Year 1 and a Half: A Crossroads
It’s about one and a half years since I started my PhD. This is about the same amount of time that I spent working at Hivery, but in a way it feels much shorter. I’ve noticed that a PhD life tends to be much more intense, yet routine - the total effect being that the weeks tend to fly past. Projects tend to be much longer - my current one has been running since May - so they do little to demarcate the weeks. And often progress is slow and non-linear. Still, I am quite happy to wake up and go to work each day - certainly much happier than a comparable time back in Sydney. It’s partly due to the nature of the work, which is technical and interesting - but also partly because I am not beset with difficult problems without the ability to solve them.
Academia is certainly not without its faults. Indeed, I feel like my outlook on academia has dimmed somewhat over the last semester. The crown jewel of academia is the freedom to pursue whatever interests you without hindrance. This comes at the cost of many things:
- senior academics throwing their weight around to make a point at the expense of a junior researcher (a very minor point, but terribly condescending nonetheless)
- researchers who fail to put their differences aside to work together (where such differences are exacerbated by the academic mentality of competition rather than collaboration)
- the lack of a work-life balance that most researchers have (to be entirely fair some researchers do manage, but they are much smarter than I)
I must say that even with these comments my experience so far at Hopkins has been overwhelmingly positive - but I am not sure that my experience is par for the course. It’s also true that the North American academic scene is particularly brutal, compared to those back in Australia.
I am arriving at the point at which I must make decisions for my future - attempt to stay in academia, or leave. Whilst the actual decision is a little while off, I see that most people start to shape their degree by about this point. I do enjoy research, but perhaps not quite enough to stick around.