A reader left a comment on an old post that I thought would be a good question to ask the rest of you in the academic blogosphere, especially those of you who either 1) have navigated a resignation like this, either successfully or unsuccessfully!, or 2) have experience as a Department Chair or Administrator who has dealt with colleagues in this situation before, again either happily or most unhappily.
Here we go:
I would like to seek your advice about a tormenting situation I live in. I am a t.t. assistant prof who has been in her position for four years. I am unhappy for several reasons: being away from home and teaching courses that are not really in my field among other similar reasons. I have applied to other positions and did not get any interview. I am thinking now of resigning, going home to my hometown, and searching for jobs from there. If I don’t end up landing another academic job, I am fine with leaving academia. I would like to pursue other para-academic interests …..
What are the best reasons to give my institution for my resignation which will allow to keep good relations with them, and would be reasonable to ask them to give me a reference letter or is this an unreasonable request when you leave an institution?
First of all, no! It’s not at all unreasonable to expect a collegial and positive recommendation from former colleagues, provided that you don’t leave a pile of road apples in your stall on the way out of the barn. (Your question makes me think we’ve set the bar far too low for collegiality in academic employment if it’s even a question in your mind!)
I think I and my readers can help you resign a job without burning your bridges, but first, think whether leaving academia behind completely is what you really want to do. That is, don’t take your lack of success on the job market this year as an accurate forecast for your relative value on the job market next year or for the rest of your career. Could you live with your current job for another academic year beyond this one and give the job search another try? (You don’t mention any unpleasantness at work, just that it’s not the right location or the right field for you.) The job market has always been a b!tch, but if you’re at all interested in staying in academia, I would venture to say that it’s almost always better to apply for a new job while you’re still employed in your current position. It’s not the kiss of death if you resign this spring and then apply for academic jobs in the fall–but it might raise questions in the minds of search committees that might work against you.
As it turns out, there is lots of life outside of and even after academia, and it sounds like the reasons you have for leaving your current position make sense. If you’re leaving academia entirely, then the quality of recommendation or reference you get from your future former colleagues won’t matter as much. So long as they can verify your dates of employment and say a few nice and accurate things about you (responsible, hard-working, effective teacher, a helpful team member, productive scholar, etc.), then that’s probably just fine. (Readers: please let me know if this sounds right, or if I’m missing something.)
So, if you’re sure that leaving academia is what you really want, then resign, and be (mostly) honest about your reasons. First, don’t wait until the summer if you know you’re going to resign–if you let them know this spring, they can take your absence into account for future planning and make their lives a little easier. (Also, let them know that you’re trying to make their lives easier. Let them know you’re thinking about your department and how a resignation will affect them. It will help them think well of you.)
Also, a nice touch is to try to communicate this information to most of the people you work with in person, and let them know how much you have appreciated their guidance and collegiality, or even their friendship, if applicable. Most people understand that not every job is for everyone, and it’s likely that your colleagues have sensed that this job might not be a great fit for you, especially if what you say about the field you’re teaching in versus the one you trained in is true.
Finally, when I say be “mostly” honest, I mean I think your reasons for resigning sound understandable, and I think most reasonable people will feel this way, too. On the other hand, you don’t need to overshare or go into excruciating detail about how much you’ve loathed the classes you’ve taught for the past four years, or how much you miss X, Y, or Z features of your hometown. Stay positive, and try a spoonful of sugar. Focus your comments not on your leaving but on how much you’ve learned from. Although you were homesick, say that you enjoyed working with them as colleagues and with your students, and that you will always be grateful for the opportunities you’ve enjoyed there. Most people can’t resist a compliment, especially if it’s sincere, and they’ll usually return the favor.
Readers: what do you think? What have you seen? How have colleagues pissed you off while resigning? What have I missed? Giddyap!