It is not you, it’s me.
Okay, that is a lie, it is pretty much both of us.
While we have some good memories and I will always cherish our times together, it is time for me to move on. Yes, I am breaking up with you academia.
This is not a decision I make lightly, or even one that I came to naturally. Ever since I was in undergrad, all optimistic and full of hope, I held onto the dream that one day I would be a professor.
A professor like the kind I had at Austin College. A professor students call by their first name. A professor that talks to you in a straight forward and non-condescending manner about wide-ranging ideas and life decisions. A professor that challenges you to think about how to cut through the red tape that life throws at you. I firmly believe that my time at Austin College helped make me the person I am today (yes, as cheesy as it sounds) and a huge part of that was interacting with kind, knowledgeable, and awesome professors.
My experience at Austin College opened my eyes to the world; through courses such as Native American Literature and the Philosophy of Art, through studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and through taking multiple courses on Leadership Theory. I learned so much, but I also learned a lot about myself. I learned that while I may not be the smartest student in the room, I could always be the hardest working. And that it is actually really wise to surround yourself with smarter people, you get more done that way! I learned what it meant to be a global citizen and how to give back through serving my community. My dream of being a professor, in an idealized world, put me back in a place like Austin College, where I could help others find out who they really are.
I didn’t head straight to you academia. First, I took a detour to a charter school in south Dallas. Being a middle school teacher was one of the hardest things I have ever done, also nothing I had ever really dreamed I would be. I had trained and received my MA in Elementary Education. But, sometimes life has other plans for you. I loved teaching middle school! Sharing the power of words with young children is one of the greatest joys of my life, also one of the most exhausting.
But academia, I couldn’t say away for long. After 5 years in the classroom I headed back your way. My journey took me to the University of Texas at Austin, specifically the Educational Psychology department, to begin my PhD.
I honestly did not realize what I was getting myself into! While I was not a first generation college student, I was a first generation advanced degree student. I had successfully navigated my first MA with minimal problems, so I didn’t think getting another MA and PhD would be that different. Little did I know.
Thankfully I had an amazing advisor, lovely lab, and dependable department supporting me on my journey. I was surrounded by thoughtful, encouraging, and brilliant people. Once again, I was not the smartest person in the room, so I overcompensated by working really, really hard. My PhD journey was one of the most difficult 6 years of my life, but at no point in time did UT Austin make me feel like I could not do it. Often they were the tiny voices and loud shouts telling me to continue on!
Don’t get me wrong academia, I know you are not always so kind. Nor always so supportive. As a minority woman in social sciences I am well aware of all the possible hurdles put up, both institutionally – through racism and discrimination, and psychologically – through impostor syndrome and psychologically controlling people. I had heard stories, horrible stories, from colleagues at other institutions.
However, I never thought it would happen to me.
Then I began my post-doc.
While I won’t get into specifics, all my illusions around the wonders of higher education were shattered. I felt like I was doing isolating, worthless work. I did not see how my time spent in my strange little office (which, let’s be honest was a storage room), sitting in my uncomfortable chair, attempting to write and thinking about complex motivational theories and parental ethnic-racial socialization practices made any real difference in this world. It felt so removed from all I had envisioned about being a PhD.
It took less than 12 months, but I came to the conclusion that academia was no longer for me. Something that I had been working towards since the early 2000’s I was ready to walk away from.
Then the universe showed me a possible next step. I was recruited to work in Corporate America. This is something I had never really thought I would do, but hey I never thought I would teach middle school and that worked out reasonably well.
The next step is super scary, as is anything unknown. But while I do have some good memories of you academia, I do realize it is time to go. I need to stop holding on to a relationship that is so clearly not working.
I am heading to a place that values my skills, values my hard work, and values me. I am not sure you value me academia. So, it is with a heavy heart that I tell you goodbye.
I wish you the best,
Dr Ari V