To be honest, my reasons were not very good:
1. I wanted a job where I didn’t have to get up in the morning. (Hint: if this is your motivation, NEVER HAVE CHILDREN. Jean Kerr must have been a much sounder sleeper than I am).
2. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
3. I didn’t want to have to wear the same clothing as everyone else. Consulting informational meetings were terrifying with all the women in the same but sliiiiightly different little blue suits. Presumably they’ve moved to the same but slightly different pants suits these days.
4. School wasn’t so bad and I was really good at my topic of discipline. (Hint: undergrad classes are NOTHING like grad classes. But… grad classwork is nothing like research anyway, so maybe it’s ok.)
5. I wanted to figure out how the world works. My subject area is as good a way to do it as anything. This one is probably the best reason.
6. I thought if I’d gotten a real job first I would never go back to school. In retrospect, this is a silly reason. So what. Related was, given I’m going to graduate school I should do it now so I can have babies after tenure since infertility runs in my family (on the side branches). In the end, things had evolved so that scholars are “allowed” one pre-tenure baby without people thinking they’re not serious about work. Yay. I had mine a bit early.
#2 had a different experience. Almost none of the reasons above were mine. (Well some of them, sort of.) I went to grad school because there was nothing else in the world that I wanted to do even half as much. I have known I was going into academia since before high school, though I changed my mind about the subject area a few times. I wanted a career where I would be paid to think and read and be around smart people. I like research. I love the flexible schedule; I can’t for the life of me deal with a 9 – 5 schedule. It’s a shortcoming, I know. I like that I can work many of my own hours. This often means I am working in my pajamas at 2am from my home, and I work on weekends. Still, it means that sometimes I can sleep in. I have tried other jobs during summers and times when I was out of work. Working in the corporate world made me want to die a lot. For the first time in my life, I was expected to concentrate while sitting in a cubicle with no door. I can’t think that way.
My job now as a faculty member is to research the things that I want to find out about, that I am interested in. There is a lot of freedom (and a lot of rules). I am goal-oriented and I want tenure. Academia is the best, perhaps only, fit for me.
#1 again: The being around smart people is definitely important. Though I figure whatever career I chose that would be the case. Except (please don’t kill me, BFS) K-12 teacher. I had some amazing teachers growing up, but I also had some who were not the brightest bulbs in the candelabra. It is true that all it takes to get a PhD is perseverance, but the selection issue helps keep the smart/dumb ratio liveably high. Corporate summer jobs also completely exhausted me… I would come home completely unable to do anything. During and before high school I knew I did NOT want to be an academic… my mom is one and I couldn’t stand the petty infighting and the crazies. Fortunately that isn’t quite as much of a problem in my field as my field doesn’t really attract creative types. I’m not so goal oriented as #2 (though I do have a career bucket wish list) and though tenure is a nice perk it isn’t my reason for being.
How did you choose your career? Did you plan it that way? Did it work out? Any regrets or plans for the future?