What makes an academic’s life great?

This depiction of the best jobs in America, with professor featuring number 3, made me think about the job of being an academic…

I’m not sure where professors would feature in South Africa – I suspect somewhat lower – but I reckon it still should feature fairly strong. “Why?” can I hear you ask, “don’t you guys always complain about your salaries?”.  Indeed, we may not be the highest paid species on earth, but everything is relative. Many academics earn salaries way lower than what they could do in the sector which the teach and research, but I guess it is all about what you want out of life…

So let me compare my industry life with academic life.

Back in industry I traveled quite a bit to customers. It is nice, for the first week, thereafter it became a bit of a drag.  The travel was a MUST, I had little, if any, control of it.  As an academic I travel less, because I choose to, not because I have to. Having said that my international travel is more – academic conferences seem to be in very nice places sometimes – places I was unlikely to visit under other conditions.

Then there is the question of having control over your working hours.  As consultant I left home early and came back late. As academic I still tend to leave early – I am a morning person – but get home at decent times – again its mostly my choice. Obviously there is lecture times and other official commitments that one must adhere to, but generally it is much more under my control. I also work much more from home; the result is that I cannot truthfully say that I work less hours than I would have in industry (on average at least), but I do it where and when it suits my specific needs.

Holidays in academia is definitely longer than in industry.  It certainly is a perk on paper, however, in practice I find that it is probelematic when your job could just as well have been your hobby – there is very little reason to stop.  At least you get to spend more time with the wife and kids at home.

So is there anything “bad” about being an academic?  I suppose pay-day one necessarily thinks about what could have been… then I go home early and it is quickly forgotten.  I may be reminded of the state of affairs when my car breaks down, but then again new cars break down too (I’m being told).

Unfortunately South African academics are faced with a degenerating school system.  This makes intakes on a year-to-year basis worse, and cause much frustration as the line between social responsibility and being the nasty selfish academic is a fine one indeed.

Then again, what would the world be without challenges!!! Long live academia!!!


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