The Academic Horror Show – and why Sheehy is so right

When talking about life in academia there is of course a strong emphasis on the problems related to such a career, whether it’s experiments going to helltoxic mentors, the leaky pipeline, gender issues, being a #scimom and the overwhelming feeling of never working enough. (I’m not even going to mention the problems of dress code or the issue of “having a life” in academia.)
These are all important issues.
That’s why we bother about them in the first place and I know many of you people are trying to work out solutions for improvement in the not-so-distant future. HOWEVER, as has been pointed out lately this intense focus on the problems paints a nasty picture of our work life. We start to expect academia to be an arena for these issues, as if they are supposed to be part of the game and they should worry us – although there’s not much to be done in the everyday setting to change things. I’m not saying we shouldn’t improve things, but that takes specific action and that’s not what I want to discuss here.

What I want to say is this: as a newbie grad student, and a female, I have this nagging feeling that things are going to get bad. So bad in fact, that I don’t know if I’ll survive.

Why do I feel this way?
Well, first of all because I had a hell of a year last year. And second because my MSc thesis defense really showed me a crappy side of academia. But also, I feel this way because of statistics, the experiences of my mentors (or heroes as I like to think of them) and because that’s what everyone keeps telling me and that’s what we tell each other – especially in the case of women.
When I told a friend who had just finished his PhD that I was starting grad school he pretty much said: congratulations! Say good-bye to your life…
It was only partially a joke. I’ve had similar talks with all kinds of people with PhDs, and at some point it begins to be disheartening.


Then I came across a selection of posts calling out for more positivity, starting with Sheehys excellent post and followed up with this. Yes, being a woman in academia is fucking hard, but with the work-life balance discussions taking a huge turn for the better, I wish we could all stop scaring each other with the intensely one-sided Horror-of-Academia discussion.

I’ll go first!
This is my second week as a PhD student and my new group has thought me their way of doing qPCR. I could not be happier with these people!
Everyone is talkative, helpful and friendly (it’s a shame that I’m surprised…) and even when I messed up a little my mentor said she’d be more worried if I did everything perfect right away. Another important aspect of this lab is that everything, and I mean everything, from growing cells to western blot or qPCR is standardized. Everyone does exactly the same thing with the same protocol to make sure results can be compared. It’s a huge relief to know that when I learn something now, it’ll be exactly similar with whoever I work with later.

And just to completely kill the horror: I went home early today – and I deserved it! Before going home I looked over what I’ve been reading these two weeks and made a suggestion for what my project will be. That’s right, I made a qualified guess and the lab meeting next week will show if my PhD has been born or if it was just false labor.

In the mean time: have a great weekend and turn off the horror-show. We can always continue that on monday!



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