Some Good and Bad Things About Academia

Partially in response to Matt and Daniel‘s posts, I wanted to list a few things I like about being a professor:

  1. It’s a good match for my short attention span. If I get interested in something new, I can drop everything and work on it for a while. When I get tired of a project, I can just drop it (subject to constraints imposed by students and ongoing grants).
  2. As long as I basically do my job, nobody can tell me what to do, or would even think of trying to.
  3. There are few secrets. Within certain broad limits, I can tell anyone about anything I’m working on, release anything I want as open source code, and blog about whatever I like.
  4. I can be annoying, for example by airing dissenting opinions or pointing out flaws in popular systems. These are harder to do when my company has to maintain good relations with customers and otherwise keep making money.
  5. Writing papers is at the core of the job, and I enjoy doing this.
  6. Basically I’m being paid to be smart and to know a lot of stuff, how great is that?
  7. Dealing with students, both in courses and in the advisor/advisee relationship, is fun.
  8. I can work on things that nobody would pay me to do, if I think they advance the field or serve the greater good.

Of course it’s not all roses. Here are some things I dislike:

  1. The capriciousness of the peer review system is tiresome.
  2. I’m constantly spread too thin, and do a bad job at things because of this.
  3. Dealing with students is not fun when they are apathetic, entitled, dishonest, or inept.
  4. The incentives in the research funding system are screwed up.
  5. Sometimes I have to go to meetings that bore me.
  6. I end up spending quite a bit of time being an administrator and manager, and I’m not good at these things.
  7. Pre-tenure, the incentives are setup to strongly reward work that has a reliable, short-term payoff, which is precisely not what professors should be working on.

2 replies on “Some Good and Bad Things About Academia”

  1. Out of the 3 posts I’ve seen so far (Matt, Mike and Daniel’s) I think yours captures my own experience the most as new professor.

    THE GOOD: Freedom, interacting with students

    THE BAD: Grants, meetings, administration.

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned: Much more variable schedule than as a grad student.

    Some weeks are EXTREMELY busy with travel, tests, homeworks , grant proposals, presentations and project reports and paper deadlines all falling within a few days of each other. Other weeks are very relaxed with only very routine meetings.

    I imagine in most other jobs people tend to work on fewer projects at a time and hence not as likely to have as extreme “collisions” and more likely to have one deadline at a time. But I may be wrong about this – this could be a common feature of many professional jobs.

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