Thus Spake Zuska

Life as a Leak, Redux

Some of you will remember the Life as a Leak series that I posted awhile back. If you were interested in that then you may want to read this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education: Conference Confidential. Annoyingly, it is behind a paywall, so you may want to look around for a print version of the Chronicle – the June 1, 2007 edition, page C3.

Alexandra M. Lord writes about her decision to leave a tenure-track job in history for life as a public historian, and her subsequent experiences attending professional conferences. She also mentions in passing her father, a chemical engineer:

I left academe for many reasons, but paramount was my dislike of the intellectual narrowness of academic life. As a professor, I was frustrated by teaching the same classes again and again. Although I always changed the books and assignments, my classes covered the same basic principles, year in and year out. I was learning and growing, but my students, who changed every year, would remain undergraduates forever.

Long before I struggled with those heretical thoughts, my father-in-law, a chemist with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had reached the same conclusions and left academe. He did not believe that leaving meant intellectual failure. Instead, leaving had opened doors to careers that not only encouraged intellectual growth but actually required it.

Lord’s tale is very positive. I hope you can get a chance to read it. Leaking never looked so good!

Comments

  1. #1 AT
    May 31, 2007

    Can a person who never entered leak? I’ve been pushed (both by myself and others) to enter PhD programs. And then someone asked me, “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” I realized I wanted to be happy – in a challenging job, one where I get to learn something new every day, where I look forward to getting up and coming in, and where I can sit around the coffee pot (or water cooler, or soda machine or whatever you might want to call it) and have ribald conversations before getting back and tinkering in the guts of machines. I want a job where I can get looked up to based on what I am capable of, and where the people around me push themselves, and I strive to meet their lead. I would also like to be surrounded by friends and mentors (at work and in my personal life) who are equally comfortable talking about the latest show at the MoMA as they are the latest issue of the Social Science History journal, Cabinet magazine, Linux release, or Pirates of the Carribbean. And that is the point I realized that there is no point to me getting a PhD or becoming a professor, as much as studying the hell out of information and history might excite me. Talk about a career path antithetical to all of those things.

  2. #2 Dr. K
    May 31, 2007

    “…paramount was my dislike of the intellectual narrowness of academic life”

    Yes! Yes! Wow, this is me!

    Frustrated by the insularity, microfeudalism, and frequent irrelevance of the pursuits of others in my discipline, I just quit academia for a job in a nonprofit research institute. I want to feel like my work matters, and not end up hating the students I now love because I’m so overworked with all the crazy demands I begin seeing them as little widgets to push through my assembly line.

    And for smart people many of my colleagues are awfully boring. They don’t have any interests. They don’t stick up any obligatory Far Side cartoons on their door. They’re busy working, and they’re miserable and anxious for every moment of it.

    I felt the stirrings of this kind of moral unease during my comps. I felt it stronger and stronger over the ensuing decade and now, 5 years after finishing my PhD, it’s time to shuffle off this academic coil.

    “…leaving had opened doors to careers that not only encouraged intellectual growth but actually required it.” Can’t wait!

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