I came across an excellent article this morning by Radhika Nagpal, a (now tenured) Professor in Harvard's School of Engineering. Her post appeared yesterday in the Scientific American blog under the title, "The-Awesomest-7-Year-Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-track-faculty-life."
It's a list of advice, of which one of the points is "stop taking advice, especially in lists." That aside, it's a must read for anyone headed down an academic path. The key line:
"It seems to me that at all levels of academia, almost regardless of field and university, we are suffering from a similar myth: that this profession demands – even deserves – unmitigated dedication at the expense of self and family. This myth is more than about tenure-track, it is the very myth of being a “real” scholar."
Being an academic entails massive sacrifice. It is, or can be, an all-consuming life. But why? I see two perspectives. On one hand, it is the very job description of an academic to ask questions and find answers. We are paid to engage with the most brilliant minds and to guide the most brilliant students to explore the very edges of human knowledge. We had best take it seriously - and who wouldn't want to?
The other perspective is economic. If it's a good life, there will be an arms race to get in: you and I both want that position, so what are you willing to do to get it?
The truth, as always, must lie somewhere in the middle. It is a tragedy however that the author felt compelled to defend 56 hours a week (and raising a family) as not being too little, and that Scientific American thought this view worthy to publish. As someone at the brink of a plunge into the academic world, this really hits home.