In the first part of this 2-part post, I introduced the whole subject of deciding when to quit the academic job search. In the second part of this post I’m going to lay out a decision-making framework for you. The framework is based upon a set of questions I originally asked myself while I was working on my post-doctoral fellowship and applying for academic jobs. Over the course of 3 years my answers to these questions gradually changed, leading me to conclude in the end that I should look for work outside of academia instead.
While you can reflect upon this set of questions any time, there are certain key points during your academic job search when it makes particular sense to refer to them. Assuming you commence your academic job search in the final year of your PhD, I suggest these decision points are:
- 4 months before you submit your PhD
- 4 months before the completion of a fixed-term contract such as a fellowship or teaching (decent salary or not)
- A couple of days after you have a really bad day in a job that you feel under-employs you (academic or not)
- A couple of days after an academic interview rejection
- On each anniversary of your academic job search
At any of these points you should take some time to reflect on the 10 questions and give yourself some honest answers.
10 questions to ask yourself about your academic job search:
- What does success in my academic job search look like? What will achieving this goal give me?
- Do I know and accept the current odds of getting an academic job in my field of application?
- Am I prepared to take jobs that pay me less than I am worth for a number of years, in order to stay in the game?
- Am I prepared to work in a number of temporary posts in different locations, until I find something permanent?
- Do I fully appreciate the demands of a permanent academic post and the expected work-life balance?
- Have I fully considered the range of career options open to me, and concluded that the academic route is still definitely my preferred choice over all the alternatives?
- How does this decision impact upon my child(ren), or on my plans to start a family, or on my desire to have another child?
- What does my partner feel about my search?
- What do my parents or guardians feel about my search?
- What other options does pursuing an academic career search narrow down for me?
You can note down your answers to these questions on a separate dated page each time you run through them. Use a scale of 1 to 10 for the ‘Yes or No’ questions if that helps. Once you’ve run through the questions several times, you can compare your answers over time and analyse the differences.
In my own case, I found that my answers to questions like 3, 4 and 7 in particular changed over time. I was paid a salary during my post-doc, which obviously came to an end with the post-doc itself. It would have been financially quite difficult for us as a family if I had then taken a step down onto hourly-paid teaching at the university, while I continued my academic job search. With a new baby and concerns like finding a good nursery or child-minder and buying a house, we also wanted some certainty and stability: we didn’t want to relocate for a temporary contract, not knowing if this would be the first of many moves around the country. These conclusions encouraged me to develop a Plan B, which I put into practice after drawing a blank in job applications during the third year of my post-doc.
Using a decision framework like the one above means that you are in control of your own job search process. There are plenty of opportunities for PhDs outside of academia, so you should never feel that you ‘have no other choice’ but to continue with your academic job search. You should continue if the pros outweigh the cons for you and your family, or quit and try something else if they don’t. So I hope you find this guide useful. Please share your feedback with me and with others by posting a comment below.
The website Beyond the PhD has 14 audio clips from PhDs who share their thoughts on the subject of ‘Deciding against an academic career’.