Judging by a lot of the questions on this site, a career in Academia sounds very grim. Lots of pressure, extreme working ours, few benefits, mediocre salary, and, because one has to work with so many different people (supervisors, students, collaborators, HR, editors, etc., etc), one is more likely to run into social issues, as evidenced by the questions on this site.

So why then do so many people go into Academia? Is it really just a reason not to grow up?

"Passion for the field" doesn't sound very convincing either, when one considers that only a small, small minority of Academia actually produce worthwhile, interesting results. The rest are just scrambling for any sort of recognition by constantly publishing mediocre results that will be cited twice over the course of the next 10 years. Rinse and repeat. Really, a lot of these people are just glorified teachers whose main contribution is giving lectures or conferences. When one considers the rising academic dishonesty, fabrication, plagiarism, and so on, the picture becomes even worse.

  • 11
    Of course, the questions on this site are not representative of 'Academia' at all - they are the outliers. I don't post questions about why it is that I've enjoyed 35+ years in grad school, as a post-doc, and at a national lab. Questioner bias at work...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 14:00
  • 6
    You are right. If you see no convincing reason for a career as an academic, then this is not for you.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 14:02
  • 1
    “Passion for the field” - the passion shown by the person who taught you to read and write may have been sufficient satisfaction for them and they did not feel a need to publish any papers whatsoever. Others don’t have that patience or skill but do have a focus or determination that leads them to do research into the X of Y for years...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 15:48
  • There are actually places in the world where academia isn't grim at all and job prospects are pretty good.
    – MHL
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 22:22

2 Answers 2


For the reasonable portion of your question, I'd say that I don't imagine myself doing anything else than creating stuff. It doesn't need to be in a university, but I do like to teach, so it is a perfect combination for me. I don't care much about money, but I really want that feeling of advancement, from a new method that works, or a student that grows competent and awesome over time.

It is hard and competitive, but then again, is there any field one that isn't? Would it be rewarding if it wasn't? Not everyone that wants to be in academia should be there, but again, which field is free from that?

Regarding the non-reasonable portion of your question, I can't really think of anything more "grown-up" than being responsible for someone's education, which can shape their futures. Do a good job and a good student can be a rockstar. Do a bad job and a good student can get PTSD and shiver at the thought of an academic meeting.

I compared Faculty Tenure Track searches to "the hunger games" more than once. Doesn't mean I won't volunteer again :)

  • I have no clue what your final paragraph means.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 14:50
  • 1
    @gerrit: The reference is almost certainly to The Hunger Games book/movie series. See the "Setting" here, especially beginning with "... one boy and one girl from each ...". Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 15:11
  • @DaveLRenfro yes, thanks. I naively assumed common knowledge. The essence is: a bunch of people get into a life or death fight (some have sponsors that can directly give advantages) where only one can survive at the end. While in the games people can make alliances, not so much on TT searches .... Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 16:51
  • 1
    It took me a while to realise that "TT" here referred to "Tenure Track", I kept thinking, what might it mean?
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 17:45

To paraphrase Tolstoy:

Happy workers are all alike; every unhappy worker is unhappy in his own way.

If everything's going well, you're probably not going to need to post on a site like this or Workplace.SE or whatever the equivalent is for your particular profession.

As for going into academia, it's a personal choice. If you love doing research—if the thrill of discovery and shepherding new talent is so irresistible—then it's worth the challenges, setbacks, failures, and sometimes tough conditions. If that's not for you, then it's something you want to steer clear of.

But that said, every workplace and every career is going to have its drawbacks. The question is if the problems are severe enough that they interfere with what you actually want to do. Most of the questions we get on this site are related to when things reach breaking points: when they're crises, not just problems.

  • I think you mean Tolstoy: the Anna Karenina principle
    – user37208
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 18:49
  • I did. The gun didn't go off in Act III as it should have.
    – aeismail
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 19:52

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .