scared about PhD and the future

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scared about PhD and the future

Postby Peter » Thu Dec 02, 2004 4:27 pm

I graduated with my BS in engineering in 2003 from a large land-grant university. Upon graduation, my job prospects was bleak and although I went through numerous interviews no job offer was made. Fortunatley I was able to land a research assistant position at a national research lab. Currently I am still working at the lab and at the same time I have applied for PhD programs in engineering around the country. The outcome has been positive and I have been accepted to several schools already. Somewhere in the year and a half that I've spent in the lab, I started to dream about becoming a great scientist. I envisioned myself graduating with a Ph.D and with a bright idea I would start a company of my own and have control of my own destiny. I also envision that I would apply for an industry job and eventually move into the business side of the industry. Since I am bilingual, I would have an advantage over my peers to do international work. On top of everything, PhDs' are more respected overseas.
Now here is my dilemma. I am a avid reader of science next wave and its articles. Especially those concerning grad school life and the life of PhDs' seeking jobs. I feel that from reading these articles and postings I can get a clear picture of what life as a grad student is really like and at the sametime have a realistic view of the job market for Ph.Ds. So far everything I've read has been negative and the same theme appears over and over again in every article. They either describe the grueling and self-loathing life of a grad-student or the struggle of new PhD grads to find even a job working at McDonald. I am Jack's panic attack. I feel as if I have made a terrible mistake and I feel lost and confused.
These articles has truly scared the hell out of me(I do not blame anyone, in fact I wish these articles would continue to circulate to allow those who want to pursue such a path to have a clear understanding of what's ahead). I can honestly say that I am starting to develop a despise for the idea of a PhD but yet there are days when I feel that things are not as bad as I had thought. I really don't know what I should do and what other options I have. Should I even attempt to finish a PhD since my ultimate goal is industry? Are my goals for myself even remotely realistic? Am I being over-influenced by the things I read? If anyone has gone through this situation or have the same thoughts as I, I would greatly appreciate your assistance. Any shred of advice or suggestion is greatly welcomed.

Thanks and still very confused

scared about PhD and the future

Postby John_Mastro » Thu Dec 02, 2004 5:01 pm

Be advised that the value of a Phd varies tremendously from field to field. If your in biology its bad news but maybe not so bad in your field. Best to find some folk in your area of specialization and ask them what the prospects are in your specific field. Nevertheless,, be afraid.. be very afraid.

scared about PhD and the future

Postby Nikos » Thu Dec 02, 2004 5:13 pm

Hey there Peter,

Sounds like your really caught in a dilemma and are questioning what the heck your future looks like. Well, I can relate to you in some ways I think and I will do my best to offer you up some advice for the future.

First and foremost, I think that you are indeed overanalyzing and overexaggerating the supposed negativity of this and other forums. I am currently a third year graduate student in the biomedical sciences and comments and advice from people liked Dave, Don, Jim Gardner, and many others who are successful and are willing and happy to advise and mentor on how to be successful in one's career in the life sciences industry, have served as a basis for many of the extracurricular activities I have conducted during graduate school. All of these individuals have recommended that as PhDs and postdocs in the life sciences, we seek to be unique, innovative, attempt to take leadership roles, perform extracurricular activities, and in the end attempt to stand out above our peers and be successful. Truth is that those qualities are what are necessary to achieve success in any field, be it engineering, finance, business, law, sciece, etc. We cannot expect that the PhD serves as a piece of paper guaranteeing us permanent job security and happiness. Yes, it is supposed to facilitate that process, but it is up to us as individuals to avoid becoming one of the "run of the mill" PhDs because personally I feel that is where many arrive at frustration and unhappiness with their career choices.

Furthermore, u state in your post that you would like to someday move into the business side of the industry. Then I advise you to begin that as soon as you commence your PhD by taking business classes at the university you are attending, networking with those that surround you constantly, joining student organizations, and choosing a mentor who has a track record of taking grad students and postdocs into industry(may help you generate contacts). I hope that I have been of some help.

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scared about PhD and the future

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Dec 02, 2004 6:32 pm

Hi Peter,

While I've seen a lot of articles on NextWave that talk about the difficulties of grad school life and finding jobs, I don't believe I've ever read ONE of them that said the author was wishing he or she hadn't done it. Let's face it, Peter. . . PhD students LOVE to commiserate with each other and talk about the ins-and-outs of doing a PhD. They know it is tough, and they know it will be some of the roughest years of their lives. But if you read these articles again, you'll find that in many of them there is a stubborn resolve that comes through about pushing through and making it.

Also, don't forget that many of those are about biology programs. I don't recall reading much on NW about biochemical engineering PhD's, for example. Those are hot as a pistol. Depending upon the engineering discipline you go into, you may not find the same issues that biology graduates have had.

My impression is that PhD's are valued the same throughout the world, and there is no less value on them here in this country. Sounds to me like you are up in Vancouver. If so, they have a wonderful bioprocessing program and I would urge you to look closely at this. Many Biochemical Engineers end up running companies.

regards, Dave Jensen, Moderator
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scared about PhD and the future

Postby A. Sam » Thu Dec 02, 2004 6:39 pm

Hey Peter

Loved the reference to "Fight Club" in your posting, hope it wasn't lost on most readers.

I think you might be experiencing some sampling bias, or in this case, forum bias. Meaning that people who post on places like this tend to be more on the frustrated side. The folks who have had positive training and positive work experiences and fortunate job hunting luck are mostly invisible to the readers here. But I suspect they're at least as numerous as those who really struggle. I'd reiterate that just finishing graduate school doesn't entitle anybody to anything. You've got to make your own success, which means identifying something you really enjoy, work hard at it, show your enthusiasm to those around you and you can't help but get yourself into a good position. I just got back from a luncheon with area graduate students. Even though there was little talk about projects and no CVs were exchanged (thank god) it was as plain as day which ones are going to get the good jobs and which are going to mope around. We all wear our hire-ability on our sleeves.
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scared about PhD and the future

Postby Prabhu A » Thu Dec 02, 2004 11:04 pm

Hi Peter,

I am in the exact same situation as yours (ChE grad working as a tech in a research lab). I agree with Dave that BioChE PhD's are hot, but again there is no guarantee that you will have offers waiting for you after graduation. My friends (ChE PhDs) are all finding it tough to land an industrial position. Few are going for post-docs (which is quite unusual for ChE's in the 90's). So, make sure you really want to do it for the fun of science and not as a job guarantee.

My 2cents....

PS: I applied to ChE PhD programs as well (got accepted)...but I am not joining one.
Prabhu A

scared about PhD and the future

Postby Richard » Fri Dec 03, 2004 4:35 am

Try contacting the Plant Science Institute at Univ of Nebraska Lincoln NE. They have a strong transformation lab with industry roots and connections run by Tom Clemente. you can find the contact info on the web. Be advised that that in my opinion it is extremely competative in the field you are contemplating, because of the huge number of scientists glutting that area, that has grown dissapointingly slowly due to the anti Genetic Modified Organism movement, but if you are a glutten for punishment you need to identify the individual faculty in that area, scan your journal articles and start emailing faculty members.

Ph D : Best time of my career

Postby Shehan9762 » Fri Dec 03, 2004 10:19 pm

Hey Peter,

First of all, as Dave Jansen mentionned, the messages that have been posted recently are not very optimistic. The job market for entry level Ph D's in science isnt looking good all over the world. We've seen better. I guess that your general view of the situation is a bit biased since this forum is designed for people who have "career issues". So people who are well settled in their jobs will rarely comment on their current situation. Imagine yourself in a hospital, I m sure you wondered why are there so many sick people. But actually there arent so many sick people compared to healthy ones...
The morale of the story is that you shouldnt think too much about the current job market situation. The economy might be a lot better 5-6 years later...

Doing a Ph D is all about motivation and interest. Since childhood, I have been interested in doing research, I really wanted to do a Ph D either in medical research or in pharmaceutical science.
I obtained my Ph D in organic chemistry in UK two years ago. It was hard but at the end I really enjoyed it. Those years were probably the best I had so far in my career. Certainly, there were difficult times but I enjoyed it because I worked with a professor that was very dynamic and talented. She allowed me to conduct innovative research but also provided me of good practical training. I also learned how to work in a team and interact with people in a working area. Iwent to a couple of international conferences and loved them.
I dont regret it even if I m having hard times looking for a job even after 2 years of post doc and a relatively good CV. I dont despair and I m optimistic that I might get lucky in the next few months.

Peter, just think about it, talk to graduate students in the field that you would like to study. Decide for yourself whether you want to embark in this long adventure but dont do a Ph D if you dont know what to do after your degree. I know a few people who did this and they had a really bad experience. They didnt like their project, didnt commit as much in the lab and ended up dropping off the studies after a year or taking twice as much time as needed to graduate.

Good luck

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Ph D : Best time of my career

Postby Val » Sat Dec 04, 2004 6:30 am

> I guess that your general view of the
> situation is a bit biased since this forum is
> designed for people who have "career issues".

I do not think there is much of bias. Suppose a bunch of people play in "Russian roulette". A revolver loaded with just one bullet is passed around. Each person arbitrarily spins the drum, points the gun at himself and pulls the trigger. He might get lucky or not. After each game round, a person falls off. Finally, only one person is left alive. Then the person is praised for being the "great spinner", "skillful player", "bullet dodge master" etc. But in reality, it did not require any skill from the person to survive. It was a pure luck.

Now you should realise that the (academic) scientists play the same "Russian roulette". They write grant applications, and are awarded the grants not because of the merit of proposal, but because of luck. One day, the scientist does not get any proposals funded. He falls out of science -- through no fault of his own. Approximately, about half of scientists fall out of science in about 15 years. The very few which are left employed after 30 years of working and now head departments and labs, are praised for being clever scientists, hard workers etc. Their success is explained entirely by their cleverness and hardworking qualities. Young scientists are being told: "Work hard -- and you will achieve the same professional height". I do not think so. My question to the younger scientists: do you want to build you career based on playing Russian roulette ?

Now... in the spirit of this forum... can someone tell me what is wrong with my reasoning about science careers ?

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Ph D : Best time of my career

Postby John_Mastro » Sat Dec 04, 2004 7:25 am

I think Val has summarized the relative high risk factor involved with science careers, in too many of the fields. In order to maintain a career you have to be very lucky, or be rather adept at jumping on the next latest and greatest band wagon. In more applied field say engineering if you can achieve the Professional Engineer status, you are at a significant advantage because you have the option of working for clients that actually pay you for services rendered.


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