OK, seriously, tell me...


I guess everyone is different. I can't imagine why anyone would want to be a secondary school teacher or an air hostess (for example) but I can see benefits of being in those jobs as well as disadvantages- they're just not benefits that I would value! Also, there are a lot of other variables with respect to experiences of academic jobs- the particular team you work in could make a huge difference to your experience, whether you have a good/bad supervisor or line manager, whether you are really passionate about what you are researching, etc etc. I have always enjoyed my research, though having completed my PhD and started a post-doc I am realising how stressful and busy this lifestyle is. I expected the responsibilities to be on a different level, but it is a very steep learning curve. Personally I would like to reach a certain level, but am not prepared to sacrifice everything else by striving for the very top. My brother is in a completely different profession (retail management) and has just made such a decision after learning that his wife is expecting their 3rd child! There are masses of stresses in his job too and he was faced with redundancy last year as well- every job has its own stresses and strains. KB


Quote From badhaircut:

Not convinced by this. There are plenty of jobs outside academia that give you an equal if not higher level of intellectual challenge, and rewards (with the added bonus of usually paying more especially if people are on short term contracts like in research). What you don't get is the social prestige and ego massaging of being called "Prof." or "Dr."

I'm not convinced by the social prestige angle myself. I don't think academic Dr carries the prestige that it did in the far distant past, and isn't regarded as well by wider society as we might like.

And the jobs situation depends on the subject. Some subjects have more scope for freedom of jobs than others. In humanities for example I'm struggling to think of more than a handful of jobs that could offer the same amount of intellectual challenge as an academic career where someone has the freedom to pursue fascinating research topics of their own devising. Really struggling here! There's freelance writer for example, but that's a real struggle to get any type of decent income, for all but the very best writers out there.

As for the working outside 9-5 thing I've argued against that a lot on this forum. I never did it, even as a full-timer. My husband never did, not during his PhD, and not now. He sticks to his hours. His time outside those hours is his own. I think that's a very healthy thing to do, and means he has a good life-work balance. Trouble is if people get into the habit of working incredibly long hours during their PhDs it's hard to do anything different as a post-doc.

And re the short-term contracts, well it varies. My husband for a long time was on 12 or 18 month contracts, but he was essentially permanent, and was always renewed. Then after so many years he was automatically shifted to a permanent contract. He can still be sacked at short notice, so permanent isn't necessarily as brilliant as people might think. But he has a job he enjoys, and is staying put.


Quote From badhaircut:

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.

This is a massive oversimplification and overlooks several things. Fellows tend not to be on perm contracts for staters. Lecturers are part of a diminshing pool of labour and have more and more dumped on them as student numbers increase, administration goes up and the pressure to constantly publish keeps piling on.

Having left academia a while now, I work in the private sector at a comparable level and there is no where near the crap I had to put up with whilst as an academic. I have a perm post, I get paid according to my workload (more than uni rates) and my own time after 6pm is my own. I don't have to constantly watch for emails from students, mark essays or do the stuff at that is additional. Office politics and stress is everywhere but academia is on another level entirely.

But I'm sure there are people (like my supervisor at undergrad) for whom it works the other way. They had loads of shite to put up with in non-academia and have less as a lecturer. A lot will depend on the uni you're at and all sorts of other factors. I've found working at a uni less stressful than working in the "real world" so far (1.5 years into an RA post, spent 3 years in industry) and I reckon I do the same or fewer hours of work per week.

Basically it all just boils down to the specifics of one person in one job. On this board you will tend to get people who are going through a hard time because that's when they look for help, skewing how academia appears. Some people like their jobs some don't. Some people get over loaded in their jobs some don't etc etc. Academia or industry doesn't really come into it aside from short term contracts being more common in academia. Some people like that (don't get tied down), some hate it (job security etc).

All just my opinion of course, no peer reviewed research has gone into this :-)

Avatar for Batfink27

I agree, it really does depend on the person and the job - and what you're comparing an academic career to. I was working for fifteen years in a variety of jobs before starting my PhD, and while I enjoyed some of those jobs more than others, they all had different stresses and different advantages. As far as I can see, no job is perfect, but academia at least has the potential to be interesting, and challenging, and engaging. And sure, there are better paid jobs out there, but there are also masses of jobs that are significantly worse paid. The hours might sometimes be long, but there's ways of organising your workload to reduce that. And there are other advantages too - I'm not likely to get death threats or be physically assaulted at work, or to be treated as a mindless little dogsbody too thick to have anything worthwhile to say, or to do something so meaningless that I want to gnaw my own arm off just to relieve the tedium of my existence - and that's all stuff I've felt in previous jobs! An academic career doesn't sound at all bad to me, you just have to be realistic about the reality of any type of employment.


I'd agree my PhD wass probably less stressful than any of the fairly high pressure jobs I'd done up to that point, and would even go so far as to say that apart from the continuous need to job search, my postdoc was nice too. I would say though that I think there is a huge difference even between being a postdoc or RA and a fulltime lectureship. It's true - the RAs in my department do work sane hours, although their contracts are not as secure and I did myself as a postdoc. Yes you have some stress but it's only in one area - research outputs. I think a lot of stress in a lectureship (particularly if you work for a research intensive university so have to care seriously about the REF) is around trying to meet your REF targets (publications in top journals only, impact and research income), while simultaneously chasing improved NSS scores, when often the two sets of targets pull you in totally different directions. That internal contradiction is what gets to people. If you only have to do one then I'd imagine it would be easier (although saying that a friend lecturing at a teaching-led university has just been signed off with stress, so maybe the grass is always greener...).

Someone a few comments below said surely it would be possible to just do your job as a lecturer and not try to get any further, and have a fairly relaxed life - it is possible but only if you are prepared to be loathed by all of your colleagues for never contributing to the collective good eg by taking your turn at the big admin jobs, serving on the numerous committees, helping prepare for internal and external audits, taking on the PhD student that has fallen out with their original supervisor and about whose topic you know little etc. Some people can freeride without a qualm - others can't.