What It’s Like to be a “Recovering Academic”

I grew up in academia, first as a student, then as a professional, then again as a student, and then again as a professional as jobs, vocations, and life shifted. I thought academia was truly my niche and that I’d be in it forever.

Then I made the very conscious decision one day to leave academia entirely. That was almost two years ago.

Those two years have been a self-rehabilitation, wherein I’ve discovered I’ll always label myself a “recovering academic” because of my experiences in being in, as well as departing from the ivory tower.

Recovering Over Recovery

“Recovering” is an interesting way to pose a departure from a certain career path, because most jobs and careers don’t require rehabilitation. I use the word recovering in my departure from academia like how addicts refer to themselves when going through rehabilitation and reintegration. It’s how I also referred to myself when I departed from religion, labeling myself a “Recovering Catholic” for life.

In recovery from something, either addiction, a way of life, trauma, or a certain identity you held onto, you know that within your psyche holds the imprints of certain behaviors, ways of thinking, worldviews, choices, and habits.

Recovery isn’t instant, it’s a long-drawn-out process where you have to re-wire your thinking and change the way you react to certain stimuli and triggers. Recovery doesn’t always have a definite beginning or an end, where you’re “recovered”. Thus, in my experiences, I’m still recovering from literally growing up in academia, and integration into the world outside the gates has been a process I’ve reflected on daily since I made the decision to seek other paths.

When you’re “in” academia, you don’t just see it as a job. You become academia. Your behaviors, ways of working, methods of relating to people, and rules of engagement become imprinted into your identity as an academic. By being within the walls of the ivory tower, especially in senior or tenured positions, you’re given a certain pass to embrace the worldview, behaviors, and quirks and way of interacting with others with the generally accepted belief that in genius is insanity. I’ve seen a lot of excuses made for people’s negative and unorthodox behaviors, just because they’re “academics”. I never bought that.

I Was Where I Thought I Belonged

My whole career in academia I was tasked with bridging the gap between what the academics were doing, and the rest of the world. I saw the underbelly of academic employment within the HR department which gave me more lessons than I could count. As a community engager, my favorite part of my academic career, my job was to show what was relevant within the institution to the outside world and bring intel from the real world back through the gates.

I got myself more educated so that I could talk the talk of academics and that would give me some validation as a worthy professional by the letters following my name. I thought that would help me straddle the two worlds better. Sometimes it did, but oftentimes I found myself hiding my heart in favor of presenting only my brain.

Then Shift Happened

I was proud of my job and my institution, and the strides I’d taken to position myself as a real-world person amongst the academics with an academic mind, yet I always struggled with this. In many of my performance reviews, the issue of being “too concerned with outside the institution” became an ongoing issue. Who was I truly loyal to, and did I truly align with the values of an academic institution?

I got the chance to find out through a life-altering work-related trip to East Africa that became the defining moment where I asked myself “where do I belong”? I acted as a human and not as the academic I was supposed to, and I got myself in trouble with the ivory tower.

This moment was when I realized that the way I am experiencing the world is incongruent with my position within the academy. I found that I could no longer force myself to look at everything academically because my heart and humanity stood in the way, and I wasn’t going to squash the human in me in favor of the academic. I left the job I thought I’d have forever.

Further attempts to devote my professional work to serving the community and the academy at the same time failed miserably. I found that the academy just didn’t always work well beyond their gates, while being faced with the true and harsh reality that universities just aren’t that relevant. Most people see academic institutions as mere places within the city that they don’t understand that serves a purpose only for those who were privileged enough. Ouch. Time for a reality check.

I Ran…. FAR

I left in pursuit of a new home, new way of seeing the world, and a new career in entrepreneurship.

I then learned that you can take the girl out of academia, but you can’t necessarily take the academic out of the girl, hence why I call myself a recovering academic.

Every day in my career as an educator and writer, I look to universities, research centers, peer-reviewed journals, and academic bodies of knowledge to validate the information I take in and disseminate through my work. In my mind is engrained the idea that I can’t truly know something to be true unless some researcher within their lab, office, or home computer looked at it in a scientific and academic way and published it in a paper that will give me that proof I look for in everything.

As a recovering academic, I’m stuck in this ironic, polarized, yet whacky pattern of identity and behavior where I want to be so critical of an institution I always felt was so far away from “real life”, yet I still look to the academic way of thinking on any issue within the world external to the academy that I work on or act within.

Someday I’ll get that balance, as I find the distance from my old identity and build new relationships and discover a new career trajectory. While I’m almost certain that there isn’t a future in academia for me, I am in so many ways thankful of holding that position within the institution where I was able to walk the line between the academic world and the rest of the world. It helped me think, be critical, and ask questions. It helped me find my place in the world (for now). It helped me be more thoughtful and intentional, recognizing people’s perceptions dictate everything.

I always think about how knowledge and information effects real people and will always defend the pursuit of quality, vetted information over crap you read on the internet. I’ll always dabble in the areas of research, knowledge translation, and will be a forever advocate for the open access movement. I’ll always be a nerd, and someone who thrives on knowledge, research, data, information and the pursuit of curiosity. I just don’t need any more letters following my name to prove it.

My name is Anne-Marie Fischer Moodie, and I’m a proudly recovering academic.

 

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