Editorial: Four Ways to Improve Your Academic Career (And Avoid the Call of Industry)

The Editors

A career path in academia should not be seen as one of compromise. 

Several recent articles, such as this editorial from Nature, suggest that defecting from academia to industry isn't all that bad.  We feel quite the opposite:  the soiled life of business should be avoided at all costs.   We must continue to fight against the stigma that has long been associated with the academic career.   Staying on in the school room for one's whole life is a noble calling.   

Surely the biggest reason for this awful stigma comes from the fearful and debilitating condition known as being "granted tenure."    But tenure doesn’t have to be dreaded.  Yes, there are some frightful times leading up to full professorship, i.e, those years spent as a slave, excuse me, postdoc, or writing that first of several books that no one will ever read.  We encourage our readers to remember there were some good reasons you decided to don those silly looking robes and avoid any exploration of the business world.   Here are some suggestions for transcending the academic stigma and turning your career around:

1.  Think of tenure as a good thing.  It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.  It doesn’t have to strip you of all your values.  Just because you got called before the regents and vice regents and assistant vice regents and the assistants to the assistants of the vice regents one day and awarded tenure, does not mean your life is over.  Plenty of people have found reasons to live after they no longer had to really work anymore.  Look at all those people who retire from industry and find a life in golf.    Campuses are often beautiful places.  They have museums and elegant fountains.  Consider tenure another kind of retirement.  A good self help book on this subject:  Life after Tenure by W. E. Prozac.

2.  Allow that title after your name to lead to a positive self image.  Just because everyone rolls their eyes whenever you say you have a PhD, doesn’t mean you have to let it get you down.  Embrace this archaic tradition.  Meditation can be a great help here.       Next time you’re alone in your office, imagine yourself in a special bubble, the PhD bubble.  Imagine this bubble is full of light that no one can darken with their smiles.  After you have mastered this alone in your office, give it a try out in the hallway.   Soon you’ll be able to feel good about that title when you’re standing in front of all those young people with their whole lives ahead of them.  It even works when you’re off campus and out in the "wild"-- for example, in the line at the grocery store.  Just because you don’t have to work hard for money anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t work hard at that self image.

3.  Embrace Twitter.  It’s a great place to feel like your mind is active without the danger of accomplishing something.  You shouldn’t have to accomplish anymore.  You have tenure.  Let go of that protestant work ethic your parents worked so hard to install in your operating system.  The academic life was meant to be one of purity--unsoiled by sweat and struggle.  Let go of work and embrace Twitter.  It’s helping so many others in your shoes.

4.  Stop competing.  Competition is for losers.  And winners.  But you are better than both.  It’s a hard concept to grasp, but you no longer need to win or lose: you’ve already won and are now beyond winning and losing.  You already know everything.  It’s time to spread your great wisdom to the rest of the world as you see fit.  Book some conference talks.  Tweet a lot.  Whenever you are with someone, do all the talking.  This is your time, your day.  You’re the gold medalist.  The rest of the world has been put there to fight amongst each other and praise you.  And whatever you do, always keep in mind:  that Nobel is on it’s way.

It’s time to normalize life in the academy.  For too long academics have dealt with a low self image, have been marginalized by those in industry.   Which is no doubt why there are so many defections.   You may be an academic because you never dared try anything else.  But try to be more active in your passivity.  It will do your career wonders.