|After being precarious for years, my partner's academic career in science has finally collapsed. She is in her early 40s and has been in academia all her life. She is depressed, angry and miserable. She finds it hard to imagine being happy in a different career, even if she could successfully transition into one, which will be extremely challenging. I am trying to help and support her but I am out of my depth. I am looking for advice from people who have been through this, helped someone else who has, or who can recommend a therapist who has experience in this area - ideally in London, but remotely as a last resort.
To maintain her anonymity I will not get into the details of her career. In brief, after her PhD she had some setbacks that were largely out of her control, and lost momentum. She managed to cling on in various fixed-term contracts for many years, but these put her at a disadvantage in pursuing her main research area. She managed to keep her research going regardless, but was never able to leverage that work into a permanent position, despite being shortlisted a number of times including at top-ranked universities.
Her last contract ended some months ago. Since then she had been kept busy wrapping up loose ends and applying for positions, but several interviews and rejections later, all the realistic opportunities for the short term have now dried up, and she's out in the cold with no likely prospects on the horizon. Now that she's finally reached that point, a lot of emotions that were somewhat held back before are all coming out in force.
She is depressed to the point of struggling to get out of bed and leave the house. She feels that she's failed, that she wasn't good enough. That she's wasted a huge chunk of her life in a way that she'll never recover from. She's furious at all the ways she got screwed over, at all the people who got promoted past her into permanent posts, often on the back of her own labour. She's lonely and isolated, because so much of her social contact was through work. And she feels invisible: academics have a nasty habit of acting like the people who left don't exist, I guess because it's too uncomfortable to face the truth of how many good people are chewed up and spat out by the system. And despite all the bullshit she had to deal with in science, she finds it hard to imagine ever being happy in a different career, even if she could successfully transition into one, which will be extremely challenging now.
I am struggling to help her. I have had my own experiences with depression and grief, and I also spent some time in academia, so I can relate to some extent but only so far. I got out much earlier, and was in an engineering field where I could easily transition to commercial work. I was never committed to it in the way she was. It is difficult for me to relate to being so dedicated to something that you're just not interested in doing anything else. When we try to even talk gently about other career possibilities, it quickly ends in tears. Given that, I feel like it's still far too soon for her to successfully pursue a different job. But on a day to day basis she just doesn't know what to do with herself.
Fortunately, things are financially secure enough that she could comfortably take a couple of years off at least. So for now, I have been trying to encourage her to take advantage of her current freedom, catch up with personal projects, visit friends and family, spend time on hobbies and so forth. I've been hoping that time will gradually attenuate the worst of the grief, and that having things to do will help that time to go by. But I don't really know what I'm doing. I feel totally out of my depth with this and would like her to have professional help.
She is open to seeing a therapist, but has had bad experiences in the past, including with someone who flat out would not believe her about her experiences of how fucked up academia is. The last thing she needs is have to explain all of that to yet another person. So I am hoping someone may have a recommendation for a therapist who already understands how academia works, how insane and unhealthy and broken it all is, how limited the job market can be and how much of it is stacked against women in particular. Ideally someone who has actually helped people in similar situations. Preferably this would be someone she can see in person (in or near London). Video calls are difficult for Reasons, but might have to do if we can't find someone good locally.
I am also looking for advice from other people who have been through something like this, or helped someone else who has. How did you cope? What things helped? What things didn't?
I am not looking to just hear everyone's wild guesses about what her next career should be, just because that's what you do, or what someone you know does, or you heard that's what a lot of ex-scientists are doing now. We get a lot of this already, often unsolicited, and it is mostly not helpful. I am not going to go as far as saying please don't respond with career suggestions at all, but please consider that we have both been thinking about this for years already, and that whatever you're about to suggest might not be as easy as you think it is for a woman to break into later in life without relevant experience.
If you have something to say that you don't want to post publicly, please email academicgrief at gmail.