Thursday, May 19, 2011

Leaving the Game

So I've seen blogs from people that have left academia at the Ph.D. and postdoc stages. Any TT people out there that left voluntarily? Not jumped off a sinking ship or asked to leave. I've also read about successful tenured professors that left, or really took extended leaves of absence to be program managers or consultants. I only remember reading about one or two that completely shut down a lab and these were not double digit sized labs.
I ask because even though the lab is humming along, often I don't feel that the hours and the effort are worth it. I love the research, but get to spend only a small portion of my time on it. One of the things keeping me in is that I have several students that are working in the lab that would be hung out to dry if I leave. It would also be more rewarding if tenure actually meant something. I tell more senior colleagues that I'm excited to be working towards tenure, but most of them reply that tenure is meaningless. If the administration doesn't like you, they will make your life miserable, especially if you don't continue the rat race of constantly growing your research group and promising crazy pie in the sky hyped-up results.


  1. I read stuff like this a lot and it is starting to get a bit discouraging to me. It seems that the more I hear about life in academia the more I dread the idea of it. I originally started my PhD program with the goal of eventually getting a teaching position. Now that I am nearing the end of it I am not sure any more.

    I wonder if it is any different from the teaching side or if it is just the same hassles with less respect?

  2. Do the work required to get tenure, put in 4-5 years of similar level of work after getting tenure, and then simply walk away from the rat race. Keep publishing single author papers and get good teaching evaluations (acting abilities come in handy here) and just say no to the rest of the junk. What can they do to you ? make you teach 3 courses/semester ? Unless of course you're at one of them right-wing U's, like Olin College, that will throw you to the gutter in time dt after you've done as I described above.

  3. Biz, they can do a lot to you. Just because you have tenure and full professor status doesn't mean you are immune to things like: salary issues, ostracization, jealousy, taking away classes you enjoy teaching, etc. etc. etc.

    I know many full professors who choose not to play the game of grants and huge labs and are very unhappy.

    Just like all of the other "bursts" lately, there is going to have to be an academia "burst." There are simply not enough grants and good grad students to sustain such madness of chasing money.

    There's a lot of time wasted writing grants just for the sake of getting money (as opposed to really needing the money to conduct the research). All of that time wasted could have gone into good science. It seems like 80% of what science/engineering academics do is work that will never accomplish anything and that is where the burnout occurs.

  4. As much as academia sucks, other jobs suck even more. With tenure, you have perks such as sabbaticals, ability to lower the pace temporarily if need be and so on. I don't recommend turning into deadwood, but if you need a breather you can pull it off. Taking a whole summer off for instance, once you have funding and tenure, will not kill you or your students.
    Take a full year sabbatical and go fishing.

    What I am saying is that academia is a rat race, but other places are worse. And you have a boss and no job security.

  5. GMP said...
    As much as academia sucks, other jobs suck even more.

    I would not generalize this way though since to each their own. I did spend a couple of years doing research in industry before moving to ivory towers and I cannot say for sure one was better than the other. Each had its unique pros and cons, at least to me. So for some it will be academia for others industry. And few will leave academia for industry, because they dont like it anymore, and few (like me) will do opposite. And it is all OK.

  6. @academicgrinch -- your point is well taken. Indeed, to each their own. For me, nothing beats the combo of job security (after tenure), no boss, and great flexibility in organizing one's time.

  7. Go read Worst Professor's posts:

    She opted out of a TT job as a Classics professor at a top institution. Her analysis of academia is hilarious and right on target. I am tenured in an R1 biology department and only know WoPro through her site. I find her commentary incredibly refreshing.

    Also, it DOES get better after tenure, at least in my experience. Not easier, but better.

  8. If you don't find what you're doing fun, either find a way to change what you're doing within your present position, or cut and run to something you like.

    I hate bits of my job, but overall it's so rewarding I'd want to do it even if they didn't pay me. (Why else would I be in the lab at 6 pm on a sunny Sunday evening?)

  9. I kind of decided or just randomly ended up out of the rat race, but still in academia. I'm too old and too little published to ever hope for tenure, so I don't try.

    Instead, I've so far jumped from project post-doc to project post-doc, spending almost all of my time doing research, not administration or teaching. When I no longer can find such a job (and it's looking dicey this time around) I'll leave for real. Meanwhile I'll have had a decade of doing something I love, without much of the stress that a career track would have meant.

  10. I somewhat got out... or got in, depending on how you look at it. The 'academic' path is a pain. Here, I get the job security, much of the freedom, and the research opportunity I wanted. I write grants, collaborate, have students.

    I joined the US Army. Now I have a growing group doing wound infection research.