To be or not to be a professor.... — R Voice

To be or not to be a professor....

Raj sundaram
Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭
edited July 20 in Personal Stories


Here is a very interesting take on making career choices.

What is your take - as early-career, mid-career and full professionals? Any regrets? On choosing or not choosing to be in university-based academia?

@Shruti Turner , @Yufita Chinta , @Gustavo Arluna , @chris leonard , @Kakoli Majumder , @Andrea Hayward , @Jayashree Rajagopalan , @Dahlia T ...

Please tag others who may be interested.

Comments

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram this is a really interesting and deep topic. I don't know where to start!

    I will talk about my personal experience. I don't regret about my career choice, it's a very interesting one and it's always evolving. I am referring to Electronics Engineering. But in this journey called "life" we are always evolving and walking through different paths that we never expected. Sometimes you are not able to choose your perfect job, so you choose the only job that is available. But then you realize that this job is not so bad as you thought and maybe you can learn very important and interesting things. In my case, I was looking for a pure electronics job, but instead of that I ended up in an electrical security job (more administrative than technical, although technical theory is needed). As this is a worldwide projection job, it opens many doors around the world.

    So I am always struggling in my mind about working on this professional category or changing to another category that I like more. But having others responsibilities as family, bills to pay, etc., makes it hard to make that "jump".

    What I learned is that is better to let yourself go with the flow and no regretting if possible. Supposing that someday I could have a better job for me (better in terms of what I like) all that I learned over the last years is a very important skill that almost no one has in my country, so it's a plus for my career.

    Then, continuously studying is very important for having more tools for being free to choose your professional path and achieving your dreams and goals.

    Finally, sometimes doing what you like might not be so profitable, but happiness is most important than money. It's not a romantic idea, but a truth. If you are not happy, you will have to spend time and money in therapies and medicines (still talking about my own experience) so you will not be able to enjoy that money. But being happy you can enjoy all the things you have.

    By the way, I think that if you do what you are passionate about, you will finally have success in your job and you will always have things to do and money will come in the packet.

    P.S.: although I mentioned a lot of times the word "money" it's not my intention to focus on that subject, but I thought it was needed to mention it as part of our daily lives. I am not a "money-driven" person (wait a minute! I am still mentioning the word "money"! Money, money, money! 😳😮😅)

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    Hmm, this is an interesting thread you've started @Raj sundaram - I'm really keen to hear different perspectives on this as it's a question that I've been playing around with for years! I've yo-yo-ed back and forth between wanted to stay. in Academia and wanting to leave. What has kept me going, is my love for the subject that I really want to pursue and the only place really that is doing this is Academia. Big businesses don't and I don't want to create a start-up (at least not at this stage in my career) because I don't want to be running a business, I want to be doing the research/work....

    @Gustavo Arluna I totally get what you mean about the money part...I too am not driven by money but at the same time I look at the advantages and security of being outside academia and it's difficult not to notice. I do really care about the research I do, but I've chosen to stay in academia (at least for the time being) not because it offers me significant perks but because of that passion. However, if I was doing a job that I could do out of academia I would seriously consider it. Having excess money that I don't need doesn't drive me, but it is difficult not to notice the other benefits if remunerated for the skills/job done.

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Shruti Turner after reading your comment, a regret came to my mind, because I had the opportunity to move to a State job where they do research and of course that institution is not money-driven. But they paid (at least more than 10 years ago) half the salary of a private salary...as those were hard years in my country (we had the worst economical crisis of our history in 2001 and it extended until around 2004) I was afraid of not having enough money for a living, because we also have an economy where having 40% of inflation per year is very common. So I chose to keep on my job in a private company instead of the research in the State institution...bad choice (maybe), some friends of mine that worked on that institution now they are very successful in their careers and one of them is now working successfully in Spain having a good salary. So if I had to give an advice to someone who has to choose between money security or following his/her passion, I would recommend to follow his/her passion. When you do what you are passionate about, everything will fit for you. Money, emotions, etc.

    I am "anxious" for reading more answers. 😊

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 22

    I am sorry to have made you feel regret, @Gustavo Arluna - that really was not my intention. In my view, I don't think that your choice is something to regret @Gustavo Arluna. I think it can be easy to criticise our past decisions with the benefit of hindsight, but it's important to consider the facts/experiences/mental health at the time the decision was made. Your experiences shaped your priorities at the time, and there is nothing wrong with that. I appreciate that I am in a very privileged position where I can make the choice between my passion and extra money in my paycheck - but that's isn't always the case for everyone and it may not be a luxury I have going forward. I think it's important to live in the now, and make the choice that are right for our journey ahead (including current priorities/needs), and looking back at previous choices for understanding and learning.

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Shruti Turner sometimes I emphasize a lot, and maybe "regret" was not the proper word. 😅

    What I meant is that sometimes we take decisions in a certain context where we are pushed or maybe we don't have some life experiences that we will acquire later. For example, I always think that it's hard to choose a career for study at college at the age of 17. I know many people that they changed their careers at around 22 years old or even later because they realized that they wanted to do another career, and maybe the context helped them to change about that decision: jobs, more information about another career, self-discovery, etc.

    We are always evolving, and I didn't mean to be pessimistic but the opposite. I think that we are never late to change our life. In that evolving way we are always changing our mind and acquiring more information and more experience. In my case, I am in a stage that I am trying to do now some things that I didn't do in the past. Not only professional related but in other aspects of my life.

    @Shruti Turner you said something that I think it's the key but we are just discovering as a new thing in western countries while in Asia is a millenarian way of living: "it's important to live in the now". I discovered that way of living after some personal crisis and it was the best lesson I could learn. Simple but powerful. Same with meditation and breathing correctly.

    So now I decided to get better in my career and do some things I didn't or couldn't do in the past. We have a phrase in Spanish: "Con el diario del lunes es fácil opinar" that can be translated literally as "with the Monday's newspaper is easy to give an opinion/criticize" and means that is easy to criticize the past (Sunday) with your current information (Monday).

    This thread is getting more interesting! I feel like in therapy.😊😁

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    Thank you, @Gustavo Arluna for sharing more about what you mean. I apologise for misinterpreting the first time. I understand your philosophy on this and where it has come from. It shows how reflective you are! I agree there is definitely a cultural difference - I notice it even within my own extended family with the attitudes that vary across us.

    I love this Spanish phrase (perhaps also because it sounds so much nice in Spanish rather than English!). It is so simple but full of wisdom.

    I think again we may have gone on a tangent - oops! But I enjoyed it, thank you.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 350 admin
    edited July 23

    @Raj sundaram an interesting article, thanks for sharing! Before I read any of the comments I just wanted to say that the author's experience on a faculty job search committee has helped me better understand why I see so many researchers leaving academia for a more industry-focused role. While I know that this might not be reflective of ALL such committees, I found the relatively arbitrary decision-making criteria frightening. If this is the case, then it's almost like training for months for a race only to have the rules change on the day of the race and getting disqualified for no fault of yours (Yikes!)

    Several researchers who I've interacted with have expressed that in addition to getting away from the hyper-competition and toxic work environment in academia, what really makes an industry role attractive is the job stability and security. And not to say that working in industry won't have its own challenges, but as the author has said, it seems to offer more space for work-life balance and a better-rounded family life.

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Shruti Turner that's me who have gone on a tangent, sorry! 😅

    Coming back to the article, I see that the author is saying the opposite of what I say. He left his academic life for a business career. And many of you commented in another thread that academic life is competitive sometimes. At the time I was writing this answer (that I deleted accidentally) I read @Andrea Hayward answer and now I am getting a better picture about it.

    Waiting for more comments! This is very interesting. 😊

  • Dahlia T
    Dahlia T Member Posts: 77 ✭✭✭
    edited July 24

    Thanks for this article @Raj sundaram. I understand the writer's point of view. These days, many are disappointed with academia because it is not fulfilling or it is not worth the anguish ...the rewards seems so unattainable, despite all your hard work.

    ...as far back as I could remember, my career aspirations were a mixture of being a writer, being a mentor/advisor, and being a scholar. I still have those aspirations ...even though with much more hesitancy than before. But I've found that each time I go off 'in another direction', no matter for how long, I always find myself being pulled back into this first path ...so despite apprehensions and many setbacks, I will continue my journey to see where it takes me🍃

    I am purposefully driven to water the soil to grow the seed that is already planted. 

  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 137 ✭✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram, I, too, want to thank you for bringing this topic. And, I have a short story to tell.

    When I started to work as a researcher, I thought I want to be a scientist, working in the lab person, giving talks in symposiums type. But then, in my first poster presentation of that research project, I was asked about the direct implementation of it on society. To that, I could say nothing because my research work generated knowledge on the impact of climate change on a microfauna level. And, microfauna is not like tigers in their eyes which need immediate attention. But that one question I had been asked at that presentation literally haunted me and still does. I felt the desire to work on implementation-based scientific works where my knowledge would not only be the material to be published. It would rather make a visible change. So, after years, between that time and today, I feel like I want to build my career as an entrepreneur building a sustainable enterprise. My knowledge would find implementation, and I would achieve SDG(s). However, reality tells me it'd be hard to immediately start something like this after my Ph.D. (please, update my knowledge if I am wrong). Another preference, I really would like to be an academic editor after my Ph.D. (credits go to my writing enthusiasm since 2016, not limited to academic writings). I really wish I could train myself for editorial jobs and do part-time editorial jobs along with Ph.D.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 25

    Thank you for all your inputs - @Gustavo Arluna , @Shruti Turner , @Andrea Hayward , @Dahlia T , and @Soumi Paul . this has turned into a very interesting conversation.

    @Gustavo Arluna : I agree with you - even though you didnt mean to stress too much about money - appropriate compensation is essential. And people leave university-based academia to greener pastures and for stability, as @Andrea Hayward mentioned. Each one of our decisions are shaped by multiple factors - including individual circumstances, family, being the breadwinner, mortgages, international economic crises, personal drives, goals, motivators, etc. Decisions come from a complex place. That said, my opinion is that university-based academia is quite exploitative in general and the monetary compensations are insufficient vs. what researchers do. It may be on a spectrum across the globe - but the pattern is unmistakable. The overwork, hypercompetitiveness, stress, instability - many just suffer through it out of passion, pretty much thanklessly, which unfortunately seems to be take advantage of. Things are getting better here and there - there is conversation (for instance about mental health, etc.) but those at the bottom of the hierarchy scrape through. So, I think your emphasis on money is well placed.

    This article is another gem about money and researchers. 😀

    https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2021/04/scientists-let-s-talk-about-cash-and-financial-realities-career-choices?utm_source=sciencemagazine&utm_medium=linkedin&utm_campaign=moneycf-25101

    I also agree with going with the flow - IF one is able to accept and orient oneself with the flow. But we all know that sometimes, the flow is unacceptable and the now becomes unbearable. In those cases, most of us do what we can to survive, even if it means resisting the flow or wait for the tides to turn.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 25

    @Shruti Turner Completely understandable. Hope things work out.

    But if I may throw in my two cents - have/start thinking of a backup plan - for just in case. Cant hurt. Saying this because - its the right time just after Ph.D to start thinking about this. Just saying from experience. 🙂

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭

    Good luck, @Dahlia T ! Apprehensions and setbacks - haha - the staples of researcher life. 😉

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 25

    @Andrea Hayward I guess, hiring arbitrariness is common in all fields. However, as you rightly point out - academia seems a special case. As in training researchers to narrow their focus (research/teaching), but beyond a particular extent, if not in universities as professors - highly skilled researchers are deemed "unemployable" or are hired in entry positions when moving to industry or publishing field without the necessary experience. Not all industries consider postdocs as employment. And after X years of postdocing - one is considered as the "old maid" of the field. Also, by the nature of university-based academia, researchers often dont look left or right, mostly hope for the best - with "washing dishes in McDonalds wont happen to me" - which can be self-sabotaging. I am saying this from the viewpoint of a person who has made several of these errors in my "passion", "focus", "if you work hard, do the (mythical) right things, it will all work out". Things did kind of work out/are working out eventually...however...🙄

    [Not that I regret, I am perhaps - disappointed with myself for being so naïve. While also coming to the conclusion after a lot of introspection (and asking myself gruelingly difficult questions) that I have done the best I can in my circumstances. As @Shruti Turner and @Gustavo Arluna pointed out (latter in beautiful Spanish) - I try to avoid "could haves, should haves" stemming out of 20:20 hindsight. 😊]

    Here is another article quite pertinent to the topic at hand...

    https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/06/cost-career-letter-my-younger-self

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 25

    @Soumi Paul - interesting take on the applicability of research. Yes, this is another issue in academia. How basic sciences/research and applied sciences/research are treated, compared, and compete against each other (funds/journal publications and impact).

    While one on hand I agree (as an applied scientist myself) - that a lot of university-based research stops at publications, which I tend to think is a bit of a shame.

    On the other hand, there is a severe lack of funding and positions for pure/basic sciences - like pure mathematics, astronomy, etc. Because "Beauty of mathematics - who wants that? what's the use?", also a shame.

    In this context, I appreciate you pivoting toward entrepreneurship. Am assuming you are thinking about a start up. Its the start-up age and everyone wants to have a start up...however, as you know, failure rates are ridiculous (high - very high).

    Failing in research is one level of failing....but in a start up, you would have to find/make a financial investment, and prove the probability of profit for your investors. If it is going to be a non-profit, awesome - but it would still need investment, management, finances, legal stuff, loans, audits, etc. Running a firm (with or without a profit) is no joke. That said, I have seen Ph.D students (and fresh pass outs) get involved in start ups. Much of my observation - it was a huge mess. Of course, for some - who came from stinking rich families and a lot of support - money was not the problem. For others, money was ALL of the problem. Also, the regular thing was people got too enthusiastic about their own ideas, without critically analyzing the idea's pros and cons, doing a proper market survey, what is needed in the field, how to come with a product that answers the "pain point", etc. Especially, with no one to mentor or bring them down to earth, everyone was flying a bit too close to the sun with wax wings. 😂 Many were simply divorced from reality - over-confident. Which is I guess a trait of youth - to take risks. But well....

    I would not go for it if I was a Ph.D student - with my background, support systems (financial and otherwise), and experience, I would judge it to be too risky. Also, a Ph.D would leave very little time to manage a business/firm.

    However, if I want to start an enterprise (for-profit or non-profit) now, I am more confident. More so because of experience and observation - I am more grounded, I can handle failure, have back up options (career-wise, financially, etc.).

    So, my message to you would be - if you want to start an enterprise - expect and prepare for failure, take calculated risks and have backup plans (financially, career-wise, etc.). This is not to scare or put you off. Just reality.

    Yes, editorial jobs - lots of opportunities these days for graduate students as well as fresh degree holders. Good luck!

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram when I wrote my points of view I was trying to organize my ideas, but I think you made that job for me much better. I fully agree with you.

    I don't want to enter into a polemic field but I think that in a world where entertaining industry moves millions and millions of dollars, like the contracts of football players, basketball players, etc, and on the other hand there is no enough money for investment in researching that is so important for literally changing and saving lifes, well, something's wrong with the world. I think researchers don't have the recognition they deserve.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    Thank you for your tips. I completely agree..in such an insecure space, having a back up plan is essential. Sometimes on paper I think my back up plan is "better" than my current plan i.e. work/life balance, good pay, interesting, more flexibility...yet it just doesn't have the appeal to me inner passion. I've given myself a timelimit to achieve something/get some stability. After that, I have got to make the decision for my mental health and at least at that point I'll know I've tried my best.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 242 ✭✭✭✭

    It's interesting here that you bring up the points about people not seeing post-docs as "real" experience. I've heard this too. Particularly in some engineering fields, it's not seen as commercial experience and even some think of it as another "student" post. It can be quite disheartening, but I do understand where this comes from. The academic world almost stands apart from the rest of the world (not that I agree it should, but that's another thread entirely!) - the differences in ways of working and projects are run are quite different and I think when trying to translate them out of academia. The idea that the PI is the "owner" is a key one I think.

    I have a colleague who had been rejected for grants because of their lack of commercial experience: they finished their PhD and continued as a post-doc developing some new technology. They have since ramped down their work with the university and gone to work for a start-up.

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭
  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 137 ✭✭✭✭

    I genuinely thank you for sparing your time to share your perspectives in such detail. This is a much-needed clarified opinion in response to my thinking that I needed to hear.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭
  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 302 ✭✭✭✭

    @Gustavo Arluna - yep, yep, yep....funding with an appropriate degree of accountability that strikes the middle ground between having a noose around one's neck and bathing in currency. 🤑The wealth disparity wiithIN academia behind the facade of meritocracy is a completely separate topic.

    @Shruti Turner - your plan of giving yourself a timeline sounds great! Good luck.

    And your other post on your colleague - yikes, but expected...glad the person is changing tracks. 😊

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram I am loving your comments....you say what I wouldn't be courageous to say here...💪😉😁

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