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Why grad school?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2005 12:38 pm
by Doug
There are tradeoffs involved in the decision to stay in grad school vs. leaving. At your early stage, there are certainly a lot of insecurities about finding a good project, whether it will work, etc. These are issues that will arise any time you undergo some risky endeavor, and the insecurities are understandable and ubiquitous.
On the other hand, staying and finishing a Ph.D. is as much as anything a sign to future employers of perseverance, organization, and project management skills. These are all things that are highly valued by employers in pretty much any field.
Grad school is a tough road, and not for everyone. But don't leave simply because of insecurities (most schools have counseling centers to work through those issues) and don't leave unless there's something better in the works. In other words, make it a decision based on positives, not negatives.

Why grad school?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2005 1:19 pm
by Lora
It depends on what you want to do. The points you bring up are good ones, which my co-workers with Ph.D.s brought up to me before I returned to grad school.

However, in my experience as a scientist, projects rarely end up successful and productive simply because they were great ideas with decently written, well-funded proposals. Most of science is dealing with the failure of experiments.

If you look back to an earlier thread (pretty far back) on what did we expect out of grad school, you'll see that most folks feel you can't expect much, if anything, out of your PI in grad school. A lab bench, some meager funding, and infrequent scoldings are about it.

For me, working in industry for a few years softened the financial blow; my husband became established in his career, and I had enough savings that the things I hated about school in general--crappy car, Salvation Army wardrobe, Ramen five nights a week--were non-issues. I also learned that the things most people hate about grad school--psycho PIs on all-expenses-paid ego trips, lack of support, no social life--are not exactly exclusive to academia. And I learned a lot of coping mechanisms for those situations.

Previous posters have already noted that for certain jobs, you must have a Ph.D. and all job markets are competitive. Personally, I wasn't happy as a low-level researcher: I like having the authority to get credit (or blame!) for my own decisions, and I'm very efficient at managing my own projects (why do you think I have so much time to post here?!). I wasn't able to move higher in the ranks without a Ph.D., so it was the right decision for me. But, you have to decide for yourself what risks you're willing to take.

Why grad school?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2005 1:26 pm
by Tom
Lora,

If you don't mind telling me I'm curious how many years post-graduation from your BS did you go back to get the Ph.D? And what field was your Ph.D in? Also, how many years did it take you to complete it? Did you feel working for a while helped shave a couple years off the Ph.D? If you don't feel comfortable revealing this info in a public forum you can e-mail me instead. Thanks.

Why grad school?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2005 3:29 pm
by Lora
Tom:

"...how many years post-graduation from your BS did you go back to get the Ph.D?"
~4 years post-graduation, but I began thinking about it 3 years post-BSc.

"And what field was your Ph.D in?"
Microbiology/Immunology. BSc in Biology with a chem minor.

"Also, how many years did it take you to complete it?"
Still working on the PhD, but I'm a year ahead of the "schedule" for my 5-year program. Hopefully I've only got a couple more years to go.

"Did you feel working for a while helped shave a couple years off the Ph.D?"
Oh, yes! I'm much, much more organized now, and more oriented towards getting a problem solved and a job done than I used to be. I have a better grasp of how long things actually take and what setbacks to anticipate. I'm better at explaining things to non-science people, too. My advisor also worked for ~4 years as a clinical medtech, and he got out of this program in record time (3 years, it's a 5-year program). He thinks working in the real world helped immensely. Hopefully, I'll beat his record.

Why grad school?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2005 5:21 pm
by Lora
Also, I worked for a few years before going for my BSc, and I think that was a great help, too: I knew the horrible economic fate awaiting me without a degree, and I got all my "wild oats" over with before they could affect my schoolwork. In some ways it was unfortunate--for example, I couldn't get into any of the 6-year MD programs. But overall I think I ended up better prepared emotionally for college. Retail and waitressing puts worklife into perspective in a way no summer internship can ever hope to!