Whenever I hear a story about someone staying at a job for 20 years I have mixed feelings. On one side, that takes a decent amount of discipline. On the other side, I can’t imagine working in the same job that long. Even if the work gets mixed up, just being in the same place would be really weird for me. Also, I either think the person has been treated very well by their company, or the cynic in me thinks they just didn’t try to move up and on; getting pay boosts and promotions along the way. Let’s be honest, (most) companies don’t care about their people. Everyone is replaceable and by staying in a company and not forcing their hand in compensation and job duties means you’re doing someone(thing) that doesn’t care about you a favor. What’s best is to take care of oneself and oneself’s family and friends. There are obvious charity cases I believe in, but giving a company the benefit of the doubt and loyalty when, for the most part, everyone is a cog regardless of what they say is not a good thing in my opinion. They will always do what is best for their bottom-line, regardless. Now, I’m certain I have these thoughts because I’ve seen the brutality that companies have from the inside, but in general I’m a cynical person. The fastest way to climb the corporate ladder and get the largest paycheck the soonest is by job-hopping. Not every year, but every few years. There are people that climbed the ladder in a given organization without leaving, but that is definitely not as common. Talk to most higher-ups at companies and they’ll give you a diverse background story at many different companies in different roles.
So this leads me to the itch. After a certain amount of time I don’t want to be in the same career spot any more. Switching roles/groups/companies is a great way to get a raise, new responsibilities, and a fresh start. A little variety is good for the brain. I have never stayed in a role more than five years. My average is ~3.5 years. I stayed at my last company longer than five years, but not by much, and I moved internally between groups. Now, in the academic setting as an untenured, but on the track, professor I’m probably going to be sticking around past five years. This feels weird because I don’t really have the itch to leave yet. So I did some self-reflection on why I’m not feeling the way I normally do after a few years and I think it’s come to this (ranked by significance):
- No direct boss. I kind of have a boss in that there’s a department head, but for the most part I really only answer to myself. I obviously take criticism, and work in groups, but there isn’t really a person in which I have to ask for permission to do something from. I show up and leave when I want, and if I want to change the direction of my lab I can do so without issue. I don’t have to worry about ‘making the boss look good’, which is ultimately what most peoples’ jobs are, and if I want to fuck around no one is telling me not to. My decisions aren’t always the best, but I’m willing to accept my failures rather than have someone else judge whether a risk is worth taking. I have never done well with micromanaging, and not having someone to answer to is pretty nice. This fucking freedom makes me feel great.
- Being around students. Being around younger people makes you feel young. Also, having the constant change of students seems like the work environment is a little more mixed up.
- Vacations. I’ve never taken so much time off in my life. I’ve been taking three day weekends, the occasional week off if classes permit, and having the summers off from teaching is great. I get so much more done because I’m so refreshed from having a good work-life balance.
- Scientific diversity and learning. Being on a campus is great. Seminars all over the place, experts in their fields, and great collaborators. If I want to speak to an expert in a field I just call them, and they’re usually happy to get a collaborator. I’ve learned so much since coming here.
- Scale. In the medical science and devices field in industry you have to think about how to scale to volume. Now, I had the privilege where I didn’t have to work as much on manufacturing or NPD (pre-manufacturing, in essence), but I still had to think about whether a new design could eventually make the company money. And higher-ups decided whether pursuits were worth pursuing. This hasn’t come up once other than when I have to teach it to students. It’s great to just do the science I’m interested in and that’s it.
- Campus. To be honest, I don’t like a lot of the culture on college campus like when a bunch of students are together and acting obnoxious (fine, I’m old…I don’t like loud noises), but seeing people sitting in the grass, enjoying the air and background noise of students working or playing frisbee is a pretty nice environment. I’ll come down from my office and just take a break with a cup of tea and just disconnect and come back recharged. It’s great.
I don’t know if these are the reasons I don’t have the itch, but these are my suspicions. That being said, I feel like I could enjoy these at most similar universities out there…just have to wait until after tenure.