Thursday, April 30, 2009

Things I'll miss about working at a university.

1. The coffee cart

Hear me out on this one, because it's not about the coffee. It's about the student energy, all the crazy posters and activities going on. It's about overhearing researchers and teachers from other departments talking about things they're working on. Reading the campus magazine.

2. Seminars

Sure, there are always meetings and visiting people giving talks, etc. But the sheer variety of options is much broader at a university. Even if I rarely made it over to hear about art and literature (or whatever), I could sometimes do that if I wanted to. Just knowing it was there, just seeing it listed on the campus calendar, was somehow soothing to me. Not being trapped in too narrow of a bubble.

3. The women's center

Something about this, and the LGBT office, just warms my heart. Sure, there are all kinds of organizations devoted to women in various careers, blah blah blah. There are always the book clubs. But this was amazing, going to hear successful women PIs talking about how they got where they are, despite all the crap that goes on. Trying to strategize. Okay, so it never helped me much in any tangible way, but it was comforting to know that even if I was alone in my lab, since I was on a campus, I was not alone.

4. Fresh blood

By that I mean, the constant influx of students and postdocs and young faculty from all over the world doing all kinds of things. Yeah, sometimes the internationality of it gets old, like having to remove all English idioms from your speech because none of the non-native speakers know what you mean, etc. But there's something to be said for having students around, always asking new questions that no one else has the perspective or guts to ask. And because having students around means you'll never again truly be the bottom of the totem pole.

5. Cutting edge toys just for the sake of playing with them

Where else can you get so much new stuff just for the sake of seeing what it can do? With no pressure to produce something profitable anytime soon?

6. History and future

This one is hard to measure, but there's something about an established school. It doesn't have to be about the age of the place, just that people put a lot of hopes and dreams into the location, and they plan to be around for a while longer even if you don't stay. Even better, some of the jerks might leave, and it will probably still be there, only better.

I think this is different from working at a company, where you never know if or when the whole place might completely go under. Sure, I hated grad school and used to wish mine would burn to the ground, but with the soft focus blur of time gone by, I don't feel that way about it anymore. In a Stockholm Syndrome kind of way, I actually enjoy going back there once in a while. Almost exactly how I feel about my other, real home.

7. Flexibility

One of the things that drew me to science in the first place was, oddly enough, my perception that working whatever hours were required would make it easier to have kids. Lo and behold, I ended up feeling like I didn't really want kids, even as it became obvious that the flexible hours thing doesn't help much unless you have the ideal partner... and ideally, daycare too.

I still take advantage of the flexibility, working weekends when I'm not wanting to see too many people, or working from home when I need to. I only have a few meetings a week that occur at set times; the rest is up to me. I can't imagine there are too many jobs that work this way, where you can pretty much come and go as you please.

8. Independence

Perhaps the thing I'll miss most is the idea that I could be my own boss eventually if I just worked hard enough. I know this isn't really true, you still have to pander to a variety of jerks to keep your grants afloat and your papers in press, but the delusion that I could choose was very motivating for my creative tendencies.

The idea of going to work on someone else's vision just doesn't have the same appeal. Sure, maybe it's time to grow up and get a Real Job, or whatever they call it these days (rent?). But I don't think there are that many arenas where creative independence is such a hot commodity that hundreds of people are climbing over each other just to get the chance to try to have it.

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At 1:19 AM, Blogger hypoglycemiagirl said...

the flexibility is certainly one of the major reasons I really really really want to stay in academia

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Does this post mean you're developing an exit strategy? Some other jobs have become more appealing to you? What's on the horizon?

At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do those things outweigh the politics and favoritism needed to move up and really be independent? Something happened on the way. Grad school was alright, not unbearable. I had my hopes up that the postdoc would be a kind of reinvention of one's self. I attacked it with vigor and then I became seriously disillusioned. There is something wrong when you bust your ass and really incompetent, politics playing people are pulling shit.

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous anon said...

Are we to infer that you are (soon) leaving your lab for other adventures?

At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So do you actually have a job and are leaving? Or are you just speculating about what you will miss when you do leave? You might not be leaving anytime soon (unless you are being forced out) as there aren't really many industry jobs out there that I can see. Unless what you do is highly sought after, which it may well be.

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to cherish flexibility too. But, now my priorities have shifted. Now what I really want is more job stability (beyond a standard 1-yr postdoc contract) so I don't have to keep bouncing from one lab to another. Decent salary and benefits like what my non-science friends have with far fewer years of education and appreticeship in their professions. And not being treated like a second class citizen by PIs. And not seeing peers who have the right connections get ahead on less merit and hardwork while I continue to languish indefinitely in a dead-end position. I would trade the flexible hours of academia for any of those.

At 10:37 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I think it's cute that this post generated so much curiosity. Good to know I still have some readers, since I don't always get many comments on the posts I'm most excited about.

This is partly an exercise in preparation for leaving, yes. Is that vague enough about the timetable? Some anonymity still required, thanks.

But I want to reiterate what Anon said, because it exactly echoes how I feel:

I had my hopes up that the postdoc would be a kind of reinvention of one's self. I attacked it with vigor and then I became seriously disillusioned. There is something wrong when you bust your ass and really incompetent, politics playing people are pulling shit.

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup, Your post and the comments sum it up perfectly. There is nothing that beats the flexibility and independence of academia. They are the two things I hold most dear and I don't think I would ever be able to do a normal 9 to 5. However, once you get to a certain point in life (i.e. early to midthirties), you want something more. Job security is one thing, although I think those times may be something of the last century. But certainly appreciation and a certain pay off for all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears you have put in ever since starting undergraduate training. For me, freelance work would be the chosen career should I (be forced to) leave academia. At least there my success or failure will be entirely up to me - I hate being a toy in the hands of fate, big journals and PIs. I sure hope that you find the job and career you are looking for but I also hope you'll keep writing and complaining about that one! I would love to have a deeper insight into an industry job.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going the route of politics is easier for the lameass morons who can't do science with every handicap handed to them.

I hoped that during my postdoc I would learn new methods, create new networks, try to expand a bit. Delusional me was. I got out too. Like you've said before, the idea of a faculty position, my dream job if you will, does not exist anymore. I wish I had cleaned out my locker sooner instead of listening to all the well-intentioned PIs telling me that my turn will come if I just stick it out. I half trusted them and half trusted myself, so I kept 1 foot in academia and put 1 foot elsewhere, and the elsewhere is the direction the other foot is now going. happily.

the word verification is: dismiss.

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YFS, I'm glad you're moving on to greener grass. If you're as brilliant as you say you can be sucessful in industry or wherever you go ;)

Please don't close your blog. It provides wonderful information for grad students or would-be grad students--the stuff nobody will teach in school.

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

I second Anon at 12:45, if you're looking/interviewing outside academia, of course it might be impossible to maintain anonymity and blog about the process, but whatever you do feel you can write about (perhaps at a later date) would be super-interesting. As you know, most of us are fairly ignorant about the options out there, and I'd be fascinated to hear whether another job offered what you were looking for (or at least helped you figure out what you were looking for...)

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Female Science Grad Student said...

I know this might sound strange, but I think there are advantages to the outside world, too....


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