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 :)