Academia is a funny place.*
For one thing, it’s kind of insane to want to be faculty. I mean that in a fairly literal sense. Consider:
- You spend 5-8 years in PhD school, living on a relative pittance. This is 5-10% of your life, 8-13% of your adult life.
- Grad school isn’t always fun. It can be fun! There are excellent things about it! But PhD students spend a lot of time slogging through, under pressure.
- The opportunity cost of 5-8 years of possible earnings with a BS/BA (or 3-6 years with an MS) is very high.
- The odds of actually finding a position range from mediocre to astronomically low.
- The pay is non-concomitant with the effort. Financially, the sweet spot is the Masters.
- Should you actually land a position, possibly after another 2-4 years as a postdoc, you face 4-7 years on the tenure track – years that are much more grueling than grad school.
- Also now you are between 27 and 35.
- If you make it through ALL the hurdles, you achieve the gold ring: you’re a tenured faculty member, expected to teach classes and Produce Research.
- Also now you are between 38 and 46. (I hope you didn’t want kids? j/k, that’s what faculty wives are for†)
- The gold ring: If you do amazingly, continuously, for the rest of your life, at least 100 people will look up to you! Probably 200-300 will know your name. Maybe even more!
- Congrats I guess?
Is this insane? Well, the cost/reward ratio is waaaay off. I mean, nobody would look at this objectively and say, “Oh, that sounds like a great idea!” So… either you know yourself, and know what makes you happy, very, very well; or you’re nuts; or, you somehow missed the memo on the above.
It’s interesting, what happens when I mention this to my fellow faculty-candidate colleagues. About half of them nod, a bit sadly, and we share a Look, and go back to our insanity. The other half go straight to, “Nooo! No, not true, because of reasons! …”
I worry about the second half.
How could you miss the memo? Well, really, the Academe is geared towards making academics. Great undergrads are steered into grad school; after that, research and publication and faculty are all anyone talks to you about. How could it be otherwise? You are mentored and taught exclusively by people who followed that path AND got the gold ring. What else do they know?
But now, we produce at least one order of magnitude more PhDs than we have faculty slots, so something’s gotta give.
After I get my crazy person slot.**
I will try to amend for wordiness with a sleeping kitty:
|It is so hard to get work done around here you guys I mean what was I gonna do|
* A funny place, especially, in STEM. Which is honestly pretty close to all I know. One of the funny things is how very, very different areas are. So let’s take all of the following as referring to STEM.
† j/k, faculty-chillums obviously a problem for all genders.††
†† (it isn’t)
** It’s a nice crazy-person slot 😐