A Career in Academia

Academic Research Summary

In a separate blog, I will summarize my academic journey so those of you who want to either know what that journey might look like, or would like to put these comments into context can read about my experiences.

Academic Value System

Value systems are very important. It will tell you what will be rewarded and if your passion and/or skill strengths align with that value system you will be rewarded. I want to be clear that these conclusions are based upon my experiences and the experiences of others may lead to different conclusions. However, I will say that I have talked to a lot of people who are in academia and industry and for the most part these views are shared.

### Teaching vs. Research

My journey led me through a number of high-powered research institutions and as such there is an emphasis on research. Teaching in these institutions are neither a focus nor is it truly valued. I was told explicitly when I was a professor that as long as you are getting ‘3s’ on your teaching ratings, you’ll be fine and if you your teaching is not the greatest, do not worry about it. Personally, I enjoyed teaching, but I fully recognized the value system that I was in at the University. So, I would always tell my students “I will make all of my notes available on-line. You will have all of the readings. If you don’t find any value in my teaching, don’t come. I will be paid the same either way.” I also would tell them, “You are attending a high-power research institution. If you are only going to classes and not taking advantage of working in a research lab or with a professor you are not getting the full value out of your education.” If your passion is teaching, go to a teaching college. I have some good friends at Carleton College who came from high power research universities and decided to focus on teaching. They are extremely happy with that decision. If you decide to go to a high-power research institution, your path to success will be through research papers and grants.

Research in Academia

Research in academia is great. There are an infinite number of questions that you can ask and sometimes it seems that professors are doing just that…asking an infinite number of arbitrary questions (IMHO). However, my experience was that when I finally made it to be a professor, I actually spent less time doing research than I did as a graduate student or a postdoc. When I was a professor I spent my time in the following way.

  • 30% Teaching and teaching prep (~4 courses a year; 1 graduate, 1 upper-level undergrad and 1 lower-level course). Even when I had my lectures and materials completed, I still had to spend time in the classroom, meeting with teaching assistants (TAs), students, preparing exams, etc.
  • 5% mentoring undergraduate/graduate students
  • 5% reading research articles
  • 10% writing research papers (I did not enjoy this part of my job so I didn’t spend as much time doing it).
  • 30% writing research grants (I was an assistant professor looking to get funding for my lab).
  • 10% department and university ‘church work’ (meetings, admissions, teaching reviews, etc.)
  • 10% coding and/or designing experiments

When you become a professor at a research institution you don’t spend your time doing what got you there (research) but end up spending most of your time managing and building your lab. In my experience it is much like creating a startup in the safety of a company where your paycheck is guaranteed.