I’m nearing the end of my PhD and starting to seek jobs, and I’ve been asked over and over again whether I’ll be staying on academia or I’ll be moving to industry. I haven’t signed a contract yet, so it’s still an open question for me. However, the fact that my own future is still nebulous might be why the following articles have stood out for me. They’re all about the downsides to academia, and reasons to leave it, written by women. The thing about these posts is that they’re not really just about academia: those of you in the tech industry are going to see some parallels. Those of you in other industries likely will too.
First, here’s a segment from Paraphernalian’s post about leaving the academy “Because: a manifesto”
Because my talents, accomplishments, experiences, and hard work are not acknowledged or rewarded in this system.
Because I am not not nurtured, encouraged, or valued in this system.
Because those in a position to change the system do not.
Because I refuse to believe that a system that does not value me is the only one in which I can have worth.
Because I am enduring personal, financial, and professional hardship to no perceivable purpose.
Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively.
Because I already got what I came forâ€“three advanced degrees and immersion in a subject I love.
Because I want to continue to love it.
And here’s a fragment from Laruian’s post about going to industry.
Here is the rub. I think many people are surprised that I didnâ€™t go into academia… or, that I didnâ€™t go to a research lab. Well, I donâ€™t think. Many people said, â€œIâ€™m surprised.â€ My advisor, in particular seems, well, for the lack of a better word, miffed.
Laurian lists several things that contributed to her decision:
- Teamwork. The odd joint grant is not the same as working with a team to produce a product.
The problem is that from what Iâ€™ve seen in academia, when you become a professor there isnâ€™t much team spirit. Yes, you collaborate on grants. Yes, sometimes you co-teach. But there doesnâ€™t actually seem to be much team work. Meaning that what little benefits I see in being the second, third, or, god forbid, even a forth female faculty member are out weighed by the fact that most of my work is going to be individual.
- There’s no tenure track grind in industry.
From what Iâ€™ve been told, youâ€™ve got a whole bunch of stodgy white dudes in suits sitting around a table assessing if you are good enough for the university to invest in you for the rest of your career. It is fantastic if you get it. What job security! But, if you donâ€™t, you no longer have a job.
- Sick of fighting the system
In the ten years Iâ€™ve been gathering my various degrees the battle to change institutional policy has been one that has tired me out.
- Lack of role models
My entire time at Virginia Tech I saw *one* female professor have a baby. Iâ€™m not just talking about in my department. Iâ€™m talking about the whole flipping university. One. Later I met a couple or women who have had kids while running for tenure here at Virginia Tech, but their stories were not encouraging. I had zero positive role models that said to me, â€œIt is the best thing Iâ€™ve ever done and I have zero regrets.â€
- Work with impact
I can tell you what was my favorite moment of working at IBM Almaden. It was when the findings had been presented to Lotus, and they thought they were really important, valuable, and would contribute to future design. And then, when the final findings were given, and I get the same review. Ahhhh. Design with impact. What looked like a medium size user study actually made a difference and was implemented into the next Lotus. It was so different than what Iâ€™d experienced so far. The practicality of something that felt nebulous was a breath of fresh air. Academia doesnâ€™t dabble much in practical.
And then the lack of impact and lack of collaboration is echoed again on College Ready Writing:
My academic research will not change the world. Donâ€™t get me wrong, I love the authors I am currently studying, found fascinating all of the topics and areas I have previously written about. But at the end of the day, most people are not really interested in what I am doing, including most people in the academy or in my discipline.
Dr. Skallerup also asks some really valuable questions:
- Are Academics really interested in â€œsharingâ€?
While more and more scholars are using sites like Academia.edu or SlideShare, and even self-publishing, this type of sharing isnâ€™t rewarded when it comes time for decisions on hiring, tenure and promotion. We are taught instead to hoard our research and findings to share with a potentially smaller audience in venues with more â€œprestige.â€ Why not work to improve Wikipedia in whatever field you specialize in? The entries on Dany LaferriÃ¨reâ€™s works are lacking, calling me to improve on them, hopefully introducing and informing a broader audience about the author. But because the medium is â€œcrowdsourcedâ€ instead of peer-reviewed, career-wise, my work there would be meaningless.
- Are we allowed to be ourselves?
[B]rowse the blogs of junior faculty members, graduate students and recent PhD graduates and you will notice one thing â€“ they are almost all anonymous. Why? Why canâ€™t we blog about not just our narrow research interests but everything we are interested in or want to write about? Is academia that insecure that it canâ€™t take a little criticism or allow for a professor to be more than a talking head in front of the classroom or byline on a book or article?
I really want to end on a positive note, but I’m not sure I can here without writing another whole essay worth, and besides, no one sent me articles about staying in academia this month, and what does that say? So instead, I’m going to end on a more thoughtful note, again from Dr. Skallerup:
My research may not change the world (or ever be read), but it is far from meaningless. My outside interests may be meaningless according to the academy, but may help change the world. Academia has such a narrow view of what is meaningful, and I, for one, have stopped listening to what higher ed narrowly thinks I should be and started defining it for myself.