My friends, family, and partner often mention that they worry about my life as an researcher/academic mentioning how I work too much (I love my job!) am never satisfied (I want to go great work, and great work is hard to do!), and that I'm often distracted (I think about my research a lot!). I've tried to explain these facets of academic life to them, but I have trouble completely communicating each of these feelings.

Are there any good articles or stories that you have found particularly useful in helping others understand your lifestyle as an academic?

For people outside of academia who you feel understand your passion and drive, how did they come to do so?

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    @EnergyNumbers This is a good start, but it still doesn't give me a "concrete" way to explain my life to people. What would be optimal is a set of articles by prominent scientists (e.g.) explaining their lives and lifestyles that I could share with people.
    – Danny W.
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 14:12
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    Given that your friends, family and partner are all saying the same thing, is it possible that they are correct? Would you say that your work is terribly important? (If so, please do bear in mind the Bertrand Russell quote: "One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.")
    – 410 gone
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 14:52
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    Is not being specific really a valid criteria? It certainly is pertinent to people working in academia, yes?
    – Danny W.
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 18:38
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    Tell them you do what Spiderman can and Peter Parker can't
    – krammer
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:17
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    "The first step is admitting you have a problem." Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 5:40

2 Answers 2


[This response may be specific to my culture/situation, so take it for what it's worth.]

As a student in the health sciences, I find it helpful to explain my passion in terms of 'needing to know'. The human body--and it's response to disease--is so complex, with so many interactions that we don't fully understand, I find myself continually in a position of wonderment. "The more I learn, the less I know."

I am passionate about becoming the best healthcare professsional I can be, and the individuals who are important to me seem to be able to understand this. I know that I cannot expect them to totally understand the fascination of research, or the passion that drives me to devote all available time to learning, reading, writing, etc. Both they and I have come to accept this. I do not push my world onto them, nor do they demand that I be able to explain.

Perhaps the really crucial part of this is taking time to be really present with the non-academics in your life. Let them know that you care for them and accept their non-academic lifestyle as well. Understanding and acceptance is often a two-way street--be willing to give as well as get.

This really only answers your second question. Perhaps others may be more able to respond to the first query about stories/articles to help your loved ones understand the fascination of research.


Might not help you in communicating your thoughts, but will certainly help in understanding what it is you are engaged in.

Serres "The Troubadour of Knowledge"


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    This may be an interesting and valuable book, but it doesn't sound likely to help explain life as a researcher to outsiders, at least as best I can judge based on the book's webpage. I really can't see explaining my career to others by saying "I see myself as a troubadour of knowledge, transgressing traditional dialectics and disciplinary boundaries to engage with my students in an encounter with true Otherness." Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 22:55
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    @AnonymousMathematician: I'm totally putting that in my next report to the dean. Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 16:12

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