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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November Theme

The program has recently been talking a lot about the state of academic jobs and the job market for PhDs in general. It has often been a depressing conversation.

So what I’d like to see for November (and it conveniently sort of fits a “thankful” theme) is comments and entries from the professors in the NSP telling us what they like most about their job. What makes it worth it? What aspect of their job gives them the most satisfaction? I urge participants to be honest and forthright here. Having 5 entries that say “The teaching and training of young scientists is my reason for living” doesn’t provide a very wide range of things to look forward to.



WDA said...

What do I like most.... Ok-- I really like having the freedom to work on problems that interest me. I may not always be able to get grant money to support them in the long-run, but with some creativity, I have been able to support them at least in the short-term. Also, as should be apparent from my teaching in NEU827, I DO really enjoy teaching. It's especially gratifying to watch someone develop as a scientist and a person. I try to keep in contact with all my students even after they're gone (hence the John Spitsbergen seminar).

What DON'T I like?--- all the endless and mindless paperwork that a university can come up with as administrators attempt to justify their existence!

Juli Wade said...

This job involves a variety of things that I enjoy – reading, writing, solving puzzles, working with my hands, traveling, meeting new people…. With the exception of classes and some meetings, my schedule is my own. I love that an unexpected conversation can change the direction of one’s career and open new collaborations and avenues for research. While the training of young scientists is not my “reason for living” (or at least not my only reason for living), I do very much enjoy teaching in the classroom, and it is very fulfilling to mentor students at all levels, as well as postdocs and junior faculty – especially when they succeed in their efforts. I also feel incredibly lucky to have a job at all in this economy, particular one that I am unlikely to lose.

What don’t I like so much? Mainly, I wish that I could spend more time doing real work in the lab. I don’t particularly like balancing grant budgets (or my checkbook), and paperwork (like animal use protocols) can be a pain. But, these are minor inconveniences that aren’t required that often. I also find it uncomfortable to deal with some personnel/personality issues. When I think about it, though, each of these has a plus-side also. I wouldn’t need to deal with the budgets and forms if weren’t lucky enough to have the grants. And, writing them is actually fun, I think (until the last-minute crossing of I’s and dotting of T’s), because it creates a format for thinking clearly about new hypotheses and directions for research. Finally, working with a bunch of dedicated people from different backgrounds and with different skills and styles is almost always interesting and fun, but it is probably inevitable that some conflicts will arise. It is because the individuals care, I think, not the opposite.

No job is perfect, I imagine, but this one comes pretty close for me.

cheryl sisk said...

I became fascinated by the nervous system early on in college as a psychology major. What I like best about my job is that it allows me to continue to be a student of the brain and behavior to this very day. I enjoy being a contributing member of the community of neuroscientists and the intellectual stimulation that comes with it. I like it that every day is different and that you learn something new every day. I like it that students and postdocs bring new ideas and perspectives to my research and that they have shaped the direction the lab has gone over the years.
I am the first to say that the freedom and flexibility that are part of the academic life are not an entitlement, nor is taxpayer support of my curiosity and intellectual pursuits. So I don’t mind explaining and justifying my research in grant applications and having it subjected to the rigors of peer review. What I do find stressful is my continuing responsibility for financial support of the people in my lab. This is especially true during times when federal dollars for research are in short supply, and many excellent research programs and great ideas go unfunded. It can be really discouraging at times. I don’t know first-hand what it’s like to be a lawyer, or a musician, or a business owner, or a skilled craftsperson, or a doctor, or even a neuroscientist outside of the academy, but I’m pretty sure these professions and jobs come with their own set of uncertainties, disappointments, and ego-bruising experiences. So after 25 years of being a faculty member at a research institution, I have no desire to trade places, and I’m thankful for that.