Why I Left Academia; or, To Publish … and Therefore Perish

A few weeks back, I wrote a Historista post about adjusting to a life untethered (or mostly untethered) from academia. In response to that post, readers wondered,

  1. Why did you leave academia in the first place?
  2. How are you able to support yourself?

I’m going to answer question #2 in an upcoming post. But for the benefit of graduate students and adjuncts, and the faculty members who advise them, I offer what I hope will be a useful/cautionary tale in answer to question #1.

In the Beginning

In 2002, I graduated from the University of Iowa with a PhD in American Studies. I had gone on the job market the previous fall and had done quite well: a lot of AHA and MLA interviews (yes, I threw my hat into the ring for English department positions), and a few campus visits. I had one job offer early in the process that I decided to decline but had no subsequent offers. So I accepted a part-time lectureship (read: adjunct position) in the History and Literature program at Harvard.

Over the course of that year, I taught a few introductory courses and advised several talented and smart students on their junior research projects and senior theses. The relatively low teaching load also gave me time to revise the dissertation and submit it to the University of Georgia Press in time for the next job market round.

Go West, Young Couple!

Huzzah! In 2003, I snagged a tenure-track job in the Honors College at Texas Tech University.


It was a great position – strong students and excellent colleagues in an affordable (if somewhat isolated and very politically conservative) town. I was only able to take it, however, because my husband Dan put his own career at risk and negotiated with his law firm to work two weeks a month in Boston and two weeks in Lubbock.

Making job decisions is always hard but making them within a relationship can be incredibly difficult. You must figure out what will work best for your happiness and your partner’s, and for your collective financial situation. Dan and I ultimately decided we could and should make this move, and we landed in Lubbock in the fall of 2003.

The first few years of this back-and-forth were often exciting but mostly exhausting.


I published my dissertation as a book at the beginning of my second year at TTU and my prospects for tenure were excellent. Because he is a badass, Dan made partner at his law firm despite his time working away from Boston.

But by the end of our second year, however, it became apparent that this two-city life would be untenable long-term. My entire salary was funding our travel and housing, and Dan was not sure he could grow his practice from Lubbock.

So I began to look for jobs in cities where his law firm had offices. I had exactly one AHA interview and one campus visit – and one job offer from the History department at California State University, Fullerton. We moved from Lubbock to Pasadena, California in the fall of 2006.


I Love L.A.! Sort of.

At first it was fantastic. The weather! The restaurants! The celebrity sightings! Again I had great colleagues, and students who brought a wider diversity of experiences to the classroom.

The downside was that I had a heavier teaching load, and more students. Dan was getting up at 4:30 in the morning to talk with his east coast and European clients, and not coming home until the end of the business day on the west coast.

After a year of 14-hour workdays, we were deeply unhappy. I had managed to secure an advance contract for my next book project and so tenure seemed likely. But I was not finding much time to do research or write — a common experience at teaching-heavy institutions like Cal States. And Dan’s career was suffering; he really needed to move back to the East Coast.

Our decision to leave L.A. came only after months of agonizing discussions about the effects this would have on my career, and our marriage. But it was also a galvanizing moment. It was late November 2007, near the end of the fall semester, and I had missed the due dates for long-term fellowships. But there were several other short-term fellowship competitions – all based in New England – that did not close until January. I quickly wrote up some research descriptions, asked for rec letters, and applied.

Ultimately, I was able to cobble together five short-term fellowships, enough to provide seven full months of research support; I then secured an (unpaid) research leave from Fullerton. My plan was to spend that year researching and writing my book, and applying for jobs in New England. Because I had been successful in two previous job searches, I was optimistic about my chances.


Taking the Leap

But this was the fall of 2008, and as the economy tanked all of the academic jobs disappeared. Now I had to make The Really Big Decision: stay in Boston with Dan, or return to California and my tenure-track job by myself.

Again, for those academics with partners, this is the kind of decision you hope you will never have to make. And yet you almost always have to, sometimes more than once.


I took the leap. I had faith that the job market would improve and that in the meantime, I would be able to find part-time teaching work and publish enough to secure myself another job. Yes, yes, I know. I was naive and over-confident — a terrible combination.

In any case, I quit my tenure-track job and spent the next several years writing what would become Ruin Nation, and adjuncting (again!) in the History and Literature program at Harvard. I went on the job market every year but it was increasingly difficult to explain and justify my career decisions. It was awkward to bring up such issues in a job letter and to search committees, I’m sure it looked like I had left both Texas Tech and Cal State Fullerton after negative third-year reviews.

Ruin Nation came out with the University of Georgia Press in 2012 and it did well enough that I was subsequently asked to give lectures and join boards and program committees. I felt like the next job market year would be The One. It wasn’t. Neither was the one after that, nor the one after that.

My mentors were befuddled. My colleagues couldn’t understand it. I can’t remember what day it was exactly, but finally, I had the revelation.

The Revelation

I was an adjunct with two books. In the rigid world of academic hiring, I didn’t make sense to any search committee out there. I was too experienced for assistant professorships, and there was no way any dean would approve hiring an adjunct with tenure. I had published too much, and I had made myself unhireable.


The Lessons

Every good tragic tale has its lessons.

  • The first lesson is that the academic hiring system is profoundly messed up. Only in academia are the least qualified people the most popular and successful job candidates. Think of all those AHA and campus interviews I had my first year out! And my final year on the market, with twelve years of experience? None. For those of you still toiling as adjuncts or postdocs four or five years after you earned your Ph.D., it’s time to consider your options.
  • Second, every decision you make in the job market has benefits and costs — especially regarding your private life. You need not be partnered up to know this. I’ve found that the best way to deal with this is to acknowledge it, and to be clear-eyed (and full-hearted) about both the upsides and the downsides.
  • Third, do not leave a tenure-track position if you have designs on a future as ladder faculty. Because once you jump off the track, you can almost never jump back on.
  • And fourth, if you are a graduate student or an adjunct, Do Not Publish Too Much. One article, maybe two. If you’ve already written a book, keep the manuscript in your desk drawer until you have a tenure-track job. Then pull it out, polish it, and send it to presses.

But there are other, more positive lessons too.


Considering a job change forced me out of my research lethargy and pushed me to apply for fellowships, without which I never would have written Ruin Nation. Through that book, I found a new community of Civil War history colleagues who have become close friends.

And without Ruin Nation, I doubt I would be doing the kind of writing for larger publics that I’m doing now.

In the end, my decision to choose family over a tenure-track job has made me very happy in my personal life. It has also turned me toward another career – full-time writing – that may bring me even more joy than academia ever did. How am I able to do this? I’ll answer that question in the next post.





62 thoughts on “Why I Left Academia; or, To Publish … and Therefore Perish”

  1. Hi Megan,

    I’m glad I stumbled across your post (after reading part 2). I wanted to let you know that it gives me hope. I graduated with a Masters in Public History, and very quickly went through a rough divorce that left me needing to move cross-country and unable to financially pursue further education. I have spent the subsequent time hopping between paid and unpaid work, as well as the good graces of family members who have taken me in (which also causes a lot of moving as I look for that dreamy full-time job).

    Your posts give me hope, as I once I aspired to a career in academia, then museums, and have run into the same problem you did. After only 2 years of being out of full-time work, and having published and done several exhibitions (usually for free), I’ve faced the dreaded “you’re unhireable” questions and looks.

    It was really nice to hear, publicly, that I’m not the only one going through such circumstances. It’s helping me to reflect on how my struggles have been positive experiences and feel that making decisions that are best for me personally (and not professionally) isn’t something to be ashamed of. Thank you for this, and best wishes for the future.

  2. Megan, This is a very interesting post and thread, offering much to think about. One thought: You write: “My entire salary was funding our travel and housing.” Here you attribute those expenses to your salary, not to your husband’s, which implies that your job and salary weren’t worth it. This reminded me of women who say “My whole salary was going to pay for childcare, so I quit work”–but why should only the woman’s salary be understood to pay for childcare, and not the man’s? Maybe that parallel isn’t quite right here, but I wonder if academics would make the equation you make if a straight couple had moved for the man’s, not the woman’s, job. What do you think?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Martha. While I completely agree that money is fungible — who is to say whose earned dollar is paying for what if you have a joint bank account? — in this case, my salary *was* actually paying all of our Lubbock-related expenses. Our Boston bank did not have branches in Texas, so we opened an account there to funnel my salary to our local (and back-and-forth) bills. So I was not undermining myself or my work by making that statement — I was stating a fact.

      I don’t know if other academics make such equations regarding money — but such tensions and issues surrounding money will be the subject of my next post.

    2. I disagree. I don’t think the statement, “My entire salary was funding our travel and housing,” implies her “job and salary weren’t worth it.” I took it as a statement, that I expect she will speak more to in the next post, that it’s a considerable expense and without giving figures, this comparison was made to let the reader understand how very high that sum was. Clearly she was invested in her career in academia, one that could never be as financially beneficial as an international tax lawyer (I have a good friend who is one–they make piles of money), that was part of the point of the essay. Moreover, I haven’t collected the data, but generally I see those who use that childcare comparison as those who want to stay with their children and this low salary/high childcare is a viable ‘excuse’ in a society that frowns on women who want to expend their labour on their children.

  3. Megan, finally getting around to reading this. Mike (my husband) wrote up similar sentiments for his essay in the book Papa, PhD (yes, these decisions fall on men’s shoulders, too, though maybe not as often). Incidentally, a number of the essays in its precursor (Mama, PhD), about negotiating motherhood and academia, have a subtext in the stories of those who were able to succeed: divorce. That’s something–along with living apart, which I admire you for even trying!–we vowed to avoid.

    1. Jane! I didn’t know Mike wrote a piece for Papa, PhD — I have to check it out! I totally agree that men have to make these decisions too, and that their non-traditional paths will have similar kinds of benefits and costs as those taken by women. And it’s not surprising that divorce is sometimes the result of the choices that academia forces us to make. I’m so glad that you avoided that, though. Jane + Mike 4 Evah!

  4. Megan, your story and mine are similar. I stepped off a tenure track job position due to family pressures and a brutal teaching/service load that left me too exhausted to finish my book. Now I own an art gallery outside of Austin TX and though I look back at my academic career as a “failure,” I realize how many opportunities my years as a university-affiliated bona fide “intellectual” really opened up to me. Don’t listen to the people inside the academic black box questioning your commitment or your choices. He hiring/tenure system is REALLY screwed up, especially for women.

    1. An art gallery! How fabulous! I’m so glad that everything worked out for you in the end — and given the opportunities your academic career created, it doesn’t seem like a failure at all!

  5. I think about leaving academia all the time. It’s actually starting to get better in some small ways, but my first four years in a TT job have been, to be brief, hellish. (4/4 load with research expectations. Wtf?) Occasionally I say to my hubby, “I hope they fire me so I can finally do what I really want — be a writer.” ha. It’s mainly a joke, except… not really.

    Anyway — I completely understand your path and wish you well. I hope your “new” career is satisfying and contributes to a healthier relationship/life/everything.

  6. I’ve been fortunate enough to have landed a TT position my first year on the market, and I’ve stayed through tenure and the promotions and imagine I’ll retire from here, too. Over the years I have been on more search committees than I can count (probably won’t be on any more, though, given the recent big state budget cuts), and our department has never discounted a candidate due to “flight risk.” Our approach has always been to hire the best person for that position. If he or she stays for one year or two or five, then we’ve had a really good person for those years.

  7. Truncated response here as I’m driving up I-95, but on “flight risk”– all top job candidates are flight risks. Would you, fearful of flight, hire a lesser candidate? Just to try to insure chances of keeping someone around?That’s an imprudent and detrimental strategy. If a search committee has questions about “flight fears” based on past history like Megan’s they should simply ask the candidate bluntly. The worst thing a search committee can do is act on the basis of speculation and assumptions.

    1. I agree entirely that it’s an imprudent and detrimental strategy. And yet I know of departments that do it with some regularity. I think some committees fear that asking bluntly if someone will stay will be perceived as crossing the line into asking about marital status or other things that could get them in trouble.

    2. I agree with Diane that all job candidates are “flight risks.” That is how the academic system has always operated. I’ve been on many search committees and found that some of my colleagues are so narcissistic as to believe that they can “read” the candidate (whether on paper or in person) and determine whether this person will stay at or leave the university. I understand that universities don’t want to run a search again (or have to deal with the cost) but you never know what a candidate’s position in life really is. I believe you can ask someone about their genuine interest in the job without broaching marital status. But even in that situation you can’t always take what candidates say on face value (job search lesson #1 is always show incredible interest in the job). But again, that is the nature of the beast – people come and go. In fact, people come and go in all kinds of jobs.

  8. I think Ann is right, we need to hear these stories. And I say that as someone who has served on many on hiring committees and has also had a nontraditional career path on my way to a TT position. Thanks for writing this, Megan.

    1. Yes! We must hear these stories! If nontraditional paths imperil one’s career goals in academe, that’s something that everyone (on both sides of the desk) needs to acknowledge, and to consider.

  9. Interesting piece. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to part II. Curious, why didn’t your husband get a job at a different firm?

    1. Unfortunately, Lubbock law firms were not looking for international tax lawyers — and neither was the TTU Law School (so there was no possibility of a spousal hire). And in California, it was more about time zones and building his client base — issues that would not have been improved by moving to a new firm in the state.

      1. So then, in another interesting twist, this story could also be the his v. her career/salary… You mentioned the relationship stress; did he also experience any job stress similar to what you encountered? Thanks.

          1. Great; looking forward to it. And,though I know this is part of your process, I do feel awkward/apologetic for being so nosy/intrusive.

      2. Wouldn’t moving to a California-based firm with a California client base mean far fewer East Coast time zone calls for him?

        1. No. He’s an international tax lawyer with mostly European clients.

          And that’s the last question I’m going to answer about Dan and his work. This Historista post is about our decision-making as a couple, but it is mostly about academia and its processes. So if anyone else posts questions about him and his practice (with the implicit judgment that he somehow betrayed me by wanting to keep his own job), I won’t approve them. Just putting you on notice.

          1. Understood. I was actually commenting from the corporate side of what was going to be a corporate-academic relationship, till my then-boyfriend-now-husband decided on his own that I wouldn’t be happy following him to a new East Bumfuck State College every few years and being limited by the professional choices that would impose, and decided to get out. It’s me judging myself in letting him do that, not judging Dan.

  10. Thanks so much for this post. As an NTT faculty in Japan (where the system is a little different), I am curious about your advice to not publish too much. While I agree that the academic hiring system is messed up, I feel like the one constant for any academic, tenure-track or non, young or old, is that publications = better job prospects. So many of the adjuncts I know were frustrated that they were deemed “not serious enough” by potential employers because they hadn’t published enough (because they had ridiculously heavy teaching loads and no time to do research). Can you talk a little more about how you think publishing too much can hurt you? (As someone who got a PhD, left academia to work in the private sector, doesn’t have a book or a ton of publications, and is now working an NTT job outside the U.S., I’m also fairly sure I wouldn’t make sense to any U.S. hiring committees either.)

    1. You and LT (below) make an important point, which is that systems of academic hiring vary across fields and across parts of the world. The system may be totally different in Japan than it is here.

      My experience was that as an adjunct teaching in the humanities, I published way too much for my perceived “status” in academia. So no one would hire me as an TT assistant professor because I was overqualified. And even though I technically have the publishing record of a full professor, no search committee would hire an adjunct to fill a named chair or a full professor position — it’s too much of a leap. So I was caught in the middle, and thus became unhireable.

      LT, I’m not sure how it works in STEM fields — someone else can chime in on that one!

  11. Interesting post. Thought-provoking. Do you think your experiece is more common among women academics than it is among men academics? Also, is your experience more common among academics in the humanities than among academics in STEM?

    1. LT, I replied to part of your question re: STEM fields in my response to Gradland, above. I’m not sure whether my experience on the market, or with publishing too much, or with negotiating careers with your spouse in tow, is contingent on the fact that I’m a woman. There have been some public discussions about this. *The Chronicle of Higher Education* has published pieces about the unique pressures on women academics (to do more service, for example), the impact of child-having and raising on women’s academic careers, and spousal hiring, and most recently the important message behind the #ILookLikeAnAcademic hashtag meme. These all point to specific challenges that women face in this particular career, but I not sure that the choices I made or my experience on the market reveal any strong gendered component.

      1. Megan, I read this after seeing it referred to in Tim McCarthy’s facebook feed. I had to respond. I won’t bore you with details, but the contours of your career and mine are eerily similar. I, too, wrote my first book in History and Literature (2001), moved to a tenure track job, lived separately from my spouse, wrote more books, and ultimately left academia last year. I became a full professor, a few years before I left, which makes my decision to leave even harder to justify than yours, perhaps. People presume that you have nothing left to be disgruntled about once you’ve climbed the promotional ladder, and yet I felt more dehumanized then than I ever did before (when I was working too frantically to notice what I was feeling). I suffered unpaid parental leaves that were used against me, etc. etc.etc. and finally summoned the courage to make a go at writing for broader publics, which I was already starting to do anyway. I’m not going to lie and say that the transition has been easy. It’s humbling. But it helps, too, to see that I’m hardly alone in making the decision to leave. Both you and I taught well (and a lot) and produced scholarship prolifically. We held up our end of the deal, but the powers that be in the academy refuse to see how they fail to hold up theirs. Looking forward to your part 2.

        1. Julie, you are definitely not alone! I’m getting a lot of feedback via email and Twitter that the structures of hiring and of working in the academy are brutal, and a lot of us are trying to figure out what to do next. The transition out is really hard. I’ll comment more on that in reply to your note on my other post …

  12. Two very minor points: I resist the phrase “academics with partners,” because the great majority of people either have a partner or want one. These are deep structural problems that the academy does not know how to solve, let alone in these embattled times. The destruction of intimate/family lives would actually be very high in my list of reasons not to become an academic. It’s easy to think that “being a professor” is more important than these everyday concerns, but it’s not.

    Second, the thing about being too accomplished for a position actually is not at all unique to academia. Preference for the new, unwashed, eager, cheaper, freshly-graduated is endemic in many industries and a key arrow in the quiver of precarious employment. Interestingly, academia is one of the most difficult places to resist such practices on age discrimination or organized labor grounds.

    1. sadcademic: “The destruction of intimate/family lives would actually be very high in my list of reasons not to become an academic.” This is true of most professional jobs (certainly in the private sector), not just academia.

      1. I completely agree that this is not a hiring situation (or a life choice situation) that is unique to any one field. Although I will say that academia is one of the few hiring markets in which the candidate’s “potential” is often valued more than experience. Is that how one would hire an architect? Or a surgeon? Or a plumber?

        And of course, everyone is striving to be happy in both their family and their work lives. At least, I hope they are.

        1. A surgeon, architect, lawyer, etc. are all MORE valuable after gaining years’ of experience. Speaking from experience, a lawyer fresh out of law school is almost worthless as a legal advisor.

          1. Disagree with LT on both points. Academia is unusual in its uncompensated demand for professionals to live in remote locations with which they have no family or social connection–the only parallel is medical employment, but there the remoteness is frequently compensated and there is much more choice about where to move. The other destructive aspects re: family life are parallel and still not necessarily as geographically stark as academia.

            And whether or not you value experienced lawyers (as a client or employer? By of course clients want experience, but that wasn’t my point). the fact is that in many industries and even many law firms the cheaper wages one pays new employees helps to drive out the experienced. Of course there are exceptions, but it is well known that the average age of certain classes of employee in, e.g., finance and technology businesses is very low, and kept low on purpose.

  13. Sorry that academia is such a family-unfriendly career path for so many on it. We all certainly benefit from your research and writing and it is sad to think that my enjoyment of Ruin Nation came amidst the difficulties that publishing it caused your career.

    Thank you for the insights.

    1. Thanks, Pat! I don’t regret writing *Ruin Nation* at all and I’m really proud of that book — it is one of the benefits of the many choices I made along the way. Thank you for reading it, and enjoying it!

  14. Aren’t departments just being cautious because of your past experience of leaving after two years? How do hiring committees know you’re serious about staying, expecially if you’re looking outside of Boston. Qualifications aren’t the Lonny criteria for hiring committees and it’s a bit insulting to suggest you deserve another bite at the cherry when other scholars could be just as qualified.

    1. As I replied to “Total” (below), I imagine they were cautious — as they had every right to be. And at no point in my post do I suggest that I “deserved” any of the jobs I did not get. I think everyone in academia will agree, however, that there are certain elements of the market that are absurd, and that the deck is often stacked against even the most qualified applicants.

      1. You didn’t publish yourself out of jobs. You are a “flight risk,” as you admitted. In your case, the deck was stacked due to your job history. There is not anything remotely absurd about why the deck is stacked against you.

        1. Maybe, maybe not. Neither one of us was on those search committees, so we can’t say for sure. I’m not going to argue with you any further about my own particular job qualifications, however. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point.

          My larger point is that the system of hiring in academia is quite rigid in the expectations for publishing and teaching at all levels of hiring (asst., assoc., full) — and that often, these are the opposite of what we might expect.

          1. I wasn’t on the search committee either of course, but I think Walt is probably right.

            I’m not sure it is more rigid necessarily, but the hiring process in higher ed is certainly different than it is in the “real world,” that’s for sure. In most professions, it’s pretty easy for the whole employment process to happen quickly, a couple of months from beginning to end. In higher ed (certainly in my field in English/Writing Studies), the cycle is at least six months long. But beyond the long process, most searches nowadays are years in the making before the search actually starts. In other words, when we get authorized by the powers that be to do a search it’s usually after a couple of years of asking for the line.

            My point is the stakes are high and the two things a search committee doesn’t want is a failed search (all of your finalists don’t work out) and a situation where you hire someone who is only going to be there for two years before jumping to the next position. So, I hate to say it, your history would have been a red flag to me.

            1. As I noted above, I understand this. And as I wrote in the piece, “every decision you make in the job market has benefits and costs.”

  15. What the search committees knew was that you had left not one but two tenure track jobs, one at a great university (TT) and one in a great state system. That’s highly worrying and would make me think twice about bringing you in. Lines are precious things, and it’s really easy to lose them.

    By the way, did you ask any of the places that *didn’t* interview you why they didn’t?

    1. Indeed — I’m sure they thought I was a flight risk. Again, this is an example of the cost (as I note in the post) of leaving jobs that are making you unhappy for whatever reason.

      Occasionally I’ve asked search committees for feedback when I have been a finalist but did not receive an offer. I’m not sure I’ve heard of anyone getting feedback in the first round (pre-AHA or MLA), but if anyone has, please share! I’ve only received feedback twice. Once, the advice was great because apparently it was my teaching demonstration that needed work, so I looked to that in subsequent interviews. The other time, I got the “it wasn’t you, it was us — you were great” response. Not so helpful.

      Most search committees are under instructions not to talk with job candidates privately; this is because doing so would open up departments and universities to lawsuits.

      1. Indeed — I’m sure they thought I was a flight risk

        Which suggests, in fact, that your experience is not evidence that the academic hiring system is “profoundly messed up,” but that they were looking for a candidate that they had some idea would not leave quickly.

          1. I’ve been on a lot of search committees and I can tell you that your advice not to publish too much is awful. The two ways candidates can set themselves apart is teaching and publishing. You’re actively telling them not to do the latter. That’s bad.

            That you might well have been perceived as “flight risk” has nothing to do with your publication record and you really should not include that as a definitive lesson of your experience.

            1. Let me be clear. I’m not telling *everyone* not to publish too much. I’m telling grad students and adjuncts who want TT jobs not to publish too much until they get the jobs. Because there are publication expectations for asst. profs and for tenured/full, and job candidates need to manage those carefully.

              I’m not going to argue with you any further about my own particular job market or committee experiences, and what I believed I learned from those experiences. Again, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point.

            2. This is not a rejoinder previous posts, but rather an observation on the matter of being a “flight risk.” Of course no committee wants a search to fail or to lose a hiring line, but to see a candidate with a varied job history and to only conclude that this candidate poses a “flight risk” is, I think, short-sighted, particularly if the candidate has a stellar record of publication and teaching. Some candidates explain their job histories in application letters. Even if they don’t, life is uncertain: families change; universities change; professional goals change. In some sense, we’re all flight risks.

            3. I agree with Total on this. I’m a current adjunct with skin in the game, who came out in ’08 and found very little success on the market. I had one or two interviews at R1 schools and was actively told that I did not get the job because, while I had a book manuscript that the committee loved, I did not have a book contract. I was told by a well-meaning adviser to hold on to the book so that it would count toward tenure.

              However, Megan’s point about the second book is right, so far as I can see. My first book comes out next year, and I’d think twice about publishing the second if I didn’t have a TT job in hand.

              By the way, I think my adviser’s advice was awesome–for 1999. But with schools not filling the tenure lines of retirees, non-tenure decisions, or opt-outs, a lot of schools are risk averse these days. I think that there are two big risks when hiring: the first is that the hire will not get tenure, and a book contract is good proof that the candidate can publish; the second is flight, and I’d think that only an R1 would take a risk on someone that had jumped from a lot of other places. “Fit” is a bit more elusive, but that’s not the concern here.

              1. I agree that a manuscript under contract (or even to have proof of editorial interest) can improve a candidate’s chances — but a book under contract is at least two-three years from publication. To have a book actually published while out on the TT market, however, means that you are at least 4 years out of your Ph.D., given the still egregiously long academic book publication process. As others on this thread (and Twitter) have noted, that’s a long time to be out, and every year decreases your chances of success.

                Having a book already out also means that it will likely not count as a book for tenure — the candidate will need to produce at least a few more articles and perhaps even another book just to get tenure, which speaks to your concern re: tenure potential for new hires.

  16. PhD student in American religious history here. I’m really curious about the first job offer you received and what made you decide to turn it down.

    1. Hi Daniel. Thanks for your question! That first offer came really early in the hiring season (late January, if I remember correctly). It was a job in an English department at a tiny school 3 hours from the closest airport, with a 4-4 teaching load. The committee was smart to act fast, to try and get someone who wanted the bird in hand. I had five other campus visits scheduled, though, and so I felt I couldn’t pass up those opportunities for the assurance of a TT position. Of course, I didn’t get those other jobs so in retrospect it was a bad choice. But I often think about how my career would have been radically different if I had taken that job …

  17. This is a great post, my friend – and should be required reading for anyone nearing the “finishing” stages of their Ph.D. I think you know my position on the adjunct job. It really is a soul crusher. I am glad I figured that out after only a single year.

    1. Thanks, Keith. I hope that people find it useful even though it is quite depressing. Academia itself is soul crushing, isn’t it? I mean, there’s so much about it that is wonderful and fulfilling, which makes its f-ed up elements even harder to tolerate (and yet we do tolerate them, because of the aforementioned wonderfulness).

  18. We miss you at Texas Tech, and I could have set anyone straight about your prospects for third year review. You are a star!

    1. We miss you too, Susan! We think fondly of our Lubbock Years (as we actually do refer to them), despite the craziness. Your friendship was invaluable to me back then — you kept me sane. Or, as sane as possible. ; )

  19. Thanks for sharing the story of your career so far, and your decision to move beyond academia. I had wondered about your tale–Liz Covart might have told you about my curiosity. I think we need to hear more specific stories like this. You did everything “right”–you sought and found TT employment right out of the gate, you took the jobs offered to you, your partner came along for the ride. And yet, it still wasn’t enough to make the sacrifices worthwhile.

    Your experiences say a lot about the academic workplace and everything we expect people to do for TT jobs. And what it says isn’t good!

    1. You’re welcome, Ann! I agree that we all need to talk about these things more openly, rather than just trading stories at conference hotel bars.

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