My attention was drawn today (via Daily Nous) to this piece by Daniel McCormack on "some lesser known lessons of academia." In brief, McCormack's lessons are that academia is likely to be a good fit for you only if:
- You like working on long-term projects.
- You are good at managing your time over very long time periods.
- You don’t need to feel like you’re succeeding.
- You don’t care where you live.
- You don’t mind moving frequently, or being very mobile in general.
Aside from the obvious problem of knowing in advance (prior to spending 7-10 years in a PhD program) whether you'll be cool with any of these things, my experience is that they are all pretty spot-on, but especially #3.
Indeed, #3 is in my experience the real "trick" with academia--the thing probably most responsible for so many incredibly talented grad students not finishing their PhD program (last I checked, the attrition rate for many programs was something like 50%!). The reason academic philosophy is so tough--well, aside from the job-market and other sociological things--is that unless you are one of those rare people for whom everything is a breeze (and I'veYou don’t mind moving frequently, or being very mobile in general. known a few of them), you get so little positive feedback and so much negative feedback.
In most parts of life--whether it is relationships, most jobs, or even graduate coursework for that matter--there is a pretty good balance between positive and negative feedback, depending on the quality of what you do. For instance, when I'm a good husband, my spouse tends to respond positively, and when I'm a bad husband...well, she doesn't. :( Similarly, when one does well on one's coursework, one gets good grades; and when one doesn't, one doesn't. But, in a PhD program, things change once one gets beyond coursework. Positive feedback becomes so much harder to come by, and negative feedback a near-constant. There's a reason why Lego Grad-Student is so sadly funny: it's uncannily accurate. You really need to be a "glutton for punishment" if you want to be an academic--and, while it can get better over time as "one learns the ropes", it is still (I think) one of the more unique things about academia. Heck, even Jason Stanley gets his stuff rejected the vast majority of the time!
Anyway, I think McCormack's list of "lesser known lessons" is pretty good. What about you all? Can you think of any good "lesser known lessons of academia" not on McCormack's list? (Feel free to be serious or irreverent!)