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Jobs I Would Leave Academia For:

The ever-recurring debate over whether academics are unhappy (discussed in my last post) leads me to ask whether there are jobs I would leave academia for if I could get them. There are a few such jobs. But the nature of this list actually underscores the difficulty of finding a job that would be more fun for me than academia:

I. Supreme Court Justice.

In addition to the power and prestige, Supreme Court justices get to deal with interesting and important cases that they choose themselves. Moreover, they have lots of time to write academic books and articles on the side if they want to (as Justices Breyer and Scalia do, among others). Due to a larger staff and smaller case load than other judges have, the justices have plenty of opportunity to pursue outside interests and commitments. I could even continue to blog about legal and political issues if I wanted to (as several lower court judges, such as Richard Posner do). The big caveat here is that even if I weren't already unconfirmable, I couldn't just leave GMU and become a Supreme Court justice right away. I would have to spend the next 20-30 years wooing the politicians who might appoint me and doing all I can to avoid saying anything that might hurt my confirmation chances. And even then, the chances of getting appointed would be a crapshoot at best. On balance, then, it's not really a preferable job to being an academic once I factor in all the sacrifices involved in getting it.

II. Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer.

If I had the talent for it, I'd love to write sci fi or fantasy novels for a living. However, it would only be worth it if I were good enough to be one of the top writers in the field. The hand to mouth existence and tiny reading audience of the average professional fiction writer is not - for me - preferable to life as even a mediocre academic. Moreover, nothing prevents an academic with tenure from writing sci fi or fantasy novels on the side if he wants to. It sure worked out well for J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others.

Note to members of my tenure review committee if you are reading this: No I don't plan to actually do this myself I get tenure, if only because of my dismal lack of literary talent. Trust me!

III. Owner of the Boston Red Sox.

I would love to have the opportunity to implement Moneyball principles even more thoroughly than the current, relatively enlightened, Red Sox owners have done. I do have some doubt about whether I have the political and interpersonal skills to manage a large enterprise such as a major league team. But I'm pretty sure I couldn't offend nearly as many people as George Steinbrenner and his sons have done in their time as New York Yankees owners.

Although it's tempting, I probably wouldn't leave academia to be a professional athlete myself - even if I had the physical talent for it. I don't think I could deal with the constant physical pain, and I also don't want to be washed up by the time I'm forty.

Bottom line: Unless some of you generous VC readers want to give me the $816 million or so that it would take to buy the Red Sox, I think I'm going to stay in academia.

UPDATE: I should note that this is a list of jobs that I think would actually be more fun for me than academia. I'm not considering jobs which would be less fun, but that I might take because I could perhaps make more a contribution to the public interest there.

UPDATE #2: To avoid assorted comments on this point, I'm not claiming above that I'm actually qualified right now to be a Supreme Court justice. I think I might have the technical legal knowledge for the job. But I probably don't have the necessary political skills.

OrinKerr:
I couldn't just leave GMU and become a Supreme Court justice right away.

Ilya, when the libertarian revolution comes, anything will be possible.
4.23.2008 3:18am
Ilya Somin:
Ilya, when the libertarian revolution comes, anything will be possible.

But at that point, it would no longer be as much fun to be a Supreme Court Justice, because there wouldn't be any important unconstitutioal laws left to invalidate:).
4.23.2008 3:21am
OrinKerr:
Maybe you can lead the revolution. When the Somin Court strikes down the entire U.S. Code and the people learn to love the common law, you can then retire a hero and be a science fiction writer.
4.23.2008 3:24am
Sua Tremendita (mail):
Chief Grape Feeder to Charles Koch?
4.23.2008 3:32am
Armen (mail) (www):
Score, steroids in baseball!!!!
4.23.2008 3:32am
Ilya Somin:
When the Somin Court strikes down the entire U.S. Code and the people learn to love the common law, you can then retire a hero and be a science fiction writer.

Sounds good to me. I look forward to being appointed by President Orin Kerr and his filibuster-proof coalition of compliant senators.
4.23.2008 3:32am
UW2L:
I don't know. I think you'd make a bomb-ass commissioner on a local Zoning Board or similar body. Just think - you could live at Tahoe, or the South Carolina coast. Build a little house overlooking the water. It'd be idyllic.
4.23.2008 4:05am
Senator Compliant (mail):
Dear Honorable Ilya Somin,

Don't you think it is time we released Hillary Clinton from Guantanamo? As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am tempted to write an amicus on her behalf if she desires to file a writ of habeas corpus.
4.23.2008 4:06am
Hoosier:
My dream job outside of academe would be "novelist." (Is that a job?) Though I'd be more likely to write academic novels that sci-fi, due to complete lack of imagination.

My semi-realistic job away from academe is postman. Walking around instead of sitting on my duff. Talking to people instead of academics. And they're paid better than I am. But those jobs are hard to get, and I've never been called in for an interview.

This year, I've had couple students whose dads are postmen. When I mentioned this interest to them, they immediately said that their dads are very happy in their jobs.

My bad.
4.23.2008 4:11am
UW2L:
Hoosier, what is an "academic novel"? Is it one you can rerelease annually with some unimportant details altered and still charge $129 for every time, with no paperback editions, ever?
4.23.2008 4:15am
OrinKerr:
To avoid assorted comments on this point, I'm not claiming above that I'm actually qualified right now to be a Supreme Court justice. I think I might have the technical legal knowledge for the job. But I probably don't have the necessary political skills.

I think it's fair to say that being a regular law blogger effectively forfeits any chance anyone might have of becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Not to mention the fact that only 110 people in the history of the United States have had that job.
4.23.2008 4:17am
Ilya Somin:
I think it's fair to say that being a regular law blogger effectively forfeits any chance anyone might have of becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

Come the blogger revolution against the MSM, anything will be possible!
4.23.2008 4:19am
Hoosier:
UW2L--Shh! Don't spoil my fun.


I have a history monograph coming out next spring, if the schedule holds. The most recent book in the series costs "only" $87 in hardback.

But I just saw, for the first time, a Cambridge UP monograph in my area that was selling for $101. So the wall /has/ been breached in modern history.
4.23.2008 4:23am
Ilya Somin:
Don't you think it is time we released Hillary Clinton from Guantanamo? As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am tempted to write an amicus on her behalf if she desires to file a writ of habeas corpus.

Dear Senator Compliant:

Unfortunately, the Somin Court does not issue advisory opinions. If it did, we would have to inform the honorable Senator that President Kerr has declared Ms. Clinton to be an "illegal combatant," and we who owe our appointments to his munifecent largesse are in no position to question his exercise of inherent executive authority.

Sincerely yours,

Chief Justice Somin
4.23.2008 4:36am
Cornellian (mail):
I don't see why you can't combine all three - be a Supreme Court justice who happens to own the Red Sox and write SF novels on the side. You'd probably have to recuse yourself from that appeal over stuffing the ballot box at the Hugo awards, but otherwise you should be fine.
4.23.2008 5:59am
irksome1:
I seem to recall that a large factor in both Tolkien's and Lewis' success in fiction was that there was far less pressure exerted on academics of their generation to produce original research. The pleasure of dabbling in science fiction and fantasy is one that is more practical to indulge when not beholden to the paper-production-oriented environment that some modern universities subject their academics to.
4.23.2008 9:05am
Temp Guest (mail):
What about Super Hero. You may not have the qualifications to be Superman, but with the appropriate training and resources you could probably be a decent Batman.
4.23.2008 9:34am
Angus:
Ilya, enjoyed the post but don't think there was a need for Update II. As far as I can tell, nearly every citizen of the United States is qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice. I think that is the only hard and fast requirement.
4.23.2008 9:39am
Krause (mail):
Where does it say that you have to be a citizen to be a Supreme Court justice?

IS, you are right about the life for most sci-fi/fantasy authors. Most pull down a pittance. I have a friend who has published 6-7 fantasy novels over the years, and he has only received $5k-$25k for each one, even for ones in instantly recognizable milieus, such as the Highlander series. Not nearly enough to quit his day job.
4.23.2008 9:45am
Eli Rabett (www):
Let me throw another out: Retirement coupled with a (part time) post-doc in a related area where I can learn more, administer less and not write any damn grants unless I want to. Hopefully there is a law equivalent.
4.23.2008 9:53am
LarryA (mail) (www):
I am a novelist, in that I have a legitimately published novel on Amazon. I still have my day job. The "glamor" of being published is also vastly oversold.

OTOH I do get to pursue my perfect job on the side. I teach people to shoot.
4.23.2008 10:02am
ichthyophagous (mail):
If you want to dream, why worry about jobs at all? Suppose you won a huge sum in a lottery, enabling you to do whatever you pleased -- what would you do then?
4.23.2008 10:36am
Javert:
Once you are Chief Justice, you declare in favor of the City of Boston (who's doing the bidding of "Kerr Inc.") that there's a "compelling state interest" for Kerr, I mean the City, to confiscate the Sox under eminent domain. Kerr, I mean the City, picks up the Sox for a song. Sometime later, you're given a "birthday present" that's part ownership of the Sox. You quit the Court, live on the income generated by said ownership, and write SF.

There. Solved it for you.
4.23.2008 10:54am
Spartacus (www):
Only Supreme Court Justice? Would you not leave academia to be a federal circuit judge?
4.23.2008 11:28am
ithaqua (mail):
"I have a friend who has published 6-7 fantasy novels over the years, and he has only received $5k-$25k for each one, even for ones in instantly recognizable milieus, such as because he writes for the Highlander series."

Fixed that for you. Talk about a kiss of death :)
4.23.2008 11:30am
Skyler (mail) (www):
Being an owner is not a job.
4.23.2008 12:23pm
KWC2000 (mail):
This post is incredibly arrogant. As Spartacus points out, you imply that the only legal job that is a step up from your current jobs is Supreme Court justice and that you wouldn't even consider being a judge on the Court of Appeals.

Even your explanation at the end is telling:

UPDATE #2: To avoid assorted comments on this point, I'm not claiming above that I'm actually qualified right now to be a Supreme Court justice. I think I might have the technical legal knowledge for the job. But I probably don't have the necessary political skills.

You say you are not qualified "right now" (implying that one day you will be), and even MOST alarming, you basically contradict yourself saying that you ARE qualified (i.e., endowed with the "technical legal knowledge"), but the political process is all that stands in your way.

Inflated ego, much? I mean, really.
4.23.2008 12:46pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
KWC2000,

You're really too much. Everyone has dreams, and that's a good thing. Having a blog often means sharing those dreams. Your reaction to this very light-hearted blog entry is nasty, rude, and uncalled for.
4.23.2008 12:59pm
SenatorX (mail):
Is it profitable to be the owner of a sports team? For some reason I thought that was more of a status thing and prone to losses.
4.23.2008 1:13pm
Roscoe (mail):
Remind me of a book I read once, "The Vicar of Christ." This guy starts out as a Marine colonel, winning the Medal of Honor. Then he somehow becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. If that isn't enough, he later gets to be the Pope. And somehow the author makes it all somewhat believable (although I was younger then).

Anyway, Ilya, if you are compiling a list of cool jobs you aren't qualified for, how about Pope? Think of the benefits of being infallible.
4.23.2008 1:20pm
kidblue:
A short list of a few (of many) I would prefer:

- Op-ed columnist at the New York Times
- Executive position at the Gates Foundation
- Elected member of Congress
- Poet Laureate

These are only the more ambitious ones. There are lesser things I would probably settle for.
4.23.2008 1:29pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Skyler (mail) (www):
Being an owner is not a job.

Darn right. Get yourself appointed to the Supreme Court and run the Red Sox as a hobby. You can write science fiction as a sideline. Why settle for half the loaf?
4.23.2008 1:54pm
AndrewK (mail):
Too bad Postmaster General ain't what it used to be.

It also seems to me that the skills that make one a good sci-fi writer and those that make one a good SC justice are more similar than you might think. Narrative, rhetorical flair, ability to extrapolate social-scientific trends beyond contemporary bounds... Kennedy in Carhart seems very Asimov-esque, btw.... oppression, what is or is not life, regret...
4.23.2008 2:46pm
AndrewK (mail):
...aside from the obvious, the lengthy discussion of a technical process.
4.23.2008 2:48pm
KWC2000 (mail):
Skyler: Really? Are we reading different posts? Also, you are the one that said (snarkily): "Being an owner is not a job."
4.23.2008 3:24pm
Bill Woods (mail):
Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer.

What about a legal mystery/thriller writer? "Write what you know", and all that. And there seems to be a healthy market for such.
4.23.2008 3:26pm
HisHoliness:
I don't think he'd want to be Pope.

Infallibility only applies when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, on matters of faith &morals.

Plus you have to wear the same clothes every day.

And I think the hat would get tiresome.
4.23.2008 3:56pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Owning the Boston Red Sox is not a job. Being general manager, director of player personnel, manager - those are jobs.

Being the owner of a professional sports team does give you a lot of opportunity to meddle in the jobs of people you employ.

Nick
4.23.2008 4:04pm
ys:

kidblue:
A short list of a few (of many) I would prefer:

- Op-ed columnist at the New York Times [what's the pay?]
- Executive position at the Gates Foundation [the pay?]
- Elected member of Congress [love fundraising?]
- Poet Laureate [that's a temp position; normally full time professors get it ... oops]
4.23.2008 4:27pm
Bama 1L:
I seem to recall that a large factor in both Tolkien's and Lewis' success in fiction was that there was far less pressure exerted on academics of their generation to produce original research.

At that time, Oxbridge dons normally didn't hold the Ph.D. Research was just not part of what they did. If you want a modern analogue, think of a prep school teacher rather than a university professor.
4.23.2008 4:32pm
theobromophile (www):
Plus you have to wear the same clothes every day.

And I think the hat would get tiresome.

But if you're infallible, you could interpret the Bible and any other relevant documents in such a manner so as to mandate different apparel... like Red Sox hats and jerseys.
4.23.2008 4:41pm
zippypinhead:
I don't see why you can't combine all three - be a Supreme Court justice who happens to own the Red Sox and write SF novels on the side. You'd probably have to recuse yourself from that appeal over stuffing the ballot box at the Hugo awards, but otherwise you should be fine.
And who sez you can't have it all? Two kwik thoughts:

1. Reminds me of a famously cynical law professor I had who once said, while discussing the necessity of the legal guild's apprenticeship system better known as law firm associates: "When you graduate from here, about the only job you'll be qualified for is Supreme Court Justice."

2. Careful, Ilya, you'll also have to recuse yourself from any cases seeking to overturn baseball's antitrust exemption. Oh wait... I forgot. The antitrust laws are the first parts of the U.S. Code to put up against the wall and shot after the Revolution...
4.23.2008 5:09pm
lostmycookies (mail):
4.23.2008 6:59pm
Somedude127 (mail):
Ilya you can experience your #2 option first hand by sending a story to http://escapepod.org/. It's a website that runs a weekly audio scifi podcast. If they like your story you can get published... or whatever the podcast equivalent is and paid.

I'd encourage everyone to check out the site even if they don't have aspirations of being an author. This is the only way I'm able to get good scifi as a law student with a terrible time crunch.
4.23.2008 7:16pm
Roscoe (mail):
NickM - Obviously you are neither a Cowboys nor a Redskins fan.
4.23.2008 8:13pm
Zach Boman (mail):
The Red Sox are Money Ball? The Redsox. They throw money around like it was growing on trees, grass, plankton and stray dogs and cats. They spent fifty million dollars just to negotiate the seventy million dollar DiceK deal. I love the VC but that has to be one of the weirdest things I have ever seen in my life reading this site. Im from Kansas City and I know a thing about watching a team try and Moneyball. The Red Sox are Cash spewers right up there with the Yankees. It still might be a fun job to have (I would rather own a team in the NFL) but that line was absurd.
4.23.2008 10:58pm
Crunchy Frog:

What about a legal mystery/thriller writer? "Write what you know", and all that. And there seems to be a healthy market for such.


John Grisham seems to do well without any noticeable legal knowledge.
4.24.2008 1:08am