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Academia is the ghetto- a letter to my naïve self

Academia is the ghetto : A letter to my naive self

Hi there,

So you have decided academia is the path you want to follow.Motivated, passionate and ready to put in the work. What could go wrong?Your plan has a back up and even your backup has a backup. You've done your googles and now set to conquer and be the badass scientist that you are capable of being.

Not to crush your dreams but here are a few things academia will throw at you.

1. You can have passion and no support:

See that motivation and passion you go into something with. You are ready to put in the hours and hours of work. You are ready for the perceived challenges of academia. What you may not realise is that not every supervisor or institution will know how to nurture that fire in you. This isn’t your fault but just a fragmented piece of the broken system you happen to find yourself navigating through. Research projects aren’t always enjoyable so you’re going to have to dig real deep and remember the reasons you started this journey, put out your best work no matter what the situation is. After you’ve done good by you, you can then re-evaluate if this broken system is one worth fighting to stay in.

2. Your main research focus might not have funding

Research is innovative, groundbreaking and life changing?

Research follows funding. Without funding there is no research. The faster you familiarise yourself with funding areas and fixate less on a single idea the better. It's’ not to say you won't do what you want but you have to be real about where money is coming from .

3. It may not be all that you envisioned it

You know that perfect picture. The bubble you have created in your head. It’s an amazing escape but honestly not reality. What I want to say about this, even though when you first realise this you will indeed be heartbroken and even feel quite stupid for not doing enough research. It isn’t your fault. There is no amount of preparation that compares to the real experience. You now know it for what it is and not what you perceive it to be. Accept it … this will take some time. But fully accept it and then re-evaluate if this broken system is one worth fighting to stay in .

4. You can spend a lot of time doing something to achieve nothing

Research can get monotonous. How do you handle failure? Really set out your coping mechanisms and have checks in with yourself. This can be a person, a written reminder or journal entries. Never lose focus of your goal or else you’ll find yourself going in circles chasing nothing and having nothing tangible but disappointment. Set time limits and checkpoints to either hold yourself accountable or the system itself. You don’t want to spend years working on something and realising it no longer serves the same core purpose you started it for.

5. You may never be recognised widely for all your work

Sorry to say it. That Nobel prize, 10 awards may never become a thing. Detach your worth away from these things so when they do come it is a lovely addition and bonus. Unfortunately you have entered a system that rewards things like this. I am still navigating things but maybe its easy for me to feel like im not worth much then getting excited than overestimating my importance and being disappointed.

6. The thing you may not want to do may end up being the thing that you do

This ties into point 2 and 3 but with a slightly positive side. Yes the system is broken but there are bits that still work.Somethings may not fully align with what you had envisioned but that doesn’t mean you have failed. Go to where appreciates you. Good working environment and mental health beats ranking of institutions or validation from assholess !

7. No one really knows what they are doing

Most people are winging it. Okay maybe I am exaggerating. What I have found while a lot of my black counterparts have this master plan of how they landed in their Phd, I have interacted with quite a few white counterparts that more or less landed into some positions. Not to say they didnt work hard but cut yourself some slack ad allow yourself to enjoy things without stressing about all the fine details.

8. You don't know enough people yet

This is most likely no fault of your own but to thrive in academia you need to be supported by people that understand this “broken” system. This is where I emphasise that reaching out and interacting with people will do you a whole world of good in securing your place in academia.

9. The money: Academic pay isn’t as bad in the UK as people make it out to be. There is although this weird place where a lot of jobs ask for a pHD and offer salaries only marginally higher than those without a pHD. So 3-6 years of your life for a wage that is not statistically significant ( see what I did there lol) . But seriously, go into academia very aware of what salary expectations are. Never feel ashamed for prioritising money, Bills don't pay themselves . If this means taking a break to gain funds, remember academia is a system that will remain. You can always come back

10. Do this shit for you !

As the famous saying goes. Don't take panadol for another man's headache. I am a firm believer in constantly evaluating why you are doing something. If it doesn’t SERVE YOU. Not a greater purpose, if it doesn’t make you happy for at least 50% of the time please leave. It is not worth it. When academia stops serving you, pack your bundle( bags) and go ! Life is short and shouldn’t be spent being miserable.

Adama has decided to stay in academia...for now but will be using these points at every point in my journey. My Msc year taught me what to accept, back myself but also not to kill myself over an idea or dream, The only important thing is that I was/ am happy !


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