I've never really understood why someone would want to be an academic, if they know what's involved. If I can do research I really feel passionate about I can really enjoy it but I don't like the idea of churning out loads of journal articles, loads of red tape, a heavy, stressful workload, being put under intense pressure to achieve certain things, constant deadlines and working extremely long hours (but I do like to work hard when I'm working). Just observing academics over the years I have to say by far the majority strike me as being really stressed (surely this is not a happy state) and so I'm curious as to why so many want to be academics.
Discuss and debate.:p
i see a lot of people getting that way too, but i actually enjoy the lifestyle- i get to do what i want in terms of directing my own work towards my interests. i keep a little notepad for other ideas when im not in work mode- but generally i do leave my work alone when im away from it. having another outlet or two helps- music and comedy shows for me, personally. extra money too. you dont have to be an uptight or stressy head-melter to get on well as long as your work makes sense. all this is my own experience i guess. horses for courses!!
======= Date Modified 22 Jan 2012 11:18:24 =======
I agree that it is very demanding and stressful relative to the monetary rewards. I mean, high-level positions in financial/legal/other types of organization are equally stressful, but their earnings tend to reflect this.
For me, I am attracted to the level of independence. Obviously you have to meet external requirements and work with others, but on a day-to-day basis, you are managing your own projects. Also, I find academic work to be extremely rewarding - seeing a new idea through from start to finish is worth all the complications in between. I also like being very busy and having new targets to constantly meet. I should add that I'm naturally a stressed person - I can rarely relax fully, even if I grant myself a day or two off. So I think regardless of occupation, I'm programmed to feel that way. I channel it into productivity, however, so it isn't all bad. When I've worked in more collaborative professional environments, I found I had the added stress of depending on other people, who often weren't similarly motivated. Being my own boss - to a degree - suits me better.
I have worked in consultancy for a number of years, and exactly the same situation can be seen in this sector as well. I would argue that the private sector is a little more stressful that the academic. For me the key difference is the opportunity to dig much deeper and ensure that the answer is the best one, rather than in consultancy where the level of depth is often dictated by the project cost and time.
Having a higher degree allows the chance to work in both sectors. To my mind, it is all about options for future work.
I'd never work in private sector/consultancy - I'm a home-girl. I like to be with my husband at 5.30 and spend the evening with him. I couldn't work a job where i'd be expected to travel up and down the country every day and work long long hours in the office.
I'd like to work public sector, but there's a lack of identity for me there - when I publish, its my name, I get the credit for my work. In the public sector (e.g. gov't research jobs), then I'd be part of a wider team where my effort is less likely to receive credit.
As an academic I get to do things how I want to, my contract doesn't have ANY hours I have to meet -so the flexibility is immense. I get 40 days leave a year. I do end up working long long hours, but I get to do that at home and to my schedule e.g. hubs has gone to the pub today, so I'll spend a few hours catchiing up with student emails etc. If we have kids the flexibility of the role is also very valuable.
I think a lot of it is that people (including many PhD students) have a very idealised idea of the profession. I enjoyed my PhD and didn't find it particularly stressful, I also enjoyed TAing. I thought like many people being a lecturer would be a great job - you'd get to do your research and you'd teach bright enthusiastic students. What I didn't realise until I got a lectureship was the extent of the administration work and dealing with student problems that there is involved in the job. And of course all of the things Delta mentions that increase the pressure - there is a sense that even if you performed miracles on a daily basis on the research, teaching and admin fronts, you'd still miss the targets. I think as well that people who do PhDs tend to be fairly competitive, we know getting an academic job is tough and so we tend to put it as our next goal (there's a socialisation process going on as well during the PhD, that success equates to getting an academic job). That said I was amazed at the amount of PhD students I met who assumed that they'd walk into an academic job with ease, so I wonder as well whether there's a bit of naivety about it all too. There's some really open and honest material on becoming an academic on Manchester University's website: http://www.academiccareer.manchester.ac.uk/ I think it's well worth reading.
Thanks everyone. I've no interest in being an academic and never had, even before I witnessed the stress some put themselves under (or are put under). I fell into research by accident and like being able to set my own hours (within reason) which is probably why I stick with it. If it was 9 to 5 I know I couldn't stick it. Doing research would suit me, even at assistant level, so long as I was left in peace and trusted to get on with things. However, I would only be happy doing this if I could stay in the one place, moving around for research contracts would not be for me as life is too short and I want to start living it...
I think this thread is good in that it gives an insight from many. I've enjoyed reading the posts, to date.
i went for a career in research for two reasons....the flexibility of a research job and the chance to research my own topic.
further down the road i figured they were untrue. they say research is "flexible" because you can work any time you want. in my case, i'm not working any time i want, but i work all the time to churn papers and do lectures.
they said you can choose your own topic NOT. the supervisors disapprove the topic when they don't like yours, so basically you can choose your own topic as long as your sup agrees. that's not freedom.
i went out of academia and went for a corporate job. in both places you get to do things you don't always want to do, but i like the idea that if corporate bosses abuse you, you can report them to higher ups. in academia, professors don't get fired, so they have less incentive to play nice.
From what I have seen, many prospective academics have a hazy idea that being a professor is a good way to gain a stable, prestigious middle class job that has a lot of flexibility and perks. This was probably true in the 1960s and 1970s, but the changes in academia and mass education has changed that beyond all recognition.
I also think most of us don't realise when we come in how uncertain and challenging the path will be. Even if we were told it's tough, most of us will have been among the best in our class, getting "As" and achieving whatever it is we set our mind to, so would probably have bet on ourselves overcoming the odds. It doesn't matter because posts are increasingly downgraded, fewer in number or part time because universities know its cheaper that way.
I think there is also an element of unwilling to walk away from huge sunk costs. After we have been working on our PhDs a while it feels like we are too far in to turn back and do something else. Or we see it as a personal failure, are told by supervisors that we couldn't hack it, that our friends will sneer at us. So we have huge pressures to keep on walking towards the mirage, even though it would make sense to most external observers to give up and try something else. Or it could be the fear of not knowing what else they can do that keeps them on the path.
I think for many its a trap. They are stressed if they leave, but equally stressed if they stay.
I must admit I was gutted, and still am, that I never got to do a PhD an in area that interested me. I tried for years and eventually ended up doing a PhD I'd no interest in, under very, very poor supervision and so even though I passed the viva I never felt any joy and felt and feel very removed from 'my' PhD. Under different circumstances, passing viva could have been one of the best days of my life...
======= Date Modified 22 Jan 2012 16:56:16 =======
My original supervisor was asked this question when he gave his newly-prof'd talk some years ago. He'd worked in business before becoming an academic. He became an academic because he enjoys the intellectual challenge, and finds it much more rewarding than a conventional 9-5 job.
My husband is likewise. He would never have been happy in a conventional job, never have found the same degree of fulfillment. But as an academic (now a Research Fellow) working on cutting-edge research he finds his work constantly challenging, and ever so enjoyable.
I'm sorry you couldn't find a PhD topic that you loved Delta. I sort of fell into my first one, but of course had to leave that when the illness struck. When I had a second go, this time part-time, it was very reluctantly, and only because I had found a topic which I absolutely loved, and wanted to research more, even if I was very scared of dropping out from / failing a PhD again. I planned to self-fund that part-time PhD, and did for the first year, but won funding from AHRC for the remainder. Though of course I can't work in academia now, but am an independent academic, generating (slowly) more academic journal papers, and doing more research, as I can.
======= Date Modified 22 Jan 2012 17:07:49 =======
Thanks Bilbo, it was good in a way because I was probably able to complete sooner because I wasn't that attached to the work. I worked and worked hard but found it easy to let go and don't hanker for the research. That said, I was very lucky because it was funded and it saw me through 3 years of the recession.
Interestingly, I didn't find it intellectually challenging (just the stats aspect) and it didn't keep my mind ticking over. I found it easy to switch off from it.
I still don't get this whole "academia is so different" thing. It's as if people here think that if you work in the private sector you don't have targets to meet and you don't work overtime.
How much time you put into a job depends on you. The academics you are comparing yourselves to tend to be professors yes? That's like comparing yourselves to a very highly paid executive. They also are stressed a lot etc.
Most jobs can be stressful, I would say that the only difference in academia is that the type of person who goes into academia *tends* to be fairly driven and focussed. Basically the type of person that gets stressed anyway. The question is basically why would anyone want to work really hard to get to the top of their field when they could take an easier option. Personally, I would take the easier option because I think there is more to life than my work. For many people their work is their passion, so they want to get to the top, which requires very hard work and is stressful. An easier option in academia is to become a lecturer or just a research fellow (though preferably on a permanent contract) and then not really aim to move any higher. Sure it'd be stressful to start with, but you'd soon get into the swing of doing enough to keep your job and having time off.
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