• Pepe Bonet

Pros and cons of Academia (As a PhD)

Pep Guardiola once said that he was a football trainer just for that moment in which looking at a video from their next rival, he could spot how they were going to win. Of course, it did not always work, but he emphasized that it was for those moments that his job felt meaningful. These words have helped me to chase feelings that make me feel alive doing what I do. Thus, given that I am currently following the academic path, I would like to open up about its pros and cons and how easy it is to chase those feelings we mentioned.


Pros:

  1. Fantastic people to learn from and work with

  2. Learning rate and flexibility

  3. Clear path

Cons:

  1. Where is the impact?

  2. Publication and grant-driven field



Advantage 1: Fantastic people to learn from and work with


From my experience, I can say out loud that I have encountered the most intelligent people I could ever imagine during my journey. Authentic geniuses where the ideas flow in their heads at a level I cannot grasp. It is truly amazing to find such people, talk with them, discuss, share ideas, learn, receive feedback to keep improving and be mentored by them.


If your research group combines a friendly environment and talented people, then you are in the right spot. That place will allow you to grow and feel those moments we were talking about earlier. I think talented people want to be surrounded by more talent. Therefore, if that is one thing that drives you, academia might have some interesting spots you might want to find.


Advantage 2: Learning rate and flexibility


Academia might be one of the only places where you can keep an immense and diversified learning rate. It allows you to innovate in what you do, change fields, have a side project, and teach and pass all the knowledge you have acquired during the time. All of this in the same framework. In my head, it is not straightforward to see how this can happen somewhere else.


Do you want to start a new project working on something different?

Do you want to improve what you already do?

Do you want to supervise people?

Do you want to teach?


All these options refer to the fact of a non-stop learning process and the flexibility of this path. On top of that, these could be available without the need to change your job place.


Advantage 3: Clear path


An additional advantage one could see is that the path itself seems straightforward (Look at the code snippet below). Basically, after your PhD, you keep doing postdocs and keep getting the best publications you can so that at some point, you get a position as a Principal Investigator (PI) leading a group.


Having such a clear path makes a lot of things easier. For instance, now that I am starting to look at possible things to do after my thesis, I realized that it would be far easier to follow the next natural step and do a postdoc than to get out of academia. I am not saying one cannot leave academia, just that it might take more search time and implication. Thus the fact of having a clear path might be seen as something positive.


This simplicity in the academic path can also have negative implications (See weakness 2). Academica can be a highly competitive field where many people fight to become a PI, and not everybody makes it (the same applies for funding).


if you have a PhD:
    while you cannot be a PI: 
        do postdocs   #Watch out! You may get stuck here
    
    if you are ready to become a PI:
        become one & apply for funding     
        

Weakness 1: What is the impact of your work?


I apologize to anybody with a different idea of this particular matter but, I think that many PhD students' heads wonder about the following questions at some point in the process:

  • Is what I am doing practical?

  • Did I create any value?

  • Is my research applicable to anybody's life?

Sadly, the answer is negative in most cases, and it is not an easy feeling to have within you when you are working on something for several years in a row. People sometimes feel relieved when their PhD is over. My question is then:


Is that the feeling that we said we wanted to chase at the beginning?


As we saw, academia has some good points. However, it is not that clear how your research translates into the real world. If your flow comes when what you do acquires a higher dimension, academia might not tick all the boxes you are looking after.


Weakness 2: Publication & grant-driven field


Academia might have a distinct path (Section 3) but is not a bed of roses. It is a highly competitive field, where many people compete for funding, positions, and publications. I will not get into further details of some additional problems that the academic world presents as the publication system. I want to highlight how easy it is to enter the so-called "rat race" and how difficult it is to escape it.


Academia is centralized around publications and funding. One needs to constantly publish more (and better) to get a better position and more funding. More funding will give you the option of publishing more to then later get more funding. Do you see the pattern? How do you escape it? Is that what I/you want to be doing?


Unfortunately, it is not that simple to answer the last questions. I am personally not sure about them. Nevertheless, it may be interesting to share my latest ideas on what to do next in my career. The next blog could be on whether I will or will not leave academia and the reasons for it.


Top 5 books of January-April

  1. No Rules Rules. Reed Hastings

  2. Man's Search for Meaning. Viktor E. Frankl

  3. Los Alamos. Joseph Kanon

  4. Zero to One. Peter Thiel

  5. The One Thing. Gary Keller & Jay Papasan


Thank you for reading the blogs, and feel free to follow me on Twitter if you want to know more about me.

From a friend,

Pepe










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