As I approach 30 I've begun to think about things that previously didn't bother me. You know, stuff like: What do I want to do with my life? Where do I want to live? Do I ever plan to start a family? I can only imagine that such mental meanderings are typical at this point.
However, I have begun to spend more time thinking about one issue in particular: The large number of sacrifices that one has to make in order to attempt to pursue a career in academia. Two recently published articles, one in The Economist (The Disposable Academic) and a more recent opinion editorial in Science Careers (Falling Off the Ladder), really hit home. The supply of Ph.D.s in most fields vastly exceeds the extremely limited demand, and yet the number of Ph.D.s graduating seems to be perpetually increasing. Thus, competition for a very small pool of 'dream' jobs is extremely fierce, leading to work loads that routinely blow the minds of people outside of the field: You work from 9-7 on weekdays, continue working evenings, and routinely put in full days on weekends?
The defense of such an arrangement is always the same: It doesn't 'feel' like work if you love what you do! For a long time I was able to take comfort in this very mantra (and I must admit that it's still somewhat comforting nowadays as well), but I've really begun to think about whether it's healthy. I love science of course, but surely being economically destitute, and having absolutely no certainty about future job prospects - even to the point of having no good idea when I'll even be able to apply for prospective jobs - does not contribute to life satisfaction and mental well-being.
If I am on a career path towards academia, at least I can say that I'm doing pretty well. I've got a decent number of publications, a fairly robust set of skills, and an idea for a 'niche' that I can carve out for myself in terms of research projects. I guess that as the pressure builds and the duties grow, these types of thoughts eventually must bubble to the surface. There are career options other than those of a lab P.I. (Principle Investigator) - I wonder if many people go through a Ph.D. knowing that they'd rather do something different than academia? Or does everyone want to be a P.I. at first?