Publish or Perish?

I try to communicate this to my graduate students. They are brilliant and eager, often dashing toward their ideas as though there were hot coals under their feet. This is good. What concerns me is when that rushing seems fueled less by passion than by anxiety.

But we must teach our students to balance their career aspirations with a care and deliberateness about their intellectual development, and an understanding that the dissertation is only the first project, the beginning of a learning process will take longer, probably a lifetime. Being a scholar is a life practice of reading, thinking, and writing, which, ideally, will lead to one or some (or many) meaningful works. Scholarship is not the mechanical pursuit of written products. ~Imani PerryThe Long, Slow, Constant, Mindful Writing Life

While I am passionate about astrophysics and cosmology, and I enjoy the life of a scientist/academic, the pressures associated with choosing the path of academia sometimes get to me. If I were to be truly honest with myself, I would say that more often than not, anxiety drives me forward more than my passion, especially when it comes to writing papers. There is always this nagging concern, that if I don’t produce enough papers, I’ll lag behind others when hunting for a postdoctoral position or applying for a grant. A looming sense of urgency drives me to finish my PhD before my scholarship money runs out. It does take away a lot of the joy of research, of simply wanting to find out the answers because I’m curious. I stayed away from the rat-race of the corporate world, only to find myself stuck in a different rat-race in academia. Is this how things will be? Is this how I want to go forward?

Many have left academia due to disillusionment with the system. Here’s an interesting write-up by one such person, Terran Lane of the University of New Mexico. Many of the issues he raises resonate with me… but I wonder if it’s just a case of the ‘grass being greener on the other side’…


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