26 June 2010

Debt, Life, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I'm in debt. Educational debt. It's big. I thought it was a good investment. Now, I'm pretty sure it was the biggest mistake of my life.

Because I'm having doubts. Doubts about the career path I thought was so clearly outlined for my future. Oh, don't get me wrong. This isn't a case of I-thought-I'd-enjoy-the-work-but-I-found-out-I-don't. This is a case of I-love-the-work-but-I'm-not-willing-to-give-up-the-rest-of-my-life-to-do-it. And you know. I'm rather surprised by this realization.

I have often said that academics is the ultimate old boy's network. Being granted a PhD is the price of admission. Only, the price of admission is too high. The expectations are appropriate for those who want to work at elite universities, but for people willing to accept second or third tier positions (like myself), the price is too high. I have actively sought professions and paths that reduce my stress and enhance my opportunities for fun. I don't believe in living a life you hate. I don't believe in having jobs you loathe. I don't want to live for the weekend and I don't want to have a job to pay the bills. I really do want to love my work. So that I do love my work means I did make a reasonably informed choice to go for it.

However, just as getting a degree isn't just about your research--it's also about jumping through the hoops, enduring the hazing, subjugating yourself to oversized egos, etc. etc. etc.--the privilege of doing research comes with the burden of successful grant chasing, long hours, publishing in top-tier journals, and having everything go right. If there is one thing I have learned in my life, everything will not go right. And here I am, at a second-tier university, laboring in a mediocre lab, and trying to make myself care about a future in this business. Every degree-granting institution behaves as though it is an elite institution, and too many doctoral advisors talk the talk, but aren't walking the walk. Which is to say, they aren't performing at a level worthy of the crap they are giving their graduate students.

So here I am. Trying to finish something I started in ignorance. Standing on the other side and wondering what the blue blazes I do now. I love the work. I love the field. But I am damn sure I can't live where my job and my future depend on successful grants. I suck at getting grants. I'm tired of stressing about presentations and publications. I'm tired of kissing ass. I am tired.

It should not be harder to be a botanist than it is to be a physician.

I am a competent person and I can do a good job at this work. But if I pursue an academic path, I'll die younger, spend less time happy, and wonder why I threw it all away and for what? I need an out and I'm desperate for it.

But those loans. That looming debt that will come due the minute I leave this path. I need a job that pays.

Fuck me running.

No comments:

Post a Comment