“Academia has become very toxic now. The pay is not good, there’s exploitation, there’s expectation of unlimited free labor, and you should definitely go somewhere else.”
This is what I see on Twitter; not all the time but quite often, frankly. It makes me disappointed in the working culture of academia. I feel sad and angry at the same time. Sometimes the words are so negative that I feel like dropping the idea of pursuing a PHD. It also feels like good examples are not being set up for young people (like me) who want to become a good scientist. Maybe something is wrong and it needs to be fixed?
I don’t completely understand why but in spite of all the negativity, I have this voice that always tells me to choose academics over everything else. Whenever I imagine my professional life, this is the one and only thing that comes to my mind. I once did a one month internship in a corporate company right after my undergraduate degree. It was one of the worst experiences of my life because I was deprived of intellectual ideas & people, and my intellectual growth had stopped. I am not saying this is the case with corporate sector in general; I am only talking about my first hand experience in a corporate company in India. I missed not been able to nurture my intellectual curiosity and that made me hate the work I was doing. I didn’t feel like going to the office (although I had to). There is a different kind of satisfaction some people get when they discover something (no matter small or big) using rigorous and scientific means and it’s hard to let anything else compensate for that kind of satisfaction. When you’re trying so hard to connect the dots and your head starts to hurt but then you eventually get the answer, you feel on top of the world. This is something some people wish to live for, including me. Knowing deep down that you’re working hard to find answers to some of the most pressing questions is very rewarding and degrees like PHDs prepare you for that kind of work. You don’t simply work for others but you work for yourself too. Sometimes you can be your own boss and that kind of independence brings out the best in you. Also, you get a chance to shape the upcoming generations with your knowledge and wisdom. Personally, I believe it’s a privilege.
Yes, academia isn’t perfect. But last time I checked nothing is perfect in this world. Life is all about trade offs and what matters is what you want at the end of the day. You should always go after something that makes you happy. Although sometimes reality can be different than what we imagine but taking a shot is totally worth it. So that we are not left with any regrets. Academia isn’t the only place where you find an intellectually stimulating environment. But as I said before, this is something what I want and I don’t want any regrets. If it doesn’t work out, I am sure I’ll be fine.