5 years ago I wrote a guest post for Hook and Eye about my difficulties with what we in the academy glibly refer to as “the two body problem,” or what to do when academics dare to have personal lives that might include spouses with academic jobs.
What I grappled with back then was a desire for bureaucracies and universities to be able to provide solutions; I focused on spousal hiring as one potential solution, but there could be many others, not limited to but including increased salaries, housing allowances, or travel costs, all common in industries that acknowledge travel as an adverse condition of work.
Since then, my journey has been an interesting and winding one, and I have a hard time remembering that woman who wrote with such pain the following words: “if I were a betting woman, I’d bet that my days in academia are numbered. And that makes me very sad. In fact, it breaks my heart just a little bit.”
I guess the good news is that my broken heart is so fully mended that I forgot it even broke. The professional academy is now like an ex who I look back on with fondness and affection, but I can’t really evoke or fully recall those feelings of love anymore.
A few months after I wrote those broken hearted words I submitted my resignation to the University of Waterloo and jumped off the tenure track. I didn’t know exactly what things would look like, but I had a research grant to get me through that first exit, which allowed me to continue on with some of my academic work (including hosting a symposium in the spring of 2011 and co-editing a book that is coming out with the University of Toronto Press in 2016).
That freedom to jump into the unknown and start figuring out what my #postac life might look like allowed me to do many interesting projects between 2011 and 2014. For instance:
More important than what I actually did during those few years was how those years allowed me to see the world differently. I reclaimed both my courage and my confidence, and I began to see life’s possibilities rather than its limitations.
It was liberating, freeing, and exhilarating.
Why didn’t I know that? Why didn’t anyone tell me that leaving the tenure track could feel so good? Why did I believe that I was making a sacrifice? Why did I think anything other than being an English professor was somehow a failure on my part?
I have a number of potential answers to these questions (and the many other related ones), but I think one response can be summed up with the following oft-repeated bit of advice that I was told as I grappled with my own decision-making process, and that advice is some version of: “it could be worse.”
“Most academics never get a full time job; be happy; it could be worse.” “You and your spouse both landed jobs; it could be worse.” “You are both in the same country/time zone/province; it could be worse.” “You landed at a good university; it could be worse.” “Your job is in Canada; it could be worse.” Etc. etc.
And, well, yes, things most certainly “could be worse.” But by that same logic, things most certainly “could be better” too. And that was a truth I discovered and allowed to be my lodestone, guiding me forward on my own journey into the #postac unknown, seeking something “better.”
So back to my story…after three years as an independent consultant (where I literally gave my business card to everyone I knew; went to every single “wine & cheese” event I could, and shamelessly slogged my services as a “brain for hire” to anyone and everyone), I made enough money for the seed capital to start my own business. As of July 2014 I became the full-time co-founder and CEO of EssayJack.
EssayJack is a web app that prestructures student essays and allows for educator customization and feedback. We did pilot testing at the University of Toronto, and our first paid institutional license for this coming semester is the University of Toronto Schools.
Basically, students struggle with the form and structure of academic essay writing, and I wanted to use technology to help. EssayJack is the result of those efforts.
Students can sign on as of this September for monthly and/or annual subscriptions, and educators can get in touch to unlock the educator functionality that allows for customization of the essay template as well as an integrated feedback system to speed up the essay-marking process.
The 2015-2016 academic year is our beta year as we make sure the technology is sound, that we can meet (or exceed!) our targets, and that we respond to what educators and students want out of essay-structuring help of the sort that we are able to provide.
I never could have possibly guessed when I left the tenure track that I’d find myself as the CEO of an educational tech start up. Never. Not in a million years. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I find that things I’ve long cared about from my past professional life as an academic do, in fact, transition into my #postac life, and while I have no pat and easy answers for anyone else considering a transition out, I simply ask you to ask yourself: can it be any better? If the answer is “yes,” then go for it; you deserve it!
Dr. Lindy Ledohowski, OCT
(B.A. hons., B.Ed., M.A., Ph.D.)
Co-Founder & CEO, EssayJack Inc.