Reader story: Why We Must Tear Down the Academic Research Edifice

by phdscam

Like most writers on this blog, I entered academic research believing it would give me a career. Instead, it left me broke, redundant, frustrated, roped to the lowest rungs of the employment ladder.

My superiors in academia, far from warning of limited opportunities and likely disappointments, spoke glowingly of a future “research career” and – seeing that my work was of high quality – hinted at promotions. Maybe they meant it, I don’t know.

Anyway, neither the promotions nor the research career materialised (unless decades of dead-end jobs interspersed with stretches of employment can be counted as a ‘career’).

Right now I’m working menial jobs to make ends meet. The pay is terrible, and the work physically demanding (I’m not young), but at least my workmates are normal and fun, immune to political correctness! I’ve been doing this for nearly two years. Thank goodness for temp agencies, or I don’t know where I’d be.

Needless to say, the academics I helped all those years ago to do their first research and publish their first papers – they’re professors and department heads now. Do I hear from them? Hahahaha!

I’ve been duped. We’ve been duped.

We need to understand what PhDs and junior researchers are for: they are to generate income and reputation for universities, and to advance the careers of senior academics. That’s all. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can devise work and life strategies in OUR best interests, rather than theirs. My advice in almost all cases would be to bail, find a career outside. Better still, don’t get hooked in the first place.

The longer you stay in academia, the more warped your thinking becomes, the more your mind tells you to keep doing it even though it’s making you angry, depressed and poor. Research lackeydom is like a drug, turning bright-eyed, clever people into angry, embittered, dependent depressives. It’s shameful.

Of course, this is not the fate of all PhDs, but a high enough proportion to convince me that the present system is rotten to the core.

Ask yourself this: If only a small proportion of trained medics got to apply their skills long-term, would there not be a national outcry, with public representatives demanding to know why resources were being wasted, medical expertise squandered? Why then, when only a small proportion of highly trained researchers are able to pursue long-term research careers, is reaction so muted?

I think you know the answer. The present system of research on both sides of the Atlantic handsomely rewards a minority of career-track academics even while it fails large numbers of working researchers. We should remind ourselves constantly that we are NOT losers, but highly intelligent people, who should be leading our respective societies and economies rather than wasting our lives and talents in low-grade menial and administrative jobs.

By the way, all that stuff about research skills being transferable – it’s horseshit.

The academic research edifice is no longer fit for purpose, and the very people who sustain it regard it with utter cynicism. The professors and senior managers may maintain an illusion of health by replacing the beams and stones that support their lofty towers just as fast as they crack and crumble, but they can no longer conceal that it’s falling apart.

We must do all we can to accelerate this process, to tear down the sprawling, wasteful edifice and replace it with a structure fit for the modern age, one that works for researchers, for our national economies, and for society at large.

James T.