Leaving academia – create your next job?

By Grant Jacobs 17/04/2013

Karen Kelsky, writing at the Chronicle of Higher Education, suggests that those moving out of academia create their next job and offers a ranty version of Crick’s gossip test.

We’ve talked a lot about non-academic careers – some earlier posts on this topic are listed at the end of this one. Of the many things not mentioned (much), one is not looking for a job but creating one.

cover-what-mad-pursuit-135pxFor those somewhat down the academic career path creating a job might be a fairly natural step. One way to imagine the academic research sector is as a collection of research ‘entrepreneurs’, seeking funding (grants) for their little start-ups (research labs). Although most of the practical reality of business is missing—in my opinion—the general focus and mindset has parallels.*

I’m not sure this applies as much to Ph.D. students (who Karen advises), however, or those early in their post-doc years. They, to my thinking, still have more the mindset of employees than the self-employed or employers. It’s quite a different focus, a difference that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Karen’s variation of Crick’s gossip test is interesting too. Crick recounts trying to decide what to do next in What Mad Pursuit, relating how he took note of what he prattled on to others about to guide his decision.** Karen writes of something similar, what she ranted to her partner.

I’m thinking how many academics are self-motivated and that taking note of what they ‘just want to do’ would, for some of them, make sense. It’s not something to recommend to everyone. I’d generally suggest a well-supported employed position is far easier and, you’d have to say, probably wiser for many if not most. But it is at least one more approach to tackling leaving academia issue, one I’ve not seen voiced as often.


* This works in reverse too: those who have run independent businesses have useful skills as research group leaders, but unfortunately the academic sector in general doesn’t appear to value these skills — academic citation credit, in particular, dominates assessment.

** Crick moved on to working on neuroscience, consciousness in particular. I recommend his biography too – worth reading.

Other articles on Code for life:

From science PhD to careers outside academia: what might help?

Career paths, redux — the academic research career is the exception

On alternatives to academic careers and ’letting go’

More inclusive re-entry to encourage departure to businesses?

Brain drain and gain (brain flow) in 16 nations