Money talks…: A big disincentive in academic jobs is the relatively low pay as compared to management and bank positions. A couple of friends who completed their PhDs in theoretical physics and economics are now working as quantitative analysts in investment banks. The reason is simple as being paid four times more than postdoctoral researchers:
Ivory Towers: One reason why many people leave academic to get a ‘real job’ is the feeling that they are not impacting the ‘real world’ as much. This depends on each person’s interests. I feel that some years of non-academic work experience might be useful to get a different perspective even if I want to pursue academics in the long term.
“Publish or perish”: There is tremendous pressure to bring in research funding and to publish. It is one thing trying to solve some longstanding ‘open problem’ and it is another to publish it before some one else in a reputable journal. There are all these things as conference ratings and impact factors which need to be considered.
Competition: Postdoctoral positions are given on a highly competitive basis. If one is let’s say applying for a EPSRC fellowship, the brightest minds from all over Europe and USA are applying for a few positions.
Insecurity: It is even more difficult to get tenured full time academic positions. As a biochemist who I ran into commented, you don’t want to be doing short contract jobs in your thirties.
Workload: Most academic jobs are not just about getting paid to think up wonderful ideas. There are other things like teaching, committee meetings, refereeing, conference organization and administrative work which may put a lot of load on you. Mentoring and counselling is another issue. As Catherine says:
“Some of the issues I have dealt with, only since Christmas include (without being too specific so as to break confidences) dyslexia, criminal convictions, hospitalisations, car accidents, divorce, depression, violent housemates, panic attacks and random assaults in the street.”
After listing all these points, I realise that academia will not always be a wonderful and easy ride. I hope I can quickly come up with an answer to the big question of career path!