Saturday, February 28, 2009

Academic Turn-Offs

Many times, when I'm asked what I want to do after I finish my PhD, I end up getting into a conversation about what turned me off academia. I usually use the "it's just not for me" response. However, a recent post over on Sciencewomen has made me think a little harder about what specifically has turned me away from a life in academia. Here is what I came up with:

1. Complete lack of mentoring. And I don't mean the science part, because that was rather good (thanks to my supervisor). Instead I mean things like seminars or workshops about writing papers, giving talks, career options, teaching styles, academic ethics/fraud, grant writing, telescope proposals, etc., etc., etc.. I really wish there was more guidance and professional development for graduate students.

2. Very little collegiality within the department. This relates to #1, but is more about the work environment. People just don't talk to each other much, let alone creating scientific collaborations. There are a number of department members I pass in the hallway that know who I am, but they refuse to even make eye contact. It's just not a very nice place to work.

3. Big heads at conferences. I specifically don't like people that think Astronomy is the end-all and be-all in life, and what they are doing is so incredibly important. Yes, your research is interesting, but don't act like you're God because you have some data of some random object that someone else doesn't. In the grand scheme of things, you're not that important, and neither is your work, so stop acting like an asshole and have respect for your fellow researchers.

4. The definition of "success". It bothers me that success means making your research your life, and anything you do outside of research is taking away from your career. I generally get the feeling that having a family is still looked down upon in this day and age - and taking maternity leave is basically the equivalent to career suicide.

5. Selling out. I don't understand the attitude that taking a job besides a purely academic one is considered selling out or failing. Why is working in industry selling out - because you make more money? Because you may not be able to direct your own research? Perhaps there are people out there that don't want to run their own research lab (the shock! the horror!). Or what about teaching? Is the old adage "if you can't do, teach" correct? I have to completely disagree with this - how can anyone think that teaching is not totally important to our society? What ever happened to choosing a career path based on what one enjoys, instead of having to fit into some mold of what is deemed successful?

As you can see, there are many things that absolutely turn me off from a life in academia. Something that I have recently realized is perhaps it has just been my PhD experience that has generated this attitude. Maybe things could be better for me elsewhere.

In my next post, I'll talk about what it will take for me to stay in academia.