I’ve been struggling with something lately. I feel like there has been some… conspiracy, for lack of a better word, perpetrated by academia. I feel like I’ve been lied to for the last six years. I always envisioned myself going in to academia. I published a lot as a graduate student (>20), secured NIH funding, and matched at one of the top internships in the country (obviously clinical). I’m on internship now, and have multiple interviews and job talks, so the academic life is within my grasp (so this isn’t sour grapes)… and yet I feel strangely dissatisfied. As I sit here, I feel like it’s all for not. I’ll never really publish anything that will have a significant impact on the world (in fact I’ll probably never find anything that matters much outside of my small group of researchers). Think about the top researcher in your area, what does your grandmother think of them? Ultimately, academia would be no better or worse without me. Of course, I’ve been led to believe that what we’re doing is a worthwhile enterprise; that we are discovering the unknown truths of human behavior, and that ultimately this will lead to the amelioration of human suffering in some meaningful way. In addition, there is this illusion that I could be one of these intellectual gods from whom I have stole away with Prometheus’s fire, making me somehow intrinsically a better human being. Think about the esteem paid to scientists versus clinicians. I saw this first hand in grad school. The research students were the “stars” while the more clinically focused students were “good students”; even though they perform identically in every other domain. The truth is this: I’m about to embark on a moderately satisfying career (hopefully), with modest earning potential, undefined expectations, in a cut throat environment, where I’m judged on my ideas rather than deeds (right or wrong), and where my impact will (in all likelihood) be minimal. I will demand unearned (and likely undeserved) respect by those below me in order to compensate for the fact that I made a poor choice (Ok, I wouldn’t do this, but I saw this way too much, by way too many faculty in grad school). Of course, I love doing research (every aspect of it). But I also love watching TV, swimming, eating good food, being with family, puzzles, etc. I have better options that pay better, have lower stress, more satisfaction, more benefits, and lower hours (e.g., the Government). So why am I doing this? So I don’t disappoint my mentor? To stroke my own ego? I feel like every reason I have has been put into my head by academia, and when I step back and look at it logically, it falls apart. I don’t know why, but I feel like that’s what it’s come down to. So in my attempt to find the answer which I am apparently too dense to see, I ask you: Why are you doing this?
Date: 20 Dec 2011 13:54
Number of posts: 21
RSS: New posts
Q: "So in my attempt to find the answer which I am apparently too dense to see, I ask you: Why are you doing this?"
A: I don't know. I do know that you sound like you don't want an academic career, and if so, don't do it. Life is short and you need to do what makes you feel like you are contributing to your own happiness and beyond.
Agreed guestagain…if you are writing this why are you even considering a career in academia? You will likely have grad students of your own in the near future, so working in a field that you are dissatisfied with will not only make you unhappy but will also harm others (your students).
One more point. You brought up Government as a shorter hour/higher paid option. I'm not sure what kind of Gov't job you are referring to but I have several friends who I went to grad school with and who now work for the Gov't. They are absolutely miserable in their jobs and get paid much less than professors at research schools (I don't know what pay is like at a LAC). If you want to work in an area where your efforts will absolutely make zero difference, then the Gov't is a perfect destination.
You clinical people are so dramatic. I want to shake all of you. Prometheus? Really?
1. It is too late to be all boohoo about being a clinician. You can either a) go into practice and help change the world one crazy person at a time and "feel good", b) do whatever pays best, or c) you can go for teaching and research (these options are not mutually exclusive, by the way). Either way, you're going to be clinically oriented. There's no escape now.
2. It is possible to be in academia, have a life, and be respected all at the same time. Aim for the right type of institution and you can have this. You may have to move around until you find it, but it can happen.
3. If you are going to be in academia, the best you can realistically hope for is that you'll have an impact on your colleagues and students. While it is certainly possible, you are not likely to change the world or be the next leader in your field. If this is problematic for you… well, you better start working harder (no swimming or tv).
4. This isn't the 1600s and you are not a philosopher. You aren't going to be judged on your "ideas." In terms of tenure, you'll be judged on a) how well you are liked by your students and colleagues (evaluations), b) your competence, and c) your productivity. You can succeed at all three while having utterly bad ideas (I see it happen all the time). Sure, it is better to have good ideas, but as long as you are good at convincing people to accept your bad ideas it doesn't matter. It is all about your accomplishments (and the subjective quality thereof).
5. Good deeds? Psh! There is no job where you are rewarded for your "deeds." Not even judges, cops, or social workers are rewarded on their deeds. Okay, well maybe the job of superhero would qualify. You are living in a fairy tale. If someone actually told you the things you've described in your post, then yes, you were lied to. My guess would be that nobody really told you these things. I think you just made some bad assumptions and were never corrected.
You need to make a decision about where you want to go in life, but understand that if you jump off the academia track… it is really hard to come back. I've considered doing it many times. I think it is normal to think about it. Actually doing it though….
It's a brave question. I do it because thinking about ideas brings me meaning. Testing them is also exciting/worrying, but there is nothing like the initial spark, "the insight". There is also the opportunity to mentor and help — it is a privilege to be able to do that when people are themselves looking for meaning. Other lesser things: feeling in control of my time, schedule, feeling respected by others. But those latter reasons are clearly not enough and could be attained elsewhere. I also sincerely hope it will somehow help others, but again, that is not primary.
how about others here? The last two posters didn't answer the question.
I’ll never really publish anything that will have a significant impact on the world (in fact I’ll probably never find anything that matters much outside of my small group of researchers).
I think I know what you're struggling with, and I have gone through it myself. What I realized was that most of what I publish will go on a dusty shelf/disk drive, only to be read by a handful of people, who will use only a small piece of it. I cling to the idea that some small piece of something I publish might be worthwhile and, when combined with thousands of other small pieces written by thousands of other researchers, will lead to improving the lives of human beings.
That's an awfully long-term view of how I might feel my work has been worthwhile. So, what I figured out a few years ago was that I would need some shorter-term reinforcement for what I do.
I look at it this way. I have been given lots of privileges in life. Being born into late-20th century America, to parents who were educated with modest incomes, and thus had access to good schools and exposure to ideas that predisposed me to be interested in using research to make the world a better place. I feel honored to have that privilege and so using it to make the world a better place is an honorable thing to do.
Unlike you, I'm not a great researcher. My idea generation is modest at best; what ideas I had have mostly had null results; my few publications are chapters or lower-impact journals. Why do I persist? (insert partial reinforcement schedules lecture here)
Well, for one thing, I consider academia a calling, like an ecumenical calling. I don't do it because of the money, or the accolades, or the prestige (although those things are nice). I do it because I have been led here by my genetics, experience, and motivation, and it feels good to be part of this enterprise. But because I am not a great researcher, I feel called to serve as a teacher, mentor, and role model. I leave the superstar research up to people who have the disposition and will to live in the publish-or-perish cut-throat world of "ideas rather than deeds."
This may be why I found teaching at community colleges so very intrinsically rewarding in ways research is not. Teaching is very much about ideas, but it comes down to deeds, in the sense that your actions speak louder than words. Being able to help students — many of whom are coming from disadvantaged economically, socially, etc. backgrounds, first-generation students, and students who otherwise would not be able to attend university immediately — to achieve their goals and earn a degree for a better job, better lives, or even to go into graduate school, is one of the greatest rewards. Rewarding in ways research and its limited impact is very unrewarding.
So in the job search this year I am concentrating on places where I will be able to make a significant difference in the lives of my (mostly undergraduate) students, working closely with them to help them achieve their goals. Research is secondary and a bonus, and will always be second place for me. But that's only because my calling is not for research — rather it's for the enrichment of the lives of some of the thousands of students who will pass through my classroom, office, and lab. If something I publish leads to the eradication of some human suffering in 100, 500, or 1000 years, that's great. but for now, my focus is on teaching, mentoring, and inspiring my students.
So that's why I am choosing academia in my job search. I could go into industry or government or non-profit NGOs, but teaching (and some research) is where I feel called to serve.
Okay, to answer the question:
I am doing this because I like being able to follow my own interests as far as I want to take them without somebody telling me what I have to study and for how long. I like setting my own hours instead of worrying about "billable hours," having summers off (but not really), and interacting with students and the weirdos that just show up on campus for something to do. I like the university environment where people are educated and hardworking (usually), and I like being able to collaborate with colleagues and discuss research/teaching. I feel protected at a university (not as many bigots and the like), and given the economy I really, really, really like the high potential for job security.
Argh.. I'm sorry, guss, I know it's all relative but cmon. These are problems that only someone in a very fortunate position can have. Personally, I also worked my tail off in grad school and did everything I was asked to do. I did a lot of research, and yes, I also did a lot of clinical work. Now I'm just hoping for a job once my current VAP contract expires in the spring. ANY JOB. It is so incredibly harsh out there that most of us are just grateful to have some type of gainful employment. If you don't think academia is right for you and you have so many other fulfilling options at your fingertips… respectfully, move the blank over. There are plenty of us who are 100% sure and would be much more appreciative.
It seems to me that clinicians, more than others, want to change the world but my motivation is different. By choosing academic life I want to advance the knowledge in the world. I am driven by curiosity and questions that interest me. I find it remarkable that I actually have the opportunity to answer some of these questions. I realize that they might have little impact on other people, or they are not revolutionary and only few people might read my papers. Still, the ability and the freedom to answer some basic questions about human behaviors is wonderful in my view.
I don't think we need to play the "my problems are bigger than yours game". There no need for judgment of who is wrong and right. What inspires you to be in academia, it's just a question. And if the answer is "I just want a job" that's a-ok.