You mean, like, going into the Humanities?
I try not to have any regrets. I've never been able to do much with them.But purely career-wise, I've moved around too much, and it's caused a certain havoc for me. I'm a trailing spouse, though, and I've left tenure 2 different times.One time I left a job though in order to live in an RV for a year and write one of my books. I wouldn't trade that experience (with my wife) for that job.
Oh, we didn't just live in it, I mean we traveled 20,000 miles and visited 43 states. It's not like I was on the outskirts of town the whole time...
I didn't apply to better schools. I wanted to go to good schools but ones in which I could excel. Big fish in a small pond. It worked out ok but I could have done better professionally if I had started out ahead. Don't let anybody tell you that your pedigree doesn't matter.
Agreed. I went to exactly the wrong kind of school for my B.A. in terms of prep for an academic career, and it would have completely changed my trajectory had I kept pedigree in mind from the beginning.But, then again, it was going to that non-branded SLAC that turned me on to the very possibility of an academic career... That's either the silver lining or further proof that my undergrad institution started me on exactly the wrong path. Depends on the day.
I was a top scorer on entrance tests but had no money and applied to "cheap" schools- learned much later that its the "expensive" schools that have the endowment money to financially support outstanding students.
I knew what I wanted to do, and I am doing it, but had I been smarter about my grad school choice (and less in denial), I could have made it much easier for myself by having a grad school that specialized in what I am doing.A different grad degree would have allowed me to start working about 3 years earlier. Of course, three years ago I wouldn't be the stellar candidate I am now, so regret probably isn't the right word...
One that I NEVER understood until years later, I went to a party school as an undergrad. It affected everything afterwards.
I didn't find out how important it is to get into the right research groups and meet the right people if you want a research career. I've been teaching for three years and may never get back on the research track now.
My primary regret is that I didn't have a clear enough idea about what I wanted to do, and ended up in a grad school that didn't fit and isn't really doing me any favors currently. If I knew then what I know today, I would have applied to five or six schools that were better suited to my specialty and would have been tremendously useful in launching my career.
The truth is I have more than a little slacker in me. I'm at a top school, that's also highly ranked in my area, but I've been in ABD/ adjuncting hell for several years, slowly finishing up the diss. My regret is that I didn't make an effort to develop more self-discipline sooner. Now that I'm finally nearing completion, I worry I'm past my sell-buy date, and won't fare well on the job market.
I'm constitutionally unsuited to networking, glad-handing, and small-talking at conferences, and never bothered to do it. If you don't know the right people it makes everything in the research side of things an uphill slog.
Only one mistake? There are so many to choose from.
Accepting a tenure-track position in the South. Unless you grew up in the South, it's a mistake; it's not "like" the rest of the country, in ways that can be hard to detect at first. (I had lived in the Northeast and the West Coast, and never even visited the South as a tourist.)I got my PhD from the top program in my field, with a star advisor, followed by a postdoc at an equally high-powered school. The "pedigree" couldn't possibly be better. But I applied for a TT position during the first Gulf War/recession of 91, and there were few openings. The dept had a new and enthusiastic head, who tried to do things the sleepy departmental culture didn't react well to; and there were a few other good people to talk to. But one by one they left, and the local culture reasserted itself, just as the south was becoming ever more "southern". I periodically launch a job search offensive, but I should have started earlier.In retrospect I wish I had taken another postdoc, maybe in another country. But I was making these decisions on my own, and didn't get any warnings.
Like Cal, I don't spend much time on regrets, but I have two: That I didn't pursue the MFA in creative writing at a prominent, nurturing place that accepted me with no money, and that I chose instead a PhD program at an inferior institution. I finished neither degree.
I went to my 2nd choice graduate school, because I was in a relationship with someone whose 2nd choice school (for an MFA) was also in the same city. So off we went, but we broke up the summer before going. Each of us hated every minute of our 2nd choice graduate programs, though both were prestigious enough not to count against us. Mine was kill-or-be-killed, though, and I had no real friends or experience of collegiality. My ex's was hell-bent on ignoring her talents and refusing to show or promote her work because she make expicitly lesbian art. It was years later, when I met the brilliant, humane, intellectually generous people from the 1st choice I turned down, that I realized the gravity of my mistake. My ex is still obscure and still paying off the debt from her MFA. Moral: no relationship you are in before age 25 is worth giving up what you want career-wise.
Words to live by!
I wish I'd taken typing when I was in 9th grade, in 1972. The grossly incompetent junior-high guidance counselor told me, "Oh no, girls take typing. Boys take wood shop!" I have never done anything with wood since. Not being able to type as an undergrad in 1976 was an albatross I only finally solved well into grad school, when PCs became common and I got ahold of the "Typing Tutor" program. Ten days later, I finally could type. At least it's good to know that the generations after me can't be bitten by this one!Thanks to this same guidance counselor. I never did get to take Algebra I class. It sure did make Algebra II interesting, when I took it the next year in high school, but I got over it. Don't worry, Algebra I was never a requirement for graduation, and I had enough credits to get by anyway.Since then, I've gotten my way remarkably often by screaming at people, and by making them feel stupid. I wish I'd been able to do it all by being nice to people.
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I double majored in English and Psychology in undergrad. I hovered, not sure which direction to turn. I loved literature----studying it, writing about it, arguing about it. I got a full scholarship with stipend to continue.But I knew that continuing with the Psychology was the better bet----that I would enjoy that kind of work more, that I could do things besides teach, which even then I suspected, due to my lack of patience and lack of tolerance for people who were not as "good at it" as I was, might not be the best bet for me.I did not get a stipend, and only a little scholarship to continue with Psych.I also don't believe in regrets. I complain a lot, and I am going to try not to do that so much. But I have a great life. Besides, I seriously need to atone and work on my lack of patience and tolerance. Born and raised a Catholic, I've figured out a whole logical, karmic reason for the way things turned out.Still----damn. I wonder what would have happened if I had just gone the Psychology route. That's one decision I go back to too often in my mind.
When I can to my PhD school, I joined what I thought was a good lab. My mentoring was only so-so. I was not introduced to other professors in my field and there has been no help in my networking. And it turns out my PhD mentor just rubs people the wrong way! My Master's prof always made a point to introduce me to collaborators and others working on similar projects at meetings. Now that I am job hunting, I wish at times I had chosen a different PhD lab...
No one's said "going to grad school" yet? OK, then, I'll be the first: Going to graduate school in the first place.