Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is success limited to academia?

  1. Jul 5, 2015 #1
    One of the reasons for me to pursue the PhD path was that you are (more) successful when your work have more impact on the society as a whole. One such way to do that is to publish papers, since these, especially at the basic sciences level, eventually affect the life of the people as a whole.

    Later, after starting my PhD career, I realized I do not want to do research after graduating. Some reasons for that have to do with self-assessment. Specifically, I do not think I will ever be able to publish something that is truly fundamental, or breakthrough, or genuinely new, etc. And I do not think that 'lower level' papers will significantly affect the life of people in the society.

    Thus I am struggling these days to redefine success. It is a shame that I am only doing this because I could not achieve my own standards for the first definition, but I am doing it nonetheless.

    I wonder what people think about this. Can you just live a simple life, work 9-5 in industry, government, etc where you do not do any research, and still 'stands out of the crowd' in some way? Notice how, implicitly, my previous definitions for success considered normal work that is just 'routine job' to be not successful, even if the society as a whole needs these kind of jobs.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2015 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Sure. Life is what you make of it.
  4. Jul 5, 2015 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Many people get their personal fulfillment outside of work: community service activities, local politics, raising children...
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  5. Jul 5, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    My advice is to get a new definition of success. If your definition is to be the best in a field you're going to not only drive yourself to depression but have a very inaccurate view of what success means.
  6. Jul 5, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    I agree with Ryan. How many people alive are successful by your definition? Ten? Four? One? Zero? Out of 7 billion people? That should indicate a redefinition is in order.
  7. Jul 7, 2015 #6

    Dr Transport

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Your degree is for you and it defines your success. Take what you have learned, apply is where you can and then go on with your life, there are many other things to do that do the world good than publishing.
  8. Jul 7, 2015 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    The whole concept of success, I think, can often wear people down because they connect it so intimately with happiness. But success and happiness are two different things and a lot of the popular literature seems to suggest that they aren't anywhere near as correlated as people think. There are lots of examples of people who meet most peoples' definition of successful who are miserable. There are lots of people who don't meet that bar that are perfectly happy.

    You weigh yourself down when you subscribe to the notion of "I'll be happy when..." I'm sure you've heard this from a lot of people: I'll be happy when I finish my degree. I'll be happy when I finish the PhD. I'll be happy when I have tenure. I'll be happy when I have children...

    Unfortunately that amounts to a whole lot of time not being happy. Somewhere in your head, I think, when reinforced over time, such concepts can really pound their way into your wiring. You can start to feel like you don't deserve to be happy. And then how are you really going to be happy when you finally get to where you're going?

    The trick, as I understand it, is to enjoy the ride. Happiness comes from your experiences, not your achievements.
  9. Jul 9, 2015 #8
    On that note:

    "The Station"

    Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision.
    We are traveling by train, out the windows,
    we drink in the passing scenes of children
    waving at a crossing,
    cattle grazing on a distant hillside,
    row upon row of corn and wheat,
    flatlands and valleys,
    mountains and rolling hillsides
    and city skylines.

    But uppermost in our minds is the final destination.
    On a certain day, we will pull into the station.
    Bands will be playing and flags waving.
    Once we get there, our dreams will come true
    and the pieces of our lives
    will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle.
    Restlessly we pace the aisles,
    damning the minutes - waiting,
    waiting, waiting for the station.

    "When we reach the station, that will be it!"
    We cry. "When I'm 18." "When I buy a new 450sl Mercedes Benz!"
    "When I put the last kid through college."
    "When I have paid off the mortgage!"
    "When I get a promotion." "When I reach retirement,
    I shall live happily ever after!"

    Sooner or later, we realize there is no station,
    no one place to arrive.
    The true joy of life is the trip.
    The station is only a dream.
    It constantly outdistances us.
    "Relish the moment" is a good motto.
    It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad.
    It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow.
    Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.
    Regret is reality, after the facts.

    So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles.
    Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream,
    go barefoot more often,
    swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less.
    Life must be lived as we go along.

    The STATION will come soon enough.

    by Robert J. Hastings
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook