Why pursue academics?

A lot of people seek my opinion about doing a PhD. My reply to them is: Why do you want to do PhD? As researchers, we must ask ourselves why do we want to get into academics. What is it that we want to achieve? Do we want to get into a PhD, and thereafter into an academic career, because it is an easy job? “Professors have an easy life, and I want to be like that”, some of us may think.

Let me break the misconception for you all. An academician’s job is not easy. With all the current pressures to publish, excel at teaching and also handle administrative responsibilities, the life of an academician is quite stressful and often times very depressing. Research is a long, often times isolating, and a never-ending journey. The more you dig into a particular topic the more you realise that there is much to learn and explore in this particular area. This knowledge is often times humbling and to some unnerving.

So, then why should anyone pursue academics. Let me try and answer what has motivated me over the years to stay in academics. I would like to call these as the joys that this profession provides me:

1. Joy of exploration: As a researcher, my job description is to ‘keep thinking’. I have been given the license to think something new, write something new and come up with something that has not been done earlier. I am expected to work on problems that are important for society, on questions that may be troubling our organisations and on issues that are important for individual well-being. Whenever I write something that gets published or that provides a novel insight into an issue, it fills me with a sense of achievement and fulfilment. I am doing something that no one has done before. Many years down the line, I may not be around but the knowledge I have created, the papers I have written and the books that I have published will remain. This profession provides me an opportunity to leave a mark long after I am gone. Even today, someone sitting in some corner of the world and does not know me personally refers to my work and gain knowledge/insights from it. To me, this is quite awesome!

2. Joy of teaching: As a part of my job, I meet young minds (students) who are filled with enthusiasm towards life and have a new way of looking at issues. It is a joy to teach students and share your knowledge, thoughts and opinions with them. As a matter of fact, I truly believe that our research actually makes us better teachers. It is only when we examine new issues and write new articles/pieces/papers, we create new knowledge that provides novel insights to our students. To interact with fresh, open minds and to impact them in positive ways is a great contribution to our society.

3. Joy of consulting: One of ways in which I have benefited immensely as an individual and as an academician over the years, is through the interactions I have had with professionals and leaders from a varied spectrum. Academics is one profession which does not bind you to one vertical (domain). You have the freedom to interact with professionals from the government, corporates and also social sector. To interact with these professionals, learn from their experiences and to help them do better at their work is an extraordinary feeling. Consulting with them and giving them insights (obtained from your research, reading and writings) provides an academician the opportunity to create a real impact.

4. Joy of independence: The last joy of the life of an academic is that of independence. I determine my own research plan and choose the topics that I like to work upon. This is one job where the bosses do not determine your plan of work. You get to decide your own work plans and work timings. Apart from being constrained by the courses/classes that you need to teach, you are more often than not free to choose the time you will like to work. Compared to the pulls and pressures of a corporate life, this is a pretty good deal. You have the opportunity to spend quality time with family (parents, spouse, children) which is enriching in itself.

At the end of the day, research is tiring, at times boring and also depressing. Getting rejected by journals is not a great feeling! But next time you get depressed by this profession, remind yourself also of the joys that this profession provides. If done well, research provides an immense sense of satisfaction, an opportunity to touch lives and initiate change. To me, these are pretty good reasons to stay put and persevere in this profession.

Best wishes, take care and stay safe!

Prof. Vishal Gupta

PS: See this video where I describe these thoughts.