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Are our academia research minds just so trained to constantly climb our mental mountains that when achieving some success, one feels, "that was it?", even when the past leading up to the success was absolutely brutal in terms of work load and stress and creative thinking, so that one would think the feeling would be more joyous.

Does it always just kind of feel that way? Does the rewarding feeling dissipate very quickly?

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    This phenomenon exists beyond academia, and there's an interesting chapter in the book The Happiness Hypothesis about it, written by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt. In a nutshell, we are all super-bad at predicting our emotional reactions to things. – lighthouse keeper Jun 20 '17 at 21:08
  • Is that all there is? – JeffE Jun 20 '17 at 21:27
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    As often, various aspects of the premise are (in my opinion) the largest part of the problem. E.g., if the process itself is unpleasant, with the only reward being "success", it is not a happy balance. Instead, I think enjoyment of the process itself (mostly including confusion and struggle...) is essential. For that matter, often we fail to achieve various objectives propounded at the outset, even if/when we do manage to understand things better. – paul garrett Jun 20 '17 at 22:23
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    Beside @lighthousekeeper's comment that it is not constrained to academia, there simply are times where the expected result is lesser than the projected gain. Independent from the former observation, I sometimes have the impression situations like "that was it?" (with slight / moderate tune of exhaustion and depression) correlate with (in retrospect / from outer perspective) undue / excessive aiming for external validation / validation by others of what I did / was pursued. – Buttonwood Jun 20 '17 at 22:29
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    @JeffE seems to be a common theme in songs... – Dan Romik Jun 21 '17 at 0:11
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The reward is pretty temporary.

There are definitely dramatic high points in academics- publishing a paper, making tenure, graduating a student, etc. Those are cool, but those are relatively rare occurrences. You can't judge the experience of climbing a mountain just based on how it felt when you got to the top. If you hate the entire experience of climbing up and down then you're spending 99% of your time hating the experience and only enjoying the dramatic moment.

Academics as a profession has no ending point, there's simply a process of continual improvement. No one is ever going to publish the last paper that explains everything and your teaching material is never going to get to a place where it's finally perfect. You're never going to get to the top of academics and declare that you're finished, so the day to day work you do is what you need to enjoy in order to feel fulfilled. This is true in most careers.

You need to define success clearly for yourself. What does it mean for you to be successful? Is it publishing so many papers in a year? Is it solving some problem close to your heart? Is it getting tenure? Is it becoming an editor of a journal in your field? Is it making a lot of money? Is it having time with your family?

Success is something that feels good when you're doing it. Everyone has hiccups, doldrums, or other low points in their career. That's normal, and not every day will be a good day (or year, or project, or paper, etc.). But, your routine work should be something you feel is enjoyable and fulfilling. If not, you're going to burn out sooner or later. This is true for any career, not just academics.

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The payoffs in academia can be just as drawn out as the process needed to achieve them. If you wanted immediate gratification, you'd be in finance....or other.

Watch your h-index. Watch your citation count. Send your papers (unsolicited) to relevant labs. Give talks at conferences. But more importantly, have patience. This stuff takes time. Even a landmark paper can take years to earn citations.

But immediately, take personal pride in your accomplishments. Few people get to be a part of science. Every hard-won victory will stay with you.

  • (I know opinions vary, but watching h-index and/or citation count and such stuff is, in my opinion, stressful and unproductive, since these things do not measure what we might wish they did...) – paul garrett Jun 21 '17 at 23:55

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