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Thread: Academia

  1. #1
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Academia

    Academia. For some reason an implicit snort of derision seems to accompany the term... you ivory tower types have all your theories but no understanding or connection with the practical realities of the real world.

    For many of us, our exposure to academia is limited to what we observed with our instructors while pursuing our own degrees at college. We got our degrees and promptly pursued employment in the field. We may have some vague familiarity with the importance of tenure and the need to publish or perish, and perhaps a general impression that there is often epic interdepartmental politicking going on behind the scenes, but beyond that, really don't live in that world. I think this perception is unfortunate, because I'm not convinced the reputation is entirely deserved. Based on the interactions I've had with plannning Post Hole Digger types, I'm inclined to say the majority have a pretty good understanding of the political and practical obstacles practicing planners experience every day (that or talk a good game). That some have 'real world' experience only reinforces this impression.

    How about you, do you currently or have you ever worked in academia (we have a few floating around Cyburbia)? Have you ever considered working in academia youself? What do you think are the plusses and minuses of this particular career path?
    Last edited by Maister; 17 Mar 2011 at 3:36 PM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    IMO college/university professors have it pretty sweet, especially if they're on the tenure gravy train. Who wouldn't love to have guaranteed lifetime employment? Plus, they generally don't have to carry much of a teaching load (that's for the adjuncts and TAs) and get to take frequent sabbaticals to far off places to stimulate their intellectual curiosities.

  3. #3
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    IMO college/university professors have it pretty sweet, especially if they're on the tenure gravy train. Who wouldn't love to have guaranteed lifetime employment? Plus, they generally don't have to carry much of a teaching load (that's for the adjuncts and TAs) and get to take frequent sabbaticals to far off places to stimulate their intellectual curiosities.
    It sounds like a pretty sweet deal when you put it that way. But if it's such a great racket, I wonder why don't we see more people pursuing that career path? There's gotta be some drawbacks too.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    It sounds like a pretty sweet deal when you put it that way. But if it's such a great racket, I wonder why don't we see more people pursuing that career path? There's gotta be some drawbacks too.
    I think a lot of people would like to follow the career path of academia. The problem is, especially given that certain disciplines have very limited numbers of positions, it is hard to find a place to teach or do research. There are a lot of people with doctorates in English or biology who can never find a position at a college because of the glut of applicants. Then you take a discipline like geography and planning - a much smaller number of departments nationwide to apply for a position at - less applicants but much less opportunity.

    I know a fellow who has been trying to find a postion at a college for years, and he is highly qualified. But competition is stiff..

    A job in academia would be sweet. I loved college. I could so do it for the rest of my life. The search of knowledge. The lovely campus. The crop of young women who never get any older.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  5. #5
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I think it's a very hard field to break into. For many, you have to put in so many long hours doing research and writing and research and writing and teaching all throughout grad school and into your doctorate. A ton of networking. You pretty much have to live at college inside of books and mountains of research and TA'ing for most of your twenties. If you continue and are highly successful, you may be an assistant professor in your 30s (but from what I've seen, that's not all that glamorous). I'm not sure how it works, but I imagine that for most professors, they probably can't just settle into a nice career as an associate professor with tenure until they're approaching 40.

    Also, generally speaking, the best professors I had were older ones that were at the top of the ladder in their department but still working like crazy, doing research, writing books, getting papers published, coming up with new projects all the time, and so forth.

    But yes, there are many perks, like people have mentioned...long breaks, summers, being around young good-looking people all the time, living and working in a college town, etc.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
    -Steven Tyler

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Several people in my immediate family have taught college level or higher. Here are a few other things to consider:

    1. To earn tenure, most professors have to keep publishing their research and findings. Research money fluctuates from one institution to the next, in the forms of grants, endowments, private equity, etc. Administrations and boards want constant reassurance that the money is put to good use. Many professors spend more time conducting tests, research, analysis, and publishing findings AND dealing with the nitty-gritty of office politics. In many cases, professors spend a fraction of their time teaching.
    2. Deans, department heads, directors often have influence in what is taught in the lecture hall. You don't just have free reign to spout off anything you life. There are still "some" limits.
    3. Academia requires a high amount of disicpline: it's alot of school, alot of learning, and alot of money. There is not always immediate gratification, especially financially. You end up living like a starving artist for 7,10, 15 years before you get to "practice." I just don't think most people could wait that long. I know I couldn't. I prefer to go to school, graduate as soon as I can, and go to work and make money.
    4. Academia can sometimes be very repetitive. Many times you teach the same courses over and over and over again. If you are okay with that, great. Again, I would rather be doing something constructive rather than repeating myself over and over and over again.
    5. Plenty of professors earn working wages that are far less than 6 figures.
    6. In this recession, schools are starting to make cutbacks, too, due to less money (from the state, alumni, or endowments) coupled with widespread disgust of tuition costs. I wouldn't be surprised to see tenured professors become a thing of the past in 5-10 years.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  7. #7
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    I'm married to an assistant prof at a state university. Parts of his job/career are quite nice, one of the best things, according to Hubby is being able to impart and create knowledge. The breaks are nice but they aren't just sitting-around-twiddling-thumbs breaks. He works a good portion of his breaks researching, writing, developing his classes.

    Realities of professorship - HUGE debt, constant grading, lack of respect, publish or perish atmosphere, corporatization of education, work all the time, teaching summer school to make-up for dismal pay, constant scramble for grants & funding opportunities.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I would enjoy teaching something like geography, GIS, basic micro/macroeconomics classes or maybe even something like a stats or econometrics class but I don't really have the desire to deal with the publish or perish mentality. There's always the community college level though where research doesn't seem to be a major focus except maybe assisting local governments or something with a small fiscal/economic impact study or providing technical expertise. But where's the prestige in saying you teach at the local junior/technical/community/vocational college?
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    I was an academia wannabe up until the point where I saw that I couldn't afford to put in more years of education to finish a PhD without sacrificing my family to get there. I only have minimal regrets because I found that the need to learn could be satisfied in other occupations and learning was what was, and still is, most important to me.

    I had the same disdain for academic planners as I had for consultants when I was a public employee. Most of that was related to the fact that they came in with an implied superiority, made what seemed to be outrageous incomes, and didn't have to stick around to face the public on a daily basis. In retrospect, we really didn't know what their overhead costs were, most of them brought some fresh perspectives and they weren't any worse than the resident staff.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  10. #10
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Dandy makes some really valid points why there aren't more people trying to get into academia. For those of us who have master's degrees, could you handle the burden of five more years of making little to no income while accruing more debt? For those of us who have bachelor's degrees, could you do it for up to seven more years? Think about how much that would impact your lifetime goals for retirement. That is probably the biggest factor holding me back from pursuing my PhD right now. Money.

    I can handle the publish or perish atmosphere. It isn't entirely different from working (be billable or perish) or graduate school (write 5 essays per class per semester and a monster thesis and work 20 hours per week for faculty or perish). It is the grant hunting that is intimidating. Especially with the decrease in funds available right now. The pot everyone needs to stick their hand in keeps shrinking and we wonder why universities are going bankrupt, tripling class sizes, and laying off all non-critical personnel. I expect we will see a dramatic increase in graduate students teaching courses because of how cheap their labor is. Nothing against graduate students, but they tend to have a lot less worldly experience to offer students, which may result in poorer course content. Talk about teaching straight from the book. I suppose the university legal council will approve.

    Regardless of all of these obstacles and the ivory tower stigma, someday I will be teaching your children or grandchildren and I will find out who they are show them all your Cyburbia posts. Mwahahahaha!

    I find academia a very important contributing factor to most fields. While the rest of us are busy pumping out billable work and/or are focused on our small corner of the world, these cats are trying to improve the field in the bigger picture. They are researching, analyzing, theorizing, and offering solutions.

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