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scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2004 1:54 pm
by Jen
I just finished my PhD in Chem Eng and had a wonderful time. I do wish that I'd given a lot more thought to what I wanted to do when I finished. I was a succesful graduate student humming along with research and teaching. It seemed that all of a sudden it was time to leave before I had settled on what I wanted to do. Many of my fellow students were in the same boat. Now I am doing a post-doc and doing the career research and networking that I should have engaged in more as a grad student.
So - I will echo the advice of some other posters. Know what you want the PhD for (which it sounds like you do). While you are in grad school, take courses, join (and participate in) organizations that match your career interests. You will learn a lot and make invaluable contacts and might even decide to change or refine your career plans. Consider paying to attend conferences in your area of interest if your advisor will not and do some more learning and networking. Also, do some summer industry internships. The two friends that I have who did this were the most competitive on the job market. If you want to do internships, ask a perspective advisor if he/she will support you taking time away from your PhD project to get some outside experience.
One last comment - The availability, personality, and connectedness (in both academia and industry) of the advisor that you work with will make all the difference in your grad school career. Ask what his/her former students are doing now. Ask if you can talk with current and past grad students and then ask for their candid opinions of the advisor (and the school). I was fortunate to have a wonderful advisor and a supportive department. Best Wishes.

scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2004 4:11 pm
by Kim
Summer industry internship during your PhD studies years may be a valuable experiences for ChemE PhDs. However, I am afraid that it is not possible to do so for life science PhDs.

Engineering and Life Science are two different career tracks.

scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2004 5:18 pm
by Mike S.
As some people have said, different fields differ considerably in their job prospects for PhD's. I have a two friends who just got ChemE PhDs and had no trouble landing jobs, and another friend who just got a Materials Science PhD and will not have much trouble getting a faculty position.

The two main questions to ask about getting a PhD are 1) do I really love doing research? and 2) do I really want to have some independence in my research? It doesn't make much sense to get a PhD if you don't answer yes to both.

The reason that so many people complain about grad school/postdocs is that it is hard work with very low pay. And while what Val said is overstating things a bit, it does have some truth in it: there is a certain amount of luck involved in being successful in science. (Note that this is different from being a good scientist, although there is significant overlap) Your choice of field, of school, of project, of mentor(s), and the vagaries of experiments will all affect your career. Some of these things you have more control over than others. It is important to keep in mind that generally speaking, there is no incentive for faculties and/or programs to help you out - that's why it is so important to pick an advisor that is appropriate for you. That doesn't mean all faculty are out to abuse students - it just means that the system is set up in such a way that students don't have much leverage.

The key point is to have some awareness of the difficulties but be eager to jump in because you love doing science.

scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2004 7:37 pm
by Kim
I once had this talk with my advisor.

He believes that his job is to educate his students to be indepedent thinkers. It is not his obligation to find "jobs" for his students. Students need to find jobs for themselves. Each student must follow his/her own path.

What is the value of our higher education? Should it be to teach the students to think independently and appreciate life more? Or should it be just to prepare students for jobs? If the only purpose of our higher education is to prepare students to find jobs, should we elimiate English, Social Science, and Humanities Departments long time ago? Those departments have consistently not done well to land their students good paying jobs. Is there any place for them in our higher education? Should science and engineering college freshmen even bother to take English and Social Science GE requirement classes in order to graduate?

Some people believe that if a person expects to find job after graudation, that person should go to a vocational school.

scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2004 9:43 pm
by Dave Jensen

Many people are now discovering that adding some coursework from vocational schools (community colleges, in particular) can give one the edge needed in the job market. Just spoke to a graduate of a biochem program at UCLA. He got a job at a hot biotech company, after looking for months, by going back to school, at a COMMUNITY COLLEGE. Certain community colleges (and you have to find just the right ones, who are hooked up with industry partners) are like a pipeline to companies, as they have specific training in cGMP's etc, that employers are looking for. Most of that hands-on stuff isn't taught at 4-yr colleges.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Thu Dec 09, 2004 10:17 pm
by Val
> Many people are now discovering that adding some coursework from vocational schools
> (community colleges, in particular) can give one the edge needed in the job market.

A young person does not know which vocational school is a "pipeline" to the industry. When the time come to the business, all of them claim to place 99% of graduates into jobs. A young person may be reluctant to invest his hard-earned money into an unknown outfit. He will learn which college or which way was right only after trudging through a number of them, and loosing a fair bit of money. This is an illustration to the expression "Information is money".

Also, one should keep at the back of their minds that it is not wise to prepare a better fishing rode if there is no fish in the pond.


scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Fri Dec 10, 2004 12:22 am
by Dave Jensen

Good comment; its true that young people don't know what the "inside scoop" is with certain community colleges, etc. For that matter, it is much like choosing a graduate school advisor. You may find one you like, but more important, does that advisor have connections to companies? Same with any classes you later take at a community college . . . Sure, they have a course catalog with "biotechnology" stuff in it. But does the college have relations with Pfizer? With Genentech? etc.


scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Fri Dec 10, 2004 1:10 pm
by Bill L.
But I think it's upon the young person to be an informed consumer. Students who know they want a particular medical school often visit the intstitution and ask which undergraduate schools are feeder schools. For an individual who knows that they want to work in biotech 5-7 informational interviews with folks in the field, as well as having DETAILED conversations with the career services, advisor, and one or two faculty at a particular community college about those issues should start to fill in some of the gaps. If any institution, community college or otherwise, can't share this information with you, then it means that it's going to be that much harder, because they expect you to find those connections on your own.

Bill L. & Naledi S.

scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Fri Dec 10, 2004 2:59 pm
by peter
Thanks for the Advice everyone. In particular, Mike S, could you let me know what kind of research was your friends invovled in during graduate school. Also can you give me an insight as to what type of industry they are pursuing and how did they become employed by those company. Thanks

scared about PhD and the future

PostPosted: Fri Dec 10, 2004 3:52 pm
by Mike S.

One friend was involved in making better drug delivery systems by making smaller (i.e. nanoscale) capsules that contain the actual drug. He did an internship with Merck and got a job there. (recurring theme...) Apparently the person he was staying with during the internship got laid off at the same time he found out he was getting a permanent job!

I'm not sure exactly what the other friend was doing his graduate research on, but he said his job involves doing protein chromatography (or developing better methods for it) at a medium-sized biotech firm. As far as I know, he just did a normal job search and interviewed a few places. I don't know how much help he got from his advisor.

On the other side, I was recently at a meeting and talked with two people who both work in big pharma. They both pretty strongly argued that from a careers/money standpoint, it makes more sense to get a job at the B.S./Masters level and work your way up in the company than to get a PhD. This is because there are a lot more of the BS/MS jobs available, you start making money sooner, and you can still go a long way in the company. I think the only hitch to this is what I said before - if you really want to end up in charge of your own research, you'll have to get a PhD.