Why Academia Sucks

Had a chat with my advisor today about what i was going to do next year...yikes. Side note: don't ask me what I'm going to do next year...if i haven't told you then i don't know yet. I know you're interested or feel you should be interested but really i won't feel bad if it seems like you don't give a shit because its better than me feeling like i have no idea whats going on (closer to the truth). Anyways, back to the topic at hand. She asked and so I was forced to answer and talk about getting a position in academia. The chances of landing a position in academia are SLIM. There are way more PhDs out there than there are faculty positions (especially ones at major research universities). She encouraged me to still try and get a faculty position at some point noting that I would have an easier time because I was American...not sure i want to get a position because I'm American, rather than being the best candidate and I can't imagine that being American makes you the best candidate automatically. That's another issue though that I really don' t have the patience to discuss. 
Of course, the question in the first place is...do I want a faculty position? For the last five years I've trained myself to say, "yes" because that's what other faculty want to hear. Its like its part of their DNA to tell people they should get a PhD and become faculty someplace. I don't get it. They encourage all sorts of people to go for a PhD and pump up their egos and never mention the fact that getting a job with that degree is tough. Doesn't seem quite right to me. I fall into the same boat, 3 years ago with my committee lauding praise in an attempt to get me to stick around for a PhD. I know for a fact now that there was no way they could have known the ability i would have to complete the whole thing or to eventually get a position. I think stuff has worked out OK but it was just as likely that I could have been a total loser who was goaded into wasting time on a worthless degree or no degree at all. That's a pretty big risk to take with someone else's life. Sure its up to each person to decide for themselves , but young folks in the beginning of grad school are easily taken advantage of due to insecurity, power issues, and fear of the real world. Faculty need to be more mindful of this and be realistic with their students. 
Back to what I want to do...faculty or not? I have BIG issues with academia today. I think the first is the type of people that academia attracts. Sure you've got lots of really brilliant people and lots of not so clever folks. The problem is that just about everyone thinks their the former even if they're the later. What this amounts to is a lot of people in a room who are so used to being the smartest one and never having to say they screwed up or were wrong. I know there are some readers out there who are right now thinking, "so whats the problem, Patrick, you'll fit right in." True. I can't argue that one much more except to say that at least i recognize the problem and don't want to be a part of it. 
The second problem with academia is that across the country the people that run universities are academics. The people that run the place should be managers. Its not accidental that the heads of big pharmaceutical companies start out as PhDs but eventually become MBAs. Universities  should be the same way. A department head is a manager and he/she should be hired not for his skills at the lab bench but for his/her ability to inspire people, bridge communication gaps, set direction/policy, and implement plans. As a cocky scientist, i don't want to work for another scientists...i want to work for someone who has a skill set that is NOT my own. 
Lastly, academia sucks because you need contrived reasons for funding. With industry the reason is simple and consistent, "we want to make more money." With academia you have a problem you want to study and the reason is (and should be) because you were curious but the reason you tell the NIH/NSF is that you want to study it because it has implications for global warming, or it will help cure a rare disease amongst the southwestern albino Eskimos. Yeah right. Big pharma scientists might be sellouts but at least they're honest about it. Don't get me wrong, industry sucks too...just not sure i'm right for academia at the moment. 
Maybe I should just be more positive. Academia is nice because you get to wear funny robes every so often and after a few years you pretty much can't be fired. Always some upside i guess. Patrick OUT!!!

1 comment:

Manolo said...

I think that you are in the I-need-to-write-the-fucking-dissertation-right-away state. It is clearly characterised by the realization that what you have been doing these years does not account to much, and by acknoledging that once you look outside your field for new positions, those guys will not care much for what you have done. The only therapy I know, is to keep all you work options open (from a militiaman at the Patriots games to running for Congress), write the damm thing, defend the bloody dissertation and nod to their stupid and unimaginative questions, take a much diluted EtOH as you can to purge the thesis from your system (it is only soluble in EtOH, I am afraid), and three weeks post-dissertation consider what of your offers you are goint to pick. Right now, every posible job that you can do is probably the least appealing job in the world.

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