on leaving science: the project, call for volunteers

So I had a thought.

Since I’ve been writing here, a lot of people have contacted me one way or another to empathize with my miserable graduate school experience. Some of these people are still in grad school, some of them are in the process of leaving/deciding to leave, some have just graduated. But the common thread among most of the ones I’ve heard from are that graduate school totally crushed them in some way. The culture/expectations of academic science research, combined with bad advisors and shitty policies, all in the context of a miserable funding/job situation in academia, has made these people miserable and whether or not they manage to scrape out that PhD in the end, they plan to leave academic science, or often science altogether, and never return.

And this infuriates me, because it’s a waste. Most if not all of these people started out as highly qualified and driven researchers, and they lose their confidence and have the ambition beaten out of them.  And then they disappear, and we don’t hear about them. No one talks about what happens to all of us, the people who quit.

And I think people need to hear our stories. Because they reflect deeply broken things about the system, but also because there are a lot of people just desperate to hear that they aren’t alone. And I think ALL of it needs to be heard. I want to hear about people currently trying to piece a new life together, like me, but also from people who haven’t left yet or who left 5 years ago and have since established themselves in their new lives.

I think I want to start a project. I want to collect stories of people who left academic science specifically because of a shitty experience in graduate school. You can have just walked out, mastered out, or managed the PhD, but if afterwards you slammed the door (or if you are planning to slam the door) on academic science BECAUSE of the way your grad school experience affected you, you’re on the list. Just to keep things from getting too terribly unwieldy, I do want to limit it to science PhDs.

I don’t know yet exactly where this project would go. Maybe a series of blog posts, maybe a stand-alone webpage collecting stories, a book? I really don’t know. So for now, I just want to hear about interest. If you fit the description above and have something to say about your experience, comment here or email me. If you have ideas for what to do with stories once I collect them, do share. If you’d be interesting in reading about this, share that too.

Or, you know, tell me I’m crazy. I’m pretty open at this point. But I don’t think I’m crazy. I think there is something to say here, and I think we should find a way to catalogue our stories, even in an informal way.