I was sitting in the lunchroom in our lab building alone last Thursday for a afternoon snack, grabbed a magazine from the bookshelf at the corner and glanced few articles. the very first scientists feature article actually brought my attention, not in a traditional research sensitive way, but more humanistic thinking.
The article was a interview of a research director, Bill Jack, from the New England Biolabs (NEB) company, which is the rocket company in the whole enzyme industry. One interesting question the interviewer was asking is what brought him to NEB. Bill’s answer was quite surprising.
“As a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow, I expected to pursue an academic position. When I finished my postdoctoral work, I received job offers from an academic institution, an industrial company, and NEB. At the time, I had three sons, the youngest of whom was 2 years old. When making my decision, I looked at my sons and realized that if I took the academic position, in six years, I might have tenure, which would allow time to get to know them. But there was a real possibility that I would miss a large part of six formative years in those boys’ lives. While I admire those who can succeed in academia while maintaining a balanced life, for me, that seemed a daunting task.”
I read through the discussions in our forum and it is quite clear that everyone knows that the three major duties as a faculty: research, teaching, service (outreach). I heard so many stories about how stressful of being an assistant professor and how miserable it can be for graduate students working for them. I don’t think that means most of the assistant professors are evil, but apparently going through tenure-track is definitely a very stressful process. Even as those associate professors, especially when going through funding cut, the depressing atmosphere can be easily sensed. My supervisor he likes to supervise and tutor undergrads in the lab by himself, however, during these two recent years, he was so busy with grant writing and other services, he barely got a chance to work on his own bench. Most often we will hear from him “I got to get this grant due by …”; “I have to work on this weekend”; “I am tired”……
I really don’t think those faculty duties are completely beyond one’s potential, but just like what Bill said in his interview,”be successful in academia while maintaining a balanced life, that seemed a daunting task”. I am not sure about the statistical data about how many working hours those research faculties generally devote every week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is significantly above average. And I wouldn’t be surprised that when we see more negative comments about the teaching performance of those research faculties. I think this is beyond what I know about the importance of research for tenure-track, just by sensing it, I can only say it is hard, for Bill, also for myself.