Monday, January 19, 2009

Recent Forays into the Potential Job Market

Despite some misgivings, I want to blog (vaguely) about my recent invited seminar.

I went to this other department to give a talk and see if it was the kind of place I'd want to be in the future. I was REALLY excited about it. I was REALLY stressed about it. And as a result, I think I did a pretty kickass job.

I get there, and while I give a good talk, and I enjoy speaking to everyone I spoke the end of the day, I was totally exhausted and just stripped of my desire to go into academia. I can't explain it. No one said a single thing that explicitly made it a less than desirable career path. In fact, everyone seemed happy and seemed to love their job. But....somehow I was just like, "I am too tired for this." It makes no sense, but even now, the feeling remains.

I really can't figure out why this happened. I am presuming that in a while this desire might come back, but for the time being, I just don't wanna. Is this strange? Did this happen to anyone else? It just suddenly felt like too much to bear....too much bullshit.

Now that I think back, part of me thinks that it has to do with some praise I got from one of the faculty members I spoke with. He said that because my work was so rigorously done, it seemed totally unsexy, which is unfortunate in his mind because he found the rigor with which I did my work refreshing. And then it just dawned on my how much bullshit goes on in the world of academia and the art of getting published, getting grants, etc. I had been really happy about my work and what I accomplished in my own bubble of working on it, but upon getting out there and sharing it, I realized anew that not everyone will appreciate what I've done, and that in all likelihood, people who do not share my penchant for rigor and strict methodology will succeed wildly in both publishing, grant-getting, and overall career success. I'm not saying anyone at this institution was like that, but I'm just saying I'd forgotten kind of how things go when I spent so long working in a bubble on my work, which satisfies my personal standards. My personal standards are not everyone else's personal standards, and fighting against that can be a rough life, particularly when funding is a bitch and it's going to be crazy competitive. Anyway, that's as far as I got to diagnosing my own loss of interest, I will probably spend a bit more time getting introspective about it, and will blog if I have any more breakthroughs.

So now that I don't feel like academia, I do know I would still like to do some amount of research. Without getting into specifics, basically I now have two choices of industrial labs - far-reaching/out-there work, that is a radical departure from current technology, and a lab that would be much more near-term in focus but also would probably provide me with a lot more tangible knowledge of how things really work. The focus of these two labs is very different. The pay and benefits is likely to be very different. And my coworkers are likely to be very different. I want to position myself well during this nascent part of my post-graduate career, and I'm not sure what the best way to do this. It sounds reminiscent of recent discussions of how to choose a post-doc, but different in that it doesn't have anything to do with a PI, but rather the focus of an industrial lab.

And of course, it's not so simple as just the focus - it's the coworkers. The compensation. The ability to learn lots of new things. The ability to publish. To get known. It's not like there's a sweet spot of how much risk/reward I want to take with my career and voila, that will have chosen for me. There are a lot of other factors....

What to do, what to do.....


PhysioProf said...

(1) Allowing random people's reaction to what you are excited by to influence your attitude towards your own career is a mistake.

(2) The idea that the fact that random people didn't react enthusiastically to what you are excited by is gonna be any different in non-academic venues is absurd.

(3) In academia, you are in an intellectual free market. If you can convince enough people in your field to be excited about what you are excited about, then you will get positive feedback, and be able to publish your papers and have your grants funded.

(4) In commercial environments, you need to get dumbfuck managers, bureaucratic assholes, and assorted greedfucks excited by what you are excited about in order to have the freedom to do what you want to do.

PhizzleDizzle said...

Thanks for your thoughts CPP.

Industry does have its problems, though some of the places I am looking at do have a big emphasis on pure research and not the bottom line (for the research lab arm of the company)...which may melt away as the economy continues down the fucking drain, but for the time being is quite true. It seemed kind of like a heaven, smart people dicking around on fun stuff without committee meetings and teaching (which I suppose can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the day).

I dunno. Some of these places also are really committed to what I am excited about and want me to come in specifically to work on it (the near-term lab especially). Maybe that's part of it - they were clearly excited by my stuff so that influenced me in some way to like them back.

So the academia/industrial lab decision really boils down to do I want to beg for money and teach the next generation? Or do I want to do cool stuff without worrying about funding, at the risk of having a dumbfuck manager? Or that the powers that be reduce their commitment to research and start using the researchers as their own personal work-monkeys?

I'm doing my homework and the managers at a few of these places seem pretty cool.

Wtf, I don't know what to do. But I appreciate your comments immensely. Particularly #1, it's a good way to re-center my thoughts. At any rate, I wasn't going to apply for academia this cycle anyway, I was going to do some sort of post-grad stint first, so I may change my mind as time goes by. Whatever I do now will hopefully leave open the academic door if I change my mind.

Nicky said...

I also publish anonymously, so I'm going to be a bit careful here. I am currently also a female PhD student in CS, also considering academia when I hopefully finish in a year or so. But before entering grad school, I worked in two different industrial labs (I've done 4 years at one, 6 years at another), and I have close friends in several others. The atmosphere between academia and industrial research is definitely very very different, but you still have to do the same job of convincing people to fund what you want to do. Also, though the direct managers at a lot of labs are very cool, they often have little to no control over funding. Exactly how much freedom you're going to have also varies a lot even among the industrial labs. One of the labs I worked at was, indeed, all about "smart people dicking around on fun stuff," and it stayed that way for a remarkably long time, including through the dot com crash, but isn't quite that way anymore, for some fairly complex reasons.

If you want to discuss some specific labs, while staying semi-anonymous, I'm happy to have a private discussion with you by email.

Silver Fox said...

Partly you may have had a temporary reaction because of the way that guy combined praise and bullshit in the same sentence. I'd recommend just seeing how you feel as time progresses, because there is no place in the world where everyone will appreciate everything you do all the time, and there is often (not always) some*one* who hardly likes anything!

Also, some people in industry will succeed on pure bullshit, no different than anywhere else.

Anyway, it sounds like you did well, just continue to watch how you feel about it all.

Professor in Training said...

Is it possible that you're approaching burn out? That can often alter one's perceptions of events from one second to the next.

PP's right though in that academic research can afford freedom that isn't often found anywhere else. Once you can convince someone to give you a job and to fund your ideas, you can essentially pursue whatever it is that gets you excited. My suggestion is that you continue to pursue both academic and industry options and see which opportunities arise and which of those will suit you best.

Mrs. Comet Hunter said...

I definitely know how you feel, and PiT's comment about burnout might be bang on.

When I started out in grad school in 2003, all I wanted to be when I "grew up" was a professor. That feeling lasted until about a year ago. I'm now in my last few months of my PhD and academia is the absolute LAST place I want to end up right now. Everything about it just makes me want to run as fast as I can in the other direction: the politics, the incredibly high expectations, family vs. career issues, etc. etc.. But, this attitude is most likely caused by the fact that I don't like academia HERE - it may very well be different at other universities.

As other posters pointed out, I think industry has it's own issues: working for someone else, potential layoffs, office politics, etc.. They both have their good and bad points.

There is absolutely no reason why you can't go off and try something in industry for a couple of years to see if you like it. I'm getting really sick of the elitist academic attitude that going into industry is "selling out" or whatever. I hear it all the time in my department, but academia isn't the end-all and be-all for everyone.

I suggest to look into as many options as you can. Maybe do a post-doc in a different lab or a 1-2 year stint in industry to see what they're like. If it doesn't work out, you can always do something else. Don't listen to people who tell you that leaving academia closes that door forever - it doesn't. I know many professors that were in industry before going back to be a TT professor.

Good luck!

PhizzleDizzle said...

PiT, I think I just might be approaching's been a long time coming for this degree, and my advisor is always wanting me to do more, and I'm just sick of this shit.

I want to be done. Mrs. Comet - you are right, I don't think that I will be out of the TT track by going industrial for a few years, as long as I choose the right thing. So...yeah, maybe I'll take a break from the academic grind for a little while, see what it's like, make some bank, and re-evaluate.

drdrA said...

PhizzleDizzle- Physioprof is spot on.