Leaving Academia: One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

One day last summer I had lunch with my friends Nate and Brett at a local burrito joint. During the course of our conversation the topic of my uncertain future had come up. Nate, an entrepreneur who followed his passion for motorcycles into a new career, said something that really stuck with me. I don’t remember his exact wording, but it was something along the lines of “the best way to move forward is to cut the ties that are holding you back.” Nate’s words have been on my mind a lot over the past seven months, and I’m excited (and a bit frightened…) to say that my ties have now been cut.

Last Monday was a day I will never forget. Everyone will remember it as the day that the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, and I’ll remember it for that as well. But, just a few hours prior to the tragedy, as the elite women were nearing the finish line, I was pressing the send button on an email to the Dean of my college announcing my intent to resign my faculty position at the end of my current contract (May 18). I had decided to quit a secure job to pursue my passion. Needless to say, it was a very emotional day…

My decision to leave academia was a long time in the making. I don’t recall exactly when the thought first entered my mind, but the momentum started to build rapidly last summer. Just before Christmas I requested and was granted a one-year, unpaid leave of absence so that I could contemplate my future and test the non-academic waters a bit. That gave me some time, but over the past few months I’d come to realize that a leave of absence was only delaying a decision that my heart had already made. It was time for a change.

Deciding to leave a tenured faculty position was not easy. In fact, it was terrifying. Having a tenured position is what most people in my line of work dream of, and most stick with it for life. It’s hard to let go of security and a stable paycheck, but I came to realize that happiness means more to me than security or money. I kept asking myself if I’d be happy doing the same thing for the next 25 years, and the fact that the answer was never yes was telling.

There were a lot of factors that went into making the final call. I’ve come to realize that though I love teaching, I’m not in love with academia. I’ve studied or worked in colleges and universities for the past 20 years, and I’m feeling a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the state of higher education. I don’t enjoy committee work, and I can’t stand academic politics. I don’t like that education is becoming more and more of a business where the bottom line matters above all else. The cost of a college education scares the heck out of me, and I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way of doing things (I’m intrigued by the thought of teaching a few classes as an adjunct at a local community college). I’ve come to hate the fact that I spend over an hour a day commuting in my car, and even more hours sitting in a chair in front of an office computer. More than anything I hate spending my days far away from my family. I could go on and on, but no need to air any more dirty laundry.

Perhaps bigger than any of the negatives that forced my decision is the fact that I’m incredibly excited about the options I have going forward. When I started this blog, I had no idea of the opportunities that it would open up for me. I had no idea that it would become an avenue to support my family. And I had no idea that it would allow me to continue teaching, just in a different way than in a traditional classroom lecture. I’ve fallen in love with writing, and I’ve come to realize that what makes me happy is helping others to get active and stay active. The latter has become my passion, and is the center that links all of my future activities together.

So what exactly is it that I will be doing with myself as I move forward? There are three main directions I’m pursuing, all running related, and all with a central goal of getting people active.

1. Websites. I’m going to continue to write here on Runblogger, and this will likely consume the biggest chunk of my time (it already does!). We are also nearing a launch for our Run Radar site, so I’m excited about getting that up and running.

2. Coaching. A few weeks ago I started coaching a beginner 5K group through my town rec with a friend I met through a running workshop I co-taught last summer (Erin Girzone). I never realized how rewarding something like this could be. The experience has made me realize that a coach is very much a teacher, and I’ve spent several workouts talking about exercise physiology with other adults out on the track (teaching on the track is way more fun than in a classroom!).

Erin and I are already planning on running our beginner 5K program again in the Fall, and are talking about building programs for longer distances as well for those who want to continue on from the 5K. We are focused on working with total beginners for now, as well as those looking to make a first attempt at a longer distance race. Our approach is comprehensive (form, footwear, strengthening, etc.) and extremely gradual, and is seems to be working well so far.

In addition to the 5K program, I’ve also been invited to be part of the coaching team at one of the Craftsbury Running Camps in VT this summer. Super excited about that!

3.  Clinical Work. My friend Brett Coapland has invited me to join his clinic (Performance Health Sport and Spine Therapy) as an exercise physiologist/gait analyst/form coach/shoe guy. I’ve worked informally with several of Brett’s patients over the past year and have very much enjoyed doing so – I’m so used to teaching students about the human body that it’s been a refreshing change to actually use my knowledge in an applied way. I will be working out of his offices at least a few days per week to start beginning next month, and we have a lot of big ideas about where this could go!

And so, off I head down a new path, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m giving up a salary, but refocusing on things that I love which should be able to support my family. And I will find my way!

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. John Sentz says:

    Pete,

    Good luck! I’m pulling for you! Also I’m a little envious ;)

  2. Mike Mauritzen says:

    As someone entering the academic profession, I hold many of the same reservations. Best of luck to you!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Don’t let my experience cloud your future, but do realize there are options outside academia if life leads you in another direction.
      Sent from my iPad

  3. Dan Caouette says:

    You’re a brave man to follow your heart instead of the paycheck. You have a very supportive spouse! ;) Best of luck, Pete!

  4. Best of luck. The running community needs people like you!

  5. Louise Bourque Cunningham says:

    I have to commend you Pete, for taking the risk and following your heart. There are so many of us out there that want to do it too but aren’t as brave. I wish you all the happiness in the world!

  6. Marty Zaleski says:

    Congrats. Having returned to do an MSc after over a decade in consulting, I know precisely what you mean about the nonsense at the degree mill. Happy trails.

  7. steve speirs says:

    Fantastic! Good luck, Pete. Many congratulations on the bold move.

  8. Pete, you’ll never look back. I’m really proud of you. Fear is the only reason most people don’t take control of their lives and pursue what truly makes them happy. It won’t always be easy, but you’ll never regret chasing down your true passion. Congrats!

  9. Congratulations, Pete. It would be an understatement to say this is my favorite running website-heck, it might just be my favorite website. All the best on this next chapter, and looking forward to the Run Radar launch as well.

  10. PurdueMatt says:

    Best of luck Pete!

  11. julie wheeler says:

    congratulations on your new and exciting journey!

  12. Congratulations and success to you on your new endeavors! A lot of us have been in the same position as you; some of us (like me) have found increased happiness and success. I have no doubt you’ll be joining us that have found our level of “nirvana.”

  13. NextScientist says:

    I am also planing on leaving academia.

    Here is my take on how I approach finding a job in industry after your PhD.

    Hope you find it useful.

    Julio

  14. Congrats Peter! 8:-)

    I wish success in your brand new life. I am sure others members of your fan club from Quebec city are as happy as I am to read that you made the move to hapiness. 8;-)

  15. bdizzlefizzle says:

    Fantastic to see you fully committed. I knew you would when your sabbatical was over, but good for you to see the inevitable and right path so much sooner and be bold.

    My dream is to leave my job and do http://www.newbodi.es full time, but it’s definitely not yet at a point where it could support my family – but if you don’t put the time in, you can never put the time in – a paradox that demands being bold at some point. You’re inspiring me to be bold.

    Thanks and good luck!
    Bryan

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Bryan! It’s not a decision I took lightly, but in the end it’s the right one for me and my family.
      Sent from my iPad

  16. Greg Strosaker says:

    Really exciting news Pete, and best of luck. I’m hoping to make a similar leap myself someday, but that day is years off (and I’m happy enough to keep it that way for now).

  17. Ryan Clements says:

    Pete -

    This is a great post, and I appreciate your authenticity. Your words really speak some truth into some situations I’m finding myself in the middle of as well.

    Much success to you in your endeavors!

  18. Topaz Hurvitz says:

    Wish you all the luck in the world!

  19. Holly @ Run With Holly says:

    Just popped over from Amy (Run Write Hike)’s blog – don’t know how I missed you in the blogosphere for so long. As someone who pulled the plug on academia just after completing her PhD, my position isn’t quite the same – but my reasons for staying out aren’t so different. Many of my peers are finding themselves in a similar place – but reading about a similar journey from someone much higher up the academic ladder has been interesting. Thanks for sharing, and good luck!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Holly, things have been great so far since I made the switch. No August back-to-school stress this year!
      Sent from my iPad

  20. Sarah @RunFarGirl says:

    Congratulations! I hope this also means a few more seminars like the one you and Brett put on last August.

  21. kellydomara says:

    Glad to hear it. Good luck!

  22. patrick voo says:

    congrats pete – not just about the future, but making that hard decision to be willing to explore where your potential might take you, rather than settling for a life of what-might-have-been!

  23. Good luck, Pete. All the best!

  24. Kevin Schell says:

    Good for you, Pete! Go get the happiness. We’ll be expecting one blog post per day at minimum. ;-)

  25. Marlo Wahbeh says:

    I love to hear stories like yours. It’s always refreshing to hear of someone following their dreams, making positive life changes and sharing that experience with others. Congratulations and best of luck to you!

  26. Todd Masters says:

    You are an asset to the running community. I’ve been following your blog from the earliest days and I love seeing your name pop up in articles everywhere. You have helped me tremendously more than any other single resource. This move has just been a matter of time for you. I hope the transition goes well, but know that none of us doubt your future success.

  27. AnnMazzoli says:

    Awesome! Congrats and best of luck! Was the burrito place dos amigos by any chance?

  28. Marc Schwartz says:

    The only constant is change. Keep moving forward Pete!

    I fully understand your frustrations with academia and unfortunately, there does not seem to be enough of a groundswell yet for change. But, it will come in time. The current situation is not sustainable, nor is it healthy for our society, in the long term.

    I wish you great success as you move into a new chapter in your life, Pete. Best wishes.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Mark. I really do hope things start to change, unfortunately the system is so entrenched that it will likely take awhile unless some upstart makes and example of how things can be done differently. As a father of 3, contemplating the cost of college scares me, especially since I know an equally good education could be obtained for so much less.
      Sent from my iPad

  29. Paul Davies says:

    Congratulations on making this move Pete. I certainly know about the frustrations of academia. I know your new pathway will be very successful.

  30. RunTraveler says:

    Best of luck with the career transition!

    (And I would highly recommend adjunct community college teaching. The pay isn’t great, but it’s all the fun of teaching with none of the political junk.)

  31. Lance McBrayer says:

    Wow! As a former lab mate, and long time friend, I can say with certainty I know you will do well in whatever you choose. We didn’t call you Platinum Pete for nothing! Good luck buddy!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Lance, switching from tadpoles to locomotion wasn’t enough of a jump I guess :) if you have any injured lizards send them my way!
      Sent from my iPad

  32. Damien @ ToeSalad says:

    Congratulations Pete! I can relate on many levels, having quit my job to strike-out on my own, and with three growing kids. The adventure starts now, I am looking forward to following it!

  33. Mark Eichenlaub says:

    Congrats Pete and please keep us updated on everything!
    Happy running!

  34. Jess Peters says:

    Many Congratulations! It’s a big step but I’m sure you’ll find it hugely rewarding and I’m looking forward to seeing more blog content :) Jess

    link to jogoff.me

  35. Lucinda Bliss says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. As a professor (of Art and Art History), runner, and artist, I can relate to much of what you describe. lucindasrunningblog.com

  36. RunningPT12 says:

    You’ll do great, Pete!

  37. David Moore says:

    Congratulations, Pete! Best of luck in your new adventure. I’ve been a fan of your for a while now and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Run Radar sounds fantastic. You’re good at what you do and you enjoy it. That’s the dream.

  38. Sarah Hansen says:

    Congrats! I have done a similar thing getting out of the security of corporate sales. You have made the best decision for your family and personal peace of mind. I finally have time to train for a full Ironman! What an awesome adventure!

  39. Jared Irish says:

    Awesome, congrats and good luck Peter

  40. Simon Goodship says:

    Hey Pete. Congrats on a ballsy decision. You will do very well, I have no doubt about that. I hope to see more shoe reviews from you. Nobody reviews shoes like Pete Larson!

  41. portia o says:

    This is super inspiring! I look forward to hearing how it goes.

  42. Best of luck with your new adventure! I never regretted mine, and I doubt you’ll regret yours.

  43. Sam Winebaum says:

    Congratulations and best of luck Pete! Spread your wings, explore new trails, and tell us about the science behind the run.

  44. Adrian McCallum says:

    Good on you Pete; well done on making the move. We look forward to following your new initiatives with interest.

Speak Your Mind

*