Life is interesting, isn't it? Sometimes there are unexpected twists and turns that you never imagined would happen. Sometimes you try as much as you can to plan something, yet it constantly fails, only to have a very unpredictable and unplanned development succeed. This state of affairs has happened to me again recently, when I realized I am leaving academia. So what happens next?
See, I tried to remain in academia. After all, that was the most logical next step given my educational attainments. I got good grades in university, and they were good enough to get into graduate school, and get funded along the way. I spent 7 years in graduate school, and shortly before I graduated, I bagged a postdoctoral research scientist position. After that, the most logical next step was a tenure-track assistant professorship.
Except that didn't happen.
Oh believe me, I tried. For two years I was on the academic job market. I poured my time and effort to creating the best job application documents. I even considered hiring a job coach that specializes in the academic job market. I read advice columns and blogs giving advice on how to make stellar documents, and how to deliver a fantastic performance in interviews. I did score a couple of interviews, but as you probably have guessed, nothing really came to fruition.
In the meantime, life happened. I found myself married, with a wonderful spouse who was willing to temporarily uproot his own career and move almost anywhere in the world if such a move is necessary for my career development. Heck, we even started doing research (and probably spooked ourselves in the process) on how it would be like to live in places like St. Louis, Missouri (too much crime); Los Angeles, California (too many cars); or Reno, Nevada (too many casinos). Long story short, after two years of suspended existence, where I didn't know if we were going to move out of Berlin or not, I figured I was being unfair to my spouse. So it was time to leave this mindset.
At the same time, I started falling more and more in love with Berlin. Hey, I am used to moving around. I've done 9 international moves, my move to Berlin being the last one. I'm used to having no roots. I never really cared for what kind of city I'm going to move into: my moves to Buffalo and Berlin weren't really motivated by how awesome Buffalo or Berlin was, but rather, because there was a position waiting for me there. Only later did I slowly learn the positive traits of the city I was moving into. And I must say, Berlin is the best city I've lived in, so far. I would even go as far as to say that I would have a hard time finding a city that can compete. In short, I want to stay here.
So all of these factors more or less contributed to my decision to leave academia. When my contract ended by the end of last year, I found myself unemployed. I needed to re-program my profile and (re-/un-)learn many things. I made good use of Coursera. I taught myself new skills. I aimed to de-specialize. I climbed down the ivory tower.
Welcome to the real world.
I do something different now. And I must say, I like it.
So, was it worth going to graduate school and spending 7 years to attain a PhD? Sometimes I wonder about that question. But come to think of it, I cannot deny the fact that graduate school was the element that allowed me to be where I am right now. It was an amazing ride, and along the way I met the most amazing people. So in that respect I think it was still worth it.
So yes, goodbye academia. I've spent a decade in academia, and now I am done with it. I got my PhD, I published a bunch of papers, I have made my contribution to the collection of human knowledge, and I am moving on.
This is a wild ride, so fasten your seat belts.