25 April 2014

Academia

Today, I will talk about the research results that to me seems like stating the obvious.
It is a result about the jobs in academia. You can find 'non-scientist' friendly version here.

I've spent a lot of years in Academia, working as a postdoc and doing research.
Salary sucked, how much it sucked, I realized when I was talking with some Republican in the neighborhood who actually thought that we scientists are paid extremely well. So here are my past salary details:  in US, when I had my first Postdoc in US, I got only $41000 (before taxes), and my boss thought I should be grateful. (I was not.) That was actually significant drop in salary from the one I had in UK, that was at the time equivalent to $50000 (after taxes!). What do you think who can attract more talented researchers?

The reason I accepted that job in US was potential to do some fun research,  since I was promised use of a brand new instrument. And the biggest telescope in the world, ATST was in latest stages of planning, promising even more fun research.
I really like finding out new stuff, I like making new stuff, I adore pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and know-how.  For me, it seemed, yeah, salary sucks, but I'll be able to discover stuff no one ever seen. It seemed worth of sacrifice. (Aye, past tense, I do not work there since 2011. As it turned out, it was not worth of sacrifice.)

But the way Academia works, how one goes about having an academic career, my next step would be going to a tenure track, and that would mean significant drop in research time; exactly as the article says. As a Postdoc 90% of my working time is spent on research, 10% on various meetings. Compared with statistics in the article, a post doctoral researcher position is really like ideal research job.  
None in academia minds hard work and long hours. We all do it since our graduate times. I was never able to actually work only 40 hours per week for which I was paid for (no overtime, regardless how much you work).
We work a lot, for a tiny salary. Trust me, tenure track salaries are small too, you get around $60000- $70000, depending on the university. Yes, I was amazed too with those figures, especially when I learned that entry level job in the industry is in a similar range.

I was watching my supervisors all the time as a Postdoc. Each one of them was complaining how they have no time for research, how it is annoying being forced to do all those administrative stuff. Not many complained about time spent on teaching, they complained about the time spent on administrative stuff. One of my previous bosses actually worked through the night so that he can actually do some research. (A really great guy from UK, someone I tried to copy in Academia. ) He holds a really high position in academia, and he was not able to avoid constant interruptions during the work day with an administrative side of the job, so he did his research during the night.
And, academics rarely retire. Now, I know why, when you are Emeritus you can actually do the research! (Just to add, many universities today have more administrative staff than faculty, and no, even in those universities faculty is not spared from administrative work.)

All those troubles mentioned above surface before you even start to think about private life. Just as an illustration, for more than a decade, I was moving around the world, starting with my graduate studies. The longest I lived in one place was 3.5 years (during my graduate studies). This basically means you arrive somewhere, manage to get used to the area, get some friends, and then you had to move to another country. Yes, another country. In science, that is how it works. It was fun for some time, learning about different cultures, people, opening my mind.
And then, I reached the point where I felt like a Gypsy. Yeah, you stay somewhere for a short time, and then, back into your wee cart and 'Giddy up!' At the end I just gave up, and spent my second Postdoc at great US university working, and not really socializing. What was point of socializing? I had a contract only for 2 years with no real chance for prolongation. (Mistake in retrospective, because my boss there and other co-workers were simply fantastic.).

I would love to do research, for a decent salary. But as the time passes, I'm really losing hope that I'll manage to get a job where I'll be able to do it.
So now I started to research how one gets around to switch to industry from academia. More options in that direction, and more money too. Moreover, I'm actually able to pick the location where I'll work! What a novelty! And how things are going in Academia, soon industry will start to offer same levels of research too.

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