Academia versus a research career

Academia versus a research career

I really like research. I discovered this in undergrad and it is why I am at VT today. I don’t know why but the struggle and daily grind is appealing and keeps me from getting bored which is really what I want in a job. I have gone back and forth between do I want to be a professor or do industry or pursue a career in research and until now my thought has always been “we’ll see what’s available when I’m looking” but I’m realizing how crazy intense getting in academia is. I know colleagues who apply for years with no luck or who just give up because it looks like its not going to happen for them. This is insane! To be honest; its a job. I don’t believe I will get super hero wings when I am able to finally reach out to that depraved undergraduate who just needed my sole mentorship to blossom into a beautiful underpaid graduate student but I do think I would groove on it. The pace of research and the travel are immensely appealing to me and I do like the idea of trying to implement and change campus culture for those who will change American culture.

The appeals of a solely research career though are also very enticing if at a national lab or in academia as non tenure track. To be honest it sounds like less stress and at least in a national lab environment I like the idea of potentially being able to move up and do more project oversight. I recently went to our departments recruiting event for new graduate students and the professor giving the introduction described each research group as a tiny business. You have to balance the books, bring in new team members and produce something that means you can get more funding to balance the books next year. I had never thought of a lab environment like that but it makes sense and it also makes me realize that maybe I’d also like just working at a business.

I don’t think I’ll resolve this debate soon or ever but fundamentally I want to be able to pursue a career that keeps me interested and curious about what is going on in the world around me. I worry about negative work culture destroying that curiosity as I’ve seen with other graduate students but I don’t think any of this is unique to academia or any field.

These are just musings that continually come up when I am inevitably asked “So what do you want to do that” in regards to my PhD.