On 4 March, Christopher Jackson tweeted that he was leaving the University of Manchester, UK, to work at Jacobs, a scientific-consulting firm with headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Jackson, a prominent geoscientist, is part of a growing wave of researchers using the #leavingacademia hashtag when announcing their resignations from higher education. Like many, his discontent festered in part owing to increasing teaching demands and pressure to win grants amid lip-service-level support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He is one of many academics who say the pandemic sparked a widespread re-evaluation of scientists’ careers and lifestyles. “Universities, spun up to full speed, expected the same and more” from struggling staff members, he says, who are now reassessing where their values lie. The demands add to long-standing discontent among early-career researchers, who must work longer and harder to successfully compete for a declining number of tenure-track or permanent posts at universities. And Jackson had another reason. He received what was, in his opinion, a racially insensitive e-mail that constituted harassment and alluded to using social media to police staff opinions, which, he says, was the last straw. Jackson filed a formal complaint and the University of Manchester responded: “The investigation has now concluded. We have made Professor Jackson aware of its findings as well as the recommendations and actions we will be taking forward as an institution.”