8 secret perks of academic research jobs

[By “secret” I really mean “underappreciated” or “overlooked” but one must sacrifice perspicuity on the altar of catchy titles!]

I have now been in academia longer than I have been in any other professional setting. I’m sure this is common in many industries and organizations, but academics love to complain-brag (e.g. Omg I haven’t slept for 72 hours to finish this grant.. you all should be super impressed and feel super sorry for me!). We are especially apt to feel bitter that despite our 17,325 years of education, most of us don’t make *that* much money. And I won’t lie, I often add my voice to the belly-aching chorus… because who doesn’t enjoy a good-old fashion commiseration session?

BUT I must say that now that I am contemplating leaving academia, I am reminded how good the highly educated and underpaid nerdlesons have it compared to many many peoples.

How doth academia benefit thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Working with smart, passionate people
    • Many careers are filled with overly ambitious, cut-throat peoples, but I would wager many fields are not filled with people who genuinely love what they’re doing and like their work for its own sake – not just the pay or the recognition. Most of the professors with the most prestige will tell you that at the end of the day, they just find their research neat-o. It is also really great to have undergraduates working for you – usually for free – that are highly motivated and probably smarter than you in so many ways. No crippling apathy here!
  2. Flexibility
    • This one is probably my favorite. I have almost always been able to make my own schedule. If I want to be in at 7:30 am and leave at 3:30 pm, that’s fine. If I want to be in at 10 am and leave at 630 pm, that’s fine too. If I want to work from home and do data analysis all day – no one blinks an eye. When it’s time for vacation, most people say just say “Yo, I’m not going to be in lab these 3 weeks because I need to find myself and connect with nature.” and your advisor says “Word.” Usually no one cares as long as you’re getting your work done. It is incredibly nice not to be viewed as a slimy little worm who is trying to get away with the least amount of work. At least in the academic jobs I’ve had, you are treated like an adult.
  3. Job security
    • It is difficult to get fired in academia. You can be a miserable failure and the most your advisor will really do is write a lackluster letter of recommendation for your next position. I think you would have to do something that was seriously unethical to get fired, but failing continuously is probably not enough. It doesn’t serve you well in the long run to be unproductive, of course.. but you will at least be paid while you figure out your next career move.
  4. Street cred
    • You know when you’re trying to make small talk at a party and you ask a stranger, “So what do you do?” and they say “I’m a technical writer,” and you say “Cool!” *chirp chirp* Not so with academic positions. People are usually interested in your thesis or research, and you can usually entertain them with sharing your interest in the field and what you hope to accomplish. It’s not usual to have a job that intrigues a lot of people and makes them automatically think you are super smart, even if your only other interaction with them was to praise the hummus.
  5. Inclusivity
    • Once you get past admissions, I really don’t think academia cares about your demographics that much (of course there are fellowships and grants for those who identify as a member of a group underrepresented in science, but it can only take you so far). There are no headshots to turn in with your manuscript when you submit for publication. You can identify as a banana or the be the ugliest person on earth, but academia doesn’t care. Just do good research, and a place will be prepared for you. It’s a meritocracy if there ever was one.
  6. Bad fashion sense highly tolerated
    • I’m not sure if I would go so far to say that being a snappy dresser will hurt you in academia, but it truly doesn’t help. If anything, some of the people wearing the most egregious – whether that be flamboyant or downright geeky – outfits are senior professors. Wearing a suit in lab is not only impractical, it will probably be seen as an ineffective attempt to cover your own incompetency. So throw on a pair of sweats and a ironic tee and get to pipetting.
  7. Mentoring
    • In no other field is there such a built in culture of the person in the highest position taking an invested interest in helping the people working for them reach their career goals — whatever those might be. That is truly extraordinary. My advisor gets no benefit – either financially or research-wise – in helping me secure a job outside of academia. Yet he is seriously committed to helping me get there if that’s what I decide to do. Imagine your manager taking responsibility to help give you the skills and experience you need to move on to a better job at a different company! Unheard of.
  8. Benefits
    • Usually the health insurance is pretty legit. At least at my University, the retirement plan is very generous. You get access to a huge online library of journals for every topic you could possibly be interested in (just for reference, most published journal articles that I see are $35 a pop). You usually get a free or highly discounted membership to a gym that’s at least adequate. There are tons of talks with free foods. Little things all together, but nice.

In toto— If you are in academia, put a pause on your belly aching and take time to appreciate the fun little perks of your position. If you are outside academia, maybe ponder the positive aspects of your job.. and if there aren’t any… come over to the dark side of academia!

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Go ahead, waste your life (a little)

Not Wasting Your Life is a popular theme among contemporary pastors these days. John Piper wrote a book about it, which inspired Louie Giglio to preach an entire sermon series about not wasting your life, which inspired Ben Stuart to join the party, talking about family specifically. And of course John Piper’s sassy protégé Matt Chandler has also chimed in about not wasting your cancer.

Lemme just say, I adore all of these pastors for various reasons, and it’s not like I want to wake up some day and realize my entire life has been spent building a career I don’t find fulfilling, or that I have no friends IRL because I spent all my time online getting into arguments with social media randos.

Many times these sermons begin with sobering stats on how much time we spend on doing “insignificant” activities — e.g. “Did you know that over the average human lifespan, you will spend x days watching tv (gasp!), x years commuting to work (groan!), x days removing unwanted body hair (giggles), x hours reading nonsensical Galloblog posts (#worthit) ?” These stats are meant to strike fear into hearts as we realize how little time we actually spend doing important things like rescuing puppies from burning buildings and sharing the gospel to all nations.

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Don’t get me wrong – I do think that our life has definite highs and lows, and the highs should be celebrated. There is also nothing wrong with being somewhat conscious of how we delegate our time, and to consider cutting out nonsense that seems to suck us in for hours and hours and serve as escapism (video games, I’m glaring at you!).

BUT I would also like to suggest that freaking out and trying to minimize all the time we spend doing “insignificant” things, and trying to cram in oodles of significance into every moment isn’t only unrealistic… and likely to give us an ulcer trying… it’s also not particularly biblical.

Think about, oh I don’t know…. Jesus! Do we sit around and bemoan his 30 “wasted” years? I mean what was Jesus doing pre-ministry anyway? He was a carpenter, right? What else? I imagine he probably… ate. Did rando chores for his household, whatever that looked like b.c.. Kicked around town with his bros…? Who knows? What we do know, or at least claim as Christians, is that he lived the perfect life, correct? Then I think it’s safe to say that would include his entire life, not just the last 3 years of life.

And not just Jesus — almost every major biblical character had long periods in which they just “did life.” Worked. Survived.

Even if you’re not a Christian, I think there’s something to be said for CHILLING THE POO OUT! I’m going to boldly assert that the meaningfulness of life is less about doing something super impressive and record breaking at every single moment of your life, and more about developing good character and enjoying all the rando gifts of life as you go about the ordinary. Go ahead – belt some 90s pop while you fold your laundry. Watch a little tv and cuddle with yer boo. Pet a dog. Shop for groceries. Drive to work. Take a nap … as *part* of your life. Obvs, you don’t want these things to be the entirety. But they’re not just permissible, I’d say they’re advisable.

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Just part of life, chicaboo. Get over it *smooch*

I’m not saying to abandon your dreams and goals,  or not to work hard, or stop trying to pursue a life of meaning and significance … but I urge you to do all these things as a human being, not a streamlined robot. Trust someone who has tried that and failed miserably – you will fail. Or worse, succeed, and fail at other things that matter more.

Okey dokes, go out and putter around town! ❤

 

Again and again and again

The *very* few times I have made mistakes, people have told me “Well, at least you learned something,” as a sort of consolation. A few of those few times, that sentiment has been comforting. My mistake (e.g. being too open with a friend who used my vulnerabilities to manipulate me) resulted in sparkly fresh knowledge (just because someone shares their deep personal stuff with me doesn’t mean they should be trusted with my own deep personal stuff). GREAT! The wisdom doth overfloweth!

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I think more kids would stay in school if we could see the beauty of our knowledge! 

Most of those few times, that sentiment isn’t comforting at all. Because many times my mistake is to simply not act on what I have already learned. Somehow, the knowledge that I just did something when I already “knew better” isn’t quite as sparkly the second, third, 4,890th time around. The wisdom doth continue to overfloweth until Gallo choketh in a pool of her own stupidity and rebellion.

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Help plz

 

Sometimes I get pissed that despite my sincere prayers for freedom from my loopity-loop of failures, loopity-loop to failure I go. I think “I want to be free of this, and God YOU should want me to be free of this, I’m asking you to let me be free of this – yet WHAT IS THIS I SEE BEFORE ME?!” [wave wildly at my past and current mistakes as they pal around brazenly]

 But what if the repeated mistakes are evidence of God’s mercy?

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.                                                                                  -Hebrews 12:6

Imagine if you’re suddenly recruited to play basketball with the Hawks, even though you are entirely unqualified. You get on the court for your first practice. Someone throws you the ball, and you heave it towards the net. The ball flies straight over the backboard.

Then imagine if your coach came up and ripped the basketball out of your hands and said, “You suck at this, go sit down.” He then passes it to the star player, who dunks the ball effortlessly. Basketball has defeated you – your only way of making it through the season is to avoid all contact with basketballs and coddle your feelings of inferiority by yelling obscenities at the other teams from the bench. You’re still on the team no matter what, but you’re not in the game.

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Lameeeeeeeeee

But what if! Your coach watched you struggle during practice and, every time you took an awful shot, picked up the ball and threw it back to you and said, “You suck at this, but I’m going to keep throwing this ball to you until you learn how to aim. I want you to be in the game.” After missing the net for the next 142 shots, you are frustrated and beg him to transfer his expertise and talent directly to you. But he says, “Nope, doesn’t work that way. Try it again. Again. Again!”

 Is the coach being mean in the second scenario? He’s certainly not coddling you… And I guess one perspective would be “I can’t believe he keeps letting me fail over and over.” But is he really? 

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Maybe this is what we want God to be. Just ignore the bears not sure what that is all about lolzzzz

I think sanctification may be something like this. We want a magic coach wizard who will come and wave a wand and automatically make us amazing players. When he doesn’t, we assume he is torturing us, doesn’t actually want us in the game, or may start to doubt if we were really recruited in the first place. But what if our endless failures are the consequence of him giving us endless opportunities to get it right?

Maybe this sports analogy is a little too much cheese for you all, but this analogy has been a real source of encouragement for me. Especially when I find myself in these deja-vus-des-insufficances. Maybe God isn’t being a jerk – maybe he’s offering me the opportunity for mastery. Maybe he knows something about my abilities that I don’t. So he gives me the opportunity to.. vanquish! Again. And again. And Again.

I hope so.. I want to play 😉