Ivory Tower or black hole?

There may not be a good metaphor for academia. Ivory tower is the traditional one with a clear delineation between academia and the rest of the world. Although that may have been apt at one time, it seems today as if academe is more open than ever in some ways, particularly with ties to the private sector and collaborating departments within and between universities. From the inside, from my perspective, it feels less ivory tower and more black hole; nothing escapes, or it rarely does. I know there are people who are post-academics, I just don’t know of any to talk to just now about how they got away from the tractor beam that keeps people in academia for their lives. I’m not saying I don’t want to be an academic for life (I’m just still not sure I can have a full and balanced life and still be a scientist- I know other people succeed in doing just that, but I am really struggling in that area).  Exploring the alternative options out there in the universe is hard when you’re a full time academic. The external pressure to stay is certainly present, but making it even harder is the inner pressure generated from my brain. I was trying to recall tonight the first time I got bitten by the science bug….it was a long time ago when I was young, for sure, but I don’t remember a specific moment. Maybe I just got pulled in by the gravity of science via teachers I had. I still want to explore other things, but am still a bit stymied at the step of just how to do that. I’m fumbling about clumsily with it a bit, and maybe I’ll find out it’s not the ivory tower or the black hole and it’s just a windowless, dark room and I just needed to grope around to find the doorknob.


Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

One thought on “Ivory Tower or black hole?”

  1. I wonder if this intense feeling of black hole comes from being at a community that is as it is small, and even smaller is the plant biology community? Definitely many more industry collaborations are visible and active here at UIUC, it may partly be because I am affiliated with the crop sciences dept. Lots of Dow and Monsanto peeps seem to be roaming the campus, whereas when I was at Dartmouth, immunologists and "cancer" biologists appeared to have the most options for leaving academe. That place is a distorted bubble in many ways, some very good, and some not so good.I say all this not knowing if you meant what you said in a literal sense ("it's hard to get out, not sure where/how to look") or more of a hard decision sense (you are not sure if you want to get out). 2 very different scenarios… Either way, good luck!

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