Okay, I said I would write a post on why I’m leaving academia. I actually want to defer to this list, 100 reasons NOT to go to graduate school. http://100rsns.blogspot.com/p/complete-list-to-date.html
It’s a good summary of what is and what is to come for graduate students. Of course I did not see this before entering graduate school. However, I probably would have ignored it anyway since many advanced graduate students had already told me not to go. I easily dismissed them as grumpy, burnt-out students that would not go far in the world with their current attitude. Surely my boundless motivation, passion for solving problems, and chipper attitude would prevail. I wasn’t completely wrong, all the above served me well for several years and I have a very respectable academic CV to show for it. However, what I didn’t realize is that those fifth and sixth year graduate students were once bright-eyed students similar to myself. As you begin to approach the end of your graduate school career, the veil begins to slip from your eyes and you are forced to see the realities of life beyond graduate school. Suddenly, reasons such as number 71, “Tenure track is brutal”, or 83, “It narrows your options” come barreling down on you like a ton of bricks. It forces you to re-evaluate yourself and your goals.
Although I could write about the injustices of graduate school and the emotional trauma that students endure, I don’t want this post be about the negative experiences of graduate school. I’ve come away from graduate school with a lot of new, translatable skills in my personal toolbox and the confidence to learn new skills and manage a variety of projects. I’ve also narrowed down what are the most important aspects that I will look for in my next job. However, it would be a bold face lie to say that some of the negative experiences are not influencing my decision to leave, but you and myself might question if it was so bad as to necessitate a 180. Last night as I sat around a table of my peers enjoying a good conversation about recent scientific findings, I thought, “Do I really want to leave this?” I will go from being an expert to a novice all over again. Instead of enjoying some of the fruits of my labor I will instead struggle to gain my footing in a new field. Science is undeniably producing fascinating discoveries and a lot of exciting opportunities continue to exist.
However for scientists, as is for many who combine their identity with their career, science is a way of life. Despite my achievements and upcoming completion of my PhD, I can no longer ignore the small voice that has been telling me, “This isn’t who you are,” “This isn’t where you want to go.” I’m okay with this and it’s not too late to change. I’ll take what I’ve learned and move forward in another direction. Am I scared to change careers? Hell yes, but I’m not going to let fear get in my way. I can do this. Others will question my decision or doubt that I’ll be able to find what I want, but I don’t care. I’m already happier just for having made the decision and this happiness is seeping into all facets of my life becoming recognizable to my friends and family. So here I am, starting my career as a programmer and I’m beyond excited to learn as much as I can. The best part is, I once again feel a passionate energy coursing through my veins and it feels… wonderful.