Blogconfidential: Leaving it all behind

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Leaving it all behind

February 17, 2011

For the past few months I have been contemplating giving up academic life and retraining as a secondary school teacher. It would take only 12 months on a fast-track programme. I have had the interview and there are no problems with my application.

But those interviewing me were a little perplexed. A professor wanting to leave a redbrick university to become a secondary school teacher in sciences? How strange, they implied.

Last week, I sounded out the colleagues I trust most. All were simply horrified. Was I all right, I was asked, was everything OK at home? One even suggested I think about therapy.

It seems to me that, sheltered in our little academic world, we are all in denial and believe there are no other options open to us.

The future in academia looks grim. Our institutions are now, in effect, going private, with fees inevitably set to spiral upwards despite the government's cap. My workload has gone through the roof, I have lost research assistants and don't see any way back to the slower, saner pace of working I remember a decade ago. How can this not end badly for the sector?

Of course, when my dean heard that I was planning to leave, he came round to my office in a panic, yelled at me that I was a fool and stormed out. The rest of my colleagues imply that I am "trading down".

But I am still set on leaving. I can give 10 good years to a secondary school and perhaps influence young people to go into science. Am I right to look beyond the ivory tower?

So, you are completely disillusioned with academic life - join the club. On the one hand, I admire your stand: it takes guts to contemplate a completely new career. On the other hand, some of us who are equally upset with the current university crisis are staying put. We are fighters, not quitters and there is a union we can all get behind that needs us now more than ever.

It is crucial that you realise that life in a secondary school is not going to be an easy ride, and is certainly no Utopia. If you think that university students expecting value for their money will be difficult, perhaps spend a few minutes imagining rows of slobby teenagers who are bored out of their brains, texting in lessons, winding you up, reading copies of Heat under their desks and downloading new apps as you talk.

I worry that after spending 12 months as a secondary school teacher you may look back and wish you were still in your old job at the university.

Here are your real options: renegotiate your conditions; go part time; seek career guidance; or stand up for your rights in the university system by becoming active in your local union.

Before you do anything rash, shadow a teacher for a day and see what the reality is like. You might just realise how lucky you are to be in a university.

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