Monday, August 02, 2010

Are you sure you want to be a professor?

Saw this article by Kerry Ann Rockquemore in my Monday Motivator feed this morning.

I learned of Kerry Ann Rockquemore at one of those so-called "diversity workshops" where she was one of the few speakers who even MENTIONED sexism as a factor. The actual purpose of the workshop was unclear, since it seemed to be chock-full of general career advice that I'd already heard, none of which had helped me at all.

She was probably the best speaker there, because she really gave concrete advice. So I have to laugh a little at getting her stuff in my feed. It's intended for people who are already tenured or tenure-track faculty.

I probably should unsubscribe.

She's the kind of person I desperately want to ask for help, except that by the time I found out about her I realized it was a) too late and that she was b) too busy to help someone like me c) unless I could pay her workshop fee. And even then, like for most things designated for faculty, as a postdoc I wouldn't have been considered eligible. Probably.

Anyway the part that struck me in this column was where she wrote

The trick is to determine the difference between escape fantasies that result from feeling overwhelmed and the genuine, gut-level resistance that occurs when you REALLY know you're on the wrong path. Below I'm going to suggest a few things you might try as ways to differentiate between momentary frustration and the need to create an exit strategy.

Yes, that really is the trick, isn't it? My therapist seemed to think I was on the wrong path, that I was exhibiting signs of gut-level resistance to the career in general.

In truth, I thought then and I still think now that I was experiencing gut-level resistance to my advisor, maybe, but not necessarily to the career itself.

Some days, I still have trouble extrapolating the concept that my evil advisor represents the evil inherent in the entire profession. And yet, clearly I think that all of our horror story examples are representative. Blogging has certainly taught me that. You can run, but you can't hide forever.

Still, I went with the exit strategy only moments before I might have made it, finally, or been kicked out anyway. Was it self-sabotage? Was I delusional? I still don't know. Maybe I couldn't have survived another year of that, but why did I stick around that long in the first place? Could I have just taken a left turn instead of jumping off?

Had an interesting chat with a religious friend the other day about knowing whether you're on the right path. I told him I'm not sure I believe in the concept of having a path. He said something vague like you'll know you're on the right path when you're on it.

Uh, ok. Thanks.

There's that and then I saw this article in the Chronicle written by a guy who left academia for 20 years, and then came back, only to find it had gotten even worse.

He tells a particularly familiar story about advising a grad student on just how impossibly dismal her career chances are.

And how she ignores him.


Elsewhere on the internets, people are talking about this article in the NY Times about med schools who allow some students to major in the humanities and still become MDs.

Oh, the horror! MDs are not scientists? They don't have to be?

And this is news?

And yet, the fact that it is news has some interesting implications. Maybe not yet, but for the future. For whole generations of patients and students.

One friend remarked to me that it's too bad they weren't doing this when we were in college, how I probably should have majored in English and gone to med school, instead of majoring in science and going to grad school.

It occurred to me that this may be one of the unique facets of our transitional generation. We may be among the few whose doctors who lack creativity for the simple reason that they had it beaten or selected out of them earlier on in their education.

I was also reading about how our generation is composed of control-freaks who are ruining our children, while the generation after us is full of the new flower-kids, who will certainly use creativity to change the world.

What does it matter if I change the world at all?

Sometimes I feel like i was born just a few years too early. Maybe this is why I like Futurama so much.

And just think, if I were a professor right now, I wouldn't have time to sleep or eat, much less watch several episodes of animated sarcasm.

Oh where is that cryogenic accident when I need one? Perhaps my path lies in delivering pizza. Pretty sure somebody is actually hiring people to do that.

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At 12:41 PM, Anonymous lost academic said...

Most of the most successful people I knew didn't major in science, or a hard science for that matter. The classes you need to take for pre-med? Not really that many. Most of which, you'd probably get rounding out the rest of your education. Math, basic chem/bio/physics, some more bio stuff...

My undergrad college lists these as the requirements, actually:

* 2 semesters of biology, including laboratory
* 4 semesters of chemistry (2 semesters of general chemistry and 2 of organic chemistry), including lab
* 2 semester of physics.

And potentially a class in biochem, but that you might not need it. A lot of college bound kids these days are coming in with at least half of this. So why MAJOR in science if you really just want to be a doctor and don't want to screw your chances?

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Well, I just turned down a second postdoc job offer in favour of the pizza job option. The proposed terms of employment were not acceptable ... duh, what a surprise. Well, nice to know they have to resort to offering me jobs to try and shut me up ... hah, like that will work!

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

lost academic, I have mixed feelings about this. On further thought, I could write a whole post about it. I guess I will.

Kea, blackmail is a time-honoured method of getting tenure, so why not for hiring?

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous TomG said...

I believe that no one really likes what they do. I was an engineering major, picked up an MS, passed my PhD qualifiers and then thought: "What am I nuts". I worked as an engineer for 10 years, hated it and went to law school to be a patent lawyer. I would never ever ever want my kids to be a lawyer or an engineer. I was hoping they would become researchers and academics or doctors. But now...... I am not so sure. I think I want them to be happy


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