TPM Reader JG responds to my post on leaving academic life …
Reading your blog on academic life was so touching and resonant. It really encapsulates so much of what I went through in graduate school and I imagine so many other people have gone through.
You might have understated the degree to which these programs are designed to keep you from thinking about anything other than academic life. While my PhD is in political science, I imagine most social sciences are similar — simply suggesting in my courses that we think about the public policy implications of our political theory or political behavior studies brought scorn. I think the move to ever more complex statistical methods also contributes to putting up a wall between general audiences and academia.
Furthermore, any career counseling was a joke if you wanted to look outside of academia. You also can’t understate the importance to your professors and advisors for you to stay in academia because it is a way of “spreading their seed” and demonstrating their influence. This has even been the case with a friend of mine who left their program with a PhD and wound up working as a staff director for a congressional committee for 15 years. You would think this would bring pride to a political science professor — but instead it almost brought shame — that one of their bright students left to actually do something concrete with their knowledge!
For me, I got lucky. I took a policy job at a non-profit in DC so I could work on my dissertation closer to the halls of Congress. This has turned into a comfortable job straddling the lines between academia and policy activism. But, I feel like I succeeded in spite of my graduate program.