Beyond academia | PhD tips

PhD Nonsense #3: “You’ve failed if you leave academia”

This is a new mini series featuring a some of the stupid, crappy things I’ve heard or been told throughout my PhD and my responses to them >>>

“What?? You don’t want to stay in academia?”
“But what about your CAREER?”
“You don’t want an academic job? What a waste of your PhD!”

“Only failures and quitters would leave academia!”

We all know at least one asshole like this, right? The kind who genuinely, earnestly believe that unless you sail straight into an academic role/post-doctoral fellowship, you have failed.

Oh boy, where do I start with this.

The only thing that this sort of thinking proves is how narrow-minded, blinkered and obnoxious some academics can be.

A PhD does not have to lead exclusively to an academic career.

Let me repeat that for all of you in the back:

A PhD does not have to lead exclusively to an academic career.

And thinking that it does – or that it is the (only) pinnacle of your life’s work – is extremely short-sighted.

There is nothing (literally nothing) that dictates that the skills and qualities you develop from doing a postgraduate degree – whether it’s a taught or research programme – are to be used only within the remit of an academic space.

Nor that you are only valuable and successful if you stay within academia.

The skills and qualities you develop are widely ranging, versatile and useful across a huge range of sectors, industries and career choices.

Plenty of history/sociology/biology undergraduates who go on to pursue massively successful careers in something that seems completely unrelated to their degrees – investment banking, consultancy, advertising, tech start-up, stand-up comedy, photography…

Some examples:

I have a friend who did an engineering degree who now holds a high-powered role as VP of an international consultancy specialising in financial forensics.

Another friend of mine studied physics at university and is now a writer who has other bestselling authors and coaches banging down her door and throwing money at her to work for them.

And yet another friend who studied something he wasn’t that interested in (also physics), barely scraped at 2:2, rolled into an accountancy job by accident and then went on to become one of the top brass at a global company, with multiple top-management postings around the world.

None of these friends even pursued postgraduate study. They did a ‘basic’ undergraduate degree, legged it out of academia as soon as they could and went on to do extremely well.

So, if people with *only* an undergrad certificate can go on to do all kinds of weird and wonderful – and wildly successful – things, imagine what postgraduates and PhD candidates can go on to do.

No matter what stage of your research you’re in, please remember that you are not just an academic or just a researcher.

You’re also a rich, multifaceted, rounded human being with so many other qualities, talents, interests, skills and passions that can lead you on to doing so many other things, and to enjoy so many other kinds of success beyond the ivory towers of academia.

Anyone who tells you otherwise…
Anyone who tells you that the only success is academic success…
Anyone who tells you that you are ‘not good enough’ if you leave academia…

Well… it says a lot more about their limitations than it does about yours.

And honestly, who the fuck cares what they think about your career choices, ambitions, goals and dreams.

Their opinions won’t matter a job when you’re living your happiest best damn life.

PS I’m not knocking academic careers. If you decide to stay in academia, love it, thrive in it and wouldn’t have it any other way – then that is the only and very best thing I could wish for you. Just please don’t be a turd and make anyone else feel less-than for not choosing that same path.

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