Why I Love Academia
Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I am typically dripping with sarcasm and cynicism when it comes to my views of academia. I frequently post about the sheer absurdity of the academic game, mixed in with some “hot tips” on how to play it and win. Unfortunately, the best academic research doesn’t always rise to the top, and peer review is all-too-often just a popularity (of ideas) contest. There is so much to criticize about our chosen profession and our “product,” but this blog post is, for a change, a song in respect to what’s great about academia. It’s best not to lose sight of how good we have it—relative to other professions. So, here are eight things I like about being a professor.
1. I can work in my pyjamas. Admittedly, now that I am Head of Department, I can do much less of this kind of work, but I still manage to work from home about one day a week. It’s such a luxury. It’s funny to think that so much of the groundbreaking science we read today was written by someone wearing pyjamas.
2. I have autonomy and control over the work I do. Absolute freedom is a myth. We are all constrained in one way or another, even academics. We have managers (like me) looking over our shoulders, making sure that we are producing good research and getting good teaching evaluations. But we are relatively free to research whatever we want to research and teach whatever we want to teach. No one has ever told me, “You should research X and you should never research Y.” The research questions I ask and answer are mine and mine alone. Similarly, I am left to my own devices to teach my courses. No one has ever told me, “You must assign students this textbook and you must not teach this topic.”
3. My work is not boring or monotonous. Academia is a good game for those of us who are intellectually curious. We can pursue whatever interests us and we can answer questions using a variety of methods and frameworks. Best of all, if no method or framework exists to help us answer a question, we can simply invent new ones. The one exception to this point is that grading can be boring and soul destroying, but that is a small part of our job.
4. It’s impossible to prove that I’m not working. I live in Perth, Australia, home to some of the nicest beaches in the world (seriously). Sometimes I can’t help but head out a bit early to Cottesloe beach for a swim during the workday. Do I worry that my employer might think I’m ditching out of work? Nope, never. Because even if I am caught swimming or soaking up the sun in the afternoon, no one could argue that I wasn’t working. As long as I’m thinking about a paper that I’m writing, that counts as work.
5. I have tenure. This is a foreign concept in most parts of the world and in most professions. We academics take it for granted. It doesn’t exactly mean a job for life, but it’s as close to that as you’ll ever find anywhere. Tenure means that you can only be fired for “just cause,” and the bar is so high to cross that threshold that academics are very rarely sacked, except in the case of extreme misconduct or negligence.
6. I am afforded respect that I probably don’t deserve. When people see “Prof.” or “Dr.” in front of your name, they treat you differently. They assume, rightly or wrongly, that you are an expert in something. Maybe whatever you’re an expert in is pretty useless, but people don’t need to know that.
7. You get the travel the world. This is a big one. Over the last year, I’ve visited New Zealand, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Japan, all for academic conferences or presentations. I didn’t pay for any of those trips out of my own pocket. What an awesome perk, right? My most recent trip to Japan was one of the highlights of my year as, in addition to my presentations, I was able to catch up with two really good friends.
8. I make good bank. I know a lot of professors complain about the money we make, and, yes, it’s less than other professionals (like doctors or lawyers) earn, but, still, we’re sitting pretty. I’m not going to say how much I make in a blog, but I will say it’s at the 90th percentile in Australia. I have more than enough money and feel fairly compensated for the work I do, especially considering that, even if I won the lottery, I’d still be doing research because it’s what I love. How sweet a deal is that?
And there you have it, folks. Sure, academia is at times ridiculous, absurd, shocking, and depressing, but, on the whole, it’s decent work. Of course, this whole blog entry is predicated on having a tenured academic job, which describes my situation. For casual or adjunct professors, obviously none of the above applies. But for those of you who are fortunate enough, like me, to have a permanent job, you should stop every once in a while and reflect on how lucky you are. That was my purpose in writing this entry.