Is this the real life? Is this what an academic's job looks like?


Hey fellow PhDs.

I hope you are all well. I finished, passed and dusted my PhD a few months ago and I embarked on my pursuit for happiness..or so I thought.

I am working part-time at two universities. I am lecturing on the first one once a week, I find it enjoyable and lovely. It takes me all weekend to create my powerpoint slides and material as I had to build the module from scratch, but thank God we have the internet.

The rest of the week, I am working as a research associate/Post-doc fellow in another university. I was so excited and all but guess what. I end up doing literature reviews and working on impossible deadlines burning every single brain cell left in my head reading, and studying and reading.

I have a PhD, three master degrees and a bachelors degree. If I wanted to keep writing and counting words to reach the expected length of documents....I would had done another masters or another PhD. Guess what? Doctor squared...that would had been lovely. However I would have had to do that from a psychiatric ward, as I was going to go even more mad.

I enjoy writing papers. I already have multiple publications. I like being creative, exploring, expressing ideas in a document of reasonable length. Lit Reviews? No. I hate it.

Since i have just started my this the real life or is it just fantasy? ( Praise the...Queen)

Is this what an academic's life looks like? Studying for the rest of my life? If this is the case I will attempt to go into industry and keep lecturing part-time.

The pay is low. My nervous system has collapsed. I hate my life and I have zero happiness inside me.

What other careers can one pursue with a PhD? Can I do consulting? How do I start as a consultant?

Please help me.
I am rotting,
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile or Dr.'s hat, still, stays on. Sorry too many Queen references.

Best wishes,


Yes, you have described an academic day to day. Read and write papers, apply for grants, lecture and supervise students, all under a low pay with very little career progression towards the elusive tenure.

You have spent many years studying. Now you have to work and earn an income. There is a transition between study and work, and it may come with work deadline and pressure to hit your KPI. If you do not like academia, maybe explore something else then. Medical writing, science communication are all possible career paths if you like writing


It is, pretty much, the life of an early career academic. But I can maybe share you some tips from experience to spare you your life from this monstrosity:

Lit reviews are often written into funding bids because they're an obvious thing to do, to the casual observer. As a reviewer, I dislike proposals that include them where they seem to be to self-inform the project team. I mean, you're an expert in it already - you shouldn't need funding to Google it. If there is a case for a literature review as a research task, it should hinge on some observed contradiction or issue in existing literature that needs exploring. The problem is because so many proposals have lit reviews blindly written-in, with no clear purpose, postdocs that already know the subject area end up reiterating their existing knowledge for the nth time in longhand 'because they have to'.

Advice #1 on that, is argue the case/purpose/scope of what you're doing academically (as you've been trained to do); rather than blindly following direction or a 'project document' that is basically the proposal, reformatted, and containing all the issues you'd expect from a proposal that, whilst it might have good science behind it overall, is no doubt flawed as well. It can be hard to switch mindset from being a student with things you 'have' to do, to being an academic that should, rightly, argue if something is pointless or scientifically naive.

Advice #2 on that, is learn to quickly, lazily write unimportant documents and prioritise your time on important stuff. The amount of time I've seen postdocs stress over an (e.g.) EU project deliverable, which only needs to pass cursory review (as the reviewers, also don't care about a lit review document other than to check the box it exists), when they could have spent that time on more productive activities - that would genuinely further the objectives of the project - is impressive. It can also be hard to switch from having learned to write rigorously, scientifically, and with careful proofing, to realising not *all* documents need to be written rigorously, scientifically, or carefully proofed.

On the teaching side - yes, we all prepare our slides the weekend before the lecture. The light at the end of the tunnel there, is you can deliver the same slides the next year(ish). Teaching feels like less work and stress the longer you do it. Dig your heels in as far as possible if they ever try to increase your marking workload, though.

This all assumes you'll stay in academia. And there's nothing wrong with leaving. It definitely is a sunk-cost fallacy that the PhD will be 'wasted' if you leave. Really finding happiness in the world of work, is about carving out a niche, whatever the role, that you enjoy; and part of that niche-carving often involves doing what might be called a 'half-assed job' on stuff that's unimportant.


When you are resigned to it and say to yourself "I'm easy come, easy go, Little high, little low, Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to Me, to me"...then, then you really have it sussed :-)