|A recent portrait of GMP|
Here's an off-the-top-of-my-curmudgeony-head list of things that suck about being a professor as well as those I still realize are great despite my advanced grumpiness.
1) It is hard constantly facing criticism and rejection. Even acceptances don't come without criticism and a ton or work. Sure, we are all fighting the good fight for the accuracy of science, so sloppy or incomplete work should not get a pass, but, after what I have seen as an author, reviewer, and associate editor in the past month, I am finding it really, really hard not to start getting disillusioned by the peer review. There are a lot of douchebags with too much ego and too much time on their hands, ranging from obnoxiously nitpicky to downright malicious.
2) Nobody ever pats you on the back and tells you "Good job." Ever. Except perhaps the people whose approval in the professional arena doesn't mean much, like your partner or your parents. The fact that you are supposed to forever go on based on your own convictions and some internal source of energy (must be nuclear, eh?), without ever expecting to get a little energy back in the form of praise from colleagues in the professional community is a really tall order. I used to have motivation in spades, but I never expected that I would have to be the sole engine propelling myself and all my group members for the next 40+ years. I praise my students when they do a good job, but for us grownups there is no such thing. I suppose you get an award every now and then, but what's that, a pat on the back every few years? That's a lean affirmation diet.
3) You are not supposed to complain to anyone ever, because that is, as one of my colleagues says, "loser talk." Sure, colleagues are not friends, but there are not many non-academics who can understand the peculiar stresses of academic life, and even academics from remote fields may have a hard time relating to many of the discipline-specific issues. I can't remember the last time I have had a substantive chat with a colleague or collaborator, just small talk or very technical exchanges. Again, no signs of weakness or doubt are to be displayed -- loser talk alert! However, complaining as a vehicle for bragging is totally OK: "I had to work around the clock all week just to write reports for the 8 new grants I had received last year. And my wallet's too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight!" But mostly it's just "I am busy but of course I am on top of things and everything is just peachy. I am not even tired! I totally got this." Or maybe I am simply not accustomed to being a grownup. Nobody wants to hear your problems anywhere, amirite? That's what therapists are for.
2 and 3 are kind of the same thing, I guess. Isolation and competitiveness.
1) Being a tenured professor in a physical science field is a well-paid, secure job, with great benefits (at least where I am). It enables me to pay for a spacious house, daycare for Smurf, and summer camps for my older kids. It allows me to afford 20 oz lattes with biscotti when I feel particularly naughty.
2) I am at a public major research university, and the pay in my field is good, although it would be much better at a private university and even better still in industry; however, nowhere else would I get to be my own boss. I really, REALLY like being my own boss. Also, I don't mind being the boss of others.
3) Teaching undergrads is a lot of fun. Many of my colleagues are afraid of undegrads and avoid teaching undergrad courses whenever possible; I really enjoy them. The key is to understand that undergrads just look big but are really kids inside; they are often completely terrified. Even though I may be teaching something for the umpteenth time, everything is new to them and that makes it fresh for me as well.
4) I love working with my grad students. They are smart and kind, and it's awesome watching them turn into professional scientists. Nothing brings my spirits up like talking science with a student on the board in my office.
What say you, blogosphere? What is sucky and what is awesome about being a professor?