Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Leaving Academia

After reading Dr. Dad's post about industry, I was reminded of the whole agonizing will-I-be-an-academic struggle.  Just like so many other bitter and disillusioned grad students who have been hit in the face with the Big Wet Dead Reality Fish.  I'm sure I wrote about it at great length.  However, at a distance of several years' worth of graduatin', industry-workin', and baby-wranglin', here's my summary:

The Five Stages Of Academic Disillusionment

  1. Relentless OptimismI will get an academic, tenure-track job when I graduate!  I am smart enough, I am good enough, and everyone will love me!  I'll be such a good teacher!
  2. Great Expectations. Everyone else who didn't get an academic job just wasn't working hard enough!  will graduate in four years because I'm better than all of them. (Note: People who are not jerks tend to skip this stage in favor of clinical depression.)
  3. Reality Fish. Damn, I finally read the NSF statistics.  I'm never going to get an academic job.  I'm never going to graduate.  I'm not sure I'm ever leaving this damn lab.  Shoot me now.  Also, what the fuck does doing research have to do with a SLAC teaching job?  Bastards.
  4. Solipsistic Agony.  Is there any good outside of academia?  Will I be a miserable, useless failure if I cannot live up to my own ideals? 
  5. Money Money Money. Hey!  Real jobs pay.... real money.  Suddenly this looks much more attractive  See you later, academia.  Don't let the door hit you...


  1. You have a rare gift for expressing the realities of academia. Speaking of Big Wet Dead Reality Fishes, are you a fan of Monty Python? My favorite TV schetch of theirs was the fish-slapping dance :)

    1. Monty Python is a staple at my parents' house. I also once had to watch Holy Grail for a class while some well-meaning but rather dense people outside (holding a rally) shouted "What do we want? NO RAPE! When do we want it? NOW!!"

  2. Thanks for linking to me!

    In my case, I seem to have a 6th stage, where, like in the Godfather, I keep getting pulled back in. I try to leave, but it never works out - someone goes out of their way to give me an offer I can't refuse.... I then start out at stage 1 again and work my way down until I get another seemingly great opportunity. And then it repeats, like some horrible career PCR reaction....

    I suppose it's a good "problem" to have, but I think it's driving my wife insane....

  3. Hey, at least you real scientist types have an industry backup! I recently ran a couple of workshops on applying to grad school, and was fascinated by how unwilling my students were to hear the message that academia is insanely competitive, and that one needs to really consider WHY one's applying to a PhD program. They just don't believe it. Nor did I.

    In my case, after 4, came a different 5. Get a tenure track job despite these odds, then 6. realize it's awful a lot of the time and that the people you looked up to are just a bunch of sniveling cowards and that there's nothing pure and beautiful in life. But that one has to also feel perpetually grateful for one's fabulous career.

    1. I should have specified: Disillusionment for people who leave academia. :)

      Students are morons, and I include my past self in that assessment.

    2. Anonymous6:00 PM

      I didn't get a tenure track job, but a long-term lectureship. Nevertheless, I was also shocked and disappointed to learn how awful it is in reality. I thought I had enough experience as a Teaching Assistant to predict my happiness as a prof! I totally relate to the phrase, "there's nothing pure and beautiful in life" and when I try to share what I've learned, students get angry :p

  4. Anonymous4:48 PM

    Oh my goodness, yes. It's true in the humanities too!

    Thanks for the laugh.


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