Years ago, I aspired to enter the wonderful world of academia, specifically in the field of history. To make a long story short, I gradually realized two things during my 2 years of graduate school:
1. Actually being a good academic requires a large amount of diligence, persistence, good organization, and mental discipline, in addition to intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and good communications skills.
2. With the possible exception of intellectual curiosity and intelligence, I had a serious deficit in all of the above-mentioned qualities, at least compared to my fellow students who were at the same level of study. (I may have been lacking in intelligence and intellectual curiosity as well, but I'll hang on to those as exceptions to salve my ego for the time being.)
So after two years I took a Master's degree and left, not to return. From that point onward, history would be a hobby, perhaps an obsessive one, but not a profession. Still, I like to flatter myself that I have a pretty well-informed and critical mind when it came to history, even if it was far below professional standards.
Now that I work for a historical society and archive, though, I have my doubts.
The society that I work for is always host to at least a few professional academics doing research there on any of a variety of different fellowships. My particular job does not bring me into much contact with the people (academic or non-academic) who actually use our collections. We do, however, periodically have presentations where people who are doing research at the society present a summary of some of the information that they have found, and how it has affected their research. I sometimes attend these presentations, since I figure it's nice to get a glimpse of how people might actually use some of the material that I work on cataloging.
There is a downside to these presentations, though. They make me realize how blunt my brain has become. You see, way way back in my graduate school days, I might not have been one of the better people around when it came to doing research myself, but I could at least understand a lot of what other people were talking about. I could ask reasonably intelligent questions, even if I was on the lower side of the bell curve when it came to coming up with intelligent answers. Now, I can't even come up with good questions anymore! When I go to one of these presentations, I feel like I'm surrounded by people with minds as sharp as razors while my mind is about as sharp as that rusty old pair of garden pruners that hasn't been sharpened in years so that it can barely cut anything anymore.
Why this came as an unpleasant surprise, I'm not sure. After all, it's not just muscles that shrink and atrophy when they aren't used very often.