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New achievement milestones for academic life

Overall job satisfaction in academia has been steadily declining for many independent reasons I won’t get into here (see Nature 1 and 2). However, we do need to accept some ownership for this dissatisfaction. Our expectations and goal posts are understandable set very high.  Indeed for many of us, our impossible standards and stubborn determination are the only reasons we got this far, so it can be painful – nigh impossible – for those who are hardwired to overachieve to step back and be happy with the big picture. We need to, because the stakes are as high as health, sanity, and relationships.

This inspired me to develop a new set of milestones to measure our academic careers by. Not only for our sanity, but especially for those younger scientists and students still fighting their way up the ladder.

Here are 12 new milestones of achievement I recommend we measure our career success by:

1. You’ve splashed out on a really good mattress

No more old student-house mattresses for you. You’ve gone for the deluxe, memory foam, heat wicking, mattress – using sleep studies to justify your extravagance. The only problem now is, there is no going back…

2. You have moved out of your parents’ house and have all of your stuff

All of your trophies and dinosaur figurines have been packed into boxes and have either made their way to the attic or were graciously given to you by your parents as a “gift.” The bottom line is clear, next time you come home during unemployation, you will be staying in the newly painted guest room.

3. If you drive, your car is less than 10 years old

Your new-to-you car is a millennial, and like all second-hand sommeliers, you can really tell the difference. However, the trade-off you face with this, the car you don’t need to blast the heating element during summer drives, is that you care alittle too much and stress about stains and smells. I’m afraid that’s the price of success…

4. You have been banned by several social media “conservation” groups before you even try to join them

Keep your keynote invites, this is real notoriety! Your reputation precedes you.

5. Your family have stopped asking you what you study and now ask if you are still studying that

They know the difference between DNA barcoding and eDNA. They can remember the importance of mating vs. non-mating plumage. They can recall the name of that grant from the last time you applied to it. Your expertise has rubbed off on your family, and while they won’t ever fully understand what you are doing, they are very happy to celebrate your successes, because evidently that is all you are going to do with your life – and that’s awesome.

6. You have extensive knowledge of most major airports

You know that the prayer room in Schipol is the perfect place to sleep. You’ve been in the AT-AT walkers of Dulles. You know that you can rock up to Cape Town Int’l 10 minutes before your flight and have 7 minutes to spare. You’ve eaten at Sora in Detroit Metro. You know which airports you need to empty your water bottle in before getting to the gate and which ones let it slide (thanks, Casablanca). The Asian toilets of Dubai don’t throw you off anymore, and are actually a welcomed change of pace. You know you have really made it as an academic when you know the route to your connecting gate, even before you land, and that there are at least two toilets stops and a McDonald’s on the way.

7. You have an extensive bank of skills on your other CV for when you’re unemployed

You know when the barista is totally burning the milk, the best way to seal up dry wall in a humid room, or how to run zinc-sheeting through a processing drum. Not only do you have two CVs, they’re both competitive, and that basically makes you the academic James Bond.

8. Your job description seriously impresses most children

This means that your childhood self would be most impressed by what you are doing now, too. That’s serious life success.

9. You have a pet

It could be a 3-year-old poinsettia, but you have made a real commitment to another living thing and it is still alive. You must have struck some sort of life/work balance at this stage, bravo!

10. You’ve met one of the people you follow on twitter, and they recognize you, too

Roughly what it looks like:

11. You’ve shared more good times with your co-authors than emails

Working with incredibly talented people is special, but working with incredibly talented people who are also your BFFs is magic – and takes time.

12. The first time you attend a conference and feel old

Achievement unlocked!

How do you measure up with these academic milestones?  Have any to add?  Leave them in the comments!