Leaving Academia to Do Something New


I'm leaving academia.

This May I will be joining Canonical as a Technical Author.

After a 4 year BSc, 4 year PhD, 1 year postdoc and over 7 years as a tenured academic, it seemed like the right time to do something new.

Academics often write lengthy articles that outline their reasons for quitting a university position. This genre of quit lit is filled with sharp critiques of the modern university. To most non-professors, getting a new job is a normal and positive event, and that's the approach I am taking to this change.

Moving from academia to industry is not easy though, especially when it involves a change in discipline and a famously rigorous hiring process. The transition itself has been fascinating and I've learned a lot. Once I've settled into post-academic life I'd like to write about that process.

In the last few years, I became absorbed by experiments in programming and documentation. I even began to incorporate software concepts and tooling in my academic work, publishing a paper on an open-source physics simulation, redesigning course notes according to the Diataxis framework and introducing version control for our student projects.

Once I experienced documentation workflows based on plaintext and Git, it became hard to love the clunkiness of academic publishing. Somewhere along the way I found myself thinking more about virtual machines than milk proteins. I had already published about 70 scientific articles and wanted to apply those skills to something more practical.

Spending years immersed in teaching and research has been mind-expanding. I got the opportunity to make original contributions to knowledge, I helped talented people navigate four-year doctoral projects and I built university courses that shaped how the next generation of food scientists approach their discipline.

Technical communication is a huge part of being an academic, whether it involves writing course notes, processing data or delivering presentations. My new role will allow me to work with a team to communicate effectively about complex software products. I hope in the future that my varied background will have made me a well-rounded technical communicator.

While I was planning my departure I thought a lot about professional rugby players. They commit most of their lives to rugby until they are forced to retire in their mid- to late-thirties — if they're lucky to last that long. Most rugby players do not make enough money to just retire at that point, so they get a regular job.

For some rugby players their entire identity is wrapped up in their status as a professional athlete and the regimented lifestyle it entails. Their inevitable transition out of the game can be difficult.

Others plan their exit in advance and have a rewarding second act.

I'm 34. I haven't broken my leg or suffered a severe concussion. I've planned my exit and am excited about what's next. I'll still have the memories, my trophies and a few insights into how the game is played.