Monday, December 30, 2013

How do things look now?

It's been a few months since the last update...

The reason being, I didn't want to 'jinx' myself.  It's not that I am superstitious, but I wanted to wait until things had cleared a bit.  What is going on now?

I have left academia.  It's gone.  Although it hasn't been too long (roughly 5 months), I think I can safely say I am done with it.  When I came back to the city I wanted to live in, the first jobs I looked into were academia based at a university close by.  Everything looked quite good - there was funding for a five-year position and it needed to be filled soon because the time on the grant was ticking.  I talked to quite a few profs that were very interested in what I wanted to bring to the university.  However, a number of factors needed to be in place before any formal position would work out.  Part-time seemed to be ok (although later didn't work out at all because the profs couldn't figure out what part-time meant), but for a full-time position, a few different funding sources needed to come together to produce the entire package.  And, as we all know, university funding is the slowest procedure out there...

In the meantime, I was in contact with a group since last January (outside academia) that seemed to be slow on the uptake.  Additionally, I contacted everyone I knew in my field and also in fields completely unrelated to anything I had ever done.  Everything was looking bleak.  I even put my application in to several grocery/stationary stores and temp agencies because I knew the university would take forever to figure it out.

I ended up dropping in personally to the company I had been in contact with since January a couple of times, and landed an audition.  Everything seemed to go well, but I was still a bit cautious as I knew (after 100s of applications to industry jobs, seriously I think I counted 110) that things don't seem to work out.

I landed a really good job with that company.  They were interested in applying my background to some of the projects they had on the table, and also furthering some of the skills I had learned in my Ph.D./postdoc studies.  It worked out incredibly - the day that my old checks ran out (vacation pay) my new job started.  I definitely felt 'looked after' by God, and I know that that may not strike a chord with several of you, but I know what happened and the circumstances behind it.

What happened to the university job that looked so great?  Even though I have been in contact with them for the last several weeks, I have heard nothing.  They are still tripping over themselves trying to figure it out.  Not to mention that they need to post the position internationally for three months (it is a full-time academic position...).  Basically, I don't know if they will ever figure it out, and at this point, I am glad that they didn't figure it out in time for me.

How does it feel?  In one word - incredible.  The job I am doing has real deadlines.  These deadlines benefit the company, are short-term, and my future career is not at stake (well, it is in a way if I did crappy work, but not in the way of 'I need more papers; I need more grants').  Usually, during the holiday season, I am pretty stressed and I plan out the next year of how many papers/grants I will be submitting, and I always feel bad about not doing enough during the previous year.  But guess what?  With my new, non-academic job, I am fulfilled knowing I did the best I could and that my future is not riding on how many papers I get in the future.  I actually enjoyed the break, in contrast to having a break where I need to re-motivate myself so that I can get more crap submitted.  Not for one second do I miss the old academic routine.  Since I have quit, I have had several past supervisors wondering when I will submit such-and-such a paper, and it is an incredible relief to just say, 'I'm sorry, but I won't be doing that paper anymore, unless it is contract work that you are willing to pay for'.  Of course, they never get back to me after I say that - they are just trying to get as much as they can for as little effort as possible.  Cheap academic bastards.  It is so refreshing to see it from a different viewpoint, and not feeling the underlying guilt of not finishing a paper.  Granted, at this point, I still feel a bit of allegiance or something to my past supervisors, and when they came 'a-calling', I even felt scared telling them to politely 'screw off', as I don't feel entirely free of the academic vice grip, but at the same time, the feeling of a true industry job as a foundation to stand on is indescribable.

To all those looking to make a break:
If you know deep-down the academic life is not for you, it is time.  Regardless of what you do, you will probably make the same or more money than you did as a postdoc, and the work will be no less challenging on your brain because of your skills.  You will get to interact with real people.  You won't be doing goofy non-essential research on something that will never be used/read, because that would be left on the chopping floor long before it is undertaken.  Looking back at it now, I would never have completed a postdoc or the Ph.D., and I would even change my B.Sc. to focus on more mindful industry areas prevalent in the region that I wanted to live in.  Definitely do not move somewhere foreign to do a postdoc.  Take it from me, it is not worth it.  I don't know what it is like to be a superhuman researcher like Dr. Einstein or Dr. Hawking, so if you are in those leagues, obviously this doesn't apply.  But, if you think you are smart, have the 'right' amount of papers/grants, know the 'right' people, have graduated from the 'right' university and also undertaken the 'right' postdoc (i.e. excellent pedigree - ivy leagues), and things still seem messy, GET OUT NOW!  It won't get better.  The last four years of my six-year postdoc life were hell on earth (obviously, this is hyperbolic) which I wish I could get back.

I wish you all the best.  I'll keep updating with interesting things from a postdoc who has left academia.

Yours truly,