2013-04-08

More on leaving academia


The problem with being a grad student is that the burden of an unfinished thesis or dissertation, or paper deadlines, or assignment deadlines, never goes away. You never feel quite free to walk away from it on nights and weekends. It reminds me of the poem "Something Left Undone":

Labor with what zeal we will, 
Something still remains undone, 
Something uncompleted still 
Waits the rising of the sun. 

By the bedside, on the stair, 
At the threshhold, near the gates, 
With its menace or its prayer, 
Like a mendicant it waits; 

Waits, and will not go away; 
Waits, and will not be gainsaid; 
By the cares of yesterday 
Each to-day is heavier made; 

Till at length the burden seems 
Greater than our strength can bear, 
Heavy as the weight of dreams 
Pressing on us everywhere. 

And we stand from day to day, 
Like the dwarfs of times gone by, 
Who, as Northern legends say, 
On their shoulders held the sky. 

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Your career trajectory in academia depends upon building your reputation (through your publication record, service rendered to the Ivory Tower, and awards received). It's a game some people can play well, but it's a hard game to keep playing year after year until your previous successes carry you on to your next successes with very little personal effort beyond showing up to as many meetings and speaking engagements as you can on your completely overbooked calendar while trying to stay sane.

Ultimately I got out of academia because I realized that I had just spent seven years just on my PhD and postdoc, which was 8% of my expected lifespan or something, and the work didn't feel like it justified 8% of my life. Life is precious.

However, academia is in my blood, in my DNA. I'll be back, I'm sure.

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