The emotional aftermath of leaving academics, part 4: reclaiming what you miss

Part 4 of 4.  Part 1 addresses your relationships to old and new colleaguesPart 2 addresses your relationship to places, new and oldPart 3 addresses your relationships with friends and family.  If you don’t see your questions addressed, send them to me at

Many people who leave academics, even those who are happiest to leave, miss at least some parts of their academic experiences.  Good news: many things they miss are present in non-academic workplaces, and many others are present outside workplaces altogether.

Graduate students.  People who leave faculty positions where they have supervised graduate students very often miss the experience of training graduate students more than anything else; it’s certainly the thing I missed most.  The good news is that, as you advance in your current job, you will have opportunities a lot like training graduate students: younger or newer employees will need training, guidance, and mentoring.  And when you become a manager, you will eventually train others to manage, and you will likely find that training people to manage others well is as demanding and rewarding as training graduate students to teach well.

Teaching.  People who like teaching don’t stop teaching when they leave academics; they just teach in other venues.  I have found myself teaching when I explained our company to large groups of new employees; when I explained our company to outside regulators; when I discussed projects with groups of employees from other countries; when I answer customer-service questions, and when I write explanatory text for websites.  And a great deal of teaching goes on with employees you manage, particularly new and young employees: direct management of interns employees fresh from university is a close parallel to university teaching.  Interestingly, scholars who stop teaching their academic subject often start teaching their interests in non-work settings, and sometimes those interests turn into jobs.

Intellectual engagement.  Many people fear losing intellectual engagement, but they are, oddly, surprised to find that their new jobs are every bit as intellectually demanding as their academic work, albeit often in quite different subjects; this surprise is one of the leading causes of eye-rolling among non-academic colleagues.  Sometimes when former academics start jobs with an attitude of “what on earth am I going to learn here?” they are surprised by how much they learn, and how fast.  That attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as no one wants to engage with people who don’t want to learn, or who do not believe their new workplace has anything to teach them.  The quickest way to find your new workplace’s most interesting challenges is to ask everyone you meet “What are the most interesting challenges here?”

Intellectual community.  Many people fear the loss of this most, especially those who felt themselves relative misfits in school, university, or jobs and truly found their home and fellow travelers in graduate school.  The best ways to address this are to discover the challenges of your new workplace, since you will have built-in colleagues at your new workplace, and also to stay up with your academic subject, if you want to, on social media and through membership in professional societies.  Most societies encourage independent scholars to join, and many have reduced membership fees for them.  When your former academic subject is something you have to work hard to stay close to, you will prioritize the aspects of it that actually do matter most to you.  And once you have been at your new workplace awhile, you can ask about which conferences are best for engaging in your new subject matter (assuming you liked conferences as an academic).

Resources.  Especially if you intend to continue your academic work as an independent scholar, or if you are taking a full-time job while finishing your thesis part-time, the lack of resources, such as library access, is a significant matter.  You can often retain some access by registering as a part-time or independent scholar, especially if you already have a degree from that institution.  By all means keep your membership in scholarly societies, particularly the ones specific to your subject or topic, if you can afford to do that.  You may be able to get discounted software packages you need that way as well, particularly for limited periods.  Finally, make use of both Twitter and LinkedIn for groups of like-minded and similarly situated colleagues: calls for help (“where can I get this tool at a steep discount?) are most quickly answered through social media, in my experience.

People have pointed out to me that the experiences I outline above are not exactly the same as the experiences they left behind in academics, and that’s true.  But the new experiences call on many of the same skills that helped people succeed and thrive in academics.  The core of the matter is the nature of the experiences themselves, not the venue in which they take place.

I bet you will not miss marking composition papers or lab reports.

Good luck!