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5 Reasons to Love Academia

1. Freedom to set your own schedule
Academia's not a 9 to 5, cubicle slave job! We didn't go to school for 20+ years to work a measly 8 hours per day for 40 hours a week.

You see, there's a certain... "culture"... of academia that equates "good, smart work" with "endless hours in the lab".

This kind of mentality leads to famous suggestions such as the following from my PhD institute (also referenced in Nature):
1. Every one works at least 50 hr a week in the lab (e.g., 8+ hr a day, six days a week). This is by far lower than what I am doing every day and throughout most of my career. You may be smarter or do not want to be as successful, but I am not asking you to match my time in the lab

2. By working, I mean real bench work... I suggest that everyone puts in at least 6 hr concentrated bench work and 2+ hr reading and other research-related activity each day. Reading papers and books should be done mostly after work. More time can be spent on reading, literature search and writing during working hours when you are ready for writing a paper....

I expect everyone to have made sufficient progress in the research so that a good paper is in sight (at least to the level of J. Neuroscience). If you cannot meet this goal at that time, I will have to ask you to prepare to leave my lab by the end of August.

Or this gem from Caltech:
I have noticed that you have failed to come in to lab on several weekends, and more recently have failed to show up in the evenings. Moreover, in addition to such time off, you recently requested some vacation. I have no problem with vacation time that is well earned, but I do have a problem with continuous vacation and time off that interferes with the project. I find this very annoying and disruptive to your science.

I expect you to correct your work-ethic immediately.

I receive at least one post-doctoral application each day from the US and around the world. If you are unable to meet the expected work-schedule, I am sure that I can find someone else as an appropriate replacement for this important project.

You may be a unique and beautiful snowflake when you're being recruited, but once you're in, you stay in, science slave!

2. Swimming in your pools of money
Seriously though, the time spent in lab is worth it. If for no other reason than the strong pay. Why go into industry when you can make $28-30,000 per year during your 4-7 year PhD, especially when that will be followed up by 1-5 years as a post-doc making upwards of almost $39,000 annually?!

Look at those Ivory Towers!
So sketch up some quick grant on climate change and make it rain!
"What a strange business this is: We stay in school forever. We have to battle the system with only a one in eight or one in ten chance of getting funded. We give up making a living until our forties. And we do it because we want to help the world. What kind of crazy person would go for that?"—Nancy Andrews, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Duke University School of Medicine


3. Expanding humanity's knowledge
So the work environment is nice and lax, the pay is great, and your spouse certainly isn't rethinking their life decisions when it comes to marrying you.

But who needs those things?! We academics eschew time, family, and money for a higher purpose! We are adding to humanity's knowledge. One tiny (insignificant) nudge at a time:
(Source: Matt Might)

As long as you're fast enough:

4. Interacting with brilliant peers
Because in the end, pushing those insignificant boundaries of knowledge afford you the esteem of your peers. This, in turn, allows you to perpetuate the circle of scientific life!

Because someday, you too get to review scientific manuscripts and help build upon the foundations of progress.
* The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about.
* This paper is desperate. Please reject it completely and then block the author’s email ID so they can’t use the online system in future.
* The biggest problem with this manuscript, which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is the terrible writing style.
* I suppose that I should be happy that I don’t have to spend a lot of time reviewing this dreadful paper; however I am depressed that people are performing such bad science.


Enclosed is our latest version of Ms. #1996-02-22-RRRRR, that is the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper. Choke on it... Hopefully, we have suffered enough now to satisfy even you and the bloodthirsty reviewers...

To handle [the reviewers' suggestions], we have modified the Introduction and added, after the review of the relevant literature, a subsection entitled "Review of Irrelevant Literature" that discusses these articles and also duly addresses some of the more asinine suggestions from other reviewers.

We hope you will be pleased with this revision and will finally recognize how urgently deserving of publication this work is. If not, then you are an unscrupulous, depraved monster with no shred of human decency. You ought to be in a cage. May whatever heritage you come from be the butt of the next round of ethnic jokes. If you do accept it, however, we wish to thank you for your patience and wisdom throughout this process, and to express our appreciation for your scholarly insights.


5. Educating young minds
But all of these awards pale in comparison to the cornerstone of academe: the student. As academics we are privileged with the highest of honors of educating tomorrow's thought-leaders!

One student complained that a professor was not posting lecture slides to the course’s Web site:
Is this a technical glitch, or are you being a jerk about it? I don’t think you know what your doing in this class. I have gone to the deprtment chair about it and she doesn’t know either. How can I study and take the exams without the notes? Its bad enough your lectures don’t have sound and video.

"I didn’t come to class today because i had a soar throat and couldn’t hear. I think it might be strep," the student wrote.
"Hello, Student X. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Did you intend to send this message to someone else? You’re not registered for any of my classes this semester. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that strep doesn’t cause loss of hearing," the professor replied.
"Ouch! i clicked the wrong address. can you forward that message to dr. DifferentProfessor for me? i can’t open the directory cuase my computer memory sucks and i have another program running. except change the hearing to talking. thanx!"

(Source 1 and 2)

(In all seriousness, despite these things, I really do love this job. "What kind of crazy person would go for that?" What kind of crazy person indeed.)

ResearchBlogging.orgCyranoski, D. (2011). Neuroscience in China: Growth factor Nature, 476 (7358), 22-24 DOI: 10.1038/476022a
Glass, R. (2000). A letter from the frustrated author of a journal paper Journal of Systems and Software, 54 (1) DOI: 10.1016/S0164-1212(00)00020-0
Lawrence, P. (2009). Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research PLoS Biology, 7 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000197
Powell, K. (2006). Winning ways Nature, 442 (7104), 842-843 DOI: 10.1038/nj7104-842a


  1. 6. Earning prestige and respect from society

    "A scientist, eh? Like that awkward nerdy guy from Big Bang Theory?"

  2. Love the PhD comics :-)
    Fit in nicely with your post - which made me laugh and want to cry!

  3. 6. Earning prestige and respect from society

    Scientists? _Experts_? What would _they_ know?! Pfff.

    [Honestly, I've heard this from members of the public. Enough that I wish for occasional nuking from orbit for humanity]

  4. It's the only way to be sure.

  5. He can't make that kind of decision, he's just a grunt... no offence.

  6. Numbers one and two are quite literally the reasons I left academia :p When I leave work at 5pm on the dot I still can't shake the nagging feeling that I'm skipping out early, and I still tend to work through my lunch hours to "make up" for leaving on time!

  7. Matt08:05

    if you left work at 5pm in my old dept., everybody would ask why you were leaving so late. Or they would if they hadn't already gone home.

  8. I think there's a big difference depending on field and type of work. I know in my field (neuro) the wet-lab folks definitely have to put in more, longer hours than say, the computational folks. It's just a function of the kind of work we do.

  9. After reviewing your post, I:

    X accept without revision
    accept with minor revision
    accept with very minor revision
    accept with tiny tiny revision
    reject, but still revise
    Oh, did someone do a statistics evaluation?

  10. @DaveK: That's the only time that's ever happened for me. Hooray!