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Should I climb up the academic ladder?

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  • Should I climb up the academic ladder?

    Hello everyone,

    I am a junior faculty in an academic institution and in the early career stage. I am facing the dilemma of should I take on more responsibilities and climb up the academic ladder or should I just take it easy and enjoy life. I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer last year and have so far beat it. Hopefully will have no relapse in future. However, that experience made me think about the meaning of life and what I do want to accomplish in life. I do not know the answer to that question but I do not want to "work to death". The culture at work is take more responsibilities or feel left out and see other junior faculty surpass you in their career. I have been so far very competitive but the last year's experience has left with a question with no answer. Any advice from the community will be appreciated.

    Thanks

  • #2
    Climbing the academic ladder did not appeal to me, so I continued doing the things that I enjoyed and remained an assistant professor for many years. But some of my colleagues loved the aggressive pursuit of research and publishing agendas. Me, not so much.

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    • #3
      I'll tell you my approach. I quit academia after just 2 years. Enjoying PP much better. And I did not have cancer. Do what makes you happy, cancer or not life is so fragile and short so no sense doing anything other than what you wish. Good luck!

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      • #4
        Glad to hear you are doing well.

        I was in academics for 5 years. I focused on what I loved- clinic and teaching. I didn't do any research or admin. I wasn't planning to move up and was happy with what I was doing. Do what you want, what makes you happy. Who cares what others are doing?

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        • #5
          Congrats on beating cancer! It sounds like the experience really made you think about your priorities and it sounds like you have higher priorities than climbing the academic ladder.

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          • #6
            Say to yourself, "Tomorrow I'm going to start my research application." or whatever it is to climb the academic ladder. Does it motivate you to go to work? How about the other way? "Tomorrow I'm going to see patients and teach clinically." If you don't have at least a little bit of you wanting to pursue the academic part then I think you have the answer. I did academics for 2 years. I didn't do any research. Worked 108 a month clinically and taught about 40-50, it was a dream...then I went PP and work about 140-160 and doubled my salary. Whatever makes you tick.

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            • #7
              Another vote for do what works for you. The crystal ball is probably cloudy, so your best guess will need to suffice. Clearly nobody needs to tell you life is short.

              Apropos to a finance forum, I work much less than my old chair (still) works and still make more $/yr. We are both content.

              good luck

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              • #8
                Yea man. I’m an academic climbing the ladder. But I have my ideal job. I’m doing research that I’m super interested in and my clinic obligations are engaging. I’ve never had a life-limiting diagnosis, but I often say no when I don’t want to do something. I make a little less than my PP colleagues (although I still do pretty well), but I LOVE my job. I don’t buy into the “do whatever makes you happy regardless of income” - but I think you do need to like your job, like you learned, life is short.

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                • #9
                  I want to go back to my old school to teach. They even had a clinical position open up recently. But at this point in my life, I want over work myself to build a solid foundation for the future. I think teaching would be good if the car's transmission does finally fall onto my chest. Or I throw my back out really bad this time. Or my super rich imaginary future wife does walk through the door.

                  OP: very happy to hear you beat stage 4 so far. I wish you the best of luck. My advice to you is not to climb the ladder. If you had to ask, it's not what you want to do. All my old professors say they "had it inside" they wanted to teach. So what if juniors pass you? You don't want to work to death. Simple. So don't mind what others think of you. If you are happy, that's all that matters. No one else at the end of the day has to look in the mirror.
                  $1 saved = >$1 earned. ✓

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                  • Tim
                    Tim commented
                    Editing a comment
                    “Or my super rich imaginary future wife does walk through the door.”
                    Typical problem for single physicians, both genders. Mixers are so yesterday!

                • #10
                  You do you. Life's too short to live by other people's terms and expectations. Personally I couldn't stand academics but I know plenty who love it, though for some I feel like it's more for their ego.

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                  • #11
                    Thank you everyone. It's hard to ignore what people think about me, it's probably my ego coming in the way. Anyways, your responses have given me reassurance that I am not going crazy

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                    • #12
                      I'll also say do what you want. In the end it is up to you to make yourself happy.

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                      • #13
                        First and foremost, congrats on beating cancer! But like everyone else said, do what will make you happiest. Honestly, I'd lean towards a PP or academic non-ladder gig that you can convert to the lifestyle you want (call, part time, partner, locums/per diem, daytime, etc) over the academic ladder- If you had a relapse that required treatment how pissed would you be if someone climbed over you on the ladder bc you werent able to put in enough time/research/etc? In my own case, I reduced from partner track to daytime, and now from daytime to 4 days/week ever since my wife was diagnosed with cancer and then a recurrence. It did require switching jobs.I turned down multiple offers to become full call for almost twice the salary at my current place. Time >>>money, prestige etc. IMHO. My regret will never be " I couldve made more money" but absolutely would've been "I shouldve taken more time off" if I didnt make the switch.

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                        • #14
                          Given your health history, don’t forget to consider the amazing benefits that are often offered at the university.

                          When I was at the University, we had nine weeks of paid time off, six months of unlimited sick time at full pay, plus long-term disability after that. In private practice, if you aren’t working, the income stops.

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                          • #15
                            Another person here in academics who doesn't care much about climbing the ladder. Once you get assistant professor it's very difficult to get associate at my institution. Personally, I just enjoy teaching residents and fellows and doing patient care. Sure, I'm a part of some committees but nothing that detracts from teaching and clinical responsibilities too much. Unfortunately with the politics of academics, sometimes the people who get recognized in the hospital newsletter or on the department website are folks doing BS research with 9-4 hours while others are working call nights/weekends slaving away in the shadows, doing all the teaching, making all the money for the department without much recognition. I've accepted this.

                            Also, as someone who beat cancer (congrats by the way!) you have insight into the importance of life outside of medicine for some people. Whether it's spending time with family, enjoying the outdoors, exercising, traveling, etc. I find myself enjoying these aspects of life a lot more than some of the folks slaving away at their academic careers (to each their own), which makes it easy to resist any "pressure" to progress. No regrets here.

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