Thursday, September 11, 2014

Academics and Alternatives

Discovered an interesting individual via a friend's Facebook link today. Ian Glomsky was a microbiology professor before he got disillusioned by the funding process, quit and is starting his own distillery:

My story is not at all similar to his - for one, I never got off the ground having remained in the highly vulnerable position of being a post-doc or contractual Phd positions. However, I felt a kinship to his story and how he felt toward the grant award process. I very much wanted to create scalable tools that were going to be useful to others in the HPC community. Instead, I was pushed into grunt work. The funding process for high performance computing where I used to work is adequate (I think) but no less brutal. This is the NPR story on which he was one of those featured:

To be fair, I still feel that the scientific environment in the USA far exceeds that in Singapore. Here, an individual's interests and passions matter far less than what the government thinks you should do and what you can produce.


Kevin Jang said...

I have no idea whether your lecturers or supervisors ever told you this before. When in graduate school and even after I left and entered the university to work as a professor, there was this idea lingering around that if you left academia or somehow did not secure any form of employment(even if adjunct or contracted) in a university, then you are somehow a failure. It is for this reason that few professors are unwilling to discuss the possibility of alternative careers for PhD students post-graduation, and even framed their words in such a way that "judging from the current state of the job market, it will probably be five years at least till you get a real job[ they meant tenure]". My supervisor was a very kind and honest lady who told me that I should learn to search for the two years post-PhD for a job, and then if I still cannot find anything at all(even contracted work), that I consider the alternative of finding work elsewhere outside of academia, because it would be a waste just to let my diligence of the last few years go to waste like that.

I am still contemplating the chances open to me. Judging from the job searches, and including the alternative career job searches, there is perhaps a greater purpose out there which prevents me from leaving academia just like that. Think, to enter a new industry, here in Australia, I have to have 'local experience', but that means re-education and a setup cost that amounts to thousands and more than I can handle, and that also means that all my savings will come to naught, as they already are anyway. Then again, my academic experience also closes me off from non-academic careers when they see my CV, unless I take these out too, and when that happens, I only get called up for very menial jobs in sales and so on, which pay little in the way of sustenance.

In any case, the best way is not to think about it. I have learnt to just focus on things I enjoy, which include writing and so on.

Chee Wai Lee said...

That is my impression too. That, and my prior bad experiences with some aspects of the academic environment makes me just a tad leery of re-entering. There are also new barriers to re-entry - I no longer have the means to keep up with the state of the art in research, nor do I have access to the latest hardware resources.

The longer I am out, the more it disadvantages me. In any event, I think I will be trying for two jobs related to work I had done in the past. One is in industry, and the other in academia. We'll see how that goes. I don't want to over-think this, and like you say enjoy what I can enjoy now.

Kevin Jang said...

The disturbing thing about academia right now too is that those in academic management are largely a bunch of people who think of academia in terms of this 'business' model based on KPI (student enrollment, numbers, profit margins and so on), and have no prior experience in academia in terms of teaching and research. When you said that people like LIFT rub you the wrong way in his blog, it struck a chord with me, because I discovered that a lot of the people who post on his blog are in themselves people who write not because they believe in something but because they are just talking for the sake of it. LIFT is himself someone who I dislike the writing of because of his style which comes across as arrogant and full of himself. Academia should not have people like that in management, but the sad thing is, there are actually quite a sizeable number of people like that now in terms of their attitude and approach of hiring over in the ivory tower.

Chee Wai Lee said...

hehe, I think you are spot-on where LIFT is concerned. It is mostly a talk-shop.

On academic management, I'd say it varies a lot. Most of the time, my impression is that it is ad-hoc and run solely by a PI's moods. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, my own circumstance was partially the result of severe mismanagement from two bosses who either did not make any realistic assessment of their expectations, or refused to. They just pretended I was some miracle worker who could respond to both their work requirements without problems.

Kevin Jang said...

It reminds me of my former workplace. Although I was more or less settled in, and confirmed nearer the end of the contract for another 3-year period extension, part of me felt dissatisfied with the routine act of preparing things over and over again which were not exactly my strengths(ESL). My boss was not a bad person, but owing to the survival need to make the department a permanent one and to prove to the numbers-oriented Japanese that the department has validity, the most obvious way had become the act of promoting numbers for tutorials and student enrollment. At one point, when I went to the USA on a conference in my field of research (medieval literature) in May 2013, it dawned on me that my constant stay in the program for 9 years (2 times the renewal period) might not be a good long-term solution for me in the academic aspects of self-professionalization.

Kevin Jang said...

The talk-shop about LIFT's blog aside, the one thing which rubs me the wrong way all the time is the way he depicts his parents. No one, no matter how much he or she hates his parents, has a right to be like that as if he or she is 'God' to his or her parents and can dictate whether they are wrong or right in their ways of upbringing. Then again, like attracts like if you do notice the way commenters on his blog entries about his parents gather together to talk bad about their parents, deceased or alive. Seriously, where has honoring your parents gone?