Monday, May 19, 2014

Hectic pace

The nice thing about being in academic circles is the ability to take your time and think things through.  Generally, when it comes to papers, I found there was one relatively large problem that needed to be solved.  Solving the problem took time, and it was up to the author (me) to take the time and thoroughly investigate the problem, and ensure the solution made sense.  Of course, it was important to solve the problem relatively quickly to get the paper out, but in the end, solving the problem correctly was dominant.

In my experience, that isn't the case in industry.  There isn't time to reflect on the problem and investigate multiple scenarios.  You generally pick your gut instinct and go with it.  Granted, the problems in industry are solved quickly and you can tell immediately if it works or not, but the 'laid back' atmosphere of problem-solving from academia is non-existent.  You just need to make things work.  And when they work, it's time to move on.  That problem is ancient history - no longer present to be criticized by a panel of scholars during peer review.

This is good and bad.  Good:  any single problem is not important enough to piss and moan about for months.  Bad:  you no longer have time to fully employ your reasoning and evaluate (and re-evaluate) the solution.  It's hectic.  It's a madhouse.  But at the end of the day, you can forget about it.

The slow pace of academia was already not in-line with my personality.  I would procrastinate and throw away days/weeks working on minute details.  So I was already prepared (in a way) for a quicker atmosphere, and I would assume that most people leaving academia would have a similar mindset.  It is a bit of an adjustment though...


  1. Thanks for sharing your academic/career path. I am glad that you are thriving in industry (biotech?). I just read through your entire blog history, which has cured me of any lingering nostalgic wounded "what-if" second-guessing for academia.

    I left academia nearly 20 years ago, right after my PhD (ecology) from a top university. Reasons include (1) not feeling as committed/competitive as my peers for tenure-track/research, (2) wanted to apply science to natural resources issues, (3) spouse not keen on traipsing around from post-doc to post-doc, (4) fiscal security. In 1995 started at $55K in consulting. Worked at a nonprofit for several years with lower pay and more flexibility, which was good when I had my kids. Switched back to consulting firms and recently >$125K plus bonus.

    Consulting can sometimes be crazy with deliverable deadlines, pressure to be billable (like a law firm), and requirements for contracts won (but good proposal decisions often more reliable than grants). But it's better rewarded fiscally and usually stable (but layoffs are not unusual). Plus there's the satisfaction of knowing the work "matters" when you see a relevant policy or your project on the front page of the newspaper.

    I look forward to updates as you continue to grow in your new career. I sometimes counsel students about "alternative careers" and career skills, and I'd love to share insights more current than my experience leaving academia. Thanks!!

  2. I, too, was wondering if there would be an update this fall . I cannot tell you how powerful, engaging and helpful your narrative was/is for the now 100% post–ac me (and how timely it was to stumble upon/comment on a crucial set of entries!).

    And thank you @anonymous for the comment above. I love nothing more than to read other post-ac experiences, veteran and recent!


  3. I am about 2 years into my switch from academia (social sciences) - much of the first year was spent reframing my skills and seeking a new job which I eventually found in a non-profit agency. Your blog really describes one of the things to which I have had to adjust, and frankly sometimes struggle with. While I don't really miss being in academia, I do miss having time to focus and think. In my current work, taking too long to think something is a liability. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It makes me, and am sure others going through the transition, feel less alone.