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I am a tenured associate professor at a top 20 US research university. I am publishing and getting grants. My teaching evaluations are decent.

I am realizing that I am not interested in mentoring (grad or undergrad) students (— over the last 10 years, I mentored two grad students and they changed advisor before graduating). When I teach, I am not curious about students and their backgrounds.

My relations with other faculties in the department (size < 15) have deteriorated and are, now, cold at best.

I enjoy the research portion of the work. I am in a STEM field and have had several consulting opportunities. I am currently on leave to decide whether to pursue an academic career (~ 20 years) or to resign completely.

I am wondering whether tenured professors have found academic options with limited (or without) students' mentoring and teaching?

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  • 6
    What exactly do you find so unpleasant about service and mentoring that you think it's a dealbreaker? – Elizabeth Henning Jan 11 at 17:56
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    Take a sabbatical and go work as a consultant or something for a year. Depending on your school/field/department/astrological sign you may be able to negotiate considerable freedom in your current position in exchange for drawing much less of your salary and making it up with outside work. – CJ59 Jan 11 at 18:01
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    @ElizabethHenning I find service a waste of time as senior faculties have already made the decision and simply need a vote to go forward. I feel like any idea/suggestion that I put forward has been shut down right away. As far as teaching is concerned, I dislike the attitude of entitled students (who do not want to study, ask for special arrangements because of conflicts in their personal schedule, and/or blame the instructor for their failure). About mentoring, it seems grad students in this department think they already know everything. Overall I prefer to collaborate with peers. – XX. XX Jan 11 at 18:39
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    I think the edit has fixed a lot of the problems brought up in the comments. The question is now framed as "are there academic career options that don't involve much mentoring?", and this is on-topic for Acadmia.SE – Darren Ong 2 days ago
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    I dislike the attitude of entitled students (who do not want to study, ask for special arrangements because of conflicts in their personal schedule, and/or blame the instructor for their failure). — Repeat after me: NO. Honestly, it sounds like you are just working at the wrong university. – JeffE 10 hours ago
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While, as Jon Custer says in a comment, we aren't qualified to direct you, I'll give a bit of advice to help you think about it.

It is hardly worth spending your life doing anything that you don't enjoy. Your life isn't a "first run".

Since this is the US, though I don't know which field, I'll note that almost all academic positions involve teaching and mentoring. It is what we do to prepare the next wave of practitioners of the art. You need to be "special" in some way to avoid it. But most of the specials do it anyway. What do I mean by special? If your research is so important and you are the only one qualified to do it, then, yes, you can probably convince the administration that you should be excused from all other university participation to do it. If you were months away from curing the common cold, or cancer, sure. But the people who do that, also realize that not only their results, but their methods and ways of thought are important to pass on to the next generation, and so do, usually, mentor students.

But if you are good enough to fund yourself completely through grants, so that the University doesn't need to pay you, then you can most likely set your own working conditions. Of course, you may not need the university association at all in such a situation. Darwin, for example, funded himself pretty well, though that is harder now. But constantly writing the next grant can also take quite a lot out of you.

Alternatively, if you are so bad as a teacher that students drop you like a poison toad, then the administration will be reluctant to assign you to courses. But will also be unlikely to provide many rewards, and may even try to rid themselves of an unproductive member. Yes, unproductive, even if your research is "pretty good" (but see the superstar exception above).

But before you decide, find something that you do like and find a way to do that. Presumably you like research. If you can find a good research position you should probably explore that before you make any final decisions.

It is also possible to improve as a teacher/mentor. Doing so may actually make it more enjoyable. Whether this comes "at the expense" of your research or not depends on a lot of things. But your mind won't stop working just because you have to also prepare classes.

You will find, however, that there are trade-offs. Every job has good and bad parts. If the good parts outweigh the bad, it may be worth continuing. It isn't likely ever to be ideal. So, look very carefully at the options.

If you decide to stay, and still want to avoid student contact, you can, over time, probably work to minimize it by (a) working toward superstar status, and/or (b) taking whatever opportunities arise as they arise. This can be sabbaticals, of course, but also unpaid leaves that are funded by some grant or outside organization. If you do enough consulting, perhaps you can use the current university association to work toward the day that you can, like Darwin, self fund yourself and your research.

And if you do decide to go, try to do it gracefully, without burning bridges. Your goals in the future may change and you may want to keep open the option of returning to academia.

But be aware the the US university has a complex mission that involves teaching students. It tends to disfavor those who don't really want to participate in that mission.

  • The question has since been edited and this answer no longer answers it. – Tommi Brander 7 hours ago
7

Depending on your field, it may be possible that you spend an increasing amount of time doing research and less time having to teach classes as you gain seniority. However, in academia, research is always going to be at least somewhat contingent on mentoring students. There is no way around this. The service aspects of the job, although usually small, will not decrease as you go along.

If you are in a STEM discipline, there are likely many jobs in "industry" that could be more fulfilling for you (and more lucrative). I would look there with strong consideration of shifting career paths. If you have obtained tenure at a quality university, you likely have much of what it takes to succeed in "industry."

Note that there is nothing magical about tenure in STEM in my opinion. My non-university job does not offer "tenure," but even if I somehow was fired, they would need to buy out my contract and I would just go and find one of dozens of STEM research jobs out there in the near geographic area. It's sort of like tenure by abundance of employers.


These things being said, note of course that almost every research job is going to come with some mentorship and service responsibilities. I work outside of academia on government funded research. We have to mentor postdocs and grad interns occasionally. I have to attend meetings and sit on committees. Getting along with colleagues is of course part of every job.

Also note that university positions have certain job benefits that most people do not get. Academics often have large winter and summer breaks. You set your own hours. You have access to a large university library. Sometimes faculty get discounts on university events and facility access (gyms, museums, concerts, etc.)

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Probably not everyone has the same view as me, but your department seems to: the job description of "professor" means more than just doing research on your own. Teaching and service are important parts of the job.

It is possible to find tenure-track jobs that are more focused on research and may be completely without classroom responsibilities, but unless you are such an important researcher that there are funds set aside for you to be your own personal research department, even research-heavy positions are going to expect that you mentor others: if not students, then postdocs; if not postdocs, then other tenure-track faculty. If you aren't a more senior professor, those latter options won't be available to you.

I think you can consider other types of positions in academia, but if you are miserable doing key parts of your job description it is time to find another job. However, there may also be other approaches that let you find some appreciation of the parts of your job that you don't prefer: not everyone values the different parts of their job equally. That assumes, of course, that you aren't causing harm to other people in the process.

  • 1
    +1 for the last sentence. – Elizabeth Henning Jan 11 at 21:37
  • "It is possible to find tenure-track jobs that are more focused on research and may be completely without classroom responsibilities" - I have one of these positions (90% Research/10% Service) and there's still a substantial mentoring component - indeed, because there's no teaching, this gets weighted pretty heavily. – Fomite 2 hours ago
  • @Fomite Yes, as I mentioned shortly after the part you quote, "even research-heavy positions are going to expect that you mentor others." – Bryan Krause 1 hour ago
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    @BryanKrause I was more...providing empirical evidence for your answer at the somewhat extreme ends of that particular spectrum. – Fomite 1 hour ago
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It's a lot to walk away from. Also, we can't really tell how good the consulting opportunities are and/or if you could get a job somewhere.

If you do walk, the same issues might arise on the job. Maybe there are some very select fields where you can just be an individual researcher genius but many industrial companies (and McKinsey and Goldman) will require you to interact with colleagues. If anything it may be more possible to be asocial in academia.

Hard to really advise more without knowing what is troubling you. I would definitely look before you leap and not just leave out of pique.

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  • I think it quite obvious what made him anxious is the inability to mentor students and the cold relationship with other faculty members, which I think made his life as hell. However, if I were in your shoes, I would take a sabbatical leave and do consulting job industry. – user39171 Jan 11 at 18:21
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    @Monika You are correct. In a smallish department, I can not hide from mentoring and/or service without impacting my yearly evaluation. The chair proposed more teaching to reduce service and/or mentoring. – XX. XX Jan 11 at 18:42
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I fully agree with Buffy that you should try to find out what you actually like doing before quitting. The exception would be if you dislike your current situation enough that it's detrimental to your mental and physical health. Either way, use your current leave to explore your options. Now for the part of my answer that started as a comment, but got out of hand:

You don't actually state in your question whether you still* enjoy doing research or not. If you don't, well, that's the three main aspects of academia out the window (research, teaching, service). In that case, a university position doesn't sound at all right for you. You might as well abandon ship, go to industry, and make more money. You might enjoy working there more, or not - but be able to retire earlier... Of course, industry has its own downsides, and it's not exactly devoid of entitled people, or decisions made over your head either.

However, if you still* have a passion for research, and since you're in a STEM field, maybe look into working at a non-university research institution. This could be at a national laboratory, or an industry research lab. Certainly national labs tend to lead to more active research work, and collaboration with peers than is typical for university professors. You might still find yourself doing some mentoring - at least for postdocs - but in a different climate.

*Presumably you at least used to, and hopefully you still do.

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Only you can answer that question. But, other have made similar choices before. Read the "Working Life" in Science Magazine and other Science Career articles. Many of the guest authors talk about their transitions away from academia, including tenured professors.

The Versatile PhD has many resources as well about life away from academia.

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