To leave, or not to leave?

Sadly, I’m not so sure anymore that science is for me.

I absolutely love being in the lab while trying to crack problems. Thinking about the project we’re doing, why it’s important to be pursuing it. How to pursue it. Which methods to use. The thrill of going to the lab and getting some small results every day, even if only cells that are happily growing. After a lot of work, collecting all the data and writing up a paper. Discussing new ideas. Presenting them to the lab, to the institute, at conferences. Setting up collaborations. I really really enjoy it.

At some point however, negatives started to seep through that pink cloud. A collaborator who warns not to try to reproduce some paper, as they think it’s irreproducible. A colleague who is very sloppy in processing data, leading to perhaps wrong conclusions. A supervisor who is pushing their students so hard, that some get depressed, some get to hate science, none of them are happy. A PI who copies his postdocs texts to his grant applications without giving them any credit. The list is, unfortunately, quite long.

I understand the roots of these problems. The pressure is immensely high. Who doesn’t publish, goes down. Who doesn’t get money, can’t pursue their projects. What science needs, is a way of evaluating people other than output in form of publications. But that’s worth of a blog post of its own… I’m very curious how I’m going to end up – after a period in Oxford, no paper yet. No one is going to ask why, not going to care that my promised contract didn’t come when I got pregnant and that 2,5 years just aren’t enough to build up a project from scratch.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness. What really makes me happy? So far, being a scientist has defined much of who I am. But does that mean it makes me happy? Or should I accept that I’ve been viewing academia through pink glasses and that it is in truth a ruthless world of constant pressure, publishing, networking, writing and selling instead of being about careful analysis, observations and hypotheses. Perhaps a 9-5 job, with higher salary and less uncertainty would be better suited to my family needs…

Now that I’ve rediscovered the internet and social media, I’ll find out more about leaving academia such as these podcasts and try to decide what to do after my maternity leave. Any pointers to other people or blogs are most welcome 🙂 Having a screeching 4 month old does limit my possibilities to roam around the net…

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6 comments

  1. I very recently made the decision to leave academia. I had a very successful PhD, to the point where an eventual tenure-track position seemed pretty certain. When I went on to a post-doc, I just became miserable (partially due to poor management, partially due to being much more isolated in terms of research interests than I thought I would be).

    When thinking about what to do next, I knew I could join another lab with little problem and it would just be a relatively minor setback in my career. But a lot of things just seemed sour to me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk ending up in another crappy lab, so I started thinking hard about whether I really wanted to keep moving forward towards a tenure-track career. Was it even a job I wanted? Did I want to deal with the stress about getting tenure (not to mention grants)? Was I willing to continue to strain my personal relationships by moving wherever my career dictated?

    When I started considering things outside of academia, I realized there are lots of careers that have a lot of the same things I like about academia – playing with data, problem solving, asking questions and finding answers. It took me a lot of soul searching about why academia seemed appealing to me, and I eventually decided it really just wasn’t worth it for me.

    Academia is great in a lot of ways, but I think it’s only worth it if you’re having fun. It takes a lot of sacrifices to be in the academy. There are plenty of other options out there.

    1. Thanks for your reply. I guess that many people, like you, went through the same process I’m going through now. Which in itself is very reassuring for me, to realise I’m not the only one! You are absolutely right that academia can be great, but only worth it if one really wants it.

  2. Oh! I wrote about this today, too. Just came across your post on Twitter.

    My decision was easier, since I wasn’t excited about the things you mentioned in your first paragraph. So leaving behind the rest was a no-brainer.
    http://www.plantpeopleblog.com/blog/academia-its-not-you

    Looking forward to hearing what you decide. If you truly enjoy the research, and the discovery, it might be worth it to stay. Most (all?) jobs have a crappy side: bad co-workers, bad bosses, bad hours…

    1. Yes, I suppose it’s a much easier choice if you don’t find joy in the little things in the lab. And fair point you make: all jobs have bad aspects… Good to keep that in mind too!

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