04 February 2013

When to pack it in

Between the Science Online panel about long haul blogging, and Kate Clancy’s “I’m this close to quitting academia,” and my own annoyance with travelling so high that I was wondering of conferences are still worth it, I’ve been thinking a lot about the dynamics of quitting.

When should you stop?

As part of my preparation for my panel, I read Seth Godin’s The Dip. One of the recommendations is that you should never quit something because you’re frustrated now. You’re too likely to let the pain of the moment play too big a role in your decision making.

Instead, when you are about to embark on something, realize that it will get hard, and make a plan very early, even before you start, about when you will quit. Decide what circumstances seem so bad to you, as you look forward, that you think you should not continue.

This does a couple of things. Not only does it help you avoid the “heat of the moment” snap walkout I mentioned above, it helps you avoid the Concorde fallacy (too much invested to quit). It can help you distinguish between “the dip” (expected hardship) and the cul-de-sac (dead end, made classy by giving it a French name).

This is hard advice, but probably good advice. This may something that students and academics should have at every stage of their career. I think my “I’m out of science once and for all” criterion was “employment.” If I couldn’t find a post-doc, I'll do something else. But in retrospect, maybe that was the wrong bar. There have been moments since in my current job where I’ve held my head in my hands, saying, “I want to leave.” But... I also have moments where I’m glad I’m here instead of someone else.

Figure out when you’re going to pop the escape hatch before the moment of crisis.

Photo by fuzzcat on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

KateClancy said...

Now I want to read Godin's book. But it does mirror my own approach to academia. Despite my Twitter rantings of late, I have a carefully constructed action plan for the next five years. If certain things become unbearable at that point, if I can't realistically imagine continuing to work for change for another five years, if my success rate has been such that it isn't logical to expect improvement, then it's time to quit.