Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On the Dark Side...

When considering Industry, I was always apprehensive about Challenge.  I figured that Industry jobs would be mundane and tedious, performing the same tasks day-in and day-out.  When we think of Academia, we are inspired by the never-ending pursuit of knowledge; the cardinal rule of applying a new technique/method/analysis to an unsolved problem.  During my graduate and postdoc studies (to a certain extent), I believed I was advancing human knowledge by my research (how vain it sounds!), even though it was pertinent to a small applied field.  How could Industry possible compete?  Industry relied on Academia to forge new methods in order to combat prevalent problems in society.  Industry took a backseat to the innovations produced by Academia.  Industry merely applied 'old' solutions to problems that were conceived and solved in Academia.

Being on the other side, I realize this is still partially true.  Industry is not solely concerned with solving problems that have been otherwise insoluble.  The kicker is, Industry is concerned with applying (and developing) solutions that actually matter.  Though Academia may rejoice in its laurels as a producer that upholds unrestricted freedom of research, I now subscribe to the mindset that Industry manufactures the real test of whether or not a production of research really matters.

The problem with Academia, in my opinion, is that it does not care how the innovation can be applied, or if it can be applied.  In a certain sense, this is ok - we don't necessarily want to restrict the scope of research as new innovations are often found from obscure methods.  However, I feel strongly that there is too much 'research for the sake of research' going on.  (Think of how many PIs you know that solely care about the amount of papers/grants they can publish/obtain).  Though I haven't the time nor the inclination to provide due diligence on the subject, I often wonder how many researchers there were at the time of Einstein or Pauling compared to the modern era.

Two points:

1.  Do we really need this much investment into research? and,
2.  Industry is not tedious, mundane application of proven methods, but rather a justification and proper application (with appropriate research) of solutions to problems.

It's been a long ride, but I am truly enjoying Industry, and I don't miss Academia for a second.


  1. I'm the 'anonymous' poster on your previous post. Thanks again for these perspectives. I've been applying to jobs outside the academy (already had the cv to resume consultations, etc) and am excited about the prospect of a non ac job (something I did NOT feel a year ago).

    I've gone on a few job interviews in the "real world" and, while nothing has yet worked out, I envision non–ac life and work as a happy, engaged journey. I, too, used to associate non ac jobs as "mundane and tedious." Yeah, sure there's some of that in a non-ac job but academia has no dearth of it either (from administrative duties to the mind-numbing drudgery of grading and manuscript/references revisions–not exactly neuron snapping nirvana).

    I'm also pleased with my psychological and emotional progress-now, when I go to campus I feel more like the "informed outsider looking in" rather than the "hurt, marginalized insider." What a difference a (long) year makes (the realization I had to leave/it was over began in Dec.2012/Jan 2013) so I think I'm finally at the tail end of this horrendous process. I'm also not ashamed or embarrassed to talk about myself, the academy, or my experience anymore. I do so in a matter-of-fact-way to non acs and acs alike, holding my head high, eye to eye (but, granted, I don't make myself vulnerable to rage by hanging out too long on campus or going to academic events)

    As far as the "pursuit of knowledge" is concerned, I feel so much joy at being able to read broadly and without guilt. I'll confess that I did not keep up with academic literature over the last three years (didn't have the mettle to deal with so much pretentiousness and mediocrity) and didn't do "outside" reading either because I felt guilty about "wasting time." How sad and tragic–the industry had stunted my ability and desire to read. I no longer had the enthusiasm to "keep up" with academic publishing, truly dislike/d the core people in my sub–discipline (it felt like I was in a bad marriage with five individuals for the rest of my life). In short, my joy of learning and the quest for knowledge had been stunted by the industry. I truly cherish having rekindled the kind of love for books and learning that I had before starting grad school. That said, I'm still "wrapping up" the research I started years earlier (have a couple of articles FOP and am finishing the manuscript) but will not pursue any new projects (last year I was adamant about becoming an 'independent scholar' but the will and interest is fast fading....gone).

    Again, thanks so much for these encouraging yet sober assessments of life post-ac. It's nice to feel the solidarity. Paula

    1. Dear Paula,

      Thank you so much for your insightful reply. It sounds as though our situations are very similar. I am glad that your psychological/emotional well-being has progressed and it sounds like you have come to grips with where you want to be in your life. In my experience, that is such a huge step! Even though getting a non-ac job seems bigger, actually knowing what you want to do is the way out. I can really relate to what you specifically wrote: "mind-numbing drudgery of grading and manuscript/references revisions". Very true. In my non-ac job, nothing has come close to replicating those boring tasks. However, there does remain some tediousness in my current job (somewhat akin to manuscript revisions) though it doesn't come close to what I experienced in academia.

      Yeah, the independent scholar thing really bit me when I was about three or four years into the postdoc. I thought, 'it would be great to control my own destiny, and show everyone how good some of these methods really are!' But in the end, I really knew that I wasn't destined for academia...

      I completely agree - it is nice to feel solidarity, and I truly hope that things work out for you soon. I encourage you to continually remember what you want to do, and stay vigilant in protecting yourself from being devoured by the academic maelstrom (and it seems you are doing a good job already!). I wish you all the best,


  2. Thank you, Aimless. I do love your voice and hope that you continue to blog, even if only sporadically (and on non-ac themes!). Again, your posts were some of the most illuminating and helpful in what already is an amazing sea of post/alt ac blogs. Cheers! Paula