Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Sociologist's View on Whether to Leave - Part 2

I just had to go back and correct a typo in my previous entry's headline ... wow, clearly I am an idiot who can't cut it in grad school if I don't even notice a typo, right???

Kidding, I'm kidding. :)

Okay, onto part 2 of my review of the sociology blog post that I started talking about yesterday. Today's segment will discuss the negative aspects of a career in academia, as described by someone working in a top R-1 program.

So, disadvantages to academia:
"Usually less pay than peers in similar "real world" jobs and huge opportunity costs."
I agree with this. As I have been doing this "real world" job search after going on the academic job market, I'm shocked to see how much more money one can make in the real world than is available to an assistant professor in the social sciences. Even MA-level jobs in the "real world" typically pay more.

Maybe this isn't important to you, which is perfectly okay. But if you're at all worried about having a certain lifestyle, or if you have a lot of debt, or want to have five kids and a stay at home partner? You might want to consider another career option.

As to opportunity costs, everyone needs to assess this one based on their own preferences. For me, it came down to (1) geography and (2) work schedule. While sitting at one interview, I realized that if I took the job I'd be giving up two things very, very important to me - my desire to live in a big city, and my desire to have most of my evenings and weekends free. When I considered the alternative - an office job of some type in a big city, my personal opportunity cost was smaller - I'd miss teaching.

Ultimately, I have more opportunities to teach a bit on the side if I'm living in a city that I love and have evenings off. But if I took the academic job, I'd likely never move to the big city I'd always dreamed of, and would continue to have the constant pressure of work weighing over my head 24/7. So for me, the opportunity cost consideration came down on the side of a job outside academia. You'll need to think about your own personal preferences to think about how this particular comparison balances out for you ... but that's what it came down to for me.

"Small labor markets - you don't have much of a choice where you teach and mobility can be limited."
As I wrote earlier, this was a big issue for me. I've always wanted to live in a big city, and always assumed I'd be able to do this once I went on the job market - there are colleges and universities all over every big city, right? But the reality of the job market looked much different, and ultimately I didn't have so much as an interview at any school in a city where I'd actually like to live. There just aren't enough jobs, many listings are very specialized, and there are far too many candidates.

Once you're in a job, it's possible to move. But keep in mind that if you get hired on as one of two faculty members in a tiny department and you're teaching 4 classes per semester and sitting on eight committees, your chance to "publish your way out of" that job is going to be seriously limited.

So if you love academia so much that you can see yourself doing it absolutely anywhere, I'd say stay in academia. If there are large swaths of the country* where you know you'd be miserable, you may want to keep your options open.
"Poorly defined personal boundaries - it's possible that you can get into the habit of working all of the time, even at home."
Again, I've written before that this was a huge one for me as well. I've always been someone who likes working and is willing to work long hours. In a regular job, this means I put in a bit of overtime without much stress or worry. In academia, however, this means that I easily got sucked into the "work all of the time" mindset. Every few months, I'd try to set myself a concrete work schedule so that I would only work X hours per day and would give myself a day off each week. But that schedule would only last a few weeks, and the entire time I'd still be feeling guilty during my scheduled off-time ... because hey, I could be working!

If you are someone who can, during grad school, keep clearly defined "working" and "non-working" time, and avoid feeling guilty during non-working time? Then academia will make you happy. If you tend to be a bit of a workaholic and feel guilty for taking too much time off? Then academia might make you crazy.
"It can take a while - grad school, post-docs, assistant prof - to get well established."
This is definitely true. There is a strict hierarchy in academia, and it takes awhile to climb that ladder.

Personally, this aspect of things never bothered me that much. I never felt the desire to be the rockstar. Perhaps that, in itself, should have been a warning sign. If I didn't care enough about my job to strive toward the highest level, I probably should have figured out sooner that I wanted out.

At any rate, if you are someone who wants instant recognition for your work and immediate respect for a job well done, you may want to rethink academia.
"It can be hard, especially for women, to juggle family issues with academic life because academia demands much early in the life course."
First, I agree that this is particularly hard on women, but I'd also like to point out that even in this post, the author reinforces gender stereotypes by assuming that this juggling will be harder on women than men. Interesting, coming from a sociologist.

At any rate, this is definitely true. I don't have children right now and aren't planning any in the near future ... but if I was, I have no idea how I'd fit it in. Between time constraints and financial constraint and the constantly ticking grad school/tenure clock, it can be incredibly difficult to figure out when to start a family.

I'd also like to point out that if you assume you will just work from home when you have kids thanks to the "flexbility" of academia ... I've found that it is very hard to really get high-quality work done at home when you have distractions (like kids). Even something as simple as getting up to feed a pet or to answer your phone can distract you from your work for an hour, since academic work requires so much thought. So I'd really put some thought into how much "at home" work you can reasonably get done, if you're expecting to be at home with an infant or toddler.

Academia and a strong, committed family life are very, very hard to juggle.

Come to think of it, maybe I could strike out "family" in that sentence, and insert "personal" instead.

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*I only looked for jobs in the US and Canada, so I can't speak to this geographic issue in relation to other countries.

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