Judging by a lot of the questions on this site, a career in Academia sounds very grim. Lots of pressure, extreme working ours, few benefits, mediocre salary, and, because one has to work with so many different people (supervisors, students, collaborators, HR, editors, etc., etc), one is more likely to run into social issues, as evidenced by the questions on this site.

So why then do so many people go into Academia? Is it really just a reason not to grow up?

“Passion for the field” doesn’t sound very convincing either, when one considers that only a small, small minority of Academia actually produce worthwhile, interesting results. The rest are just scrambling for any sort of recognition by constantly publishing mediocre results that will be cited twice over the course of the next 10 years. Rinse and repeat. Really, a lot of these people are just glorified teachers whose main contribution is giving lectures or conferences. When one considers the rising academic dishonesty, fabrication, plagiarism, and so on, the picture becomes even worse.

It is my understanding that academia as a nebulous whole has its own culture and speaks its own language that makes it a very different environment to work in compared to other so-called “industry” jobs.

Indeed, my own supervisor once referred to a former student of his as “having a job”, meaning that she now works outside of academia. It’s clear that for him, like many other academics, academia (or maybe their own particular field of research) is a vocation or calling, rather than a job.

My question, therefore, is this: why, within the culture of academia, is failure seen or felt to be different from failure in another career? What is special about academia that makes missing out on a postdoc or permanent job so different from missing out on any other industry job?

The question that inspired this one: How to deal with unavoidable failure? which asks how to deal with not being selected for a tenure-track job.

It is my understanding that academia as a nebulous whole has its own culture and speaks its own language that makes it a very different environment to work in than other so-called “industry” jobs.

Indeed, my own supervisor once referred to a former student of his as “having a job”, meaning that she now works outside academia. It’s clear that for him, like many other academics, academia (or maybe their own particular field of research) is a vocation or calling, rather than a job.

My question therefore is this: why, within the culture of academia, is failure seen or felt to be different to failure in another career? What is special to academia that makes missing out on a postdoc or permanent job so different to missing out on any other industry job?

Question that inspired this one: How to deal with ineluctable failure? which asks how to deal with not being selected for a tenure-track job.

I am a computer-science PhD student. I like to work on things and I enjoy doing computer science. But here is a problem: I am not that much into debates. When I meet with my supervisor, he asks me some questions and I try to answer those. I don’t go into debates on the research questions. I like to do research independently, also in a collaboration, but only to a small extent. Many of my friends ask me to enter into debates, but I don’t like it much. I like mostly objective sorts of questions. I like subjective questions also, but to a small extent.

Question: Is it possible for non-debating person to survive in research?

I am a computer-science PhD student. I like to work on things and I enjoy doing computer science. But here is a problem: I am not that much into debates. When I meet with my supervisor, he asks me some questions and I try to answer those. I don’t go into debates on the research questions. I like to do research independently, also in a collaboration but only to a small extent. Many of my friends ask me to enter into debates but I don’t like it much. I like mostly objective sorts of questions. I like subjective questions also but to a small extent.

Question: Is it possible for non-debating person to survive in a research?

I have been facing the following “problems” with my department head at an undergraduate institute. I joined it just under a year ago and am already facing (what appears to be) a lot of negativity from her. Here are my main problems:

1) Last semester, she would always come to me/email me telling me what a couple of students said/complained about me – mostly being that I am tough and expecting them to study more – well, it is Physics, you can’t just enter the classroom as if you are entering a cinema and expect entertainment – one has to be prepared! Anyhow, I am pretty sure she was asking students “how is the new guy?” which encouraged this behaviour from students – she implied it once during lunch.

2) Towards the end, she failed to put an end to disruptive (and borderline racist) behaviour from one of the students in spite of my complaints, but kept on encouraging it instead of nipping it in the bud when it happened first.

3) Moreover, I am continuously discouraged in collaborating with another department – I haven’t had any problems with them so far.

4) A few months ago, when I sent in the new syllabus for this semester (it has to pass through the Dept Head before being posted on the website), she said she wasn’t OK with it – it didn’t have anything unusual!

5) And now, when I wanted to add points for interaction in the syllabus for the next semester – as positive reinforcement (instead of penalising students), she gave a straight no, and asked me to give her a scientific paper proving that it is effective! I mean.. really?

6) To be in students’ good books and get good feedback, she is encouraging a manipulative student – she helps him in doing homework and he will be taking a summer “reading course” with her. So, now this student doesn’t have to sit in my course or pass it, and yet complains all the time which is encouraged by her.

I know these things are pretty vague but are definitely giving me a lot of negative vibes… Any advice as of how to face this situation? It looks like she is building a way to get my lose this job or make me go… Or am I just being too “sensitive” about it?

PS – She pretty much has the regular Dept Chair power — my annual performance review should pass through her, teaching assignments pass through her, etc.

PPS – The disruptive student’s concern was that the grade on the website wasn’t correct where as everything was as it is supposed to be – she acted like a middle-man everytime he was trying to cause trouble instead of either directing him directly to me or atleast recommending that or telling him that disruptive behaviour is not OK. The manipulative student gets a slap on the wrist for blatantly lying about grades, quiz, etc, she helps him in getting his homework done – he is supposed to do it on his own!

Although I do research in science as my day job, I spend most of my free time for my life-long hobby, drawing cartoon. But I keep this fact in secret to my research co-workers since the culture of scientific community and that of comics artists are quite different, and I’m tired of looking like a person with an exotic hobby. But recently my ‘career’ as an artist became more successful than I expected (made a contract with a publisher, etc.), I started to worry about my future choices. Would it be wise to pursue two very different careers in my life, researcher and artist?

Many famous comics (e.g. PHD comics, xkcd) from ex-scientists are mostly for the people who are already in the culture of science and maybe it would be OK to be that kind of artist and you could still be accepted in researcher community. However my art style is pretty different from that of other many famous scientist-comics artists. When I draw comics, I try to be like other usual professional artists so that I can draw more attention from the general audience. As a result, my works may contain stimulating elements that would be considered absurd or obscene when read out of context. I’m not saying that my works are particularly unhealthy; comics in general are for fun, and my works are just one of them. It’s just that my works are not very educational. Another concern is time and effort; drawing absorbs lots of time and energy when your art style is not simplistic.

Because of these reasons, I ask for advices from researchers who also have large passion for their asrtistic desire; how do you manage to do both of them? Would being a commercial artist give you disadvantage as a researcher in academia?