succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, February 24, 2007

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Since the summer of '05, when I sort of lost it, I've figured that staying in academia isn't for me. Sure, every job is going to be stressful, especially the first few years, when you're trying to establish a reputation, but those first five years of a tenure-track position, the publish-or-perish, the scrabbling for grant money... I've maintained that it's just not for me. But people keep asking. (and offering, which is incredibly flattering) And it's true - I do like many things about the atmosphere of academia, I really enjoy teaching, and I'm pretty good at it. So today, when a tutoree repeated that a prof I once TA-ed for at another university seriously wants to hire me just as soon as I can manage to graduate, I thought about it again. I am constantly complaining about the state of math/stat education, and I am a change-from-within-the-system sort of person. In addition to the nice, embracing-of-nerdiness, intellectually curious surroundings I could get at a college/university, and in addition to continuing to teach and interact with students, I could, eventually, really start to put my money where my mouth is and attempt to change a lot of the things that currently drive me nuts about higher education. And let's face it - no matter where I'm working, I'm going to be driven to publish and seek funding so that I can control my own research agenda. It's The Reason I'm getting a PhD in the first place. And there would (probably) be more freedom to pursue my own interests and (possibly) more intellectual stimulation in an academic environment (as opposed to government or industry where I may be one of the only or few statisticians and have fewer people to bounce mathematical ideas off of).

On the other hand it's also conceivable that I could go out and work somewhere else for a decade or more, then return to academia with all the perks and control and skip the five-year hell it would take to get there working straight through the system.

I'm also feeling a bit of guilt about the situation because I'm used to being selfish - I'm used to making these sorts of decisions based solely on my own interests and desires. And for the most part that's still true. But one of my profs was only half-joking the other day when he reminded me that I'll be among the first to graduate from this current training grant, and therefore my professional success/failure will certainly be taken into account when they reapply to continue the grant for other students in the department. And the grubby sorts of save-the-world jobs I'm most excited about are not the sort that the federal government will consider a short-term "success." ("success" = tenure-track)


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