What I Learned About PhDs Who Left Academia

I’m so glad that I took this leap. I have no regrets, like zero regrets.
I was stuck in so many misconceptions that are a lot of ways that I thought of academia and the non-academic world that were just false.

– Dr. Ravit Dotan

I’m so glad that I took this leap. I have no regrets, like zero regrets.
I was stuck in so many misconceptions that are a lot of ways that I thought of academia and the non-academic world that were just false.

– Dr. Ravit Dotan

I recently interviewed five PhDs with diverse academic research backgrounds, personal backgrounds, and unique job titles that are not professors or teachers (in this traditional sense).

My goal was to learn more about their personal journeys outside of academia and to share the insights with academics (and non-academics). I wrote down a few of the major themes to help others make sense of their journeys. Obviously, five PhDs is not a great sample size (the academic in me speaking here) but even with the 5 interviews, they provided some important perspectives on why and how people left academia for careers not commonly known with folks with PhDs.

An Overview of Five PhDs With Fulfilling Careers

PhDs Don’t Regret Leaving Academia

Overall, PhDs who left academia in my interviews were generally happier. Their lack of regret and overall happiness manifested in a few different ways including:

  • Less Stress in Finances
  • Better Work and Life Balance
  • Happier Career Fulfillment
  • Less Toxic Work Culture

The bottom line is that a lot of academics that I see, and that was my personal situation too. They are at a point that is like often not their best in their lives. And they’re like, ‘I’m not sure that I’m even qualified to do anything else. I’m stressed out financially. I am at a low point of my self-esteem. I think I’m not capable of like doing anything else beside the academia.’ “

Dr. Ravit Dotan

There’s a joke post that goes around a bit that says, you may have to work seven days in academia, but the freedom to choose which seven days.

Dr. Ethan Levine.

Knowing what I know and how much fun I have doing the work that I’m currently doing, and just knowing that I’m contributing in a way that actually makes the gaming environment more enjoyable for people makes me feel really good and validated coming to work in a way that academia sometimes did, but quite often did not.

Dr. Kyler Boerstler

The First Job Outside of Academia Wasn’t Always Fulfilling or had Hardships

Through my conversations, the interviews also established that the path between academia and their current job was the result of previous roles that were not fulfilling.

For example, Dr. Boerstler discussed his journey after leaving academia and learning his job in Michigan fell through. He noted how “So I went from kind of having my career launching job, settled into in May I was unemployed with a PhD.”

Other PhDs also took on smaller roles to gain experience like internships and volunteered to gain experience outside of academia. While they may not have been financially fulfilling, they were important experiences and connections that helped shape the next step in their careers.

Covid-19 Was A Major Event In Their Lives

Out of the five academics I spoke to, three mentioned the role of Covid-19. For many PhDs including myself, Covid-19 spurred their job search, added anxiety in their lives, or changed academia as a whole. While the current academic system motivated people to leave, Covid-19 acted as a catalyst for many academics.

I defended my PhD in the summer of 2019. Then I stayed for a very short postdoc just to wrap up my paper and have it published. I was also lucky to start looking for a job during Covid, like just as Covid started.

Dr. Ayala Sela

There was just kind of a period of searching and waffling like, do I want to keep giving the academic track a shot? Do I want to wait out Covid and try for the clinical ethicist track again?

Dr. Boerstler

I was doing my PhD when Covid hit, I was in the sort of final year and I was teaching a lot and suddenly all of my teaching had to go online. Everyone’s teaching had to go online.

Dr. Miranda Melcher

Reach Out If You’d Like To Share Your Story

I hope to continue sharing the stories of PhDs who left academia. If you feel that you can’t handle the number of incoming requests to advise or tell your story, use After Your PhD to help reach more folks.

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Founder – Ryan Collins PhD