Thursday, May 22, 2014

Academics anonymous

A while ago, the following article was doing the rounds:

Academic Anonymous: why I'm leaving academia

The article talks about the kinds of pressures that people face in the world of academia and the advantages and disadvantages of academia. One of the lines that stood out and got my attention was (my emphasis):

We put up with this in the hope that we will be rewarded with a permanent position at a university in a town or city we would actually like to live in.

That sums up how I feel quite well. Of course my career is very important to me, and my work is probably the most important thing in my life right now, but it's not so important that it eclipses everything else in my life. One of the main reasons I want to leave the field is that I want to spend more time and energy on the other parts of my life. I've never had a relationship that lasted more than a year. Since leaving home I've never lived a reasonably from either of my parents. It's been years since I was able to just go and have a picnic with some of my university friends without first getting on a plane (or more recently the Eurostar) at a huge cost in terms of time and money. See friends shouldn't be that difficult. I should be able to give my friend the attention they deserve. When we get together we have a lot of fun, and I try to spend the time in a way that isn't just enjoyable, but goes a little way to making us better people, whether that means learning some local history, exploring some esoteric museum, or just taking some beautiful photographs. I'd like to have time to spend a night in playing on an Xbox, but that just seems like a wasted opportunity.

From this point there are only two realistic options for me if I choose to stay in academia:

Get a faculty position
There are two possibilities here, either I get lucky and get a safe tenured position, or I get unlucky and have to pursue tenure (so I'd be facing pressure to work hard and compete for the position.) Now being a professor would not be bad at all. The working conditions and pay are generally better, and I'd get the opportunity to teach, which I love to do. However it would still mean putting my career ahead of everything else in my life and saying that it's more important, as if my life should suit my career rather than the other way around.
Get another postdoc position
This is not desirable because it really just pushes the real question back a few years, and time is precious. This is the decision after my previous postdoc position and it's helped me to realise that I want a change. Getting another postdoc position would mean moving to a new city again, making a new set of friends again and upheaving all my life again, and then doing that once more after the contract has finished. Doing all that just to delay a career decision would probably be a big mistake.

Some people have the impression that I hate my job, and this is untrue. I quite like my job, it's fairly easy, the hours are flexible and the working conditions are laid back. Since I choose not to devote all my waking hours to it's become quite comfortable, and for me that's a problem. If I'm comfortable at work then it feels as though I'm stagnating. So either I stagnate, pursue a goal I don't want, or choose a third option. I think I'll take the third option: the unknown! With friends!

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