Throw All Things Away

Why am I (still) an Academic?

Some students asked me why I decided to leave IT industry and become an academic. I think the real question is whether I think it is a good idea to try to become a professor. And the answer is a firm no.

I must emphasize that I am not advocating for abolishing PhD programs. It is important for a society to push for advancement in science and humanity. What I meant is that for the vast majority of people, a career in academic is not a good choice.

I shall not repeat the arguments made countless times by others. Here's a very good article on why you should be very cautious in choosing a career in academics.

If I think that is the case, why did I get into academic and stayed until today? The truth is that it is mostly accidental. My original plan was just to do a one-year Master's degree. There had been many times that I thought "This is it and I am done with academics". But during these moments, fate had always pushed me to the other direction. Most of my fellow PhD students have left or are planning to leave academics. I am just a bit luckier than others.

That been said, I do think perhaps I have a somewhat unusual character that suits academics a little bit better. First, I like mathematics. It is an art form that I enjoys playing and sharing. Then, there is the introvert in me who likes working alone for hours. I am also a bit stubborn and hate quitting. (This is often not a good thing.) Last but not least, I do not care about my living conditions that much. So it did not bother me to live for years on the meagre salary of a graduate student. (A PhD student makes about the same money as someone who flips burgers in McDonald in Canada.)

Another reason I have chosen to stay in academics is that I like teaching a lot. Making my classes accessible and lively is a challenge which I enjoy. Seeing young people learning things is a satisfying experience which adds a sense of meaning to my life.

If you ask me that if I am happy being an academic now? I will answer yes. If you ask me that if I have would done it had I known what I was getting myself into? Absolutely no.

First published: 2021-10-25

Tags: academic advice Q&A