Making a difference – does it matter?

When I started my PhD, like most(?) grad students, I had visions of grandeur. That I was going to be making a big difference. Of people (parents? friends? colleagues?) being so impressed with what I was doing. At this point I could care less. Let me have those three extra letters and let’s all move on.

I use to think it was also really important. But, I don’t anymore. I really wish I did, but I feel like I’ve become so disillusioned with academia that I just can’t muster any energy to care. And I know part of this disillusionment has come from the work I see getting published and other grad students I’ve met.

I don’t think the bar has necessarily become any lower over the years. It feels like it sometimes, when you read old papers, but then I have to remind myself, that over the years, the better papers are going to float to the top and be the ones you’re most likely to find. Also, there were way fewer journals and conferences 20, 30, 40 years ago, so fewer papers were getting published (but also fewer people were doing research).

Part of me wishes I wasn’t so disillusioned. The few times I’ve had a chance to teach, I’ve really enjoyed it. And part of me still thinks that’s a potential area to look for a job in the future. I also still like research – even if I’m not to fond of what I’m currently researching. And I know it’s got an important place in the world.

But, at this point, everything just keeps coming down to I want out. I’m done. I need a break from academia – or at the very least, this university. I want to see if this startup will go anywhere. I want a chance to make some decisions about what to work on, that don’t revolve around government agencies willing to fund it or ability to publish. I just want to work on something that excites me.

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