How high are you aiming?


Just wondering....I really want a career in research and would love to be a prof one day, but I wonder if it's possible to get that high and still keep doing the things you love about research? I look at my supervisor and how stressed out she is most of the time and how she doesn't go out seeing participants any more because she is way above of all that- but that's one of my favourite things! And of course she has no end of other responsibilities- I sometimes wonder how she fits it all in, and then I remember- she doesn't have much of a life. Sometimes I think I would rather just reach the middle ground and stay there where the pressures aren't too horrific and I would still be doing what I enjoy. Does anyone else feel like this or is everyone all ambitious and determined to make it to the top?!! Best, KB

Avatar for sneaks

I'm constantly thinking this in my head. I seem to have this problem of pushing myself to do things that actually, I don't want to do - I just feel I *should* do them. Hard to explain.

Anyway, as a 26 year old, I'm starting to think how on earth I can have a family, be there for my family as much as I want to be (I don't want a random with poor grammar looking after my kids!) AND be in a good job (whether that be academic or not).

I recently set myself the mental goal of becoming a professor at oxbridge - why!?? I don't WANT to do that, I just feel like I should be pushing myself. argh!

I sometimes think being a ploddy along worker in a company would be so much easier. I mean, can you be an academic without pushing yourself constantly?


My lack of career aspirations sometimes puts me off academia. I don't really want the stress of being a prof. I don't want to be influential and top of my field.
I'd like to do research I enjoy, have a good work life balance, a family etc but I'd also like job security.......sometimes wonder whether academia is going to allow that.

Avatar for Batfink27

I'm similar, Sneaks - keep pushing myself even when realistically there's no need. I feel guilty if I'm not reaching for some ridiculous goal - I'm always doing more than one challenging thing at a time (until recently I held down four jobs at once, and when I was doing my Masters degree part-time and working two jobs I also wrote a novel - crazy!) Sometimes I look at people who just do one thing, and have evenings and weekends to themselves with no guilt or worry, and I'm really jealous, but I never seem to manage to order my life that way!

I would love to be a professor one day, but as I'll be about 40 when I finish my PhD I don't know if it's realistic to think I'll get that far. I don't want my research career to be the only thing in my life - I want to relax a bit, but I also want to be able to write novels on the side. And secretly, I know I'm lazy, deep down - I really just want to sit around reading books and watching DVDs and not doing anything more than the minimum just to get by!

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ah Batfink we sound very similar. I watched 5 mins of catchphrase last night and me and hubs were laughing away (at his rude suggestions of what the catchphrase might be) and we suddenly remembered that we used to sit around all day every day when we were undergrads doing that - it was great!

I'm very very tempted to get out of academia, problem is once you're out its almost impossible to get back in so it has to be a definite decision and I'm not sure I'm there yet.


This is something which I'm always pondering. I've always wanted to be a scientist, and in terms of doing research to advance mankind's knowledge, nothing can beat academia. But unless you get to the very, very top - and it takes a phenomenal amount of hard work, and probably also a little bit of being in the right place at the right time - the pay and job security/stability are dire compared to that offered by other jobs which you could use a PhD to get. As such, I'm looking at other jobs, some heavily linked to science, some less so, all of which I could use my PhD to get a foothold in, and all of which are better paid and more stable. I still have a couple of years to go, but I don't want to get to retirement age and, despite having enjoyed my career, face 15-20 years of living on the breadline. And this doesn't even take into account how academics are meant to raise families!


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So PhD candidates are all perfectionists, then! Many comments on this thread chime with my own perspectives and experiences.

I attended my MA grad ceremony today and I'm the only candidate going on to a PhD. I was really pleased, when catching up with people, to learn that the recession hasn't hampered their search for work. Nearly everyone has found a job in the industry in some capacity.

One thing I would say is that, having worked for more than a decade before returning to higher education, it's easy to think the grass is greener in the real world. In my old job I often worked 50-60 hour weeks, felt perpetually stressed-out, and collapsed at weekends before dragging myself out of bed on Mondays with a stress-induced knot in my stomach and an overwhelming feeling of resentment. I haven't felt like that since returning to university.

I appreciate I'm an early-stage PhD researcher, but higher education hasn't proven as draining as full time work for me, at least so far. I'm already anxious about what I'll end up doing post-doc, however. Like many who have posted on this thread I'd love to be a perpetual student; as I'm sure an academic career demands greater rigour and commitment.

For now I've found shelter from corporate culture and every soul-destroying aspect of working life that made me feel so hollow. Higher education helped me escape; and I can't envision myself working in the corporate sector again! If that means I have to chase an academic post then so be it...

Avatar for sneaks

I think its the short-term contract nature of academia. I'd love to get a lectureship and be employed on a never ending contract with a university. but they're hard to get in my field, and if I don't get one I'll be stuck on a life of 18-24 month contract jobs (IF they're available)- and having to explain publishing gaps on my cv because I went off and had a kid or something.

And now I'm scared having watched the new today :-(


Normally I would suggest you think more that twice what your aiming at.
Professors defer from one to another, which means that I know Professors who have so many obligations but they live normal lives, they are still feeling happy and their characters are not affected by their academic position, or their stress-full research...
On the other hand there are Profs deeply emotionally involved in their research, which gives them the benefit to be more and more productive but they lack normal life living.
Basically, it's up to you to choose!
Everyone is feeling like this once in a while...Keep aiming high but be in touch with the ground every once in a while...


I hear you guys. I'm in the same situation. I thought academia is flexible, and would be an ideal environment especially for women who have children. I don't have any kids yet, but I'd like to have them soon. This friggin' "flexibility" thing is non-existent. I mean sure you can stay home and work from there, or go to a cafe and work from there. But hello, pretty much every waking minute of your life is consumed by research (not to mention you actually have to cut sleeping time to get research done). So there is no real flexibility there, all your time is devoted to research.

Keenbean, I totally get you: "Sometimes I think I would rather just reach the middle ground and stay there where the pressures aren't too horrific and I would still be doing what I enjoy. Does anyone else feel like this or is everyone all ambitious and determined to make it to the top?!!"

A couple of years ago, I wanted to make it to the top, envisioned myself as a player in the field. But seeing folks around me dying to get tenure, it made me think whether it's all worth it. My prioroties have changed. I am approaching 30, and would like to have a baby soon. The question for me was whether I'd be able to answer to the demands both of the academia and of parenthood (and of being a wife!). I don't want to work blood and sweat for the next five years only to get a stable position, which is not that flexible by the way. IMHO, I think there has to be a compromise somewhere. In my case, between family and research, I'd choose family. That's just me. So yes, I'd rather have a non-stellar job and have more time for family :-)


Interesting comments here. I'm certainly aiming for the top, but for me, academia is not at the top of my own mountain. After a decade of a professional career, and a decade at home with the kids, I'm doing a PhD to resume my professional career at a higher level. There seems to be an assumption that non-academic life is a relative doddle. That's not the case, in my experience, as you can set the highest standards for yourself in whatever sphere you choose.

Avatar for sneaks

the location thing is hard for me. At the mo I'm having loads of people tell me 'there's a job going in Scotland' - yes, that's great, but I own a house in the south, so I'd need to spend £10k on moving, I'd also then have to uproot hubby from a reliable well paid job, so I can go and work on an 18 month contract?? where I'll have to move again, and pay out another £10k to move house in over a year!??? No thanks!

and that's the reason I probably won't be able to make it to the top in academia because I'm not willing to travel like that.


Wow, sounds like I'm not alone! I want to do well in my field and become well-known and all that, but I just don't want to become basically a manager and sit in my office all day supervising others and writing grant applications and rubbing noses with all the other famous profs. To be quite honest, if PhD pay was any good I could happily do PhDs for the rest of my life! KB