Monday, November 29, 2010
Via John Cook, I found an interesting blog post by Matt Welsh, a Harvard University professor of computer science. Welsh compares what he imagined academic life would be like with what it actually is like. Probably the most interesting connections he makes pertain to the kind of skill set and the level of commitment success requires:
To be sure, there are some great things about this job. To first approximation you are your own boss, and even when it comes to teaching you typically have a tremendous amount of freedom. It has often been said that being a prof is like running your own startup -- you have to hire the staff (the students), raise the money (grant proposals), and of course come up with the big ideas and execute on them. But you also have to do a lot of marketing (writing papers and giving talks), and sit on a gazillion stupid committees that eat up your time. This post is mostly for grad students who think they want to be profs one day. A few surprises and lessons from my time in the job... [bold added]But don't take his word for it: Observe what he does with this knowledge. The note about the author in the sidebar of Welsh's blog ends as follows: "He is currently on leave at Google." Since that post was dated May 24 of this year, I became curious and immediately learned that Welsh made the change permanent in November. He gives as a reason for leaving his tenured post at Harvard one of the very things he noted was missing from his days as an academic, "I get to hack all day...."
Also noteworthy about the earlier post on academia was his comment that, "Students are the coin of the realm." Welsh doesn't focus on the problems that fact can cause, but taken together with them, his words should serve as a wake-up call to anyone pursuing an advanced degree.
Love of the work is what motivates many to pursue a career in academia, but it is clear that academia is not necessarily the best place to do the work.