as the mid-thirties might sound compared to if I hadn’t gone into my doctoral program and had started regular work in my mid-twenties, I still have a good twenty or thirty years of work ahead of me which might lead eventually to more Big Picture jobs.

I do think the literature (blogged and print-published) about post-ac job searches can give the impression that one might be able to jump from finishing the dissertation to a major management position at a company or organization, and in some cases, this might be true.  My own experience over the course of the past year has been of a much more middling nature.

This is another case of Ivory Tower expectations colliding with Real World pragmatics. We are all #postac wanderers. And we will all be ok.

4 Responses to The #PostAc Wanderer: What A Real Career Path Looks Like

  1. Thanks for the shout-out to my blog, and the general word of support for the messiness (that old favorite word from grad school – in the humanities at least!).

  2. Pingback: The Post-Academic Privilege Divide: Troubling Trends in a Growing Movement

  3. It is certainly messy. Misery shared is misery (somewhat) mitigated, and it’s been good for me to see some of these “other” postac stories that match my own so much more closely. I’m still fumbling a year after making the decision to not chase one-year appointments or local adjunct jobs. Then I went and moved across the country to be closer to my partner’s family. No amount of skill inventories or rebranding can smooth bumpy roads. (And those inventories and rebranding are still work.)

  4. Thank you so much for your reply. I’m glad this resonates with you — we recently wrote a post about “post-ac privilege” and have received some backlash about it (this is at How to Leave Academia). I love your recent blog post at your blog. If you ever feel like writing a guest post, we would love to have you contribute to HTLA.