I have been talking with Hot Mama this week about her professional opportunities and it has given me pause to think about my own path. Hot Mama is confronting what might be viewed by my partner Bubba as the "bullshit moment".
I say this with all sincerity that I firmly believe that education is a valuable contribution and choice as a path to follow. The problem is that in higher education, the commitment to education wanes as the need to generate revenue (at the behest of the dean and one's peers) waxes. This push and pull at the highest level of education has attracted something of an odd creature. That sort of person who is more interested in their grant portfolio than their job. This may sound odd to anyone outside the academy, but those of us in the know, know. That is to say that we no longer interest ourselves in the gregarious professor as the paragon of virtue in academics, we virtue the money whore.
This is a sad state of affairs - my own progression into private industry was largely facilitated by the knowledge that I was always viewed in my career as "OK" or "having potential". But then again, I like working with students and I don't like writing endless novels on esoterica. I, in short, like to either make a difference or get something done. It is the engineer in me. I got my undergrad degree in Chemical Engineering and then made the right turn (or left turn as many in the right wing would call it) into academics. I value much of my education in grad school and thereafter with a stint as a post-doc and a stint in a publicly funded research institute. But that totalled 9 years of my life and I was still viewed as "having potential".
Oddly, upon entry into the private sector, I get things done, I run a big lab (bigger than most academics and a much larger budget), I treat my lab people like grad students - I expect top-notch science and critical thought, and I get immense satisfaction and praise for the way I run my lab as well as interact with people. In short, I am acheiving scientific self-actualization. Hot Mama and I have discussed this at some length and we have concluded, in different phrasing, that praise, of any form, is seldom given in academics.
Imagine trying to become an expert in something in the total absence of praise and you will envision the state of academics today. I hope to float back one day into academics to teach and run a small lab. Basically, to educate the younger ones (and older ones too....I am not biased). But that is not pertinent today in the academic world. Education is the excuse for raising money via grants and whoring the grad students and post-docs for your own advancement.
Were I to have actually thought about this at an earlier stage, I would have left all together. But I stayed on and have "made it". But according to my peers in the academic world, I am a "cop out". Yes, the need to be an academic and submit to a paternalistic system where you have to spend a decade preening for the recommendation to get a position is at hand. And why bother? My father was tenured at the point I am at now. Most of my professional contacts who are in their 40s had a much easier time getting a prof job. But not the current crop of hopeful academics....we are expected to bring in money, and alot of it, immediately. And for what goal? Not to educate but as a money sluice. Disgusting. Layer on top of that the mantra of "academic freedom" (and when you are writing 4 grants a year for a few bucks...do you think you are free?) and you end up seeing the bullshit for what it is. Dysfunctional people looking askance of anyone who is not following their path of self-negation (i.e. if you go to the beach, you are not a "serious" person because you could be working). So sad.
The academic world has turned to the very dark side. Education is not valued in any shape or form. Money is. No wonder I retreated to the private world. I have a fully stocked lab, lots of great toys, a fantastic staff in lab and I can see what my work will become in real time. In short, I make a product that sells in the marketplace. The engineer in me loves it.
I suggest that anyone who wants to pursue a PhD now is crazy. I am. But one must remember that the PhD is all nostalgia now. It is not the way it once was. To climb to the top you cannot have a balanced life as the profs of yore did. You, simply, must be a capitalist who likes to write 10 grants for every 1 you might get. That is the reality. Can you imagine writing 10 big grants and praying for one?
Sounds like inefficiency to me. And parents pay 20K+ for their kids to interact with these messes? Get a masters and get out. My advice is freely given and I would suggest that anyone thinking about the heroic ideal of being an academic would think twice.
Hell, no one even calls me Doctor now. What was the point? Were I not crazy, I would have taken my own advice long ago and been better because of it. But I did not and I am very happy now. But I am lucky. Hot Mama will be too....but the price is high. Far too high for the normal person. To follow your academic heart, you must be part masochist and part sociopath now.