I’ve been asking myself this same question lately. My blog represents just one direction in my personal quest to come up with some tenable, but certainly by no means complete, answers.
Recently, while browsing some articles on Insider Higher Ed, I stumbled upon Andrew Taggert’s take on this question, which he has phrased as “How can I lead a life of the mind outside of the academy?” It’s a four-part series, but I’m particularly taken with part 2.
Part 2 is so cogently written (in my estimation) that I only want to offer some tid-bits here. (You can read the full version by clicking on the “part 2” link above).
- On the seeming implausibility of a “life of the mind” outside of the academy:
“I have suggested so far that part of the problem stems from the way we think about leading a life of the mind. We assume that only the university can provide us with the shelter we need in order to undertake disinterested inquiry.”
- On how aspiring academics can reconfigure their PhD work as not necessarily a narrow career path but rather modular, versatile training:
“…[T]he notion of a Career is, for many people, a thing of the past. We can mourn the loss of this life-structuring narrative, or we can ask how we might see this problem as an opportunity–in our case, as an opportunity for leading the life of the mind by some other means.”
- And what I really like about Taggert’s piece? Pursuing a life (of the mind) outside of the academy doesn’t (necessarily) mean selling out.
I should say that I’m not looking to leave the academy per se. As I get closer to completing my degree, I’ve found that my teaching experiences and research work have become ever more meaningful and enjoyable, simply because they’ve gained so much practice and focus. Indeed, I still am pulled rather intently to the academic life and am particularly interested in pursing positions where my teaching is valued. But, I’m also starting to appreciate the extent to which my PhD training has prepared me to simply lead a life of the mind, and how fortunate am I to come to realize that this “life” isn’t necessarily bound by the confines of the college campus.