Today, while googling for “tenure rat race”, I found Jonathan I. Katz’s page: “Don’t Become a Scientist!“. I find his honesty devastating:
Are you thinking of becoming a scientist? Do you want to uncover the mysteries of nature, perform experiments or carry out calculations to learn how the world works? Forget it!
Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.
Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.
I think he is right in many levels. But let’s concentrate just on the simplest, easiest to measure: money.
If we academics do the computations proposed in Figuring Out Exactly How Much Your Time Is Worth [The Simple Dollar], we may be in for a surprise.
Basically, you determine your true hourly wage by subtracting all of your work-related expenses from your salary, then calculating the hours you devote to work each year (including commute and other time-sinks) and dividing your remaining salary by your total hours.
Since we work silly hours, the actual pay is quite ridiculous. Of course, one has to factor in the liberty to think, flexible hours etc.