Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Might As Well Go Home and Flip Burgers?

Can I ever escape the spell of academia?

An invitation to apply for an academic post - a serious one, not at some pseudo institutes like the one I've been working with this past year - has come and stirred in me the much feared question above.

The truth of the matter is - I still LOVE the pursuit of knowledge and the joy of learning. I love the unique scent of the paper when the first page of a new book is opened. I also enjoy all the good laughs, the heartfelt cries, the mental confusions and the hysteria experienced when all confusions come to a breakthrough during reading and re-reading, contemplating and digesting. This has been true throughout my life, even as early as middle school back in Taiwan when the standard of education really didn't amount to anything inspiring or uplifting. Still, going to school everyday and seeing myself learning something new - even if it means just one period of history taught or one short poem recited - and expressing myself today better than the day before made me feel like there's always something to look forward to, something that deserves one to wake up in the morning.

Such love for learning about new things, curiosity towards this vast and diverse world, and the eagerness to decipher all the mysterious and unknowns of the universe still remain in me and remain strongly. Yet, 6 years of Ph.D. studies in one of the most prestigious academic institutions on earth, plus 1 year of immense struggle in one of the most problems-ridden academic institutions on earth, have yielded me completely paralyzed in face of this profession that - supposedly - prides itself on the bettering of human souls, empowering of the next generation, the cultivation of free minds and spirits, and the attainment of truths.

Because in the end, what have been presented to me are nothing but two odd ends of the spectrum. One consists of world-class masters whose academic dedication and achievements are so daunting that in front of them, one feels nothing but minimal, insignificant, incapable, and utterly elementary. The other, on the other hand, reveals nothing but the darkest and most self-interest-driven souls sugar-coated in the name of intellectual endeavors and research building.


Could there not be any other possibilities, any other role models, or any other forerunners who could show me an alternative path that does not require the compromise of one's soul or conscience while not erode one's core identity or value even if he/she fails to achieve the same, world-class research standards or a 10-page CV list of SSCI articles and university-press publications?

In the end, can and should academic accomplishments - regardless of the soulless or truly achievement-based - really define who one is?

If not, why am I so weary of academia?

7 years, I feel like I've advanced so very little, in my endeavor to find the right place for myself in this grand institution and profession. Or is this drawn-out process of identity searching in academia enough of a sign that cries out loud one simple message - It is time to let go ...?

A friend of mine who too struggles through the same issue over the course of his graduate life once told me a real-life episode. The episode goes something like this - at an academic conference, he overheard a conversation between a professor and his colleague. The colleague mentioned that one of the professor's students was wavering between applying to a prestigious job opening or going for something else after graduation.

"What? What does she want to do? If she isn't going to apply, she might as well go home and flip burgers!"

Perhaps professor might as well go back to his ivy tower and compose more SSCI articles on the study of bacterial infection on undercooked burger meat?

梅ちゃん at 11:51:00 PM



at 8/31/11, 4:07 AM Blogger Ferdinand said...

I don't think you can ever truly leave the pursuit of knowledge - and teaching... not you, that is. I do know of some industry folk that publish 3-5 papers a year despite being industry.

I love writing research articles... although at times, I still miss basic science... While humanties/literature/social science runs on a different pulse than basic science or clinical journals, I think that the essence and ethos of academics can be portable.

That said, I hope you're able to soon find an environment where you can indulge your desire to learn, observe, hypothesize and study further - in healthy environment that brings encouragement to you, rather this endless stream of battering that you're currently enduring.

jia you!


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