This article appears in the March 2002 Issue of SIGMOD Record (Volume 31, Number 1)
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Why I Like Working in Academia

Richard T. Snodgrass

When Alex Labrinidis asked me to write this essay, I initially balked. I was loathe to speak for academics worldwide, or even just those in SIGMOD. But I then realized that I could speak from personal experience. So these random musings will be of necessity entirely subjective, highly individualistic, and unrepresentative---attributes that a scholar normally attempts to vigorously avoid in his writing. I'm definitely not a ``typical'' academic (I don't know such an animal), but I can speak with some authority as to what motivates me.

As another caveat, I make few comparisons with alternatives such as working in a research lab or as a developer. I won't even attempt to speak for them.

The final caveat (distrust all commentaries that start with caveats, but perhaps more so those that don't!) is that my assumed audience comprises students who are considering such a profession. Current academics will find some of my observations trite or may disagree loudly, as academics are oft to do (see below).

That said, I have been an academic for exactly twenty years, and I deeply love the academic life. While I have consulted for and written papers with those away from the ivory tower, my professional life has been entirely as a professor. I went forthwith from undergraduate school to graduate school, then directly to the University of North Carolina, then to the University of Arizona, where I am happily ensconced.

I open with some disadvantages to this seemingly ideal life, then turn to the advantages. With each I start with those that I expected when I was a doctoral student, and then consider those I (naively or otherwise) was not aware of from that early vantage point.


There are admittedly several disadvantages that come with this career path.

There are other disadvantages that I didn't anticipate when I was interviewing for academic jobs back in '81.



Not surprisingly, I find more advantages than disadvantages in being an academic. I list first those I expected.

I end with two advantages that I didn't initially perceive.

This is my highly idiosyncratic take on the drawbacks and high points I have experienced in academia. I look forward to subsequent articles in this series, from academics and non-academics alike, as they reflect on what they like about their jobs. And I thank Alex for this opportunity to look back and reassess my particular choices.



Richard T. Snodgrass joined the University of Arizona in 1989. He holds a B.A. degree in Physics from Carleton College and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University. He is an ACM Fellow.

Richard Snodgrass is Editor-in-Chief of the ACM Transactions on Database Systems. He serves on the ACM Publications Board and the editorial board of the International Journal on Very Large Databases. He most recently chaired the Americas program committee for the 2001 International Conference on Very Large Databases. He was ACM SIGMOD Chair from 1997 to 2001. He noticed a dramatic decrease in his service load when those last two ended a few months ago.


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