Academia vs. Alternative Science Careers—What’s the deal?
“Bart, don’t make fun of grad students, they just made a terrible life choice.” –Marge Simpson
This post is an outpouring of my thoughts and feelings about the whole “academia vs. alternative career” dilemma, arranged into lists to make them appear to have some level of organization. Take a look and let me know what you think!
Alternative careers aside, what are some of the things that make grad students decide against academia (anything but academia!):
- I got caught in a bad project and want out… forever. (♪ “I want good data and a paper in Cell but I got a project straight from hell… whoa oh ohhhhh, caught in a bad project.” ♫) Great, now I have that song stuck in my head.
- I may not have had a bad project but my labmates were such meanies that I developed an aversion to all things research. (What, you mean it wasn’t funny when we wrapped all the items on your desk in foil and filled your desk drawers with packing peanuts when you were gone on vacation?)
- I married rich and will live off the income of my sugar-spouse.
- I like my life too much to sign it all away to the ever-growing list of academic responsibilities: research, grant writing, teaching, administrative stuff, meetings, recruiting, advising, group meetings, subgroup meetings, one-on-one meetings, conferences, writing papers (publish or perish!) and frequent world travel. Exciting for a single person without kids, not so much for someone who wants to actually see their spouse/family on occasion.
- I don’t want to put in ten years of schooling to get a job making marginally more per hour than the average person.
- I want to actually have kids before their child-bearing abilities have left me without a trace. I know, you can have kids before tenure, but from what I hear it makes it a lot harder (not surprising), especially if you don’t have a stay-at-home spouse.
- I don’t want to give up all my other hobbies forever and ever in the name of being a hard-core academic.
Which leads me to… what’s the appeal of an “alternative career” in science?
- Working a job that you love and that combines multiple interests and passions into one (i.e. science and writing, medicine and art, technology and law, you get my drift).
- Having an 8-to-5 job so that you can make time for the rest of your life. All those hobbies that got put on hold when grad school happened, you can get them back again!
- The option of moving around. You have heard it said that once you leave academia it’s hard to come back (although some argue against that). However, with an alternative career you may find yourself shifting gears over the years and end up doing something completely different from what you started off doing.
- The option of freelance. Just imagine: working in your pajamas from your cozy at-home office. No more driving through traffic or wearing sausage casings (a.k.a. pantyhose). Sure, it has its own set of pressures and challenges, but… just imagine…
What’s the take-home message? In my opinion, academia would be much more appealing if it wasn’t so gosh-darn demanding. I really believe that I would want to become a professor if the amount of work they had to do in one day was split up over three. That is, if I hadn’t recently fallen out of love with research.
I just think it’s too bad that the unreasonably high demands that are put on professors turn so many good professor candidates away from academia. Just sayin’…