Falling out of love with working so much- My story

Updated: Jul 22



This is going to be a long one… I’ve been wanting to write this all down for a while, to process it, and to see if anyone else out there might be in the same position.

Here it goes- I fell in love hard with academia. I didn’t even know what a PhD was when my fourth year undergraduate Honours supervisor suggested that I do one… As soon as I started my PhD, I was in love. I chose my topic- body image issues in trainee Health and Physical Education teachers- as it had personal relevance to me, and the reading and writing of my literature review served as a therapy of sorts.

I hadn’t even finished the PhD when I became obsessed with the job search. There weren’t many ongoing gigs in Health and Physical Education, but I landed one and loved it. I could easily have been torn away from research as I loved the teaching, and it was all-consuming, but a wonderful colleague encouraged me to do a post-doc, I won a fellowship and headed off to England for a year where I re-gained research momentum and worked on my network.

We came back from England 8-months pregnant and I went straight from my fellowship to maternity leave. I got bored about 3-months after giving birth, and agreed to co-author a book during nap times. When my first was 8-months old, a Senior Lecturer role came up at a university much closer than the one I was on maternity leave from, and I got so excited to jump back into a new challenge. I attempted to pick up the pace on my research again, and dove into my new role. Fast forward 18 months and I was heavily pregnant again… this time with twins! After taking 8 months' maternity leave I came back and found that the leadership role I had been in wasn’t needed any more, but there was a new one I could try. Once again, I threw myself back in - keeping up my research as though I hadn’t been away from it for 8 months, changing the classes I was teaching, and running at my leadership position …

Except that I couldn’t go full speed… We couldn’t afford childcare for 3 kids at once. I had to go part time. I tried all sorts of different time fractions to see if we could get the balance right, but I always had waaay to much to do, and felt like I was failing at all of my roles- parenting included. I was performing ok by external standards, but just never felt like I could catch up, and I didn’t want to let my family, my students, and my colleagues down.

This was all happening in Melbourne… a city that I had grown to love, and that I assumed that we would stay in. But after one particular visit back to my home town in country NSW, I realised that I wanted to raise my family in the space and freedom of the country. There were lots of reasons, and a strong rationale at the time- but all of them were personal, not professional. There aren’t any jobs in said home town, and even after 2 years of looking, nothing has come up, even though there is a small University in the area.

My university changed a few things about the way that they allocated research time, and I ended up managing to negotiate to just keep my research + supervision fraction, give up the teaching and leadership, and do all of this from interstate. So I am now working remotely through my university (but so is everyone else because of COVID-19 at the moment!) in the mid-north coast of NSW. This was meant to be a temporary arrangement while I got another job… but there aren’t any! (To my colleagues, don't worry, I am still here, still working hard at all of the things, and not going anywhere just yet!)

But somewhere along the way, I have realised that I didn’t want another full time job like the one that I left. One where you are always overcommitted at 155%, where you can’t let any work balls drop as there is no one else to pick them up, and where you technically have flexibility to work around your children, but it’s just that- you are always working around them- at all hours!

So I think it’s time to test the waters outside of academia. Most of all, it’s because I’ve realised that I am not that 5% of researchers who will get the big ARC and NHMRC grants, and without the teaching and leadership to give me a sense of achievement, the rejection from journals and granting bodies is starting to become a bit much. I also have a desire to use some of my other skills in research translation and impact, and to work at a faster pace, and in more innovative ways, that just don’t fit within the academic job description. It’s been a great 15 years, but I think I’m ready to move on…

It’s become pretty clear that I will need to start my own business. I've been learning about innovation, lean start up models and business for a while now, and I want to put them to use. So I am starting a not-for profit research translation company, The Body Confident Collective. The aim is to disseminate the body image resources that many researchers develop, but never get to disseminating. I’m excited about this, but the pace is slow as there are so many hurdles to jump over.

But my new love is this little project: Well Researched. Actually, I think it is lust as it’s all I’ve been able to think about and I’ve been working on it all weekend! I just can’t ignore this noisy voice inside my head telling me that there might be other people out there who might need guidance on how to maintain their wellbeing in an academic job, and who want to have impact beyond Academia, but they are not sure how to do it.

Leaving academia can be a really lonely journey to embark on- you can’t really talk to your colleagues about it- they still want to stay in. And unless your partner has a PhD, they don’t really understand either. There is no clear path to follow in leaving academia (unlike the very clear path in!), and it’s hard to know what to do next. After having some really interesting conversations with others who had left academia, done their own thing, or worked in industry I had this moment where I realised that it might be helpful for other people to hear the sorts of things that were said in that conversation, and I wanted to share the love.


So what is this? Well Researched is a blog, resource hub, and podcast that aims to provide stories, strategy and support to maintain your wellbeing and have impact.

Please follow the links to the Well Researched Facebook Group, and contact my via PM or email to get in touch!

Let’s come together, share our journeys, and learn from each other.


Zali

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