Friday, April 23, 2010

What I Don't Know

When I advise undergrads about graduate schools, I take into account the usual things, such as what the student thinks might be his/her specific interests for graduate research (and therefore which schools are good in that field). I also consider my opinions about which places have good advisers in that field, based in part on what I know about the previous experiences of graduate students working with a particular adviser or group of advisers.

And of course it is important whether the student is certain he/she wants to go directly into a PhD program, definitely wants to stop after the MS, or maybe will do an MS first and then see how things go (leaving open the option of a PhD later).

If the student has any personal issues that restrict options to a geographic area or to a set of universities that would also be suitable for the continuing studies or employment of a significant other, I can adjust my recommendations as necessary.

Although I do not claim to be a perfect match-maker between students and grad programs, I have done pretty well over the years in terms of helping students find a program that matches their scholarly interests, personalities, and other personal preferences.

I still have things to learn, though. This year I learned the following:

1. The economic crisis has shifted the ground at some schools so much that places that used to offer decent financial packages for stipends, tuition, and benefits now cannot. I don't know the details of the economic situations at particular institutions (although, for state universities, I can sort of guess based on what state they are in), but I wish I knew more so that I could have adjusted my recommendations accordingly.

Example: A talented undergrad asked for my advice about graduate schools. We talked about options on more than one occasion, and I suggested that he go to a conference in the fall, sit in on a range of talks in the fields in which he had an interest, and meet some people. At the conference, I introduced him to some potential advisers at one particular school that I thought was a really good fit for him. I knew that the professors to whom I introduced him were excellent scientists and also great advisers who cared about their students. The student talked to them at length and got very excited about the research possibilities. That institution was his top choice for a graduate program.

He applied and was accepted, he visited the department, and .. the financial offer was so inadequate that there might as well not even have been one. The student would have had to get a job and take out loans to make it through grad school (just as he had done as an undergrad), and no one should have to do that in the physical sciences.

If I had had any idea how bad the offer would be, I would not have made this "match". And I would have suggested that the student apply to many more places than he did. He had applied to more than one, but by mid-April, his options were few and unappealing. This was shocking because he is an excellent student and should have had his pick of graduate programs.

I felt like I had made a serious error in my advising, with possibly grave consequences. The story has a happy ending, though. I sent out some e-mails and found a colleague who was still looking for a graduate student and was pleased to have a strong recommendation of a possible candidate; the student now has a good financial offer at a really good place with a dynamic research group. It was only by luck, however, that I was able to fix my error and help work out a good solution.

Next year I will try to be better informed about economic issues before making strong recommendations. I feel very sorry for faculty in economically distressed departments that can't put together decent financial offers, but students need to look out for their personal economic situations as well. Those of us advising students on potential graduate programs can't just send them off an economic cliff because we only consider our usual criteria when making recommendations.

2. I have never really considered time-to-degree as a factor in my recommendations of certain graduate programs or advisers. These are difficult data to evaluate for a program or a particular faculty adviser; there are so many factors, including many related to the student. Even so, I learned this year of a particular program/adviser that I previously enthusiastically recommended owing to the interesting research and research environment, but now this place is off my list because the time-to-degree for many students is twice what it should be.

If a student asks my advice about that place I won't say "Don't even consider it", but I will strongly recommend that they talk to other students, look into the time-to-degree issue, and consider very carefully whether they want to invest what might be an unusually long time in their graduate studies. Students should do that anyway, no matter where they apply, but having this information in advance will affect my specific suggestions of graduate schools.

I hope all those involved in the grad admissions process this year -- professors and students -- had as successful a year as possible given the economic situation. I am happy with how things turned out for me and my research program, although I made my usual gamble and accepted more students than I thought would actually accept. They never all accept; except when they do. This year they all did. This has never happened to me before. That's fine, though. They all got good financial offers of guaranteed support, we are going to have fun, and we are going to be writing more proposals than we expected.


grumpy said...

can you be a little more specific about the offer the student was made?

as a phyics grad student at a UC, I honestly can't understand how this happened. If the student is not being offered at least $15k/yr (in addition to fees/tuition) then the only things I can think of are:

1. the dept made a huge mistake accepting too many students.

2. it was only lukewarm about the student and made an insulting offer.

...or some combination of the two.

Either way if i were the student i would be insulted and decline too.

It's not all bad for the student though--sounds like she/he had a badass undergrad advisor

Anonymous said...

Talking about matching... hm.. I am willing to pay the full tuition fee from my pocket but none of my professors are available/willing to write a reference letter for me. Now I am thinking of doing some more years of undergrad again just for the sake of pleasing some profs to get the reference letters.

IMHO, the students should be grateful that at least there was somebody willing and trying to find that'match'.

Anonymous said...

What is considered an inadequate offer of support? A "good" offer? Or simply what's good enough? Surely it's tied to the cost of living for a given area... What percentage of their salary ought they be spending on rent? Mine are probably spending close to 50% of their gross salary for a room in a shared house/apartment in a high cost of living area. Should grad students be expected to live frugally? I made it through grad school without debt or working outside of being a TA and my students complain about their comparable stipends (and watch them eat out every day while I brown bag it).

HennaHonu said...

I got some excellent advice from my undergrad advisor about grad school. Some of which included "don't go there", "you don't want to work with him", "she's retiring soon", and "that project was just a side thing for them, their main research area is not in your interests". I was advised at the time to apply to at least 3 (up to 6) programs because even for excellent programs and advisors, sometimes the money just doesn't work out. There are too many variables in department support packages, grant lengths, and policies at a given institution.

Anonymous said...

Whenever a student comes up to me to talk about graduate school, I take him/her aside and give a talk explaining that he/she has a lot of better things to do with his life. Over the years, I have learned to take a salesman like approach ... I don't focus on how "difficult" it is to become an established scientist, because that just makes cocky undergrads want it even more, I focus on how "unfair" the system is and exaggerate on how it is full of cheats, liars and flaws. I can now boast that I typically have an 80% success rate at rescuing students from this dangerously bad idea.

I wish there had been a professor 10 years ago who had given me this talk.

Average Professor said...

I'd be interested to know more about the various ways grad students are funded at different institutions/departments or across disciplines.

Everywhere I've been, grad students are funded one way: a faculty member with a grant that includes $ for a grad student wants to work with a particular applicant. In this situation the state's or university's economic situation doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is whether or not an interested faculty has a funding for a new student.

The obviously weird element of this situation is that we routinely turn away excellent students just because their timing is off, and we sometimes take mediocre students because their timing is excellent.

Female Science Professor said...

One variable is how/whether a department pays tuition and benefits. I just assumed that PIs or departments paid this, but apparently some don't, or used to but can no longer do so. For some state universities, this is a big issue if the grad students is considered an out-of-state student and pays a higher tuition rate.

Anonymous said...

In my field, PhD students are typically funded directly by the department (not by a particular grant) and at many state schools this year, including a number of world-famous schools, offers were much lower than in the past, and also had a lower fellowship-to-TA component (one friend of mine applied to a university in my hometown, where I was a frugal undergrad, and the offer the university gave him was too low for even a very frugal student, given the high cost of living there and the necessity for a car and hence the expenses that go with that). If he'd had guaranteed summer funding, then he would have been okay, but they can't guarantee summer funding there anymore, either.

Anonymous said...

Our offers this year have not been affected, thank goodness, and include full tuition and modest stipends through TAs, a few RAs and fellowships. However, I just learned (more or less by accident while serving on an onerous committee!) that the university is in the midst of restructuring so that the departments will soon bear the burden of the tuition remission rather than the college or university. This is really worrisome, since we're private and our tuition is exorbitant. The department can't afford it, and I can't imagine any of the students could either.

(One often overlooked advantage to busy-work university committees: great source of new gossip!)

Anonymous said...

I hope that Anon 7:42 is not serious. Whether or not graduate school is the appropriate path to take for any one person is that person's decision and no one else's. I'm appalled that you are bragging about your 'success' rate.

Anonymous said...

Although I'm sure a lot of stipends have gone down, the program I'm entering at one of the California state schools actually just raised their stipend, even while many professors are on furlough. It helps that it's a competitive program, but some departments are prioritizing graduate funding despite financial woes. I would certainly urge caution when recommending schools, but don't write anything off.

yolio said...

It is so good to hear that you are thinking seriously about these things. One of the challenges my spouse and I have faced in this period is gently explaining to our various mentors/bosses/advisors about the shift that has taken place. Things are not as they used to be, and we really badly need advice that accounts for this.

Alex said...

I hope that Anon 7:42 is serious. I can't speak for every discipline, but physics sends too many people to grad school.

Ms.PhD said...

Anon 7:42 is my hero. I wish someone had said to me, "Look, statistically you have a better chance of being drafted into the NBA than of becoming a professor. Are you SURE this is the ONLY thing you think you could be good at?"

Because I definitely would not have gone to grad school if I had known. And I'm not convinced my ~10 publications have changed the world so much that none of us could have lived without me wasting 12 years of my life going down the road to not being an NBA pick.

It's one thing to talk about grad school stipends in the short term. But the long term concern should be whether there are going to be jobs for these people after they spend the best years of their lives in grad school and postdoc.

Short answer: there won't.

Materialist said...

As a grad student with work experience I often end up talking to undergrads about "what comes next."
One thing I consistently advise is that grad school should not be a default destination, the way college is after high school.
I think many unhappy grad school careers could be avoided if students just realized that the return on investment (lost income, years of work experience) is almost always negative for grad school - even after accounting for higher salaries for higher degrees.

Female Science Professor said...

Maybe that's true in some fields, but not in all. Of my last 5 graduated PhD students, 3 are or soon will be professors in tenure-track positions and the other 2 are happy first-year postdocs with good chances of success on the job market next year.

John Vidale said...

Maybe FSP knows more than she's saying, but lack of a good offer generally either means the research group is already full of students or that there were other students who applied that they preferred.

Neither our research group nor anyone we're competitive with would offer a student fractional or no support. Sometimes TAships are involved in our dept's offers, but generally multi-year full support is offered. It's not a huge salary, but grad offers are fairly uniform.

It's a huge risk to put all one's eggs in one basket in aiming for graduate programs, I generally advise applicants to apply to 4 or 5 schools and concentrate on schools that have a deep enough faculty that fall-backs are available should the initial choice of an advisor fall through.

Anonymous said...

Time to degree is an important factor particularly for female graduate students. Although many professors may not be comfortable enough to discuss the issue of childbearing with their undergrad students. There are plenty of female students wondering if they will have to wait until their 30s to finish their PhD and start a family. One female student asked that question at an informational session about graduate school. The mostly male audience barely concealed their laughter at the question and looked around uncomfortably as to why a 21ish year old woman would already start thinking about when to have children. Not really sure how the topic of having children became such a touchy subject. Someone has to have babies and hopefully plan it well ahead of time.

Anonymous said...

As Anon at 7:42, I am thankful both for your praise and criticism :) I come from a country where knowledge has been held in very high esteem for 3000 years AND where scientists and teachers are, of course, expected to go hungry while everyone else lives it up. I know none of my professors would have given me that "talk". But I think I owe my bright eyed, young enthusiastic students something. I do not want them to be reduced to bleary eyed workhorses living in despair from day to day. I have a responsibility to do right by them.

It is not just the job market. In fact, I daresay the market in my field is relatively better off compared to other sciences. It is about the deep feeling of powerlessness that takes hold of you from the moment you start grad school to I don't know where... (I don't have tenure I can't tell) From the moment you enter academia, your life isn't yours any more, it is a "resource" in the system... you invest everything you have and the system decides whether it will chew your head off or give you the solidly middle class job they call a tenured professorship. And then you spend your whole life repeating what you learned in 1st year of college to 18 year olds...year after year after year. Of course, going into academia is a personal decision, but much like any mind control cult like the Mujahiddeen, the system trains you from the moment you step in that your life isn't really yours any more, but it just belongs to the system. And they repeat it so often that at the end of 10 yrs, you forget that your life is your own and does not belong to the system.

Female Science Professor said...

The student in question applied to 4 graduate programs. This year, that was not enough.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I hadn't thought about reduction in stipends being a factor now for grad school admission/acceptance. Now I definitely will.

As for Anon 7:42's comment.... perhaps it is because I only teach undergrads but I have yet to encounter a student who wants to grow up and be a professor. All are pre-med / pre-pharm /pre-what-the-hell-ever.

My talks with students are more along the lines of "did you know that grad school is free?"

John Vidale said...

re anon@7:42 - I find the attitude of intentionally scaring potential scientists away remarkably misguided.

Anyone sentient undergrad can see that not all students become faculty. Further, faculty choose their career based on liking the freedom and range of tasks of academic jobs, NOT for the pay and certainty of finding a faculty job. I could earn double my salary in industry, for example. Yes, applying for jobs is competitive. There are plenty of other satisfactory jobs for people with PhDs. Unemployment rates for people with PhDs is far below the average.

I'd react to anon@3:26 similarly. Tenured jobs are sought for their FREEDOM in choosing day-to-day and year-to-year activities. If you're feeling powerless and on a treadmill, you're doing your job wrong.

Kevin said...

"Look, statistically you have a better chance of being drafted into the NBA than of becoming a professor. Are you SURE this is the ONLY thing you think you could be good at?"

I doubt that the odds are anywhere near as bad as they are for getting into the NBA. Of course, it depends what sample of students you look at. Looking at just the few college students who play on varsity teams is equivalent to looking at just the top few percent of the graduating class in other fields.

I just looked at the statistics for PhDs from our program over the past several years:
5 doing postdoc
4 doing research in industry
8 tenure-track professor
3 university research, non-tenure track
2 unknown

Of those past postdocs, about half get professorial positions, and almost all end up in research (can't say about the two whose current positions are not known).

It helps that we have the top research groups in a hot field, but I can honestly tell our undergrads and grads that if they make it through grad school they have excellent prospects.

Anonymous said...

@John V

Dear Mr. Smug,
Yes, I feel like I am on a treadmill. And I have the training and the skills for my job. I don't need you to tell me whether I am doing it right.'s one for you John ... if YOU think a tenured position is some sort of heaven, you are the one with blinkers. look like the emperor walking with no clothes on.

You need to sniff something other than the air of the ivory tower. When was the last time you swore out loudly on the street? Never? I guessed that. I don't want to be a pretentious fool who takes himself too seriously. I want to live in the real world, with real goals and real results. Wake up and smell the coffee. If you were Stephen Hawking, you wouldn't be on this would be checking out your latest hunch on the grand unified theory. You're not...neither of us is...we are just mediocre geeks who walked into a stupid trap and made fools of ourselves. At least lets be upfront enough to admit how mediocre we are and how unreal a life we lead, instead of pretending to have all these invisible perks of academic jobs.

Anonymous said...

I think we should be more realistic with grad students in PhD programs about their chances for employment after getting the PhD. In grad school, students get "brainwashed" into believing that only TT academic jobs are worthy. And at the same time no one tells the students what their chances of obtaining "the only worthy" type of job is.

This is less common in engineering, where going into industry after getting a PhD is less disdained. But in other disciplines the academic culture toward post-PhD non-TT-track-academic employment is pretty deluded and this makes a lot of grad students and postdocs neurotic when they have to deal with reality that's contrary to what their mentors tell them.

John Vidale said...

I was out of line above to say anyone is doing their job wrong. Sorry.

It remains true that if I felt the job was a treadmill, I'd get off. I'm not sure how the perks are invisible nor how I'm a mediocre geek nor that I'm stuck in an ivory tower.

Do you have any more demonstrations of your formidable skills in cogent reasoning?

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of other satisfactory jobs for people with PhDs. Unemployment rates for people with PhDs is far below the average.

I beg to differ, as a PhD who has been on the job market more than once in the last decade since I got my degree (academic and industry job markets) and seen my peers from grad school drift aimlessly after the PhD for lack of employment options.

The PhD is an academic degree, few jobs other than in academia truly require it. as such, you are often deemed overqualified or too specialized and get turned down for industry positions.

I will state again - the PhD is an academic degree. If one NEVER intended to make a career out of academic research, there is no "reason" to pursue a PhD (other than as a hobby). Therefore, logically it follows that when you encourage students to pursue the PhD, you are encouraging them to make it their life/career goal to become professors. Now, given what we know of how many academic jobs there are relative to number of candidates, how responsible is this?

whatever other satisfactory jobs are out there for people with PhDs, are there in spite of their having PhD degrees not because of it. People in these jobs could have probably gotten such jobs without going through the years of struggle in getting the PhD degree.

Anonymous said...

I am Anon 10:46.

I don't disagree that grad school sucks something fierce. I certainly didn't have a fantastic time took me twice as long as it should have, involved more than one school and several different advisors, and the list goes on. When I tell people the details of my situation, sometimes they ask how on Earth I managed to make it through.

My situation is unique, but as a broad generalization I have always likened the process of getting a PhD to joining a sorority/fraternity: they pick and choose the ones they think are the cream of the crop, then they treat you like crap for 5+ years (hazing!), then at the end of it all they shake your hand at your defense, welcome you to the club, and start treating you like a real person again. (And, as one last insult, now you have to pay dues to remain in the club.)

I am always honest with students about this while at the same time making sure I also emphasize the perks. Everyone has opinions, basically, and I offer mine, but in the end, the decision is left up to the student, as it should be.

And I don't know what everyone is talking about because there are reasons to go to grad school other than eventually obtaining a job in academia. For me, it was to become educated, it's as simple as that. I don't aspire to be a famous professor, mostly because I don't think I'd be very good at it, nor do I want to die a slow an painful death right at my own desk, and I am perfectly fine with that, and so are all of my advisors.

And the job prospects for physicists doesn't suck SO BAD that I feel like I should steer people away. Three of my classmates earn ~$100K at Intel, to start, straight out of grad school. My piddly postdoc salary and I certainly envy that paycheck... (Granted, we are talking about condensed matter so the case is obviously different for other disciplines.) Further, I can't think of any PhD physicist that I know who wants a job in physics and doesn't have one there.

So, if you hate your life so much, leave your job! Make some more room for those of us who actually want to be here.

Anonymous said...

Look, statistically you have a better chance of being drafted into the NBA than of becoming a professor.

Not to pick on a casual analogy, but this is a bizarre thing to say. There are about 500 positions in the NBA. There are tens of thousands of professorial positions.

If "you" are a random person in the US, you have a far better chance of becoming a professor than an NBA player.

If "you" are a postdoc, then you might want to face the fact that your chance of being drafted into the NBA is zero. I hope you are not holding onto an unrealistic dream.

If "you" are a college basketball player, then yes, you probably have a better chance of being drafted into the NBA than becoming a professor.

Maybe you're comparing two different populations. It is probably true that NCAA college basketball players have a better chance of moving up to the NBA than postdocs do of moving up to professor positions. But it's also true that a random person of any background is more likely to be able to become a postdoc than to become a college basketball player. Plus more people play basketball than play academic, so the pool is larger and the selection pressure greater in basketball. More people are weeded out before getting to the point of being able to be promoted into the major league.

I don't think this analogy is doing you any favors, honestly.

Anonymous said...

The above comments really got me thinking--especially how much of this is really an individual choice. I was an officer in the military, worked in the corporate world, and realized how those career paths were never going to be right for me, no matter how good I was at the job, no matter how much money I could make, no matter how much job stability it could provide. Sorry, but you couldn't pay me enough to accept being miserable. In my master's program, I realized that my desired career path was academia. I'm starting my PhD program in the fall, and couldn't be happier. I am in heaven when doing research and taking classes (and teaching). Doing this for the next 4-5 years, even though I won't be getting paid a lot? Don't care. I love it. True, we have to take in account external factors, and individuals going into graduate school need to have a realistic picture of the job market and what a PhD involves. (I'm fortunately in a field with a pretty decent job market, and *could* work in industry, though I don't see that as ideal). Anyway, I find it really disturbing that certain professors would discourage ALL students to apply to PhD programs and go on about the misery of academia--it sounds like their bias and experience is clouding the fact that this is an INDIVIDUAL choice that is right for some people and not for others (clearly not right for the @anon in question). Students need to have a realistic picture, but I think discouraging anyone to apply is not the right way to go about it.

(That being said, no one should attend a PhD program without being funded...I agree that the economy has really affected certain programs this year, and I'm very thankful to have received a funded offer at a fantastic program. I'm glad things worked out for FSP's student as well.)

Anonymous said...

I am amazed people are going on and on about the NBA analogy without noticing 1 basic point.

The typical basketball player is not particularly gifted enough to do well in anything other than sports. Are you telling me that the average NBA aspirant could have a reasonable chance at doing well in any other profession that pays $50k+?

Your typical grad student in the sciences had a fairly good chance of making that $500k paycheck as a medical doctor or a lawyer. The opportunity cost that a young academic pays is enormous.

The NBA aspirant probably missed his chance to wait tables at a restaurant to practice for the game.

Anonymous said...

@John V

Dude.. that's such a pathetic attempt at sarcasm. Seriously, you were one hell of a nerd in high school, weren't you?

Why don't I get off the treadmill? Because I am seriously I am. The day they let me park my ass on the tenured cushion is the day I am turning in my papers and going to do something else thats challenging. You know, the day I reached legal age, I suddenly didn't feel like drinking so much.

That's the difference between me and you. You want the FREEDOM, I want the CHALLENGE. I know that my career choice is dumb. I am doing it for the same reason a college kid does coke, although he knows drugs are bad. You are ridiculous because you have managed to convince yourself the coke is good for you. lol!

And as a person with a conscience, I feel I should try to dissuade my students from picking this disastrous career path exactly the way I would advise them to stay away from coke.

Anonymous said...

¨... grad school is free?"

John Vidale said...

Anon @ 7:42, 8:46 and 8:24,

It's a bad habit to make assumptions about people you don't know. Two more in your latest post are that I was a geek in high school, and I seek freedom rather than challenge. You've yet to get one right.

Parsing your post, it says I'm ridiculous because I like my job of prof, while you're on a miserable treadmill, and you'll quit as soon as you get tenure.

It either sucks to be you, or you're a troll, or both.

Doctor Pion said...

John V, you might notice that Anon at 7:42 is not from the US nor (apparently) working in the US. Not all t-t positions are the same. I have a colleague in the humanities who makes more money and teaches smaller classes at a CC than her fellow grads who got a uni job at something other than an R1.

I wouldn't go as far as Anon 7:42, but AIP data show about 1/3 of Physics PhDs end up with jobs in academia and most of those are not at R1 institutions. The ones who don't are not poor, but can benefit from going directly into industry because post doc years rarely count as experience.

Students from some programs may have more than a 50% placement rate into faculty jobs, particularly now that retirements are taking place, but that is not typical and is unlikely to last -- if history is any indication.

Anonymous said...

"The above comments really got me thinking--especially how much of this is really an individual choice."

That's very true, the choice to do a PhD or not is an individual choice. HOWEVER. I think it's valid to advise students away from it because to make the highly individual decision to do or not to do it, the students need to be given all the information so that they can make the best informed decisions. It is wrong to mislead students either intentionally or unintentionally by omission of facts.

I often see professors recruit students into PhD programs so that they will have laborers to work on their grants for them. That is their impetus for encouraging students to pursue PhDs. They neglect to advise the students on whether this really is in their best interests or not. They say "it's not my place to tell a student whether or not they should pursue a PhD, that is thier choice." But how can the students know unless they are given the cold hard facts along with encouragement? Presenting only one side of the story is disengenuous, in my opinion.

I seldom see professors giving students the upfront information about any downsides to doing a PhD. Students are left entirely on their own to make assumptions about whether getting a PhD is in their best interest or not.

grumpy said...

@anon 08:11:00
"The typical basketball player is not particularly gifted enough to do well in anything other than sports. Are you telling me that the average NBA aspirant could have a reasonable chance at doing well in any other profession that pays $50k+?"

wtf are you talking about? Are you just making stuff up for the fun of it?

Lots of basketball players are smart and get degrees from good colleges and if they chose to do something else would do just fine.

and i dunno anything about the medical profession, but lol at most science grad students being able to make 500k/yr as a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

@John V

Finally dude... you came up with some real sarcasm. Congratulations!

See... I always knew the geeks could be non geeks if they tried hard enough. Actually, it was you who mentioned that tenured positions are sought for their freedom and forgot to talk about the challenge, thus leading to my assumption.

Oh and when you started lecturing me on how science is supposed to be some daily thrill, you sounded like one of those Santa Claus type aging professors who would recline in their padded seats, stroke their huge bellies and start every sentence with a "Ho Ho Ho".

It is because of people like you that I have to keep telling students to stay out of this. Oh...and I am sorry I called you a scientist, you're in, like, geology. I actually had to go to my university's website and find out if they actually had a geology dept.

Anonymous said...

I'm in grad school now and as far as I'm aware I chose it because I liked the fact that I could do research pretty much on my terms as long as I am good at it, which I am. Though I was offered advice by my personal tutor (which was more along the lines of 'come work in my lab') my decision was made while I had spent 11 months working as an intern at some major ceramics company. However, if I ever needed advice I'd rather they'd be nothing more than the facts and expectations. For an undecisive person there is no point making the decision for them by persuasions. Give them the cold hard facts and let them decide. Academia is constantly fighting with politics and only those with the guts and passion could keep it going. So, people without the determination or motivation to do research/teach would be doing society a favour by not joining academia. If I ever reached the stage where people will come up to me to ask for advice about doing a PhD and maybe into academia I will tell them all the facts that I know and ask them to think real hard why they may be considering it. I think it is much better that they know why they want to do something and they do it because they want to rather than being persuaded into doing it and not knowing why they are doing it. This way they are more likely to succeed and generally speaking, better for the community.

John Vidale said...

Doctor Prion & Anon @ 3:11,

I'd agree it is an issue that some programs admit students based more on need for low-paid labor than consideration of job prospects. Full disclosure of job prospects should be given, but it is not equivalent to "exaggerate on how it is full of cheats, liars and flaws (7:42)".

I'd guess the troll is American - dude, geek, nerd, and the rest of the vernacular fit, although I'm no linguist.

Now I'm Santa Claus and seismology is not a science? I know I shouldn't feed the troll, but ... .

Anonymous said...

As a first-year postdoc, I find many of the comments here extremely discouraging. It's so hard not to stop worrying about whether I can clear the next hurdle. I have a deep love for the questions and am not bad at research, but it's another thing entirely to be able to stomach the uncertainty.

Anonymous said...

@John V

Everything would make sense if you kept my science = illegal drugs analogy in mind.

Most kids who dabble with illegal drugs will probably not end up as serious addicts or violent criminals, but even so, it is always a good idea to exaggerate on the bad effects of taking up illegal drugs.

Keep this analogy in mind and you will be able to find accurate analogues for nearly every kind of behavior in the academic community. Try'll be amazed at how well it fits.

Doctor Pion said...

First-year post doc: If you worry about the hurdle, you will hit it.

If you write papers and develop new ideas and give seminars and write proposals based on those ideas and get them funded, that is, work on the skills that will make you able to compete with your current and former mentors and colleagues, you have a chance.

Suggestion: You might find Part 4 of my "jobs" series useful, but it might be better to start with what Professor in Training said about a year ago. There is lots more like this at IHE and CHE (especially Ms Mentor).