Why One Philosopher Left Academia

Nov 18 2013

Zachary Ernst has written two great posts about his decision to leave academic philosophy and join a tech startup. One post focuses on giving up tenure. But the more interesting one is his explanation of why he is leaving academia. <!-- break -->

I never made it anywhere near tenure, but I did choose not to pursue a career in academia for most of the reasons Ernst cites. Like Ernst, it's not the students or the course load I didn't like. Far more has to do with the nature of hyper-specialization in the university (read: discouraging interdisciplinary work), the really bad pay for non-tenure faculty, and the "big business" attitude I saw developing in university administration.

Then there's impact. Ernst points out that:

Academic philosophy is a very small world, and like most academic specialties, it's rare for one's work to gain an audience outside of a narrow circle of specialists.

This is so true. In contrast to this, the work I am doing every day in the commercial sector impacts thousands of people, and has the potential to impact many more.

But with all of that said, the research I did while in grad school, while working on my PhD, and while teaching was the most personally rewarding thing I have experienced. Some days I yearn for the slow pace, the quiet library, and the simple pleasure of reading for hours on end with no goal in sight other than to just learn.