Impressions of a Career 'in Science'(?!?)

(elkement. Created: 2014-01-26. Tags: Career, Science, Academia, Leaving Academia, Scientific Community. German Version.)

This is actually a translation of the title of a German piece I had written long ago (1998) on request of my high school

For better or for worse - those positions I defended back then did not change a lot. Today I probably hold even stronger opinions - however I rather declare them my personal opinions only. I sincerely do understand that there are people who are happy to play the game - and don't read any irony or critique into this.

I mean it. I have met academics who indulge happily and mischievously in optimizing their track record (tweak metrics) - just in the same way as a minority of corporate workers who have fun with metrics in the corporate world.

In 2012 I have blogged about my trading academia for being a computer consultant for small businesses here:

The Dark Side Was Strong in Me.

...

It’s a small-talk question, innocent and harmless. I have worked in the IT sector for about 15 years, about 10 years specialized in a very specific niche in IT security.

In the coffee-break during the workshop or when indulging in the late night pizza after 14 hours in the datacenter … you start talking about random stuff, including education and hobbies. And then you are asked:

But why is a *physicist* working in  *IT security*?

Emphasis may be put on physicist (Flattering: Somebody so smart) or on IT security (Derogatory: Something so mundane). The profession of a physicist might be associated primarily with Stephen-Hawking-type theoretical research. In this case the hidden aside is: Why did you leave the ivory tower for heaven’s sake? Or simply put:

Young Jedi, why Did You – The Chosen One – Succumb to the Dark Side of the Force?

I have probably given different and inconsistent answers, depending on details as the concentration of caffeine or if the client was an MBA or a former scientist.

...

The gist of my story was (and still is - concluding from those many stories shared by contemporay post-ac / alt-ac movement):

  • Simply ignore people who explain to you that they had such high hopes for you, you missed your true vocation.
  • Degrees in fundamental science are fun and mind-altering in a sense. You hone your analytical and mathematical skills (Yes, now I am using that pitch, too!) - but this does not mean they can be translated to real-world jobs in an easy way. At least not in a way that can be explained the HR consultant with a degree in sociology.
  • You are accountable for doing that translation to the real world - you better to do that start while studying. I didn't - and I know I was lucky.
  • Expect your not fitting in (academia, global corporations...) as a matter of fact in life to be dealt with through doing something. You may blog about it but better take action first.
  • The same goes for: Your not being fond of working long hours. There are people - academics as well as corporate colleagues who either like it or feel over-working is forced upon them. Which is their pleasure or problem - not yours.

Though I still agree with my own post it sound a tad too justifying myself. We should be more unapologetic about our life-style choices. Just do it - as the well-known brand told us.

Personal website of Elke Stangl, Zagersdorf, Austria, c/o punktwissen.
elkement [at] subversiv [dot] at.