There are many reasons why people love life in academia. Some reasons why people love academia are highly subjective and based on individual circumstances and therefore cannot be enumerated. Other reasons why people love academia seem transparently universal to academics and nonacademics alike. However, some reasons why people love academia may have unintentionally been misrepresented to encourage recent graduates to continue on in their academic traditions. If you know without doubt that you want to commit your professional life to academia, then you are already certain of all the reasons why you love academia. On the other hand, if you are struggling to decide whether you want to work in academia or industry, then you might be considering the reasons why you love academia and might want to wait for an ideal academic job. If you belong in the latter category and ultimately decide to stay in academia because of its misrepresented benefits, then your ideal academic job could become your bane. Please consider the following five misrepresented reasons why you may, but really won’t, miss life in academia if you decide to leave:
Work flexibility is one of the primary reasons that academics claim to love academia. Academic schedules may initially seem more flexible than is the traditional framework for the professional workday: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, academic schedules seem much less flexible if you consider how much time during evenings and weekends that academics spend doing research, homework, grading, and reading. For nonacademics, hours outside the professional workday are (for the most part) strictly personal time.
2. Free or discounted access to university information, resources, and services.
As an academic, your university tuition or employment has given you free or discounted access to information and resources that nonacademics may or may not be able to get. For example, you can probably use large information databases at your university’s library and wellness resources at your university’s health center. You may even qualify for student discounts or free services (e.g., free bus fare) in your university’s town. After you leave life in academia, even your privileges as an alumnus may not allow you to continue using university information, resources, and services at a free or discounted rate. However, if you consider how much money you pay the university with your tuition and time and how much you receive in return as stipends and other forms of financial assistance, then you may find that your access to university information, resources, and services is not actually free or discounted.
3. Academic privilege.
Academic privilege develops from the tenure system in universities and is academics’ version of job security. Academics would like believe that if they work hard enough and meet all departmental requirements, then they will progress through the political ranks of academia to secure tenure-track positions, which they hope to keep as long as they maintain good standing with their universities. However, some academics forget (a) that tenure-track positions are limited and can be difficult to acquire; (b) that once a tenure-track position is secured, it takes years to earn tenure; and (c) that budget cuts can terminate even tenure-track positions before you secure tenure. You may lose your job to budget cuts or layoffs in the professional world, but unlike life in academia, there are more jobs available for you to find.
4. Holiday vacations.
Winter, spring, and summer breaks make academic jobs seem enticing to some would-be academics. However, most academics have to do some form of work during winter, spring, and summer breaks; academics still have to communicate with their departments, to work full time on their research, or to teach classes during winter, spring, and summer breaks. Though it may seem like academics get more holidays than do nonacademics, people in both types of jobs basically work year round.
Attending conferences and presentations is a fundamental part of academic jobs that often requires travel to new and interesting places, which seems exciting until you consider the cost. Some universities fund academics’ travel, but others do not. Either way, any time you spend traveling for academic jobs will be limited because of cost. Consequently, academics who travel to conferences and presentations rarely have time to enjoy local attractions. If travel is something that interests you professionally, then you might be able to find nonacademic jobs for employers who fully fund work-related travel for their employees.