Saying Goodbye to The Academy, Again.

The loss is nuanced, and people will think I’m completely insane for mourning this kind of loss.

Today, I let “Zoning Is Sexy” Finn walk away. I made a choice to let “Mama” Finn and “Professional” Finn thrive. I watched the opportunity for independent quantitative research walk out of the room.

Background (I tell undergrads this is a super important piece of their writing.)

I returned to higher education as an adult thinking I needed an education that matched a job. So, I was going to teach elementary school. Then I actually spent some time in a public school, and was all “Yay!” but “OMG, I don’t really like this even a little bit.”

Fast forward a few years, and I had discovered the Liberal Arts and research, which I love. I had a lot to learn, and I don’t write well enough for the academy, but sheer grit produced research that people cared about. I was hooked. I was completely in love with academia. Academia is a prescription that continuously rewards my accomplishments with awards, funding, opportunities, and accolades.

Despite wanting to look at terminal degree programs, my advisor gave me a morsel of advice that I often I repeat. Students need to go do something meaningful before pursing graduate work. (Listen, students. Do this.) So I did.

Meaningful Work 

I got a really neat job researching and writing (the thing I’m terrible at) for large federal grants. Again, I got to research, which is the most fun. Except, I had very few practical skills outside of an ability to coordinate large research projects and collaborative writing assignments. I actually couldn’t use Excel. I couldn’t figure out Outlook. And the worst part was I didn’t have the credentials to back up the skills I did have. (Sorry students, the paper matters.) I also was working as a professional writing tutor. (The most ironic pathways for me.)

Almost Returning to The Academy

After about a year of this work I started to look at different graduate programs that would pair with the skills I had learned with my fancy Liberal Arts degree. I selected a very expensive program to earn an MPA. Winning, or so I thought, because lets face it, those who know #classicfinn know that the ultimate career goal is to run things. (Clear career goals, friends. Obvs.) The program was an enormous let down. It lacked the academic rigor and pursuit of knowledge that my undergraduate environment provided. The environment that I had thrived in, and that I still gaze back on as my most privileged years.

I transferred to a different institution. I found an MPA program that would offer both the ability to pursue real quantitative research, and learn public finance. (Public Finance is a skill I need to run things.) I am in my third semester, and I haven’t been disappointed. The program has extremely dedicated faculty, quality advising, content relevant courses, and admits smart and prepared colleagues. Transferring was an excellent decision.

The Loss (The one that makes me crazy.) 

The department recently overhauled their programs. Today I was faced with a choice, again. I could pursue my MPA with only five classes left to finish, no thesis requirement and only a final project to complete, or I could easily move into the other degree offering with significantly more classes to finish, but with the carrot of independent quantitative research at the end. (The department was beyond gracious, flexible, and thorough in our hour-long meeting. I would not lose any previous course work, and I could pick the best fit program. This is not a fault of the institution. I fully believe thriving institutions change to meet market demands.)

I looked at the plans of study for both programs, and I knew I would not write a second thesis.

When I ran into a trusted faculty member on the way into this meeting, she assumed I would be heading into the research-based program. Regretfully, I admitted that I was thinking no, because right now, I just needed to credential up. She actually totally understood, and was beyond kind.

It sounds awful to me… I do not look at higher education like this. I do not believe education is where we go to credential-up, but it kind of is, because the papers matter. I am pulled into a direction that doesn’t fit my life or my skill set, and a direction that I have spent years romantizing.

So, can I still be one of the cool kids?

My current program is amazing, and certainly this piece is not meant to suggest otherwise. I use the skills I am learning in this program everyday. I am learning program evaluation, and how to analyze every step of the policy process. I am learning about finance, and management, and how to write for a professional audience. These are the skills I need to run things.

However, my current grad program is not preparing me for a terminal degree. I will not pursue independent research. The data I have meticulously collected for the last year will only be used for professional development. (There are no IF/THAN or VLOOKUPS in my current academic path.)

I know this means that I have different work to do, like my goal to run things. I know that I will still be the designated researcher on the task force. I still have professional development funding to pursue student success research. I still can be an academic in a public sphere. I know this. However, today was the day I made a choice to not lose my mind and write another thesis. Today I made a mindful decision to learn the skills to run things, and I watched independent research walk out of the room.

I’m sad. Maybe next lifetime I’ll be the academic I dream of becoming, and maybe I will even have better writing skills to help that destination become realty.

See ya later “Zoning Is Sexy” Finn, until next time. I’ll save the data, and we will be cool again, but first – FDH, MPA.

7 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to The Academy, Again.”

  1. Jst one turn in the road. You never know . . .at age 58 I am in my first class of an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction. It took me 35 years of meaningful and some not so meaningful work to reach point of deciding I needed to try developing as a writer. I felt I needed to try to have no regrets. In the meantime, it is always interesting to see where things lead us.


  2. Hey Finn, good choice. Sanity is important. Also, I have to tell you the accolades, awards, grants are relatively few and far between. About 5% of applications for large federal grants are funded. These things do come, but there is so much more disappointment, rejection, and grit required to stick with it for the occasional pat on the back…..


      1. Absolutely. I can tell that you are so valued by your students and colleagues, giving a commencement speech just wow. The “academy” really is more like dealing with a 16 year old that you know loves you somewhere deep inside but spends most of its time rolling its eyes and sneaking out the door at night. Your time will come but make sure to breathe in what you’ve got right now it seems so special…..


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