My AltAc Story

My AltAc Story

I recently made public—at least to my Twitter followers—my decision to start an alternate academic (#AltAc on Twitter) career. Here I give some detail on when, why, and how I made that decision.

Why academia?

Why did I start off in academia? I would like to say I chose academia because, after much careful consideration and weighing of choices, academia gave me the best career in which to apply my skills: public speaking, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking. In truth, I clumsily stumbled into the career, not knowing what to do or how to succeed.

Simply put, I entered academia because I saw it as an inevitable next step. I love learning. I did not want to stop as I approached my senior year of college. I spent all my time as an undergraduate student focused on learning, to the detriment of any planning for life beyond college.

I also admired—and envied—my professors. At my small, rural liberal arts college, life as a professor seemed ideal: frank discussions of subject matter and issues of the day with engaged students; grading thoughtfully-produced long-form writing assignments with detailed, constructive feedback; chatting with colleagues between classes; and living on comfortable, although certainly not exorbitant, salaries.

I soon learned much of U.S. higher education no longer follows this model. I also timed it poorly, entering graduate school in 2007, just as the Great Recession started. Many people sought economic refuge within higher education, while politicians used the crisis as an excuse to cut funding for universities, forcing them to admit ever-increasing numbers of tuition-paying graduate students, while simultaneously cutting back on new faculty positions, to shore up their bottom lines.

After earning my Ph.D. (doctorate) in 2013, I started teaching at Texas State University as an adjunct, which means I would not work toward tenure, the holy grail for career academics. Tenure bestows not only job security but prestige, greater pay, and greater say in how your department and university run. I kept applying for these jobs, which became fewer and farther between. I managed a few phone interviews, one campus visit (the last step before a job offer), and even a job offer from a very small, very rural college that could not afford to pay me enough to live in the nearby town.

And then it happened: After three years working as an adjunct, in the same year, a new position in my specialty opened at both my alma mater and at my own institution. I applied to both, but neither search committee chose me. I saw these as the final nails in the coffin for my career in higher education, and I had reached the limit of my patience with academia. I saw no future, no promise, and certainly no chance at the life of those professors I had admired in college.

Why accounting?

They say you have to hit bottom before you can start moving back up. I felt I had, at least in terms of academia.

The Spring of 2017, just after I had found out I would not get either of those jobs, I sank pretty low into depression, but I quickly searched for a fresh start. My wife and I stopped talking about how to make academia work and started talking about how to make life work.

I went to college thinking I would go to law school. I saw myself as a judge, maybe even a justice in an appellate court. Then I decided what I really loved was the technical side of business. I took two semesters of Latin my first year of college because I thought it would help understand the legalese of contracts better. My sophomore year, I took a business law course and an accounting course because I thought I might minor in business. That accounting course stuck with me far more than the business law course did.

A few years ago, my wife and I also started taking control of our financial life. We paid off our four-year car loan in one year, cut up all our credit cards, and started using a cash-based budget. Our pursuit of financial freedom and literacy combined with my passion for technicality, and of course remembering enjoying that accounting course I took years before, led me to pursue accounting.

Why now?

Around the same time, I had started listening to Orthogonal, a podcast hosted by Brett Kelly (of Evernote fame) and Andrew Carroll, an accountant. He had posted some on Twitter about considering franchising his solo accounting business model, so I reached out. I needed a way of getting experience in accounting that also allowed me to keep my full-time teaching job.

Andrew jumped at the idea, gave me a few pointers, and in the last year he has become a great boss, mentor, and friend. He filled a gap that my superiors in academia never did. He pushed me to become an Enrolled Agent. Passing the three exams gave me a boost of confidence that seemed unavailable in academia. He created a system that allows me to develop my own practice while having a tried and true model from which to work. In short, he made the switch to accounting possible.

Thanks for reading! Whether you’re surviving, thriving, or fed up in academia, I can help you navigate the financial waters. From taxes to retirement to starting or running your side business, I can help you. Schedule a FREE consultation with JWellsCFO, your Personal CFO!

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