Academia is a weird world to be part of. We keep churning out Bachelor and Master students every year, and in every field there are countless that graduate every year. Speaking from my personal experience, my Bachelor and Masters degrees did not really prepare me for any job in particular. I’ve had plenty of work experience before, during and after my education at university. Don’t get me wrong, I think university taught me heaps of important information, as well as skills. But did my education in Biology critically prepare me for ‘the job market’ – whatever that means? I don’t believe so. I think the focus is mostly on research, and perhaps even mostly on research occurring in the academic side of it. My education mostly gave me some priming of academic thinking. I continued along the academic path and pursued a doctorate degree. (But I’m also not so sure if anything prepared me for doing a PhD?) Now, a while into my first postdoc position, I can’t say that my PhD prepared me much for what I do today.

But I’m still here. For now.

A good majority of the people I started out with have either dropped out, or finished their biology degree in order to fill jobs in IT or government positions. This may have been because they did not want to pursue a career in academia, which is an understandable position too. However, in part it is also true that several left because there were not enough PhD positions to take up everyone. The same held true at the level of PhD and postdoc. Many people leave at some stage, because the continuous struggle to find a permanent position, or even just money to temporarily support your own work and position. Academia is an extremely selective filter, and in my opinion academic wits are not necessarily what is being selected for. It rather selects some smart people, some lucky people, and quite a bunch of people with highly narcissistic traits that are willing to sacrifice all to be in top. The majority of good and smart and curious people are lost along the way. Really sad when you think about it…

So. Call me a pessimist, but I’m still convinced that my days in academia are numbered. I have some years left on my contract, but it is certainly not a given that I’m allowed to stay. I am not willing to ‘sacrifice it all’, and still not sure if my level of good is good enough. (Any comparison of cv’s with other people also is like comparing apples and oranges, because there are so many confounding factors that determine success)

Today I was talking to a friend that secured a tenure track position this week. She’s safe, for now. (CONGRATS!) We talked about what some other people do, either after PhD, after a range of postdoc, when the academic system simply spits them out after all their hard work and the blood, sweat and tears… after what I would call the Academiapocalypse. I really don’t know what the other options would be – and for me especially.

I often hear about ‘consultancy’, or ‘industry’. Like, what does that even mean? What happens to people like me – those who basically have counted aphids for a living and can maybe run a generalized linear model? I feel that many of my skills will be absolutely useless in consultancy or industry. Consulting companies how to find loopholes in the law to allow ecological destruction – thank you, not for me. Industry? Like what? Biocontrol? Seed companies. I am afraid that’s not really for me either.

It’s a real worry of mine.

I have learned that I am very dysfunctional when I have to work under a (horrible) boss. I can usually handle professors, and have been lucky to work with those that appreciate my independence and trust me to do things right. But if a boss constantly tells me what to do, or how to perform unimportant tasks better, I have the tendency to tell them to go fuck themselves. For instance, I worked two days in some commercial distribution center for DIY stores once, where the boss came to me to tell me at the end of the first day how I could better put random stuff in boxes, because I was one box short of the average daily productivity, and had to work on my efficiency. Yeah, suck it dude! Bye! I have had plenty of bad experiences with bosses ‘outside academia’, from verbally abusive Egyptian restaurant owner to the young lady that kept telling me I was destined to do shit work because I could not finish a masters. Maybe I was just unlucky. Something about bosses really rubs me the wrong way. A PhD researcher I co-advise once introduced me to someone as ‘he’s sort of my boss’. Aaargh. NO! Call me colleague, friend, adviser, whatever. I’m no one’s boss.

I know I will have to start some kind of business when academia ends. No clue what yet, but I think it is the only way for me if it is not academia. I don’t think anyone needs someone to count aphids for them, but I’ve always said that I could start a coffee bar as a plan B. Or I could improve my tattooing skills? Maybe start a snake-wrangling business. What other useless skills do I possess? I need to find something to sell! No, all jokes aside, I really would like to start my own business.

However, I never hear those stories.

Where are the academics turned entrepeneurs?

What do you do!?

Tell me all about it 🙂

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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