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Why do you want to become a tenure-track professor?

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For those of you who mention to POIs that you want to become a professor, what is the motivation behind wanting to become a TT professor? If your answer is to pursue a PhD in psychology to actually 'teach,' please explain why you need a PhD (vs any other degree) to do so.

I personally want to become TT so I can start my own lab and research topics I care about. But I'm not sure if there are alternate, non-TT paths to accomplish my goal that I haven't heard of yet. Am I being naive with this as my singular reason?

 

Edited by 21ny14

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1.) starting my own lab for sure and everything that comes with it, I fucking love science and would love to learn non-stop for a living

2.) teaching cool seminars on my area of interest

3.) helping with program admin (i.e., developing undergraduate/graduate curriculums and training opportunities)

4.) helping with undergraduate research, I'd love to arrange senior thesis stuff

I tend to get bored doing repetitive things and I like having my hand in a few different things at once, so I feel like TT academic work is a good idea for me at the moment. I understand its not glamorous, lots of hard work and its probably too much work for how little you're paid. That said, I'd still rather be stimulated in a challenging environment thats constantly shifting than to be stuck in complacency. 

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I can never explain as clearly as I'd like to how fundamentally mysterious a thing the mind is. Like, it strikes me as super weird that I'm "taking in" and making sense of reality from the perspective of some arbitrary American boy and not that of someone else or of a rock or of no one at all. Any of those scenarios make almost equal amounts of sense given what I know about the universe, but we're in this one and I don't know why. I mean, if you think about it, our brains, the supposed seat of all mental life, is not very different at all from the computer you're using to read this. The exact processes being executed are different and the hardware's even more different, but the entire body of science on how the brain works offers no indication that our skulls hold anything more than really complicated symbol processing machines sculpted through evolution to process and act on information in our environments. In principle, no particular neuron in our brains does anything more complicated than what an undergrad could and maybe already has written in Python or C or some other programming language, but somehow from a concert of billions of those things, my brain doesn't just organize intelligent behavior: I have and you have these vivid, phenomenological, subjective experiences that make us, well, subjects in this universe instead of just objects! I mean, like any old rock in this universe, our bodies constantly move and are affected by ongoing physical and chemical processes happening in and around us. But we're also experiencing this dynamic, and if symbol processing explains that then it's something literally every atom in the universe is doing to at least some extent and even in that case there's nothing obvious out there to account for why.

I've studied a lot of philosophy tied to this; I've read Dennett and Chalmers and Jackson and Searle and Ryle and Descartes and so on, but I still really, really don't know understand how simple chemicals could ever be conceivably be deconstituted and rearranged and "set off" in a way that makes them subjects in the way we are. I don't want to sound grandiose, but I sincerely think solving that mystery is potentially the most important endeavor anyone can do on this planet. I think it's key to understanding our place in this universe and what we really are. I know that sounds really mystical, and I don't at all mean to imply that something supernatural is going on (indeed, maybe just looking at the facts in a different way will clear things up immediately), but I'm convicted that it's a real fundamental mystery that we're a long, long way from solving. I don't know how anyone could even find out, but I think it depends on advancing our understanding of lots of smaller mysteries about how the mind works, maybe even through the uniquely powerful computationalist framework I just said doesn't seem to really solve the issue. But I don't think the necessary advances will inevitably happen as the wheels of society and science keep turning, and to be honest, I personally want to be part of the story of how we figure this all out. I want to build a lab that focuses on this mystery; I want to train students who'll do the same; I want a platform where I can do and think about and explore this stuff relatively singlemindedly rather than under someone else's close direction or as a byproduct thereof. Therefore, I want to be a professor. Don't get me wrong - I know that there are a lot of fun and interesting ways I could make the most of my life. I could find fulfillment from a career in industry, healthcare or even as a stay-at-home dad. In the end, the reason I've committed to this goal instead of others is because I just genuinely enjoy the practice of science, independently of what comes out of it. In fact, this post probably could have just been me saying that instead of this melodramatic mini-essay. I guess I wanted to give a sense of where that intrinsic enjoyment comes from: this really deep-set curiosity about what's going on when someone thinks and feels and lives...

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On 1/18/2019 at 5:03 PM, 21ny14 said:

I personally want to become TT so I can start my own lab and research topics I care about. But I'm not sure if there are alternate, non-TT paths to accomplish my goal that I haven't heard of yet.

There are careers where you can do psychological research without working at a university. For example, I know psychologists who work for the military and research topics like team building, leadership, and entry/exit transitions. Here's one who studies judgment and decision making in the context of intelligence predictions. I know people who work at marketing firms doing market or public opinion research, and others who work at tech companies doing user experience research. All of those people are PhD experimental psychologists by training. But those careers are all slightly different than what you said, which is "your own lab and research topics". That independence is hard to come by outside of academia. 

And even in academia, absolute freedom to choose your research topics is a misconception. There are constraints because you need to pursue questions that produce fruitful results and are of interest to your peers (i.e., publishable, fundable, will count towards tenure). But that's another topic altogether....

 

On 1/18/2019 at 5:03 PM, 21ny14 said:

If your answer is to pursue a PhD in psychology to actually 'teach,' please explain why you need a PhD (vs any other degree) to do so.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but you seem to be setting up a dichotomy between research and teaching. Almost all TT professors also teach, so it's perfectly reasonable to say that one wants a PhD to both research and teach.

Unless you mean a teaching-focused or teaching-exclusive position? For these jobs, a PhD is still a good idea because there are so many PhDs in the hiring pool for postgraduate jobs that any other degree is rarely competitive. Why hire an MA when you have PhDs applying? (Some fields excepted where a PhD isn't the terminal degree.)

 

Edited by lewin

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