The ever-recurring debate over whether academics are unhappy (discussed in my last post) leads me to ask whether there are jobs I would leave academia for if I could get them. There are a few such jobs. But the nature of this list actually underscores the difficulty of finding a job that would be more fun for me than academia:
I. Supreme Court Justice.
In addition to the power and prestige, Supreme Court justices get to deal with interesting and important cases that they choose themselves. Moreover, they have lots of time to write academic books and articles on the side if they want to (as Justices Breyer and Scalia do, among others). Due to a larger staff and smaller case load than other judges have, the justices have plenty of opportunity to pursue outside interests and commitments. I could even continue to blog about legal and political issues if I wanted to (as several lower court judges, such as Richard Posner do). The big caveat here is that even if I weren't already unconfirmable, I couldn't just leave GMU and become a Supreme Court justice right away. I would have to spend the next 20-30 years wooing the politicians who might appoint me and doing all I can to avoid saying anything that might hurt my confirmation chances. And even then, the chances of getting appointed would be a crapshoot at best. On balance, then, it's not really a preferable job to being an academic once I factor in all the sacrifices involved in getting it.
II. Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer.
If I had the talent for it, I'd love to write sci fi or fantasy novels for a living. However, it would only be worth it if I were good enough to be one of the top writers in the field. The hand to mouth existence and tiny reading audience of the average professional fiction writer is not - for me - preferable to life as even a mediocre academic. Moreover, nothing prevents an academic with tenure from writing sci fi or fantasy novels on the side if he wants to. It sure worked out well for J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others.
Note to members of my tenure review committee if you are reading this: No I don't plan to actually do this myself I get tenure, if only because of my dismal lack of literary talent. Trust me!
III. Owner of the Boston Red Sox.
I would love to have the opportunity to implement Moneyball principles even more thoroughly than the current, relatively enlightened, Red Sox owners have done. I do have some doubt about whether I have the political and interpersonal skills to manage a large enterprise such as a major league team. But I'm pretty sure I couldn't offend nearly as many people as George Steinbrenner and his sons have done in their time as New York Yankees owners.
Although it's tempting, I probably wouldn't leave academia to be a professional athlete myself - even if I had the physical talent for it. I don't think I could deal with the constant physical pain, and I also don't want to be washed up by the time I'm forty.
Bottom line: Unless some of you generous VC readers want to give me the $816 million or so that it would take to buy the Red Sox, I think I'm going to stay in academia.
UPDATE: I should note that this is a list of jobs that I think would actually be more fun for me than academia. I'm not considering jobs which would be less fun, but that I might take because I could perhaps make more a contribution to the public interest there.
UPDATE #2: To avoid assorted comments on this point, I'm not claiming above that I'm actually qualified right now to be a Supreme Court justice. I think I might have the technical legal knowledge for the job. But I probably don't have the necessary political skills.
Related Posts (on one page):