Academic Hazing

It seems you find an ideal job in business. Passionate colleagues, new projects for enhancing skills, constant challenges for growth, these are the recipe for a happy working life :)

The academic flexibility can be deceptive. Teaching is never a big part of research schools. It takes only about 10% of your time; the rest is all for research, at least that is the case before tenure. 

The tenure process is academic hazing. It is meant to filter and fail people: as a newly minted PHD, you have seven years to prove yourself, by producing enough top publications. The stake cannot be any higher: by the end of year seven, either you have life-long job security with great freedom, or you are fired. In the latter case, you have to start all over again, either move to another school or go to industry. Your senior colleagues who attended your birthday party yesterday may well vote you down in today’s tenure meeting. It is that cruel.

The most frustration part is the peer review process. typically it takes one-two years to write a paper. That is the easy part. to get it published, you must get the blessing by 2-3 your anonymous peers in the field. This means, you need to demonstrate you know better than them in the chosen topic. But who are we kidding? Academic is full of freaks with inflated ego, you can only imagine how ugly the game could turn. Besides its chaotic nature, the review process is also frustratingly long: if your paper is not rejected in the process, it can take up to two years to get published (from the submission to print). And you count that as luck, because the acceptance rate is only 5-10%.

Unlike corporate life, academia does not have clear boundary between work and life. Because you don’t know whether your current work will go through, how long it will take, you never know if you have produced enough for tenure. So you will put into this rat race every minute you can squeeze.  Even if you reduce service and teaching to the bare minimum, time is still in short supply. You really don’t have relaxing evenings; weekends are for making up the time loss in the committee meetings. Before long work creeps into every corner of your life. You are conditioned to feel guilty if you are not working. Even in sleep your work will haunt your dream. If anything, academic life before tenure is a work of 24/7. So don’t let 20-day teaching fool you :)

And then there is nasty school politics. Because your senior colleagues hold your future, you cannot afford to piss them off. Bullying is the norm. You pretty much have to do what they ask. If you don’t, they will ‘love’ you doubly: solicit twice as many outside letters to screw you case.

For many, the struggle is not just to make tenure, but also to keep the soul :)

2016-07-13 12.06.19


A Small Town

State College is so different from SoCal. Though a small town, it has every piece in good shape. The mountains have lush green; the lakes are clean and tranquil; the trees stand tall and erect. The colonial style buildings fit the surroundings well. When the first fall season came, I was stunned: I have never seen such rich and saturated colors in B.

There are not a lot of stores, but each does its job properly. On N. Athoton St, I like Kimchi Korean Restaurant, Original Waffle Shop, and Champs Sports Grill (it boasts full rack babyback BBQ at 9 bucks, off the menu,  on Wed. after 9pm :)

When I first came to R, I was a bit depressed. On day one I was greeted with the heat wave of 105F (I heard WH is hot too, but at least it has green!!!). The lush green I took for granted is now a Luxury. When I visited San Diego Zoo, its exotic plants made it more of a botany garden than of a zoo. The shock took its toll: my appetite was gone and I lost 30 pounds in the first three months. It took me quite a while to get over of that depression. I have long thought to go back to the east coast, until I moved out of R :)

2016-07-20 08.00.52


This is an unwise, self-destruction email,  with an angry undertone that is bound to ignite future trouble. But for all the mistreatment in the past two years, I must let it out. Also, the ass-kissing culture the boss is cultivating, especially among juniors, needs a check.

After emailing him and the school, I feel much relieved.


Dear R.,

Since you asked, here is my update: I do have another paper in press at P, the journal that counts on the U list. As Y mentioned yesterday, this is a list that actually matters in B-school ranking. The paper comes from the master thesis by our 2012 graduate, T. The thesis was supervised by me, M, and Y.

The paper breaks no new ground, builds no new framework, develops no new theory, provides no new explanation, and attracts no media attention. It only attempts to make one idea precise. Even that is doubtable.

But the paper does help T land a tenure-track position. So four years after our indoctrination, our student T is officially joining the tribe.



[Summer Palace, Beijing, China, 7/25/2012]


Dear DJ,

I understand your preference for California and the rationale why applied only one school. However, here are several issues you may consider before making the final decision.

First, academic is a life-long career. The PHD programs train you exclusively for teaching an research; these skills are not really portable, having little direct value outside academic. After you spend five years of your youth, you are unlikely to switch to other fields. So when making school decision, you need to look at twenty years down the road, not just five years.

Second, academic is a highly discriminary place. In research schools, you mainly do research; in teaching schools, well, teach.  The pay gap between them can be twice as high; the same goes between engineering and B-school. If you enjoy teaching, that is fine. But most people want to earn more and teach less, which means they need to get into top or first tier B-schools. If not, their changes are exceedinly slim.

I do believe you have the capability to go to top B-school and have a successful academic career. At this point, you just need a bit more courage. After all,

“Life is either a daring adventure or noting at all.”


2011-10-06 048

[Yosemite, CA, 10/06/2011]