August 19, 2012
On Leaving Academe
By Terran Lane
Earlier this year, I resigned from my position as an associate professor of computer science at the University of New Mexico; in July, I started as a software engineer at Google. Countless people, from my friends to my (former) dean, have asked, Why? Why give up an excellent—some say “cushy”—tenured faculty position for the grind of corporate life?
It’s a good question. Tenure represents the ultimate in intellectual freedom; my colleagues in my department were talented, friendly, and incredibly innovative; and I was privileged to work with some excellent students, a number of whom would have fit in just fine at powerhouse institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Purdue University.
Honestly, the reasons are myriad and complex, and some of them are purely personal. But I wanted to lay out the ones that speak to larger trends at the university, in New Mexico, in academe, and in the United States in general. I haven’t made this move lightly, and I think it’s an important cautionary note to sound: The factors that have made academe less appealing to me will also affect other professors. I’m concerned that the United States—one of the innovation powerhouses of the world—will hurt its own future considerably if we continue to make educational professions unappealing.