Open Thinkering


On (not) working in academia.

On (not) working in academia

I’m with Doug Pete in really liking the Zite app.

Although it’s a proprietary, closed product I haven’t come across anything close to it for discovery. Take, for instance, a post entitled On Leaving Academia by Terran Lane, someone I’ve not come across before. He’s an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of New Mexico.

Terran is off to join Google.

His post is neatly organised into section titles listing the reasons he’s leaving academia to join Google:

  1. Opportunity to make a difference
  2. Workload and family/life balance
  3. Centralization of authority and decrease of autonomy
  4. Funding climate
  5. Hyper-specialization, insularity, and narrowness of vision
  6. Poor incentives
  7. Mass production of education
  8. Salaries
  9. Anti-intellectualism, anti-education, and attacks on science and academia

I’ve written about this kind of thing before in You need us more than we need you. As Terran explains, it’s not (just) about money.

Whereas he’s decided to quit academia, I’ve made a conscious choice from the start to stay on its sidelines. Around the margins. On the edges. Whilst the logical thing to do after my doctorate would have been to apply for a research position or lectureship at a university, I decided against it.


Not only would I be earning half the amount of money I am now – and less than when I was teaching in schools – but it seems a spectacularly bad time to decide to become a career academic. No money, no status, no freedom. And with the introduction of a market into UK Higher Education it’s increasingly difficult for academics to even claim the high moral ground.

That’s not to say academics aren’t doing good, publicly-useful work. Of course they are. It’s just crunch time in their industry.

I think we’re going to see a lot more of this talent-drain from academia. In fact, we’re already seeing a new generation of people not satisfied with traditional career structures and ways of working. I’m not sure if this is good or bad in the scheme of things, given the direction the universities (in the UK) seem to be headed under the current government.

What I do know is that universities need to do something, and fast. The Bank of Goodwill doesn’t have infinite reserves…

Image CC BY-NC-SA Patrick Gage

4 thoughts on “On (not) working in academia.

  1. Interesting post!  I have been puzzled for a long time about what is going on with university departments and schools of Education in particular.  It seems to me that those are the places that should be pushing the envelope on integrating theory, experiment, design, and technology to help society take a leap forward in supporting high-quality, scalable learning opportunities for everyone.  But what I have heard from very prominent people in the field (at respective Ivy League universities) are statements like:
    * Theory is not well regarded in Education (which leaves us, as the developmental psychologist Jaan Valsiner points out, with a lot of people involved in the hyper-collection of data and no framework to make productive sense or use of it)
    * Universities are deeply conservative — they want to hire junior faculty who are doing “incremental work on a recognized paradigm” – when (if!) people secure tenure then they can do cutting edge work.  But with technology and science and society changing so quickly, it seems like this is putting universities further and further away from the center of interesting and useful action in education.
    * I have even heard a senior faculty member at a top school of Education ask without a hint of irony “What does the brain have to do with learning, anyway?”

    The question that has always nagged me is: if universities are not the places where an ethical, cross-disciplinary approach to educational excellence are supported, then where would people expect that to happen? 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *