Lenny TeytelmanFebruary 15, 2014 at 7:53 AM
The reason I did not want to publish this - a single voice is invariably dismissed. So, I want to assemble in a central place as many essays like this from students, postdocs, and professors. The funding crisis will not be addressed until the severity of it is acknowledged and NIH, politicians, and scientists are alarmed enough. Please e-mail me your stories to lenny at zappylab dot com (whether new or published elsewhere). I will put together a site aggregating all of them.
BioluminessaFebruary 17, 2014 at 10:55 AM
Hi Lenny. Thank you for sharing your perspective! Here is another to add to your collection of essays. I wrote this piece the other day coming to similar conclusions. http://bioluminate.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-seven-stages-of-grief-for-academic.html
sheiselsewhereFebruary 25, 2014 at 11:54 AM
I often get told that I shouldn't be so negative and that things will get better. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to wait. Here is my contribution.
Dregev21February 28, 2014 at 2:13 PM
Wow, thank you for posting this! I have gone through a very similar situation and have also decided to quit pursuing this dream. I was a 4th year PhD student at the University of Florida (where I had already had to change labs since my first mentor moved to UAB) and my project was going nowhere fast. I also started seeing academia for what it has become; an industry of cheap labor and false hopes. But like you, I stayed in it for as long as I could because of my love for science, learning and teaching. I quit and got out with a MS degree this past November and I am very happy with my decision. I began working as a research coordinator at UF, making more money and like you felt liberated and free from the constant stress of graduate work and research. I believe most students come in to graduate scholl for the same reasons, but it has become so disheartening and scary, that it didn't seem worth it to me anymore. I think it is important for current students to know and understand that there are other things to do in life that are more fruitfull, less stressful and just as intelectually stimulating and rewarding. In any case, thank you for sharing!
Travels with Moby March 1, 2014 at 12:58 PM
Good Luck to you. I made this choice for many similar reasons about 6 years ago. But I was a college professor at a small college. You have aptly described the scenario. Even without the added stress of the grant machine, the choices that we are forces to make that divorce ourselves from family, friends to pursue this academic dream are incredibly costly. What I did find after a year in industry, is that I was not alone, I met former academics in industry and elsewhere that have expressed the same concerns. I wish you the best, and you are not alone.
Kevin ZelnioMarch 3, 2014 at 8:51 AM
Good luck! Life is better outside academia lol. I left 2 phds (got my masters after first one) and a decade long research career with 12 and then a 5+ year science communication career, left the country and started a microbrewery in Sweden. My skills as a scientist have been instrumental in my new profession as a beer maker (serious lab and sanitation skills here!) and a business person (improved and more diverse funding sources! AKA investors and people who drink BEER - which is like everybody). I cried a lot, I won't lie. Almost wrecked my marriage and the stress turned me into a horrible father for a while. Its just not a sustainable career for some types of people. Which is a shame, because the career is selecting for the same type of people and missing out on a diversity of life styles which could most likely benefit the scientific community in a number of ways. Here was my story: http://deepseanews.com/2013/02/19294/
UnknownMarch 3, 2014 at 2:10 PM
I don't see why I should view your departure as
a bad sign for the life sciences. As an engineer,
we celebrate when our students graduate, go
start a company or join an existing one, and
create products that make the world a better
place. Or, go work at a national laboratory,
the FCC, a non-profit, or any of the other types of
jobs where engineers make a contribution.
Lenny TeytelmanMarch 3, 2014 at 2:26 PM
First of all, it is terrific that you are supportive of graduate students who go on to be productive outside of academia! Unfortunately, in life sciences, you often lose support of your mentor the second you say that you do not plan to be a tenure track professor.
Second, and most importantly - the reason our departures and anxieties are cause for concern - being a professor, in the current funding climate, requires a level of sacrifice for science that fewer and fewer of the most talented and brightest scientists will make. Our taxpayers spend an extraordinary amount funding research. If the best scientists leave academia, research will suffer. Training of the future scientists will suffer. Science, inside and outside of academia will suffer.
gregMarch 3, 2014 at 3:07 PM
Your story collection is a great idea. I hope you'll keep the sources of the site open? I bet a lot of people would like to contribute to making that project stand out - I would certainly be helping out.
Thanks a ton for your blog post. Your last point about leaving your wife if she'd treated you as badly as science does is awesome. I'm just coming to the realization that you seem to already have: the notion that "If you can see yourself possibly loving any profession as much as you love science, you're not cut out for science" is unhealthy - it's a mark of the sort of brainwashing that academia does to you.
Best wishes on your future path.
Jessica WilsonMarch 6, 2014 at 11:43 AM
This is fantastic writing, despite the sadness. I sympathize (finishing PhD in neuroscience, considering heading out).
I'd love to try and make a video with some of the stories you've accumulated. I'm already looking through that Google Doc you posted right now, and my heart is breaking.
CBMarch 12, 2014 at 6:09 PM
Really great stuff. I have reread this post a dozen times over the past couple weeks, as I am a postdoc currently on the precipice of throwing in the towel on my academic career. I find the last sentence particularly meaningful. I can't shake the feeling that giving up on this career that I have been laser-focused on for ten years feels an awful lot like a traumatic breakup. But the simple truth is exactly as you described, academic science simply doesn't respect its professionals nearly enough for the best of us to stick around.
Ugh, breakups suck!
Michael RuddyMarch 14, 2014 at 1:55 PM
How appropriate for a Valentine post ... if you do not love everything about what you are doing – move on until you find it!
Nick EffordFebruary 15, 2014 at 8:53 AM
I sympathise and wish you a successful and fulfilling future, wherever that takes you. The pressures in UK academia are much the same, as is the relatively low pay. We've seen our pay fall 13% taking into account inflation over the last 5 or 6 years, and universities refuse to offer a decent pay increase despite increasing their income from students and despite the fact that they are sitting on huge cash reserves. My own institution would rather spend £50 million on new buildings than reward its staff for their dedication.
Like you and countless others, I'm reluctant to leave a job that can be very exciting and stimulating. But the truth is that the stress levels make it increasingly unsustainable. There is constant pressure to write papers and secure research funding and simultaneous pressure to improve teaching quality, but there is a failure to recognise that time is a finite resource, so one activity must inevitably be traded off against the other.
I don't expect to receive the same remuneration as I would in industry, but I do need one of two things to happen: either working conditions need to improve or the pay needs to improve to reflect the real pressures of the job. I've sacrificed too many evenings and weekends over the years, and that has had a negative impact on personal physical and mental health as well as family relationships. If something doesn't give soon, I could well end up following you out of academia.
The trade union for academics in the UK is currently locked in a bitter pay dispute with the universities. You can find out more about it at http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk/