Career, Philosophy

Academia is hard

I always need to be reminded given the fact that I have so many choices of what I can do with my career. I am an academic scientist. I’m a neuroscientist, a researcher in the biology of the brain and spinal cord. I study chronic pain.

What I do is a mystery for many of my family and friends. I’m not paid much compared to my friends in other careers. I don’t know what the next step is for my life. There’s uncertainty in academia.

I’m chasing shadows, and the shadows are chasing me. It’s like the feeling that you’re about to take a final exam and the exam never arrives. The feeling of that “test” never leaves you. Your days are filled with “hurry-up and wait”.

About me: I have my PhD in neuroscience, 3 years of postdoctoral training, and 1 year as a non-tenture track junior faculty member at a well-known University. But, like I said, it’s hard. I’m wrestling with my future and there’s always some failure waiting for me: a poor result in an experiment or a grant rejection, ugh.

So why do I stay?

As an academic, I go where no one has gone before. I search for treasure with no name. I’m free to govern my time. My ideas are valued until they are proven wrong by an experiment. If I have questions about a subject in the world, I have the tools or opportunities to seek an answer.

I’m surrounded by a diversity of people. Some are mean, cut-throat jerks; but the majority of my colleagues are great people to work alongside.

However, there are days when I really question why I endure such struggles with no promise of tangible reward.

Then I remember again and again….

I’m free to be me.


4 thoughts on “Academia is hard

  1. I’m an undergrad studying neuroscience, and I feel I may wander down the same path you describe. It’s hard to know how academic institutions will progress in the future as technology becomes more advanced, and I fear I may never know until it’s too late.

  2. @annaeneumann – These are exciting times in our field. I actually did quit for a year after my 1st postdoc to become a writer/journalist. I returned to academia because I realized that I could do both (research and journal/copy write) while wrestling within the academic challenges presented in the ivory tower.

    How far along are you in your studies? Neuroscience is a HUGE field.

    • I’m in my third out of five undergraduate years (special program offered at the university). So far my academic interest is narrowing on cognitive neuroscience and affective science, though I say that cautiously as my focus is naturally drawn in new directions as time goes by. I hope to have a career where I can always explore new questions and share knowledge, and academia seems to be the generic, if not the only path to accomplish these two goals.

      • @annaeneumann – Cool!

        “I hope to have a career where I can always explore new questions and share knowledge, and academia seems to be the generic, if not the only path to accomplish these two goals.”

        Yes, academia is the generic path for your goals. But, there are other paths as well, such as mass media or the communications field.

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