Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Quitting Academia

In my previous post I promised sharing my reasons for quitting academia. I just celebrated my 1 year anniversary in big pharma and boy did I make the right decision. So what was the problem for me? First of all my problem was not isolated to my geographical location. I have former academic colleagues all over the world and things are pretty much the same all over the place. In fact, relatively speaking I had it pretty good in Denmark compared to other countries. For the record the places I have heard about are limited to Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. Maybe things are fantastic in South America and Africa. I sincerely hope so but I would be surprised.
For context: I am male (born 1971) and held a position as a non-tenured Associate Professor in medicinal chemistry at the University of Copenhagen.
So in brief of the top of my head here are 10 things I was fed up with:
  1. Writing grant applications ad nauseam and having them rejected
  2. Applying for money for just about any insane idea that anyone could come up with (the curse of no tenure. You can’t be picky. Money is money.)
  3. Not getting funding for your application in the field where you are a specialist, either because a) it is not innovative (just more of the same), or b) it is too innovative and high risk and they don’t believe you can pull it off. (I have tried getting both answers for the same application depending on which funding body I sent it to)
  4. Finally getting funding for the totally insane project idea that you know close to nothing about. I was rather good at getting these
  5. Top-tuning my CV to fulfill criteria set by funding bodies and governments. I cannot begin to tell you how much I detest the H-index and other ridiculous systems that determines how good you are (can you believe that this was my main motivation for staring to write reviews? You gotta pump that H-index!)
  6. Submitting you manuscripts to journals where you believe they will get rejected only in the hope that you might get a better impact factor
  7. Submitting your good manuscript to a completely reasonable journal and having it rejected due to poor peer-review. When will someone come up with a smart solution to that problem?
  8. Receiving manuscripts for peer-review that should never have made it past the editorial office. I should note that the difference between journals is huge. Some editors take their job seriously and spend the required time on it. I have much better experience with the society owned journals from the RSC and the ACS than the rest
  9. That being a great teacher despite what they may say counts for absolutely nothing where it matters (i.e. tenure and $ £ €). Here I must be fair and say that this is not universal. Some of the best universities in the world prioritise and reward teaching (whilst others pretend they do so)
  10. That the infrastructure is terrible. Constantly instruments breaking down and me attempting to fix it so that the research projects can keep going. Obviously not a problem at the top universities or if you are a Professor with lots of money
Well that’s enough ranting for now :-) I’ll try to post something more cheerful next time.

Do I miss anything? Yes, I miss my students. My greatest pleasure was to train the guys in the lab to become independent research scientists. But pretty much everything else you can stick where the sun don’t shine. D!


Unknown said...

Thank you for publishing this! Very unfortunately, it seems that this list is quite universal...

Anonymous said...

" I am male (born 1971) " - this could imply you have patiently listened for some 20+ years how important it is to push woman's careers in academia (or elsewhere), that they should be favored in case of equal qualification (i.e., always, unless there are obvious problems), and that men are overprivileged? And all this may have been told you by some elder gentleman with a secure job, who was approaching the end of his career?
Just wondering if such factors may also have played a role...

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled into this now, and in an in-between in my life (graduated this year, working at a start-up) I can see the importance in the stability of working for big pharma. I'm looking to see what to do next - whether to stay on my course or change trajectory- and this post already explains my frustrations with the grant process. It is absolutely horrible, especially when your own livelihood is attached to the grant being awarded. At the same time, I truly miss my time as a teaching assistant, working with students. Please find the time to keep posting as you go forward!

kriggy said...

Wow, I thought your blog is long gone, its great to have something to read. Anyway, Im 4th year graduate student in EU and while I wanted to stay in academia the longer Im here (I mean, now I have better idea than few years ago) Im seriously questioning the idea exactly for those reasons you mentioned (especialy all those grant applications, I see my boss or other profs spending maybe half of their time begging for money that just doesnt seem right). Im not saying industry is that great but at lest the salary and working hours seems to be better