Did You Want a Career in Academics? Oh, Sorry.

When pursuing research as a profession, it often seems our options distill down to two choices: 1) a career in academics, or 2) a career in anything else.  While ‘anything else’ includes a tremendous number of exciting opportunities, it’s not unusual that researchers might feel a bias towards academics – especially early in their careers.  After all, the academic environment is where most of us start out and as a result, our professional role models are likely academics.

Yet simple math reveals there are more qualified candidates than available jobs in academia, which means if everyone is interested in a career in academics, some dreams are going to get killed.  Actually, a lot of dreams.  Are we training an entire workforce for a career they can’t achieve?  Do researchers who have been forced to find a job in ‘anything else’ feel slighted, disappointed or even cheated if they were dead set on a career in academics?  Does this suggest that our current educational system biases young researchers towards academics only to hang them out to dry when it comes time to realize their career goal?  The implications of this may be far-reaching.

A wise scientist once said “You never know until you do the experiment.”  So before before calling Jesse Ventura to investigate this conspiracy theory, let’s get back to our roots and gather some data…  It’s very possible that only a small fraction of us actually start out with ambitions of a career in academics.  If this is the case, then perhaps the scarcity of available academic jobs is not a troubling as it may seem.  So dust off the cobwebs and try to remember the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed days of your early research experience in lab – what were you thinking in those days?


When you started in research, was an academic position your primary career goal?

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4 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. nagal

    wrote on August 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Academics all the way… until my 6th year in grad school.

  2. Emma

    wrote on August 20, 2010 at 2:14 am

    Haven't gotten a chance to become cynical yet.

  3. disgruntledphd

    wrote on August 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    I've wanted to be a scientist (actually, a mad scientist originally) since i was around 4.

  4. Srinath Thiruneelakantan

    wrote on August 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    "I have already taken 'leap of faith' but still not landed…. got no chance to spin my totem…. Mozart, rescue me"

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