@StuporDuck: Sigh, for me it is a lot of things. I’ll give a run down. As a side note, it was a hard decision because I LOVE graduate school and all the people and the free-thinking atmosphere. But then there’s….
1. Encroachment on my personal life: I work far, far, far too many hours, nights and weekends, and make very little money. I’ll make more as a professor but I’ll work more. Staying in academia also means following the limited job market opportunities….it is basically essential now in my field to do a post-doc so I’d have to move, move again in 2 years, then probably end up in a random town for a job that may be in a very undesirable geographic area. I could maybe do this as a single person, but not as a married one who wants kids. Also, I’m a minority, and not comfortable living in certain places (I’m really sorry about this last one, but I can’t help feeling it!)
2. The work makes me sad: I actually like research and teaching, but it comes with a lot of politics, and the publication process is soooo corrupt right now. Add into the mix the incredible revelations of fraud occuring world wide at the moment that I actually no longer see academia as ‘free-thinking’ the way we like to talk about it being. Plus, I feel like my work in academia (research side) isn’t having any real-world impact, and that makes it a lot less fulfilling for me, which in turn demotivates me.
3. No jobs even if I wanted them: The academic job market is in disarray. It’s worst in the humanities but even in experimental psych it’s not good. And I am in one of the absolute top programs (I have no idea how people in lower-ranked programs are possibly holding onto their sanity right now)…having seen my older friends struggle to even get post-docs despite having multiple 1st author papers in top journals, it just is super demoralizing. And getting a post-doc doesn’t mean a job in 2 yrs because now there is a huge glut of post-docs (CHE has a lot of great articles explaining it better than I am).
4. The appeal of leaving: I can work on things that have real, measurable impact on society (health policy, gov policy, etc). I can make a lot more money and work many fewer hours–something I really will look forward to when I have kids). Serious reduction on the pressure to get “sexy” results that is part of the reason the publication process got so bad. Getting to live near friends and family, or in any city of my choosing.
I’m not the typical leaver of academia I guess because I really loved grad school, had generous funding (so I’m not motivated to leave based on debt), and a great relationship with my advisor. I always assumed I’d be a professor, but lately the things at the top of my pro-academia list are just 1) flexible schedule, 2) no need to wear adult-pants. Those probably aren’t enough to go through all the effort 🙁