Thursday, January 12, 2012

What if I am doing the wrong thing?

I was planning on following up on a suggestion made on my last post, but something happened to me yesterday that has become more urgent.

I've got an interview next week for a research position with a not-for-profit organisation.

So this all sounds good right? 5 weeks in to my non-academic job search and I am getting interviews. (actually I had some interviews last year too, long before I really committed to the job search, so I should be hopeful that it's just a matter of time).

Yet all last night I was consumed with anxiety about whether or not this was the right course for me. (NB: they actually haven't offered me the job yet, I know).

My thought patterns went something like this:
- "oh my god - I would have to commute!" (only an hour, but still, for someone used to working from home this is a challenge)
-"would I ride my scooter or catch the train?" (hourse of fun figuring out +ves and -ves, traffic or new bigger bike versus reading time and length of journey)
- "The salary is way less than what I would get at my level if I was employed full-time as an aca" (academic salaries are actually really high here - if you're lucky enough to get a full-time job, that is. See my earlier post about 50% of university staff being employed on a contingent basis)
- "but there are tax adavantages to working for a charitable organisation" (get out the calculator)
- "how would I fit in workout time?" (not that much of a crisis, I admit, but still, requires thought - a healthy body = a healthy mind. Most important for morale maintaining in stressful times)
and then the really big clincher:
- "this would really mean leaving academia behind. Am I ready for that?"

Cue panic stations and  awful butterfly feelings. I couldn't even laugh out loud at 'Wipeout', one of my all time favourite TV shows because it is so ridiculously funny watching people fall off really stupid obstacles. Kind of like 'Funniest Home Videos' although funnier.

Anyway, I digress.

To summarise my position: despite spending every day writing job applications for non-academic jobs for weeks, I finally have an interview for a great position, but am now doubting whether this is the path I really want to take.

I started thinking: maybe I should keep working part-time so that I can write more articles in my spare time. This is also in part prompted by a senior colleague and mentor offering to get me an unpaid gig at the institution they work at so that I have an institutional address and library access. And also the fact that in the middle of a period of non-sleep last week I came up with some new article ideas for the project that I started at the end of last year that was meant to get me the next position.

But am I being ridiculous? Is a few more articles and another year of job insecurity really the answer? Or should I just get on with it and accept that there are plenty of great jobs available with more job insecurity and better benefits and that I don't have to keep treading water in the hope that one day I will get that elusive full-time aca role?


  1. Before the interview, push all doubts aside. Go to the interview and aim to make the best of it (I swear they can smell doubt). Doubts are understandable but you don't have an offer yet. Evaluate AFTER you have an offer. I don't know what your finances look like, but an unpaid gig doesn't sound like an especially good deal to me, even if it comes with library access. After all, if they can have you for free,why should they ever pay? Just my 2 cents. Good luck whatever you decide!

  2. Wow, this is a tough decision. I feel for you. Now, what I'm about to say is purely personal anecdotal "advice," so please feel free to do with it what you will.

    Last year, I applied to one nonacademic job. I got a call for an interview pretty quickly. Immediately, I FREAKED OUT. I became anxious, nauseated, highly emotional. Tears were involved. I think people close to me were surprised by my reaction, since I'd been talking about possibly going "nonacademic" for a little while at that point.

    After some thought, I decided (against the advice of many) to cancel the interview. Simply put, I just wasn't ready to "make the break" then. Even though, to be 100% honest, I now find that I'm mentally kicking myself A LOT of the time for not going on that interview, I think in many ways I made the right decision *for me* (I could have probably gone on the interview for the practice, but I just found it too overwhelming at the time). I suspect that if I'd taken that job, I would have always wondered "what if?" By giving myself this extra year to do the academic market again, to do the whole publish/teaching route again, I've allowed myself to really get to a point where I want to make the break. Case in point, I had no qualms at all when I got a call for an interview recently :)


  3. My advice is to go to the interview, but to NOT feel like you have to take it if you feel at all uncomfortable about it or unsure once you've talked to the potential employer.

    Doubts about whether you're doing the right thing are going to creep up from time to time during this process. I still have flashes of them, a year later, ESPECIALLY when I'm contemplating my next step. It's a big thing you're deciding to do, and as academics we're trained to overthink everything. No surprise that you'll be questioning and second-guessing yourself about a step as big as this one!
    Now, if you're waiting for a mythical moment when you will be 100% sure that leaving is the right thing to do, it probably won't come ... especially if you're leaving because of the job market and not because you no longer love the work. But all of the worrying in the world isn't going to get you an academic job, so all you can do is to moderate your anxiety and go to the interview ... and then when you're done, weigh the pros and cons of taking that job if offered v. doing something else. Then you'll be prepared (on a rational level, anyway) for whatever happens.

    However, I'll echo Currer ... if you are completely and totally freaking out - nauseous, emotional, unable to eat, panicked, etc. - then think about canceling if you really think you can't do it. (Oddly enough, that's what happened to me when I had interviews for *academic* jobs ... which ultimately made me realize loud and clear that I didn't want that life anymore. I felt no such anxiety over the nonacademic interview I had this past spring.) But if you're having total panic attacks about interviewing for an outside job, I'd say that maybe the best course of action is to just find a simple "for now" job that will pay the bills, and give yourself a few months or even a year to figure out what comes next in the long-term course of your career. That's what I'm doing, and it's been immensely helpful.

    Finally, good luck with whatever you decide!!!!

  4. Thanks for the tips everyone. I am feeling a little calmer about the interview/potential career change now. I am looking forward to the interview and seeing what happens next.