Thursday, June 10, 2010

Transitions, Part 2: Academia to Oh, Hey, Job Skills

Academia! There are very few other professions where one is paid peanuts to work 60-hour weeks for ten years (scientists) or six-to-eight-to-adjunct years (everyone else), all for a one-in-three chance of a poorly-paid job.

Look, if you want to be an academic, or love research, or don't mind academia, good for you. Really, I mean it. Academia isn't all bad. But most PhDs, even in science, will not end up in academia. My experience was, in academia, they train as if everyone will be an academic. When one then finds it undesirable or impossible, it can be a devastating transition.


Back to our regularly scheduled angst recap!

After a few years of tears, depression, unreproducable results, being scooped- you get the idea- I decided that I loved science, but academia and I needed a trial separation.

My advisor was not keen on us doing anything but science-80-hours-a-week. So I didn't tell the advisor, who was never satisfied, no matter how hard I worked. Fine! Let's work less. Advisor thought I was never in lab enough. Great, let's be there less. I might as well do something else- useful to me.* After all, if there's no pleasing some people, why try?

I volunteered at the local middle school, helping kids do creative science projects. I judged the science fairs, and sat on the floor, talking to kindergarteners about pennies and barometers. I did science demos in the inner city. I took classes on science ed (one of which was spectacularly good). I thought about being a high school teacher.

I looked at my home state's requirements. I'd have to get a Master's degree at my own expense- all the teaching I had done was clearly useless, you see- and then be paid roughly $30,000. With my PhD. Um, what? I should... work really hard to do something underappreciated, for peanuts? Er, too late.

I started working with a small journal. I worked really damn hard. I eventually became editor-in-chief. I directed several major projects, including putting100 years of archives online. I was quite good at it. I liked it. How about a science editing job? That's like science research! Only with less academia!

Next: Oh, That's A Funny Idea. Ha. Ha.

*If I get any more comments to the effect that I should have been a good little robot and worked harder,
I WILL DELETE THEM. I know how damn hard I worked, and it would never have been enough.

My advisor once said to SuperStar Postdoc** "Oh, SuperStar, you
used to work so hard". Because SSP was only working 70 hours a week at that point. I am not kidding.

(6 papers in 3 years, 15 job interviews, 6 job offers, ended up in That City With Wind at FancyPants U, $900,000 startup money, thankyouvery much)


  1. I am sorry (and sympathetic) about the angst. Life is a bitch ain't it?

    I will confess to being addicted to you blog though, since I love the ballsy tell-it-like-it-is attitude.

    Your life, your feelings, your truth.

  2. Anonymous10:16 AM

    Been there. Sorry you had to be there too!

    Got a PhD, then stayed home to raise kids (starting 8 years ago). I had realized part way through grad school that I really liked research, but I really LOVED teaching. And I really wanted to have kids and not be on the post doc/trying for tenure roller coaster while having babies.

    Now, have gotten certified for middle school math and science teaching, and going to be certified for high school in the fall. Applying for jobs now...

    The thing about the master's degree for teaching--at least in my state, it DOESN"T have to be in education. And a PhD counts as a master's, plus more. For elementary teaching, there are additional course requirements needed to get a teaching license, but for middle school and high school (in my state) there are tracks to licensure that involve proving you have a degree, and then passing licensure tests for whatever level you are interested in.

    So, if teaching is something you are interested in, maybe contact the licensure board in your state, because school systems are looking for really good people, and are starting to realize they might get REALLY good people through non-traditional routes.

    You kind of have to make your own opportunities to get the teaching experience for them to take you seriously (though it sounds you already have it), and the only problem is that hiring a PhD is more expensive. But I am very hopeful (am applying for jobs now, and have a couple interviews, so am keeping fingers crossed.)

    Good luck.
    I have really loved your blog, and can relate to it VERY much. You sound like someone I would really enjoy knowing in real life.

    :) Neighbor Lady

  3. People that cannot be pleased -- sounds familiar. Took me far too long to understand.
    Also, German universities train everyone as if they were to become a professor. At the undergrad level, I mean. Which, again, can be very frustrating. (The system is changing now, I hear, forced by Bologna, though rumor is that they're mostly slapping new titles on old programs.)

  4. Neighbor Lady- that's interesting! I did look at Home State's work-to-teaching thingy, but it doesn't count grad school as 'work experience' so I wouldn't count. A pox on all of them.

    Amelie- is there anything special about Bologna? (Not familiar with German system... must look up... curious now!)

    LabMom- thanks for the compliment! I figure, my blog, my the hell with it attitude. ;)


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