Thursday, September 28, 2023

What is it Like… To be an Academic Researcher

Long story short: being an academic researcher at university, it’s a busy life.

Please here more than ever, take my words with the appropriate pinch of salt. After trying it out for a few years (as a postdoc), I realized that I stopped envying my senior colleagues’ lives. Too busy for me, and in a way, too specialized. It does not follow that academia is a bad choice… but it is often one that is made without realizing the consequences.

It is demanding. While your grandma will be happy that after all these uncertain years as a postdoc jetting around the world you finally settle and “have a real job”, the reality is that you will be busier than you’ve ever been.

As a postdoc, your role was to do research. As a fully tenured academic, you are becoming a research manager. With the emphasis on manager. You will have to build a group… and manage its day to day life (hello meetings, hello people problems). You will apply for funds and report on those you received. You will have to hire undergrad and grad students, postdocs, other faculty. Then you will also have a share of teaching, ie lecture preparation and delivery, preparing and marking regular assessments, exams and resits. You will have some administrative duties to assist in the management of the Department/School or University, depending on the role. But your career progression will remain mostly tied to your research output, so you will have to keep pushing yourself and others for publishing papers, go to conferences etc.

It can be exhilarating and very fulfilling, but make no mistake, it is demanding. Not only on you, but also on your life partner and family, especially if they do not know what it’s like first-hand. As always, knowing yourself is the best way to decide whether this life is for you or not. Don’t hesitate to chat informally with your tenured colleagues, regardless of your own experience level: I promise that they will be happy to answer your questions.

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