Anyone who has read more than three or four posts on here will by now have realised that I tend to be a miserable sod and just spend my time complaining. Oddly enough I genuinely have a pretty sunny outlook on most things, but I do get annoyed easily, especially by things that I think can be easily changed (like getting the word dinosaur and pterosaur not mixed up, and no I am *not* revisiting that here). Despite all that, I do genuinely like my job and despite the things that cause a neural aneurism to me almost daily, it is great fun – if I ever had to stopeing an academic I literally have no idea what I would do instead. There are a few biology-based things that appeal, but I know I would be bored of them in a few years, if not a few months, so I am glad that my job genuinely has me excited to go into work most mornings (even if it fades once reality kicks in). Anyway, I thought it would be nice for me to be all fluffy for once and talk about how great my job is, and just so you know it is still me writing this, I’ll follow it up with a post of what is, shall we say, less good.
So, in no particular order:
1. Travel. I am living in Beijing having just spent two years in Munich. While I have not had a fraction of the fieldwork experience I would like, and have missed out on some meetings I would have liked to attend, I have made it to China and Germany (bot independently of my recent jobs), Hungary, Peru, Ireland and France as part of my work. It is likely I will have to go to Mexico, Canada, the US and Mongolia in the next year or two. OK, so I love travelling , and if you hate it, this would be a poor career indeed, but I love seeing new places, meeting new people and having the opportunity to get out of the office and into wild palces.
2. The people. Academics as a whole are smart and relaxed people, they themselves have travelled or lived abroad and you don’t have to worry about big cultural differences or making a social faux pas. Almost everyone is chilled and relaxed and easy going and friendly. Turn up in a museum or department unbidden and someone will generally take the time to show you around and help you out, take you for dinner or to a bar, and even offer a bed (or at least a sofa) for the night. Everyone pretty much pitches in knowing it might be them next, but it makes for a great atmosphere. Even meeting people waaay outside your discipline can generally be more rewarding that you might think as there are always places that your fields overlap in someway and you can share problems or learn from each other – that does not happen when someone from accounts has to share a room with someone from tech support.
3. It’s science! You get to do real science, and discover things. Even if it is just working out which way round a bone goes, you can get a sense of achievement (well, I do) but of course when it is something like getting a paper published, or even just getting the results in the lab you can be pleased.
4. I like teaching. There, I said it. I know many academics find it a burden (and maybe I will if it really starts to interfere with my research) but I have always enjoyed it and gone out of my way to teach all kinds of things at all kinds of levels throughout my (short) career. I do like communicating and getting students (or kids) excited in science and research, so I find it very rewarding.
5. Working environment. Not only is it easy moving around and meeting people, but within and between institutions the atmosphere is generally great. People are keen to collaborate, share results and data, and talk about their work. Taking an hour to talk to someone in another lab about what the team is doing is not seen as timewasting but a valuable source of information and idea sharing. Even chats over morning coffee can be inspiring. Finally, I have been lucky enough to work in some superb institutions and it can be fantastic to trudge through rush hour to arrive at a building like the NHM in London and realise that you get to work there with world-class researchers. It can make your day before you even walk through the door.
6. It is not a normal job. There is a real freedom of expression (writing), freedom of thought, and independence. Sure things have deadlines and timetables, but you work on what you want, when you want, how you want. You can fix your plans to what suits you best, pick your collaborators and research team, and push your work how you want to. There are few jobs that allow you all of that freedom at such an age and level of experience. As mentioned above, things like networking, reading papers, visiting museums, checking relevant websites, talking to colleagues and extending yourself to other areas of research are not prohibited, but actively encouraged if it will make your work better in the long run.
7. You are always learning. Most days, even if for five minutes I read an abstract, or website, or see a newspaper article describing something interesting in biology. OK, it may not be directly related to my field, but it all adds up. Of course I do regularly go through journals and papers and learn that way, plus again discussions with colleagues either in person, or increasingly, online or via e-mail.
8. It’s cool! I actually get rather bored of it, but I have never met someone in the last 5 years who has not been genuinely interested in what I do. Meet someone at a party, or be introduced to a friend of a friend, and once the inevitable “What do you do?” exchange happens, I am instantly more interesting to talk to than the accountants, techies, and teachers (sorry, it’s true) around the table. Yes, you get pestered endlessly with questions about Jurassic Park and Tyrannosaurus, but it’s better than being ignored (see Wilde’s take on being talked about!). At least you can always bust a few myths, and people always have a frame of reference – not everyone knows what a red giant star is, but everyone knows at least one dinosaur. Admittedly this might be less fun for palaeobotanists or protist workers, but it works with dinosaurs at least.
Well, that is it really. I am sure others can pitch in if they have any, but these are the things that most immediately sprung to my mind. It can be very rewarding being an academic, and I do genuinely enjoy my job though of course there are some other issues that make it less enjoyable but I’ll save that for next time.
This is a revised Mk.1 post, to see the original with comments etc., go here.