Is A Life in Academia for You? Here are 25 Reasons Why…

A vibrant and picturesque university campus in the fall, featuring ivy-covered buildings, students studying on the grass, professors in tweed jackets engaging in conversation, and a mix of old and modern architecture.
Academic Life… it’s great work if you can get it

         Some people perhaps thought my last post on academic life was too negative, so I want to provide some balance to people who feel passionately that they want to pursue a PhD but are also feeling a bit scared. Academia can be wonderful… or it can be hell. Knowing whether you’re cut out for it first is crucial. From bucolic afternoon strolls on lovely campuses to dedicating your life to studying and teaching ideas that you’re passionate about, the academic life is indeed attractive. Tweed jackets, coffee dates with smart people, getting paid to read books, and summers off—these are just a few of the myriad perks that make working as a professor one of the best gigs in the world. I spent six enriching years earning my Ph.D. at Yale, taught at Harvard, and still harbor immense affection for the time I spent in the hallowed halls of academia. Though I ultimately left for family reasons and a burgeoning business, I still miss it dearly.

Given my background, I am uniquely positioned to offer frank advice about pursuing a Ph.D. and embarking on an academic career. It’s a path marked not only by intellectual fulfillment but also by hard-earned successes and significant sacrifices. Here are 25 of the best aspects of life in academia, which might just sway your decision towards embracing this venerable path.

  1. Intellectual Freedom:Academia offers unparalleled freedom to explore ideas and arguments that fascinate you, without the direct pressures typical of corporate agendas. Yes, you have to navigate office politics and your arguments need to remain connected to evidence, but in the end you can pursue questions that fascinate, intrigue, or bother you.
  2. Passionate Peers:Surround yourself with people who are just as enthusiastic about your field as you are—a constant source of inspiration and challenge. If the phrase “nerd out” is something you use to describe yourself, then this may be the life for you.
  3. Impactful Research:Contribute to the body of knowledge in your field, impacting students, peers, and sometimes public policy. On the STEM side, all major practical advances have their roots in university research, so what you do to expand our collective knowledge can play a role in transforming the technology we use, the ideas that shape how we see the world, and the kinds of opportunities future generations have.
  4. Global Opportunities:Academic careers often come with opportunities to travel, study, and work abroad, enriching your personal and professional life.
  5. Academic Community:Belong to a community that values learning and scholarship, providing a supportive and stimulating environment.
  6. Lifelong Learning:Continue learning throughout your career, with access to cutting-edge research and ongoing professional development opportunities.
  7. Teaching:There’s a profound joy in teaching, in watching students grow intellectually and personally under your guidance. The relationships I built with students persists, and I remain in constant contact with many of them. Seeing them learn and grow has been a genuine blessing.
  8. Flexible Schedule:Though the hours can be long, they are often flexible, allowing you to manage your time according to your personal and professional needs. If you are a self-starter, this is ideal as you can shape your days, enjoy hobbies, and pursue family life.
  9. Tenure Security:Once achieved, tenure is a level of job security that is rare in other fields, allowing for risk-taking in research and stability in life.
  10. Sabbaticals:Regular sabbaticals allow for deep dives into research projects or a well-deserved break, something few other careers offer.
  11. Cultural Stimuli:Campuses are cultural hubs, offering access to talks, art shows, and other cultural events often free of charge. College towns often offer the best of big-city life with dining and cultural events that punch above their weight but green spaces, lovely houses, and small-town charm.
  12. Student Interaction:Engage with young, vibrant minds—students who can challenge and invigorate your own perspectives.
  13. Publishing:While challenging, the satisfaction of publishing research and advancing knowledge is immensely gratifying. There’s nothing quite like seeing your name on the spine of a book or having a paper you’ve spent years working on get published in a major journal.
  14. Academic Conferences:Participate in conferences that gather experts from around the world, offering networking opportunities and exposure to new ideas. I love conferences as spots to have intense-but-friendly (mostly) debates, meet up with old classmates, and gather with accomplished experts in their fields.
  15. Campus Amenities:Enjoy the beauty of campus environments, from libraries and labs to art centers and sports facilities. Saturdays at football games, visits to university museums, lectures by renowned experts and politicians in lovely auditoriums…
  16. Career Autonomy:Direct your own research, choose your teaching subjects, and guide your academic focus.
  17. Mentorship Roles:Act as a mentor to the next generation of scholars, guiding them through their academic and personal challenges.
  18. Research Funding:Access to research funding allows you to explore ambitious projects and collaborate across disciplines.
  19. Academic Recognition:Achieve recognition in your field, a testament to your contributions and hard work.
  20. Work-Life Balance:Academics often have the ability to balance work and personal life more effectively than many high-pressure professions.
  21. Inspiring Alumni:Connect with an extensive network of alumni who can open doors to various professional and academic opportunities.
  22. Technology Access:Use the latest technology and resources to further your research and teaching goals.
  23. Diverse Disciplines:Work closely with experts in a variety of fields, broadening your understanding and interdisciplinary connections. Though my field was in the humanities, I loved that most of my best friends were STEM professors. Hearing about what they did expanded my worldview in important ways.
  24. Creative Expression:Academic work often involves a significant amount of creative thinking and expression, whether in writing, problem-solving, or designing experiments.
  25. Sense of Purpose:Perhaps most importantly, academia offers a profound sense of purpose. Contributing to society’s knowledge and improving the lives of your students can be incredibly rewarding.

Choosing a career in academia is no small decision. It’s a path fraught with intense study, deep research, and a significant amount of uncertainty. For many, the allure of delving deep into a subject they love and contributing to our broader collective knowledge is compelling. However, the reality often differs from expectations. To truly understand if this path is for you, critical self-reflection is essential.

Next week, I’ll give my list of all the ways academic life is NOT great. 

If you’re looking at grad schools and need help with your personal statement, CV, or writing samples, let help. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The Role of Authenticity In Personal Statements

Colorful cartoon of a young Caucasian male and an Asian female MBA applicants seated at a cafe table, surrounded by open laptops and scattered papers. They are deep in conversation, brainstorming about their personal statements, with other cafe patrons visible in the background. The setting is lively and focused, ideal for depicting the strategic planning of MBA applications.
MBA AdComs consider a host of factors, but authenticity always rings true

Striking a Balance Between Authenticity and Cynicism

         In my eighteen years of helping people earn admission into their dream schools, two kinds of applicants are quite common. The first type sees their application as merely a means to an end. They want to know what the admissions committee wants, and they’ll then try to shoehorn their life into that mold. The second type treasures pure authenticity, and insists on featuring the most important moments of their lives in their personal statements, even if they’re not quite relevant.

         Neither of these approaches are quite right; the first is too cynical and the second focuses so much on “authenticity” that it forgets its purpose. The correct path is one that splits the difference, and this is what makes crafting a perfect personal statement so perplexing and difficult. On one hand, there’s a compelling need to present oneself in a way that resonates with the Admissions Committees (AdComs). On the other, there’s the inherent desire to remain authentic to one’s true self. With that in mind, how can you blend sincerity with strategic insight to unlock the gates to top-tier business schools?


Every Kind of Writing Has a Purpose

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: every kind of writing serves a specific purpose. The personal statement is one of the strangest kinds of writing in that it’s a blend of memoir, CV, and interview. For MBA application essays, the purpose is unequivocally to earn admission—not to bare your soul as you might on a dating app. Understanding this is pivotal. Your personal statement must be meticulously tailored to reflect the qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that AdComs value in prospective students… but not do so in a way that feels obviously manufactured. It’s about highlighting aspects of your life that align with the school’s ethos and expectations.

However, this does not mean fabricating stories or presenting an exaggerated version of yourself. The art lies in selecting genuine experiences from your life that best demonstrate these values. This approach ensures that your essay remains grounded in reality while strategically showcasing your compatibility with the school’s culture and objectives.

Okay… so HOW?


The Utility of Authenticity

Let’s begin by talking about authenticity within the context of a personal statement. Why is it crucial, especially when you’re consciously tailoring your essay? In short, authentic essays are better essays. Authenticity brings a certain richness to your writing. It makes your stories believable and relatable. An authentic essay does not feel forced; it flows naturally and engages the reader by weaving narratives that are both compelling and true to who you are.

This might sound like a contradiction—being authentic while also being strategic. However, think of authenticity in this context as being purpose-driven. You’re not just recounting your experiences; you’re strategically selecting stories that authentically illustrate your values and attributes that align with the school’s profile.


Two Keys to Balancing Authenticity and Strategy


  1. Align Your Stories with Core Values

Begin by identifying 3-5 core values or attributes that your target school holds in high esteem. These can be gleaned from the school’s website, promotional materials, and by engaging with alumni and current students. Note the words and ideas that they repeat often or that they lead with. Once you have this list of values, brainstorm real-life stories from your own experiences that reflect these qualities.

For instance, if leadership is a recurrent theme in the school’s ethos, reflect on instances where you demonstrated leadership. Perhaps you led a project at work that turned around an underperforming department, or maybe you spearheaded a volunteer initiative that made a significant impact. These stories are effective not just because they show you possess desirable traits, but because they are rooted in your real experiences, lending credibility and authenticity to your narrative.


  1. Don’t Overestimate the AdComs

A common mistake applicants make is overestimating the AdComs. It’s easy to imagine them as omniscient judges capable of seeing through any embellishment or strategic positioning in your essay. While it’s true that AdComs are adept at evaluating applications, they are not infallible. They are looking for well-crafted essays that are honest, forward-looking (that connect your intended past in a realistic way with what you’ve done and hope to learn in their school), and reflective of the candidate’s true potential and fit with the school.

As long as your essay is grounded in real stories that illustrate your claims, you shouldn’t worry too much about AdComs seeing through your strategy. The key is to be honest and thoughtful in your writing, ensuring that it is both reflective of your genuine self and strategically aligned with the school’s values.


Embrace Your Multifaceted Self

Remember: truthfulness is non-negotiable. When I tell you to be strategic, I AM NOT encouraging you to be in any way dishonest. An excellent essay is an ethical essay, and even if you don’t believe in ethics (which… wow, shame on you!) understand that there are many negative consequences to dishonesty, not least that your essay will often feel phony.

However, recognizing that every person embodies multiple facets of themselves is crucial. In your MBA application essay, you are simply choosing to highlight those aspects of your personality and experience that resonate most powerfully with the AdComs. This doesn’t mean you are being insincere; rather, you are showcasing the parts of your identity that best align with the academic and cultural milieu of the school you aspire to join.

Crafting an MBA application essay is a balancing act of authenticity, cynicism, and strategy. By aunderstanding the purpose of your writing, staying true to your stories, and strategically aligning them with the values of your target program, you can create a compelling narrative that is both sincere and persuasive. Remember, the goal is not just to tell a story, but to tell your story in a way that aligns with the expectations and values of the AdComs, opening the door to the next big step in your career and personal development.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.