There are a lot of major life changes going on for us right now. One of the first came to a head this week.
I make no secret that I’m a university professor. It looks like a slack job when people look at things like hours in the classroom — and, to be honest, the perks and working conditions can’t be beat, even if the salaries are low relative to training — but it’s really a very stressful job.
I’m at a “Research I” university, meaning the pressure to stay on the grant-funding treadmill is enormous. Deadline after deadline, with very low success rates (5-8% at National Institutes of Health these days) . It’s especially bad right now with the ongoing federal funding cuts and meddling in funding policies from politicians, very few of whom know or care anything about the process of science. So it’s a high-risk high-reward strategy, and to hit most people submit several per year. And they’re not trivial to do.
That’s aside from teaching. As a research university, we have lower course loads than teaching-based places, but my department’s is still higher, with more irritating policies, than many of the universities we’re aspiring to join.
To get back on track, I met with my department chair on Thursday to tell him I’m leaving before Fall term starts. I’m already on disability this term. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is aggravated by stress, and I don’t know if I’ll ever regain the stamina to successfully teach in the classroom (something I’m not especially good at anyway).
I don’t have a full income replacement income set up yet, but I’m determined to make it work. Yes, I’m giving up a tenured position to get on the soft-money (i.e., grants) track. After all I said about grants, if I’m not faculty, I don’t have to lead them. Just have to support other people, some of whom are much better at writing them than I am. And in the grant game, success breeds success. It’s much easier to get a grant if you’ve already had them. I’ve had one great one that ends this Summer, but a lot of misses before and since.
So I’m negotiating with several institutions (two of which I already moonlight for) to come on as part-time, hoping to build over time to full-time (or at least full-benefits threshold) at one of them. I’m also working up to actively marketing my consulting business — the full website should be online within a week, as well as an updated resume’ for freelance sites. I haven’t written one in decades, relying on the long CV academics use.
These are not low-stress things, but better than I’d be expected to do come Fall. And they’re things I’m better at. I’m a great supporting player, not a great lead. And I enjoy the supporting role. And I’m very good at a high-demand niche specialty.
And, bless (some of) those politicians anyway, the Affordable Care Act lets me do this ( #ThanksObama ). With my health problems, I’d never have been able to leave a secure job. Even with the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions, I could never have found coverage on the private market before this year’s implementation.
All that said, I feel good about this. This week was a horrorshow before Thursday in terms of stress and anxiety — but I’m also (with Jalan’s support) better at managing that than ever before. A rough stretch now is not remotely comparable to a rough stretch two years go. And the meeting went better than I could have imagined.
This is one of the few major decisions I’ve made as an adult for the primary goal of making my own life better. Fleeing to a different state from the first wife was one. Marrying Jalan was another. But this is another big one. And it’s for my own sake.
I’m proud of myself. Jalan’s proud of me. We will make this work. And I feel better already.