Do you dream or doubt about a (future) career in academia? Then you only have to ask yourself one question: Do you like writing?
At a graduate school workshop we – ‘the future of academia’ – were asked where we pictured ourselves to be in 5 years from now. The professor who led the workshop only asked us three questions:
1) What would your ideal career/ job be in 2020?
2) What would your realistic career job be in 2020?
3) The wildcard: What – if you could do anything job-wise – would you do in 2020?
The questions might sound familiair and I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried to answer them at some point… Before I decided to pursue a PhD I had quite a clear answer on this: I was trained as a journalist and would become a journalist –
preferably a war correspondent in the Middle East. Otherwise, I would like to work as a feature editor at a magazine or a website. But then I decided to do a masters, because I was interested in how people were influenced by the writing we – as journalists – did. After taking those first classes in media theory and writing about the influence of certain television shows on people’s lives I was hooked. I loved reading, thinking, writing, reflecting, debating; the more information I could soak in, the better! I don’t think that’s weird – as a journalist you always want to know more, you want the details, you want it all and you want it out there in the world as fast as possible! As a researcher you do the same things, except in a slower pace… and now, having about a year left to finish up my PhD, I’m in doubt.
There are days when I miss journalism; that's why I blog, tweet and try to keep in touch with the field. I like to translate bits of research pieces into 'lay men's terms'. Not only is it good practice to actually understand what you're doing yourself, but mainly because I think academics shouldn't be stuck in their ivory towers. Although I commit to these things and try to get 'the word' out there as much as I can, 'writing' became a complete different concept to me.
Returning to the graduate student career workshop: The professor invited two doctors, who talked about using their PhD knowledge in the ‘real world’. One of them being an older man, who actually decided to do a PhD based on certain things he kept running into in his work practices. The other man, somewhere in his mid-thirties, who already knew while doing his PhD that he (definitely) not wanted to end up in academia (at the time). The latter’s presentation included that simple question; Do you actually like writing? And with that he meant academic writing. He knew, because his answer to that question was no, that he did not want to stay in academia. So, he ‘translated’ the skills gained during his PhD and started working in the ‘real world’ during the last years of writing his dissertation. He’s still job-hopping and obviously still has to write at some times (writing reports or presentations), but it’s a different thing than academic writing.
For those of you in academia, you know the drill; you write a paper, you submit your paper, you probably have to revise the paper and you resubmit again. This is how academia works, but journalism as well: you write an article, you send the article of to the editor in chief, he edits a little (or you if it really sucks), after that it’s off to the designer who finds it a nice little piece in the paper and then it’s off to the printing press. To me, that last bit makes all the difference: the pace of sharing information, of getting it out.
To get a paper out in academia, it has to fit to some perfect standards; in about 6000-8000 words you have to be able to tell people about the research you did (which you might have spend years of your life on), it has to be understandable, readable, enjoyable and innovative. You have to acknowledge and show in what broader discussion your research fits and suggest how others might take it a step further. I like that, but I’m a perfectionist and control-freak, so if you give me time (the only fixed deadline I have to follow is the day my contract ends), I will take that time to write, to edit, to revise, again a little editing, and some more.. and some more.. and then I’m dead nervous to get it out there, because the chance it will be rejected is simply high. And that is just one of the fears that – for me at least – comes with academic writing.
I’m always afraid I don’t fit the tone of voice of the journal – or academia: I like my work to be readable. To me that means that I translate complex issues, but on the other hand: I love theorizing – but that conceptualizing has to be crammed into a max. of 800 words to make it into the final cut of the paper. All in all; these are just some of the frustrations I sometimes have when ‘writing’. I can only imagine how you might feel if you have dyslexia in academia for example. Or if you find it really difficult to write in English – because you do have to submit to that logic if you want to contribute to these academic discussions.
Now, returning to those two questions asked in that career workshop: ‘Do you like writing?‘ and ‘Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?’ – I’m willing to answer them for you, but I would rather pose them here as pieces of advice and of guidance yo your own quest in deciding on whether you want to stay in academia (or not). And, shouldn’t you be writing instead of reading this post? 😉
I'll answer them a = for the weeks that I want to stay in academia b = for the options in the real world 1) What would your ideal career/ job be in 2020? a) pursuing tenure b) celebrity reporter at Buzzfeed (or the likes of it) 2) What would your realistic career job be in 2020? a) lecturer b) working as a researcher for a startup / company 3) The wildcard: What - if you could do anything job-wise - would you do in 2020? a) celebrity reporter at Buzzfeed (or the likes of it) b) have my own startup