Successful but unhappy academic: what is wrong with you?

I get it: you are smart. You got a PhD. You landed a tenure track position or even tenure — although you suspect that was due to luck more than intellectual merit. Anyway, from the outside your life look perfectly successful. You have a wonderful partner, your children are doing great, and your academic career is well underway towards professorship. How come your life does not feel so fabulous on the inside? Why do you feel so lonely? Why do you feel different and not understood?  Read more

3 myths about leaving the academy

Many academics worry whether they ‘have it in them’ to succeed in academia. Consider Alise. Five years ago she completed her PhD. Her supervisor and colleagues in the field where enthusiastic about her talent for research and the chapters of her thesis have all been published in well-ranked journals.

Alise felt confident and gladly accepted a postdoc abroad. This turned out to be a jumping board for a tenure track position closer to home. She has now been working there for several years, but her confidence and enthusiasm are waning.  Read more

Transitioning into a career after your Humanities PhD – Or how to create an Alt-Ac Philosophical Company

“What are you going to do with your degree in philosophy?” Every philosophy student sooner or later hears this cliché question. And it is not unfamiliar in other fields from Humanities and fundamental sciences. The stakes are even higher after a PhD in said disciplines. Your slim chances at work appear narrowed down to the academic job market. But statistics are compelling: more than 75% of recent PhD holders do not find academic employment. Go figure.

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Why academics need to laze around

Let’s face it. As exciting as science can be, sometimes it is just tedious, boring, taxing. When you are plodding through your data, drudging over a pile of exams, or pegging away at your PhD, it is difficult to feel that enthusiastic flow. You are working hard, draining your energy, feeling low. Naturally, you do not want to be in that space of negative energy. So you look for an escape. Read more

What nobody tells you about being a good academic

A little apprehensively he approaches me as I am getting my coat after a workshop on Working Soft in research. Quietly he asks: “How do I improve my focus and manage my stress? Call me Chris. I work in this open office space with 12 fellow PhDs and Postdocs. When I read, write, or analyze data at my computer people often interrupt me. I like to help my colleagues out, but I also need to finish…”

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How to start working softly in science in 4 steps

With a harassed look Mireille stows some papers in her bag that she is going to grade tonight. A smile fleets across her face: “Did I tell you I am pregnant?” She has just started a temporary teaching position, where she is to do a big introductory course and a somewhat smaller advanced bachelor intensive. She is also planning to write her NWO VENI grant application in the same period, hoping she can create a job following her maternity leave. How can she keep calm and preserve the mental space she needs for developing her new proposal?

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How to know when it is time to quit your PhD

Since last summer the situation in Claudio’s lab deteriorated rapidly. His supervisor became stressed and anxious when his case for tenure was denied. The pressure on the entire team is now enormous, even to academic standards. Every Sunday Claudio feels this pit in his stomach when he thinks about the weekly team meeting on Monday. His sleep and digestive system are in total disorder. Read more

What Plato can teach you about perfectionism and academic career planning

“I don’t know if I want to be a group leader. If I do this, I want to be a good PI, you know. I just am a perfectionist.” At a brisk pace, Rose walks next to me through the spring forest. A few months ago, she got her PhD in the life sciences, cum laude, and started a prestigious postdoc shortly after. All signs point to a successful career as an excellent research leader. But she hesitates, looking around doubtfully.

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How to make hard choices?

To academe or not to academe?

For many early career researchers this is the hardest choice they faced so far. And it is a big, momentous choice. Especially if you are intrinsically motivated for your topic of expertise and if your research matters to you.

Other hard choices in this stage of building a research career turn on your choice for a place and way to live. What city to settle in? Whether or not to uproot your life to work abroad? Have children now or wait for a more permanent job? These questions seem excellent occasions for agonizing, hand-wringing, brooding, sleepless nights etc.

However, thinking deeper about what makes some choices hard, you can better understand the role they play in our lives and uncover a hidden power each of us possesses to solve them.

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