Should You Become An Academic?: Being An Academic Is Difficult

Not a single person will ever tell you that science and #academia is easy. If doing #research was easy, how creditable do you think it would be? We, as scientists and researchers, make it difficult to make sure that the knowledge is creditable or at least sparks insight for others.

Science is hard – ask any student that has studied for an exam to find out that they did not do so well on it the next day.

This is me – I struggle with doing good #research every day. I don’t read every article ever published in my area, and I continue to find things that I “should have read” or “could have analyzed.” Everyday you realize that you are missing out on this technique or that you can don’t write as well as other people.

The question then comes up, “should you become an academic?

When I was in my 20s, I thought, what a great career – you get to study things that you want to study all day. Then, in when I started doing my PhD, I realized just how difficult it was going to be, and frankly, I lost hope along the way. I would have told you at this point, “no, don’t become an academic.”

It was not until the last few years, when I got heavily into thinking about counterfactuals, I realized that I was thinking about the problem all wrong. The real question is not whether you should “should you become an academic?,” but rather, what is the alternative?

Would you do if you were not an academic? And if you were not an academic, how would life be like in that career?

The obvious answer is that “I would be working in research in industry,” but this answer is wrong. It would not just be ‘industry,’ devoid of any context, as if people just work in ‘industry,’ but rather the answer is far more complex. (You should take this quiz if you are deciding on getting a PhD or getting a job).

I would be working on discovery and search in industry. Much of me, much like you, is very curious about how things work. I have always been the person to pay attention to my teachers, not because I liked to follow what people say, but just that the knowledge they were saying was so interesting. I love ideas. Sometimes, I don’t understand them, but once I “get” the idea, it is just so attractive.

I would be building something. It was not by accident that my initial career was engineering, and I have a great interest in entrepreneurship and innovation. I like the idea and the act of building things. Taking something that sucks and does not work, and gradually building it up over time to something that people care about. Or, at least that I care about.

I would be trying to influence people. While it might not seem like it, I generally like influence. I am inherently an introverted person. I don’t like speaking up in large crowds. However, when people respond to what I am saying with the ‘light-bulb’ coming on and becoming engaged with your ideas is so much fun.

As you see – the counterfactual to becoming an academic, at least for me, is identical to becoming one. I still would have the same struggles, like building an audience, convincing people about your ideas, and analyzing and building new things.

Embrace your challenges.

If you are making the decision about becoming an academic right now, your goal is not to fight the challenges that you face in the journey, but to embrace them. Know that each step you take is going to be difficult, but it is in this difficultly that you earn great respect for your choice, your career, and the other scientists, professors, and researchers that went before you.

As I tell my kids, “turn that frown upside down.” Some days it sucks, and some days, it’s awesome. If you are at the beginning of your journey or midway through, know that the struggles that you face are very real. However, it is how you deal with them that matters.

Not a single person that has climbed a mountain has found the journey easy. But, they look back and say that they would do that all over again.

Personally, I think that is similar to how all us feel. You know it is a struggle, but you do it anyway. It is the struggle that makes the career fun. When you are in the depths of the ‘struggle’ take a step back and look at the view around you. Admire the journey, and laugh about the mistakes that you made along the way.

You choose which one you want it to be today. Get out there – take that small step, do the one more analysis, and read that one more article. Keep marching forward.

Should you be an academic? This is your personal choice. But, before you make that decision, you have to ask yourself the more appropriate question, which is “what would you do if you weren’t one?”

The R3ciprocity Project

I should qualify who I am. I am David Maslach, an Associate Professor in Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, and am doing an interesting project. As part of my research, I wanted to create a sharing economy editing website where I could help out as many people as I could. I was thinking a lot about ways I could positively contribute to society (mid-life crisis anyone?) and reciprocity. Reciprocity is often discussed in the context of innovation where there are many people that do things online where they expect to get little back in return. 

Anyway, long story short, I created the as a way to give back, but then I realized. Oh crap – nobody even knows this site exists. What do I do now? I did a bit of paid advertising, but then I thought, it might be better for me just to lean into this reciprocity idea, and try to give back even more. Thus, started my YouTube channel, and this blog where I try to give back even more than before.

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