After more than 20 years in academia, I quit my job after receiving tenure. This decision is unthinkable for most doctoral students and professors whose careers take years to build, relationships to strengthen, and skills to polish. This decision might sound illogical, unreasonable, and absurd. I spent 5 years getting a Bachelor’s degree, 4 years finishing a Master's, and 7 years completing a Ph.D. Moreover, I spent 4 years trying to land a tenure-track job and 6 more as a probationary faculty member in an institution in the Midwest. Yes, I have spent half of my life in an academic setting! After all, I entered college at the end of the last century.
Deciding to quit your job after getting tenure is difficult. You have to deal with the grief of letting go of your old academic self, accepting that you are going to lose your academic affiliation and the privileges that you often took for granted and that you probably will not interact with those you used to see every year at conferences. You have to deal with mentors who do not want to see you go or with friends who offer unsolicited advice the moment that you say “I am leaving.” You have to explore new possibilities, confront some fears, and manage your emotions. You also have to think hard about what to do with hundreds of books that you acquired for years. In my case, I have hundreds of books about early modern Spanish theater, critical theory, and pedagogy. The last ones are easier to keep because no matter what I end up doing, I know in my heart that I will always be a teacher and help others succeed and learn as much as they can from me. Leaving academia is a loss. You will probably go through all the stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is also an exhilarating experience that brings new knowledge and skills. It is a period of endless opportunities that brings peace and joy. Certainly, it is not a linear process.
For me, the hardest part was to think about how to combine the things about academia that I enjoyed the most: teaching, writing, reading, planning, and advising. The reality is that after spending more than two decades in universities, it is normal to adapt your writing to academic expectations and style. You do research, you read, you write, you edit, you submit essays to academic journals and, then, you keep editing even after the paper gets accepted. You learn to use words like “however,” “ultimately,” and “posit” masterfully. You learn how to craft arguments and how to engage the reader. You write about topics that have a great impact, but only people in your niche will read or quote. In short, you will have a tough time reconnecting with other forms, types, and shapes of writing.
I left with two academic books and some articles in progress. Half of those writings need serious work, and the other half can easily be fixed within weeks or even days. But, since I was leaving academia, I had to ask myself what was the point of writing or finishing a journal article in my circumstances. I can always finish it later even if nobody reads it. I needed to reprogram my thinking to disconnect my writing from academic life and to rescue the creative side that attracted me to being an academic in the first place.
How I Decided to Keep Doing the Things I Love...
In one of the many conversations I had with my husband during this process, he recommended that I write a book about leaving academia. Yes, I am blessed with a partner who understands my need to write and read every day! My first reaction was to reject the advice. I knew that in the last few years there has been an increase of resources for those who get a Ph.D. but chose to follow the alternative route of not having an academic career. A few weeks before receiving my husband’s advice, I attended a webinar by Chris Caterine as suggested by my dear friend Mina García. I bought his book and devoured it in less than a week. Since Christopher Caterine’s book, Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide, is a great starting point to academics in recovery, I did not see what I had to offer until I realized that I could combine the things I love about academia and write about how to advise students who are interested in a career in Spanish but do not want to be teachers or professors.
Suddenly, the path of leaving academia was less about me. It was more about what I have to provide to those students doing a major in Spanish, applying to a job, or graduate school. I was an academic advisor for years and I served one year as an academic coordinator. My duties were advising students, assigning students to advisors, organizing recruiting events, and promoting programs. I learned a lot about the needs and worries of students, the importance of promoting academic offerings, and the obligation that faculty members, academic advisors, and mentors have in serving our students to have a career with their degrees.
Why Did I Name My Project Careers in Spanish (Even if I Focus on the Humanities)?
Despite the increasing need for Spanish in the workplace, there is little guidance on how to land a job with a degree in Spanish. Most efforts lie on the individual labor of faculty members and college advisors who did not necessarily follow the path of a career outside academia. There is a lot of advice on how to learn, practice, and use the language. Readers can find books, websites, journal articles, or posts on social media to improve speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills. However, where can students find the intangible knowledge that allows them to thrive with a degree in Spanish? Or, in the Humanities?
This blog is intended for any person interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in Spanish in the United States. Although the advice offered can apply to students finishing a degree in French, Italian, German, or any global language taught at most higher education institutions, I decided to focus on Spanish. First, Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi. Spanish speakers can communicate with people from more than 20 countries and represent the second largest population of languages spoken in the United States.
Second, Spanish continues to have a healthy number of students enrolled in most universities. There has been a trend of lower enrollments in French and German programs to the extent that some programs have been eliminated or put into a hiatus. Although some departments suffered from students abandoning programs, programs in Spanish are doing a little bit better.
Finally, I am more familiar with the language and can offer the specific, timely, and student-centered advice that I advocate.
And the Journey Started...
As I was writing this first blog post, I remembered a recording I listened to several years ago entitled “The Upside of Quitting.” The author was explaining quitting in economic terms: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk costs are those related to the past; in other words, money already lost and that cannot be recovered. Opportunity costs, on the other hand, are about the future. Opportunity costs refer to the loss of potential gain from other alternatives once you choose one option. I guess that by “quitting” my academic job and starting an advising blog, I am compromising these two costs. Since I made the decision, I have invested a lot of time in learning as much as I can about résumé writing and career coaching from the Professional Association of Résumé Writers and Career Coaches to better assist those students interested in Spanish or in the Humanities. I also have taken courses and read several books about Digital Marketing.
I realize some universities do not have Career Development offices under their Colleges of Arts and Sciences, the higher units that include programs in Spanish and other disciplines. Rather, they have a centralized office at the university-level that has to provide general support to all students. By combining teaching experience, academic advising, and career coaching, I have something powerful to offer to those doing a versatile degree such as Spanish and in the Humanities in general.
I hope you can join me in this new adventure by reading posts, expressing your thoughts in comments, sharing the website with your contacts, engaging with me on social media, and considering one of my services. Ultimately, this blog is for anyone who teaches, studies, and supports the Humanities and, particularly, Spanish!
Disclosure: Link to Caterine’s book redirects you to Amazon. I am part of the Amazon Affiliate Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a commission from qualifying purchases. You can buy the book, using this link.