Leaving the Academy: How To Become an Independent Historian

Do I want to be an academic historian? I began having doubts about my career path during my last three years in graduate school. I had applied to grad school to become professionally-trained version of David McCullough. However, in my first quarter I replaced that goal with a desire for an academic career. No one forced this ambition on me per se, but my seminars, department workshops, and training were all geared towards preparing me for a tenure-track job. After imbibing on this academic dream for seven years, I found it difficult to confront the fact that I did not want to be a traditional academic. Ivory_TowersAt first, I pushed my doubts from my mind by focusing on my dissertation. As my dissertation neared completion, I turned my attention to academic job applications. I told myself that getting a job would vanquish my fears about an academic career. Last year, I opened rejection letters and e-mails from nearly every university I had applied to. Even the two campus interviews I went on did not pan out. Through it all I remained surprisingly upbeat. Rejection, my positive attitude, and a job opportunity for my partner in Boston made me address the fact that I was pursuing an academic job for all the wrong reasons.

It took me over a year to admit that I really wanted a non-academic career. With all of its promises for intellectual stimulation, I found my decision to leave the academy a hard pill to swallow. Moreover, I want to be a historian. I yearn to produce original, high-quality scholarship that will be accessible to a broad audience. I also desire the opportunity to earn the respect of my academic peers. Although all are lofty goals, the latter will be the most difficult to achieve; many academic historians shun outsiders and view non-tenured or non-tenure-track historians as amateurs little deserving of their time. Still, I am up for the challenge.

Presently, I am working as an independent historian. I am revising my dissertation into a book, writing articles for academic journals and popular history magazines, and working to improve my writing and editing skills. I plan to use this blog as a forum: a place to share my successes and failures in figuring out ways to get paid for my work, methods for getting around the various barriers that come with being unaffiliated with an academic institution, my passion for history, and any tools and/or techniques that improve or hamper my ability to research and write.