Tenure-Track? No, but thanks…

Who deliberately abandons the job security of the tenure-track to pursue what she considers truly fulfilling? Jane Jones! She shares her story with Stylish Academic below…

Jane Jones postI vividly recall the moment I decided to become a sociologist. As an undergraduate, I sat in a sociology seminar listening to the professor debate a graduate student (at my alma mater, undergrads and graduate students took classes together). I found myself enthralled. I don’t recall the subject matter, but I remember marveling that people could do this for a living. I wanted to do it too.

When I started graduate school, I made myself a promise. “You’re here to learn, and to gain something nobody can ever take away from you. That’s the goal. The goal is in the process, not the outcome.” I was never naïve enough to believe that I would automatically get a tenure-track job once I completed my studies. Indeed, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted a tenure-track job once I completed my dissertation.

In my graduate program – like many – it was assumed that a tenure track job was the brass ring for us all. In fact, I was cautioned more than once to remain silent about my desire to explore jobs outside of academia, lest I lose the attention of my committee. I wasn’t convinced that was true, but I certainly wasn’t brave enough to tempt it. So I dutifully wrote articles for submission, presented at conferences, and ultimately went on the job market. When I was offered a tenure-track position during the economic downturn, it felt like a major accomplishment, certainly something I couldn’t turn down. So I took the job, reasoning that if I didn’t do it now, I’d never have the opportunity again.

It was a mistake.

From the start, I felt as if I didn’t fit in. The small and parochial college suffocated me. Moreover, I was one of only six black women on the faculty – out of a faculty of nearly two hundred – and suffered the burdens of being thrust into the role of a spokesperson on all things diversity related.

I began to feel resentful. I had worked so hard to earn my PhD and get a job, and the job I had was not the job I wanted. What was all that hard work for? A nagging voice told me that if I had worked even harder, I’d have a better job – in a city proper, with more time for research, more resources, etc. I hated that voice.

Finally I stopped listening. Over time, I realized that it was academia more generally that was the problem. The veneer of intellectual autonomy, the lip-service given to issues of equity, and the constant demands on your time and spirit had completely swallowed what I had been drawn to all those years ago – the exchange of ideas.

When I resigned, the Dean asked me if there was anything he could do to convince me to stay. He offered an “administrative leave” where I’d be able to go do something else – anything else, really – for a year or two, and come back to my job. As tempting as this security sounded, I said no. I knew that once I left, I’d never want to come back. I still don’t.

In my current career as a writing consultant, I am finally reunited with the exchange of ideas. I work with clients on all sorts of projects, and I can focus on what’s important – the intellectual work. I devote more of my time to cultivating good writing than I ever did in my tenure-track job. I’ve left the academic career track behind, but I don’t regret going to graduate school. What I regret is allowing my desires to be shaped by others’ expectations.



The author, Jane Jones, is a New York-based academic author and consultant at upinconsulting.com. Her enterprise is committed to helping you achieve your career goals, whether that means writing more, writing better, managing your time, or negotiating the sometimes rocky terrain of academia. Her writing has been published in peer-reviewed sociology journals and public health outlets, and you can follow her on Twitter @janejoann and Facebook.

Feature Photo: Greg Westfall/Creative Commons

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