Dear Academia, I hope we can still be friends.

After many great years in academia, I finally decided in October of last year to resign from my position as tenured assistant professor. As of February of this year, I proudly walk the earth as an independent engineer.

It has taken me two years of thinking to reach this decision.

I started re-evaluating my life in academia two years ago after a review-for-promotion  process that resulted in a “not quite yet” judgement. It took this long to make my decision, because it was actually going quite well. I had tenure, the holy grail (well, the first of a number of them) for many academics. I had built up and was heading the TU Delft Medical Visualization research group. I was fortunate to attract the best postgraduate students and Ph.D. candidates. My research proposals were successful, so I had money to explore exciting new research avenues. My h-index was (slowly) going in the right direction. Even my teaching was more than occasionally positively received. :)

However, after all this thinking I was finally able to admit to myself that I am a much better engineer than an academic. All of these years,  I had been applying my engineering talent to the design problem that is academia. This was successful to a certain extent, but I would never  be able to compete with a Real Academic(tm).

More importantly, life is short. It makes sense, and is much more enjoyable, to spend the largest possible part of it running at full efficiency.

Quickly after this realisation, came the next one: I had sub-consciously been working on a fairly respectable engineering-oriented CV and a great network. I now had the freedom to work for… MYSELF. I could get back to designing and building advanced technical artefacts that people actually use, and  I could do so completely on my own terms.

It was definitely not easy to leave academia. The hardest part is leaving behind the relationships I was privileged to have with my colleagues (friends), in Delft and the rest of the world. Of course we will still have contact, but it will never be the same as the 15:30 sugar fix, the caffeine-driven and super-esoteric debates in the kitchen, the ultra-weird lunch discussions, or  the awesome conversations and beer-drinking at scientific (haha) conferences.

That being said, the wave of creative energy I have been riding on for the past month, even after correcting for novelty, is a good sign that my choice was a suitable one. I am happy and relieved to call myself an engineer again.

So Academia, it’s really not you, it’s me. :)

11 thoughts on “Dear Academia, I hope we can still be friends.”

  1. All of these years, I had been applying my engineering talent to the design problem that is academia. This was successful to a certain extent, but I would never be able to compete with a Real Academic(tm).

    Oh wow. That’s sounds so familiar.

    Fortunately I was succesful to a much smaller extent, so I managed to get out quicker :P

  2. I’m getting a bit misty-eyed (again) as I read this, but I’m also very sure you made the right decision.

    As we say in gaming: glhf ^^

  3. Congrats and good luck! However, you know for sure that dealing with business sharks won’t be easier than competing with real academics.

  4. “beer-drinking at scientific (haha) conferences” – I lol’d.

    You can still join for beer-drinking in the /pub of course :)

  5. You have the rare ability to transform any decision into “the right” decision. This is actually s superpower to be envious of. And as long as we still get to drink beer once in a while we can all be happy!

  6. Hi Charl,

    Saw the change on your [s]LinkedIN[/s] this blog of yours (!!). Your quick, somewhat funky (:)) brain will enlight and enjoy your (future) engineering colleagues, thats for sure. Enjoy!

    (ps. Beers? Where? When? Why? What? Who? )
    (ps2. offtopic; I never fully understood the difference between this blog and vxlabs. Both are personal blog posts, about personal content. If vxlabs is now your company (next to Treparel), why not have the personal blog posts about bought stuff as a category at this page :?.)

    1. Thank you thank you!

      Beers will definitely happen at some point. I also suspect that there might be some plotting behind my back, perhaps also involving said beverage.

      I knew my linkedin was going to confuse people. :) I spend 100% of my time working out of vxlabs, in which capacity I have to super sweet contracting jobs, one for Treparel and the other for Stone Three., this site, is meant for slightly less technical more personal posts, whilst vxlabs is meant for the technical stuff. Why don’t you just subscribe to both?! IT’S FREE!! (for a limited time only. call now!)

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