The life of an academic is supposed to be fulfilling. To study a specific topic, understand it and share the acquired knowledge with everyone is something of great societal value and should make anyone proud. But, everything in life comes with pros and cons. So, today we will try to talk about the beauty and the problems that come with being an academic.
My name is Luigi Lombardo and today I will share with you what it means, at least for me, living some aspects of academic life. I am 37 years old and I was appointed as an assistant professor last year and only two months ago I was offered a permanent position for the first time in my life.
This takes us immediately to the first point of discussion. Academic life usually runs slowly. From a plethora of doctoral positions and fewer postdocs, finding a long-term contract is a challenge if not a war. In this blog post, I will constantly make a comparison with the life of a professional working in the industry. There, finding a stable position is undoubtedly much faster. It usually takes a couple of years for a given company to assess whether an employee is talented enough and worth the effort to attract them on a long-term basis.
For academics, an integral part of their training is to be exposed to different ways of thinking and conceptualize research. Hence, most researchers move quite a few times from one institution to another before settling somewhere. This part of the job comes with many pros and cons. Yes, surely we travel a lot and we constantly meet new people. But, this comes at the expense of how close we can get to people that we meet and hang out with for a couple of years, only to move on again and again. I have moved 7 times in the last ten years and I loved it. I loved enriching myself by meeting new people and experiencing new perspectives and cultures. However, I have met many academics that have struggled, and to some extent, I struggled too for the same reasons. For instance, your family is constantly away, and if you are lucky, you get to see them two weeks per year. And, in those two weeks, it is difficult to make time for the friends you have grown up with.
In addition to this, every couple of years we also have to go through finding a new job. Well, finding a new full-time job is a full-time job in itself. So, the last six months of a contract, we often find ourselves looking for vacancies, studying the employers, applying for competitive positions, all while trying to keep our productivity at work within normal levels. I have genuinely found this entire process quite tiring.
This being said, I would never change any choice I have made in the past. I have also worked in the industry and I clearly remember clearing out a few hectares of pine trees to make space for a new housing project. Halfway through the day, the crew sat down next to the excavator for a ten minutes break and two deer came out of the remaining pines. I can still picture their horrified gaze staring at barren land where a few hours before there were nice Christmas trees. It may be a hypocritical standpoint – because if I don’t, someone else will – but at least where I work, I feel I am doing something for a greater purpose, not messing around with nature. Also, as I started teaching last year, I have discovered the beauty of passing my knowledge to someone else, helping students in their life.
But again, this post is on pros and cons, so I’ll flip the coin once more and I will tell you a bit more on time management, this time directly comparing the life of a researcher to the life of a professional in the industry. You see, when you work for a private firm, unless you are the owner, you do your eight hours per day – you do them at your absolute best, do not get me wrong – and when the working day is over, you can turn off your brain and focus on normal things. When you are a researcher, you do your eight hours per day but once you finish, your brain still somehow thinks about your research. I believe this is because your research somehow defines you in your work and, in the back of our heads, this still moves a few wheels in the background. Just to give you an idea, I clearly remember waking up in the middle of the night having found a bug in my codes, or at least I thought so in my dream :D.
But, even though we cannot find the turn-off button in our heads, once again, I would never change any choice I have made in the past. While working in the private sector, I felt that the first couple of years require an extremely steep learning curve when everything is intriguing and fun to study and implemented in real-life problems. However, as time goes by the learning curve flattens out to the point where I felt extremely bored. Every project had become essentially the same and there was little to keep myself going other than the sense of belonging to the company and the salary at the end of the month of course. As a researcher, my job is to constantly ask questions and dispute everything I know or it is known. This keeps my curiosity at bait and lets me enjoy the moment when I find an actual solution to the problem I face.
I could go on and on for a very long time on the subject but without further ado, I will leave the place to you blog readers, tell us what you think. How is it your academic or professional life? What do you like and hate about it?