Why You Should Write A Good-bye Letter to Academia

Earlier I wrote ”I’ve Had enough… What Next?” about a possible transition from one part of the workforce to another. I called it moving streams. And I’ve also done a webinar about it.

For some, that transition is only difficult in so far as changing jobs is difficult. Or knowing what to do next is not immediately obvious. Other than that you’re good-to-go. You’re clear that you want to move on from your current role, and you know that similar roles are not for you.

But what if that is not the case? We already know that leaving academia is likely inevitable for must PhD graduates (90% or more will get a non-academic job long-term). Yet, only 50% of those starting a PhD intend on leaving upon graduation.1 That means the other 50% are considering an academic career. That means those people may have their heart set on an academic career. Set on doing research. Set on writing and winning grants. Writing papers. Doing research.

In Australia there are 60,000 or so PhD students currently enrolled.2 And each year about 9,000 or so graduate. So, 4,500 leave academia immediately. The remaining 4,500 move their way through the system of grants and papers and applications as best they can. And at some point through luck, determination, good planning or an act of god, they become a professor. But that’s only 900 people at best. What about the remaining 3,600?

Some come to grips with the difficulties faced and reluctantly move on. Others are forced out, with periods of unemployment. But there are some who are good enough, but who the system might treat not so well. Where the old mantra of “I went through it so you should too” still holds true. Where in order to climb the ladder of success, you have been used as a step, rather giving someone a boost. What others have taken credit, when it was yours to give. Where being a researcher is not just what you are, but who you are?

Writing a good-bye letter

to academia can help the

transition to other career paths.

In those cases, writing a letter to academia saying good-bye can help deal with the loss.

There are several studies showing that writing helps reduce stress.3 Not to mention the impact of positive writing (gratitude journaling) on our mindset.4

The letter can cover whatever you want. The change in how you view yourself. How you view others. What you are feeling. What you want to shout. What you want to whisper.

Of course, it does not have to be for people who have started an academic career. It could be those coming to the end of their PhD, and now realising they can’t or won’t go into academia. Writing a good-bye letter can allow you to articulate all the things you love and hate about the work, the people, the situation. The aim is not to post it to anyone or send it anywhere. Just to write. Express. Let the feelings out.

You can then, if you wish, write a second letter. One that says hello to your new life and career. That, like the first letter, acknowledges the things you are looking forward to and the ones you are less sure about.

Neither letter is a cure. But both can help this transition. A transition that is difficult for many. Let me know how it goes. And, as usual, ask me or someone else if you need help.


Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).


1Advancing Australia’s knowledge economy, https://amsi.org.au/?publications=advancing-australias-knowledge-economy, accessed 7 Oct 2019

2uCube, http://highereducationstatistics.education.gov.au/, accessed 7 Oct 2019

3Expressive writing moderates the relation between intrusive thoughts and depressive symptoms., https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1997-43182-010, accessed 7 Oct 2019.

4The impact of gratitude on adolescent materialism and generosity, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2018.1497688, accessed 7 Oct 2019