Jun 18 2010

Careers In Academia

Here’s the dealio: To succeed in academia, you’ve gotta be somewhat hard-working, extremely persistent, moderately talented, and LUCKY. If you are not willing to engage in a long-term career plan whose success hinges in large part on factors that are 100% out of your own control, then don’t do it.

If you are willing to roll the dice, then go for it. But don’t come crying all WATB if your luck doesn’t pan out, cause you’ve been told.

Academia is not a career for someone who wants to know that if they put in the hard work, they *will* get the reward.


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  1. 1

    Nicely put and totally true.

  2. 2

    Exactly! I cannot count the number of times I have tried to tell my students or postdocs this; it is really amazing how many people in academia still do not realize this fact.

  3. 3

    I don’t know how this is different from anywhere else. Is there a real meritocracy somewhere I don’t know about?

  4. 4

    what sucks ass though, are those that forget about this once they have enjoyed some successes.

  5. 5

    Very true. And what DM said. I would argue though that the WATB’s who should know better are worse.

  6. 6
    Comrade PhysioProf

    I would say, though, that once you’ve had enough good fortune to get your ass in a t-t position (with a decent start-up budget, if you are a laboratory scientist), you then have the power in your own hands to structure your career so that you are relatively resistant to temporary runs of bad fortune.

  7. 7

    you are relatively resistant to temporary runs of bad fortune.


  8. 8

    well, for certain values of “relatively” I suppose you are correct. sure as hell better to be a mid career running on fumes than a postdoc wondering who will give her a job.

  9. 9
    Dr. O

    Totally true (from what I’ve seen in my little experience). I do this job because I enjoy it, and I try not to take it for granted. If the shit hits the fan and it completely falls apart, I’m willing to take a slightly different road, knowing I gave the academic track my best while keeping my sanity intact.

  10. 10
    Professor in Training

    What happened to the motherfucking carebear’s picnic I was promised once I made it to the TT? I’ve been totally misled and ripped off. I want my goddamned money back.

  11. 11
    Massimo (formerly known as Okham)

    I think there is a lot going on in the mind of many graduate students and postdocs, more or less subconsciously, along the lines of “oh, I know, it’s hard and most of those who try out fail but… it is not going to happen to me… I am special…”.
    I talk to a lot of postdocs who are irritated and frustrated by the lack of success of their TT faculty job search, and whenever I point out to them that odds are not good in the first place, they react almost offended by my implication that they are competing against many others like them, while they feel that their clear superiority should be obvious to anyone.

  12. 12
    Spiny Norman

    “what sucks ass though, are those that forget about this once they have enjoyed some successes.”

    Fucking douchebags. I want to pin them down while their trainees whack those motherfuckers on the toes with a big fucking hammer, while force-feeding them cold, cheap TGIF pizza.

  13. 13
    Candid Engineer

    I have always loved you for your compassion.

  14. 14
    Kinda new PI

    Lucky can be replaced by licking ass, or even talent, for that matter. The protocol for success in academics is as follows:

    1. Go to highest level lab for graduate studies. Lick mentor’s ass.

    2. Go to highest level lab for post doc. Lick mentor’s ass. If unable to get job, pick 2nd post-doc mentor, repeat.

    3. Get job based on pedigree. Lick new colleagues asses.

    4. Go to meetings/invite yourself to give seminars using start up money. Lick everyone in your carefully chosen study sections ass.

    5. Get on study section. Lick everyone’s ass including government officials.

    6. Write paper with conservative findings and incremental advances in field. Lick all competitors asses in discussion.

    If you can stomach doing this, you *WILL* succeed in this business. 100% guaranteed, or your money back!

  15. 15
    Physiogroupie IV

    CPP, I’ve been meaning to write you to update you on my “finding a 2nd postdoc lab” situation. I’ve decided to spare you but it is not without drama. Fuck you everyone standing in my way to getting my own lab. Academia is about surviving through other people’s bullshit. Is that the lesson I’ve learned from my 1st postdoc? :-

  16. 16

    You ridiculously pampered morons do not know the first thing about “rolling the dice”. You put nothing on the line besides your vastly overblown ego’s. Best would be for most of you to STFU and waddle your tenured asses down to the street corner and exchange fluids with some pustular, HIV infected meth head. It would be a start to clearing out some of the top heavy dry rot that is sucking the life out of this country.

  17. 17

    CPP I agree with you there’s a luck factor involved.

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