Recovering Academic

September 4th, 2009

When Elrena and I first began talking about Mama, PhD, we quickly developed a wish list of contributors, and Jennifer Margulis’ name was on both our lists. We knew she had a PhD; we knew she had a thriving freelance writing and editing career. We didn’t know how she got from one to the other. Her essay, which describes how she falls off the wagon of a life in academia, gives our third section its title: Recovering Academic.

She writes in her essay of weighing her job options:

I thought of a brilliant colleague who moved to Nevada for a tenure track position, and was miserable. And another who worked at a big research university in the middle of Ohio who was also struggling to find her way. I thought of a professor at Emory who never wanted to be in Atlanta, who hadn’t bought a house or an apartment because she felt like her time there was just temporary. Ten years later, tenured, she was still in Atlanta. Instead of living her life, she was waiting to leave. She hadn’t married or had children. My husband, James, and I talked about our options for hours: we decided that we weren’t willing to move somewhere we didn’t want to live just for a job. We made the decision that we would make over and over again: our family, our children, and our quality of life all came ahead of academic success. It was a decision that would soon catapult me out of academia and into a more flexible, child-friendly, and risky career.

Today, Jennifer and her family are thriving. She reports:
“Since spending a year teaching on a Fulbright fellowship–as described in Mama, Ph.D.–I have been completely on the wagon and making a living by writing and editing full-time. I’ve co-authored a book with my husband, The Baby Bonding Book for Dads (visit the book’s blog), which we were working on during our time in West Africa, and I have published articles in a wide variety of major magazines and newspapers since my return. Recent articles include a profile of a Salt Lake City entrepreneur who stared a no-menu no-prices restaurant for More magazine, a 6,000-word piece on the debate about vaccines for Mothering magazine, and a cover story for the November issue of Smithsonian magazine about Niger’s last herd of West African giraffes. I was also profiled in that issue by Smithsonian’s editor-in-chief, Carey Winfrey, and the article, “Looking Up,” was selected for inclusion in BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE WRITING 2009. I’ve also been doing a lot of traveling and travel writing, for both the Oregonian and for Disney’s, and I have recently been on assignment at Crater Lake and in Paris, London, the Big Island, and Kauai. Get links to recent articles, media appearances, and events at my website. Finally, I am expecting my fourth child this November.”

Jennifer’s essay offers an excellent example of a viable out of academia, and she continues to advise writers on developing a freelance career, so visit her website for more information.

12 Responses to “Recovering Academic”

  1. Alexandra Says:

    I am very impressed by everything I have read here about Jennifer Margulis and will buy this book for several young friends who need to hear this type of life can be a viable option in today’s world.

  2. Sheryl Says:

    Bravo to Jennifer for being strong and sure enough to know what she wanted. She’s way ahead of the game, in my estimation. Following your heart is not always so easy, especially after spending and investing so much time in higher education.

  3. Donna Hull Says:

    Congratulations to Jennifer for finding a profession that allows her to stretch creatively while guiding young minds through the challenging of growing up. Although I didn’t have my Ph.D., I never regretted full-time mom status. I only wish that I had known that it could be combined with a writing career. I can’t wait to read Jennifer’s contribution to this book.

  4. Melanie Says:

    I suspect a radioactive spider bite. She obviously has superpowers!

  5. Meredith Resnick Says:

    Love this. Love the crossover to writing, how education informs (and at times, distracts). I left a career as a therapist to write and am so glad I did. But much of what I write–my perspectives, views–were indeed nourished by the time I spent in my other career. I can see that now. Back then all I wanted to do was write and create. Jennifer sounds like someone who sees possibilities in so many things. Just terrific.

  6. Susan Says:

    Wow – Jennifer is quite the prolific writer! I’m a bit newer to freelancing, and I’m very impressed by all of her accomplishments.

  7. Kara Williams Says:

    Expecting a fourth child! I am muy impressed by all that Jennifer has accomplished in academia and otherwise. Especially love that she’s dabbled in travel writing, which is my thang.

  8. ruth pennebaker Says:

    What a wonderful piece about someone who’s controlling her own life and profession — instead of their controlling her. It’s so easy to get pulled into choices that don’t make you happy, and she’s very deliberately resisted that.

  9. Jennifer Haupt Says:

    This is an inspiring essay that rings true for working moms trying to balance everything in their lives. Many thanks to Jennifer for writing!

  10. Almost Slowfood Says:

    Agreed! I’m just a couple years into my writing career having left the corporate world in search of more fulfilling work. Jennifer’s story is so very inspiring!

  11. MarthaandMe Says:

    I think Jennifer’s story is really helpful to other women facing the same choices. I love how she says their choice was always to put their family first. That’s something we have also done and something that is not always easy.

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