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
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.
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