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Academic career or not?

  1. Aug 16, 2008 #1

    tgt

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    How can you tell whether an academic career is for you or not? Can you tell it from one's characteristics or personalities?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2008 #2
    Do you enjoy teaching? Do you think you'd enjoy research at an academic institution. This includes doing thinks like fighting for grants, etc...

    Does the work seem like it would be fulfilling work to you? There's no test that will tell you anything. Just ask yourself if you honestly like it I guess.
     
  4. Aug 16, 2008 #3
    Be an academic; at least from assistant professor until your tenure evaluation. You should be able to tell by then, I'd think.
     
  5. Sep 3, 2008 #4

    Moonbear

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    Keep in mind that there is more than one path that counts as an "academic" career. There are the well-known tenure-track paths that require both research and teaching and grant funding and research publications. They usually tell you those require somewhere between 50 to 80% of your time doing research and 20 to 50% of your time doing teaching. Depending on which you like more or are better at, you would choose to work at a college or university that leans toward the balance you are stronger in.

    There are also some non-tenure track academic paths. Research tracks focus entirely on research with no teaching requirements. These usually require grant support to bring in 80 to 100% of your salary (often you work in the lab of a tenured faculty member who can help provide support off their grants while you work to get your own). These usually are considered temporary jobs, something to hold you over after you're done with post-docs and while seeking a tenure-track job. But, some people make a career out of it because they really don't want to teach, or don't want the responsibility of running their own lab.

    Then there are educator/instructor type tracks. These are focused on teaching with little to no research requirements, though tend to be 9 or 10 month appointments, but no grant writing required. At a lot of universities, these positions are filled by family-oriented people who want to be able to leave the office by 5 or 6 every night to get home and care for kids. The stability isn't quite as good in a lot of places (though this varies depending on what you teach and how committed the school is to having that course taught well). While the threat to research track stability would be difficulty getting grant funding, the threat to teaching track stability is if tenured faculty have difficulty getting grant funding...in other words, they get forced to teach more courses if they aren't covering their salaries on grants, so the teaching faculty can no longer be afforded.
     
  6. Sep 4, 2008 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    As Moonbear points out, an "academic career" is a broad term, and depending on where you are, it can emphasize teaching, research, tenure-track or not, etc.

    In my experience, an academic career means I am responsible for how I spend my time- there's no timesheets or time accounting. That's what 'academic freedom' means to me. I'm also responsible for paying my own salary.

    In my experience, an industry job is the opposite- my time is accounted for by my boss, but I am not responsible for paying my own salary.

    Finally, this isn't an either/or choice- one may be an 'adjunct professor' while working at an industry gig, and one may consult for companies while holding an academic appointment.
     
  7. Sep 4, 2008 #6

    tgt

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    Would it suit someone who doesn't like to work in groups or be part of committees etc?
     
  8. Sep 4, 2008 #7

    jtbell

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    This description probably applies more to medium and large colleges and universities than small ones. At colleges whose main mission is teaching, the college generally pays your entire salary, you're expected to teach the same number of courses per year as everyone else, and research is something you do "on the side" and/or during the summer. Grant money pays for equipment, travel, student workers, etc.

    Where I teach, it's unusual for someone to have part of his salary paid from external sources. We do in fact have an exception in my department, whom we hired starting this year. He brought along some research funding that pays part of his salary, so he's teaching one course less per year than the rest of us in my department.
     
  9. Sep 5, 2008 #8

    Moonbear

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    Of course this varies from school to school. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. The main point I was trying to make was that an "academic" career isn't all that defined other than to mean one is working at a university or college.

    Probably not. But, it's hard to find a job ANYWHERE where you can avoid being stuck on committees or having to work with groups from time to time. Academia does usually have "service" requirements, which means sitting on committees. They usually expect about 5% of your time will be spent doing this. Academic research is almost always done in groups...you'll either be working with a supervisor or students and post-docs working for you. Of course, teaching requires the most people-skills.

    If you don't like working in groups (a lot of people don't like committees, and just suffer through it when needed), you really need to look carefully for jobs where you can primarily work entirely independently, other than reporting to a direct supervisor. I can't think of any jobs off-hand, where that really happens.
     
  10. Sep 6, 2008 #9
    Just a small observation about committee work from my non-faculty perspective: serving on committees seems to be a chance to benefit yourself and your group. Being on the graduate admissions committee can be helpful in making sure an entering class has some people interested in your areas of research, being on a facilities committee may aid you in getting support/equipment that benefits your research, and so on. This is, at least, what I've deduced from many conversations with junior faculty to date.

    You may not enjoy it, all in all, but you may find that it is helpful to your efforts to staying in academia.
     
  11. Sep 6, 2008 #10

    Moonbear

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    True. And some committees are better than others. I've been on ones run by people who shouldn't be chairing a committee (we called it the Local Torture Committee), because they don't really want input from the committee members, just minions to micromanage, which doesn't really fly well with academics. Others can be very productive and useful and leave the members feeling like they've really accomplished something good. The biggest problem people have with committees is they suck up time you don't have to spare. The meeting that should only be for an hour once a month and ends up dragging on for 3 or 4 hours because nobody can agree on a final decision that has to be made by an admissions deadline will make people pull their hair out.

    I think committee assignments are a bit better for the more senior faculty, because they have the seniority to pick and choose the ones they enjoy over the years. The junior faculty sometimes just get "stuck" with whatever committee needs another person on it, not necessarily one of their choosing.

    But, in the end, I think its the committee chair that makes or breaks the experience. Some take on the position because they like to hear themselves talk, and others are actually very good at getting everyone's input and drawing a consensus and really facilitating a committee decision rather than looking for a group of lackey's to endorse their own decisions.
     
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