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Why do you want to be a professor?

Karen D. Alfrey alfrey at rice.edu
Thu Dec 17 11:41:12 EST 1998

In article <36743D62.CA1E5324 at salk.edu>, S L Forsburg <nospamforsburg at salk.edu> 
|> EFS (FABRIJUNK at ukans.edu) wrote
|> >  (snip)...
|> > (I'm not a professor myself, but I hope to be one someday.)
|> I always ask students that I'm interviewing for grad school admission
|> where they want to be in 10 years.  To a one, they all say "I want to be 
|> a professor".  I'm curious--what does "being a professor" mean to EFS 
|> and other students and why do they want to be one?  

I would've given the exact same answer at the beginning of my grad school
career.  Particularly in my field (I'm actually in an Electrical Engineering
department, though my research is in computational biology), there are
compelling financial reasons *not* to go to grad school unless you think
you want an academic job.  Now, six years into it and just beginning to see
the light at the end of the tunnel, I've added a number of qualifiers to that
original answer:  "Well, if I can get through a post-doc without deciding 
that writing grants for the rest of my life will make me want to kill someone,
I'll probably stay in academia."

I've always thought of being a professor as the best use of my talents and
interests -- I love, love, LOVE to teach, whether one-on-one or in front of
a classroom.  It's practically a compulsion.  I love writing papers (though
the process of getting five authors to agree on the content is a bit of a
drag).  I enjoy my research -- six years of grad school have whacked some of
the idealism out of me, but I still think Science Is Cool.  There are probably
other jobs out there that would allow me to teach, do research, and write,
but many of the ones I can think of (such as working in educational television)
require luck and the willingness to live without a paycheck.  :)

I'll admit I'm also influenced by the knowledge that my co-workers in a college
setting will likely be at least as intelligent as I am, in addition to having
similar interests.  As an undergraduate, I spent two summers working in industry,
and I felt like a real oddball.  Academia just feels more like home.

That's *my* answer.  How'd I do? 

Karen Alfrey
alfrey at rice.edu

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