I thought I was over not becoming an academic…

By: | Post date: March 24, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Academia

… but this comment triggered me, I guess. I have written on this before as an answer.

Yasin Karahan:

Well, f**k…the thing is: Wouldn’t it suffice to excell at what one does? With all due modesty: I’m pretty f’ing good at what I do and my professor agrees. Might be a tough nut to crack, but…is it really more of a utopia? How’d all those professors end up where they are? Money and “Beziehungen”? It didn’t have anything to do with them being good at what they do?


Ach, Yasin. My heart breaks that you are halfway through a doctorate, and you’re only now working out about Vitamin B. (For non-Germanophones: Vitamin B = Beziehungen = Contacts.)

When I was doing my PhD, and had worked this out, and was bemoaning it to my relatives in Greece, they sadly nodded their heads. They were in Greece: they knew all about a shortage of positions meaning that contacts take priority over merit.

Let me give you an anecdote. I was out of the PhD 8 years, but still hanging around uni (as an IT guy now). I was mates with a current PhD; German, as it happens. We’d learned that a PhD student who’d just finished was already lined up for a postdoc at Berkeley.

—Who does she know?, I growled to him.

—Nick, I must object! said my German friend most Germanly. X is an excellent scholar!

—And so are you, German friend, and so am I. Who does she know?

X was an excellent scholar. She was also the favourite of the head of department, who was well connected. She got a lectureship back in Australia five years later. A couple of years after that, so did my German friend. Also an excellent scholar.

I work in IT. I was no worse a scholar. I was worse at having contacts, did not pick my supervisor strategically, and worked in an area that would never get me a job.

Yasin: Publish. Network. Work on fashionable areas. Rinse, repeat. And like Haidar Abboud said: Perseverance. (Which means have alternative sources of income in the meantime.)

And punch your Doktorvater in the face, next time you see him, for allowing you to think that merit alone is going to get you a uni job.

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