New Job, New Adventure: Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone and Out of Academia
As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I have some news to share:
I accepted a job offer two weeks ago. And it’s a non-academic job.
Now before y’all get all hype and confused and whatnot let me explain.
As many of you know, I left a tenure-track position at VCU to move back to Maryland for mostly personal reasons. My husband Derek got a promotion, and I decided that it would be better for us to be closer to friends and family (see FB note announcement below).
However, I will admit that I also left VCU last year a little unsure of whether I am meant to stay on an academic career trajectory. The tenure-track path was really tough and stressful, (a lot harder than I expected TBH), and as much as I loved the flexibility of academia and teaching students, there were aspects of the job that (for me) were hard to contend with, such as:
- Students’ laser focus on getting an A vs. actually learning in the classroom;
- The invisible labor that comes with being a minority faculty member, and the little mechanisms in place at universities to recognize that reality;
- The truth about tenure: that it can vary from institution to institution, and even then it is a moving target that ranges from too rigid to not clear enough;
- The expectation that constantly being stressed about work is the norm, which for me led to extreme anxiety and depression;
- The constant feeling of imposter’s syndrome that what I do isn’t good enough and that I’m a fraud despite my many accomplishments;
- The additional standards placed on women in academia, such as how we look or how we speak, which in turn can impact student evaluations; and
- The tendency of constantly being busy and spilling our work into other areas of our lives, which can make unplugging (and relaxing with friends and family) very difficult.
Please note that this clearly isn’t the reality for everyone, but these were some of the issues that came to mind when reflecting on my own lived experience.
And yes, I will be completely and utterly honest: I know that a lot of this is on me. I am a recovering perfectionist and I’ve always gone above and beyond the call of duty when it came to work. I also get really emotionally invested, oftentimes to the point of negatively impacting my health. But lately I began asking myself: At what cost?
And so I had to do some soul searching.
This past year I was the Managing Director of the Oral Communication Program in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, my beloved alma mater. I am so grateful to the Department for allowing me to come back and try my hand at administration in higher ed, something I was interested in pursuing for a while. The added bonus was being able to see my mentors on a more frequent basis, and come back to a campus I’m familiar with and love.
I dove right into work, as I always do, trying my best to set up a calendar, trying hard not to be so upset with myself when I didn’t know how to do something, playing into my strengths and networking with entities all across campus.
But I also struggled, trying to manage expectations among the many constituencies I interacted with (i.e., graduate students, professional track faculty, undergraduate studies, etc.) and equally trying not to take things personally when those expectations could not be met (a hard enough feat when you are prone to social anxiety that includes LOTS of ruminating). I was the go-to person for faculty and student issues, which gave me opportunities to deal with conflict and engage in empathetic listening, but left me emotionally drained. I represented UMD’s basic course on campus, wrote assessment reports, and even taught a section of COMM 107 (something I had not done since 2010), but I realized that I missed my identity as a PR person.
And so, an opportunity came up to be a PR person again.
After this opportunity presented itself I did a lot of thinking (along with some discussing with my husband), and ultimately I decided to give the industry end of things a whirl.
After many many years of schooling and four years of teaching PR at the faculty level, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to go forth and finally practice what I’ve been preaching to my students.
Next week, I start my position as a copywriter for the in-house marketing team at Vectorworks, an engineering tech firm based in Columbia, MD.
Although I’m a bit nervous, I am excited to go into the private sector, write for different kinds of audiences, get into a more structured and consistent schedule, and join a team that I seem to get along with and seems to be equally pumped to have me on board.
Did I expect to be making this career change four years into obtaining my Ph.D.? Nope. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this crazy ride we call life, you never know what twists and turns are going to be thrown at you.
I’ve decided to submit to the turn and see where it takes me next.
SO LET’S DO THIS.