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A Decision to Leave Academia?

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One year ago, I was sat in a room with my line manager being told that my one-year employment contract was not going to be extended. I was employed with one of the best psychology departments in Scotland and had been, up until then, enjoying my role of teaching students in many areas of psychology.

Colleagues had said that I would have no issues with my contract extension, however, the department decided that this was not the case and I was facing the fact that I may soon be job searching again.

I left that meeting feeling completely hopeless and disheartened, as if I was not good enough to be teaching university students. I began to question whether a position in a higher education institution was something that was right for me or whether I needed to do something completely outside of my previous experiences.

I spent quite a few weeks researching the different types of jobs I could do and considered alternative careers such as a market researcher where I could use the skills developed from my PhD in a more research focussed role. I applied for numerous roles and was told on that I was basically overqualified.

These comments made me completely regret some of the choices I had made throughout my life, like the decision to undertake a PhD and develop myself as an academic. I made one final attempt at applying for a role outside of academia and was (after interview) offered a position with a local bank.

The news of my academic contract not being extended came at one of the worst times I have ever faced in my life as I was also in the process of ending a 10-year relationship with a partner. That personal decision was not taken lightly, and I had received so much support from family and friends with my decision, but having two major changes happening in my life was quite a lot to take in – especially since there was now the possibility of having to move my life back home again after living away from home for so long.

While making my career decisions, I had to consider what impact this would have on me as a person and how my mental health may suffer. Would I be happy in a job outside of academia when I had worked so hard to achieve my goal of academic employment?

Would a career change be a positive thing for me, or would it be the complete opposite, boosting those feelings of academic failure? At the point of accepting the non-academic role, I was not entirely sure.

I decided to take the opportunity to speak to colleagues and different support people who helped me see that I was not a failure and that (sometimes) things do happen for a reason. When people first started saying this to me, I could not understand why as I could not see the end of the negativity in my life, but now, I can completely understand how life can change for the better.

I began applying for academic jobs again after taking a couple of weeks break to visit family and have some time away. I completed multiple long applications and difficult interview processes but I felt as though my hard work paid off and I was successful in being offered a Teaching Associate role at Loughborough University.

I think one of the main things which has helped me over the past few months is having such a supportive network. I understand that I can go to different people at work when I am unhappy or just generally bogged down and in my previous roles, this was not something I could have done. Although I could not see it at the time, a job back up in Scotland may not have been the best choice for me and I can now be grateful that my previous employer provided the short-term opportunity that they did.

I can thankfully now say that my decision to stay in academia was the right one for me. I am very happy in the role I am in and I currently work with some very supportive colleagues. I also feel as though I am being provided with the opportunity for personal growth and academic development which were opportunities that were not offered in my previous temporary roles.

If anyone is facing a similar situation of being unsure about their future career in academia, my advice would be to sit down and to talk to someone, anyone, whether it be a colleague, friend or someone completely impartial. For me, one of the biggest things that helped me (alongside talking) was time. I did not pressure myself into making quick decisions and made sure that the decisions felt right for me.

Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. 


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