Grind it out

Dec 17 2018 Published by under Academics, Careerism

I recently had reason to recall the wisdom imparted to me by a friend during graduate school. My end stage was not pretty. The dissertation writing was going on a lot longer than I would have really anticipated and I was basically trying to make something out of a bunch of negative findings.

I'm sure I did a lot of complaining to my friends. For......oh it had to have been months.

At one point one of my friends just said "Why are you doing this? If it is so horrible and you hate it....just stop and do something else."

There was probably no way I was ever going to just quit. Not in the cards for me not try to earn my PhD at that point of the process.

However, it was a good thing to hear. It really did sink in after awhile that I had to decide. Did I like the job? Did I like doing this horrible science thing when it was going shittily? If not, why in the heck wasn't I bailing to do something I found more interesting?

I still complain about my job. Don't get me wrong, we all like to blow off a little steam now and again. I get that.

But I am grateful for the guy who long ago put that little voice in my head that pulls up the reins after a certain point has been reached.

If you don't like the job, why on earth are you still doing it?

I had to grit my teeth and grind out my dissertation year.

I've had to grit my teeth and grind out more than one interval of time in my career since then too.

Grind, my friends. Grind it out.

9 responses so far

  • Emaderton3 says:

    So, do you like it lol?

  • qaz says:

    Faculty complain too much. It's as if we're embarrassed to actually say we like what we do. It's as if there's a cult of pain, where people brag about how many hours they are working, as if our quality is defined by how hard it is to "grind it out." (In my experience, almost everyone lies about the number of hours they work, not only in terms of counting things like reading DrugMonkey rather than writing a paper or grant, but also simply in terms of total hours actually stated.)

    We need to spend more time telling people what we like about what we do. Yes, sometimes one needs to "grind it out", but that's true of everything worthwhile. I keep seeing students who would be great professors doing great research and who are very likely to succeed in the big game but who flee academia for other jobs because they only hear complaints. In lots of these cases, those other jobs have much more "grind" and much less "fun" than academia, but because they don't hear the complaints, students think those other jobs don't have the same grind. I would also note that there are strong cultural (and gender) disparities in the response of students to these incorrect stories.

    I have become very careful to make it clear what I love about this job when a student told me once: "I don't want your job. You hate your job." To which I could only reply, "what are you talking about? I love what I do. In what possible world, do you imagine that I hate my job?"

    What we need to do is find a way to communicate that we still love our jobs, even when we have to "grind it out".

  • Mikka says:

    My dissertation was similar in that I had to make something out of a big fat negative result. But it was good science, so I decided to stand tall and say what I had to say, which boiled down to "We tried this and it didn't work. Turns out it can't work and here are the reasons why".
    Still, one of the committee members said, out loud in the questions after my defense, in front of everybody including my mother, that he was "disappointed". I smiled and agreed and silently plotted murder, thinking STFU and gimme my muthafucking degree, I need to move on now.
    And move on I did, but I had to dig myself out of a significant hole. Post-tenure, when things go right it doesn't feel like "grinding on", and even when things go wrong I still love what I do. But for a grad student-postdoc-assistant prof, the "grinding" has the added lingering anxiety that, if you're grinding, you are already behind the curve.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    I joke because I find that is all I am doing--grinding it out. I feel like the grinding is taking the fun out of my science. I am more worried about "convincing" reviewers and whether I have any shot at tenure. Science has become secondary.

  • xykademiqz says:

    Outside of academia, most people think professors are slackers who only teach 1-2 courses per week and have summers off. I believe this is part of the reason why academics complain about work -- because no one seems to believe that academics work a lot. I can't imagine going around and talking about how awesomely flexible and rewarding in every way my job is -- the public already thinks we're overpaid (because we work so little) and generally far too privileged.

  • Ola says:

    If you don't like the job, why on earth are you still doing it?

    Because it's the only thing I'm good at, the only career I've ever known, and I'm too damn scared and/or old to do anything else! It'd take a lot more than a trifling bout of manic depression to get me to quit this gig!

  • qaz says:

    Xyq - I don't think this is why professors complain about work. I think it's because in the american system, work is prized, and somehow the idea that work is fun means that it doesn't count. CEOs also complain about work, as do middle managers, and lawyers, and small business owners, and lots of other professions. I don't know if those other professions also lie about their workload (I suspect they do).

    I also think that there's a big difference between slacking off working and working hard but having fun working. It's not that professors are slackers and don't work, but rather that (particularly when the work is good) we love our work. It's that the rewards are sometimes really wonderful. (This is often well-described in your blog.) I try to communicate the excitement of discovery to students more than I communicate the grind.

    I hate that word "privilege". A privilege is something that is taken away. In fact, if you look at the history of the american workplace over the last six decades, it's all about management picking off labor by identifying subsets as "privileged" and then taking those "privileges" away. And then they can point to a new subset and say "they still have that privilege, why are they getting that but you don't?" We need to find a way to give everyone the opportunity that professors have for growth and to be well-compensated for work that they love.

  • grinder says:

    I'm grinding now, but I'm not sure it's worth it. I'm a marginal scientist who happens to be in a unique spot, so I've advanced up the ladder, but I view myself as an imposter who will likely fail eventually. The grind has sapped my creativity, presentation skills, and motivation. My administrative role has left me with decaying skills...hard to turn to industry and deploy 10-year-old tools covered in cobwebs. Thus, there aren't a lot of options for me, so my goal is to pad the 403b until reality hits, then find something to get me to retirement age. The upside is making space for someone else.

    Sure, this is whiney, but I subscribe to "get out if you can" if you're not happy. There are loads of high-paying industry jobs for those with CURRENT skills. You only live once and that the sunk costs fallacy is real...

  • Grumpy says:

    Being a scientist is a super easy and fun job, especially at the TT R1 professor level. Whenever I say that in front of other scientists I get a lot of eyerolls.

    But ever worked at Walmart? Or built a pipeline?

    I work hard because I like to work, but I could do far less and still get by...could probably keep my job working 25 hrs/wk.

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