What did we expect?

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What did we expect?

Postby A. Sam » Fri Dec 03, 2004 2:22 pm

In recent posts some people have expressed that they feel they have been short-changed by their graduate schools. Some feel the faculty has ill-prepared them for the job market or misguided them on career prospects. I'd like people to share their thoughts on the role of a graduate school. Is their first obligation to train people how to do be the best pure scientific research or is it to prepare them for a career? Because believe it or not, those two objectives can be in opposition to one another. Consider that some people with an especially academic mind-set might feel short-changed if their programs diverted educational resources towards teaching business concepts or things like GLP and regulatory issues. And would the image of a graduate program that touted their preparation for the real world suffer for being branded as soft and second-rate in scientific training?
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What did we expect?

Postby Larry » Fri Dec 03, 2004 3:30 pm

From my own experience, my graduate program was extremely unsupportive in my desire to guide my Ph.D. toward a career in industry. For a supposedly "open and flexible" program, I found the doors shutting quickly once I mentioned non-biology courses such as engineering and business. I was even told by one professor that "You're here to do science and only science." I think he meant "academics" instead of "science."

In regards to Sam's comment that "would the image of a graduate program that touted their preparation for the real world suffer for being branded as soft and second-rate in scientific training?," I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. First-rate scientific training is the mainstay of graduate school, but preparation for non-academic life shouldn't compromise the integrity of the science being performed. All we "industry-minded" folks ask for is a little guidance and career development (even on the side) that might help out once we leave the ivory tower.

What did we expect?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Dec 03, 2004 3:44 pm

Great topic, Sam, thanks.

Larry, I agree with your desire to see a little guidance and some career development provided by the University. Some schools are great at this . . . Witness UCSF, where we found our two adviisors Bill and Naledi. Does your school have a career center -- sometimes people miss out because they believe that it is only BS/MS advice there.

Also, many universities have annual career days, or regular monthly sessions with outside speakers, CEO's, etc, that are very helpful.

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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What did we expect?

Postby Andy » Fri Dec 03, 2004 10:31 pm

I did a Ph.D. and two postdocs. I still work with some graduate students. All students everywhere complain about the same things. I did too for a short time until I realized the futility of it.

Here\'s my take on what graduate school is supposed to be.

Your PI provides you with an opportunity to do research and learn how science is performed. Period, end of their obligation.

If you go to a lab with a PI who cannot to this basic thing (e.g., has no funding), that is a bad decision on your part.

Other than providing you that opportunity, don\'t expect much else. You have a fantastic opportunity to pursue scientific goals, learn how to do experiments, publish your work, and walk out with a degree.

Many PI\'s are not good \"mentors\" or \"teachers.\" That\'s just the way it is. Don\'t complain too long about it \'cause it ain\'t gonna change.

If you do happen to have a good mentor for a PI, that\'s a fantastic bonus. I had a great PI, and I was lucky to be in that position.



What did we expect?

Postby John_Mastro » Sat Dec 04, 2004 2:47 pm

I think the last poster is the most realistic and it describes what most professors as graduate student advisors are taught to do. .. teach others to be academic professors. This is the huge problem as the whole system is a freling academic pyramid scheme. In the 3 Land Grant Institutions I have attended and worked, the solution has been when the supply of cheap American graduate students dwindled away was to plug in students and countries from other shores. All this time the number of jobs in industry, govt and academia has remained static so the competition for the academic jobs has increased. The slope on the academic pyramid has steepened. It is up to each individual to see the situation for what it is and to plan and act accordingly. Comments from web site commentators are not going to be of much value because only the individual can weigh all the pluses and minuses, know his weaknesses and failures,, access his friends and enemies, and judge where he stands. Certainly your years of training have taught you how to make a decision... You either decide to stay on board to fight the fire or abandon ship.

What did we expect?

Postby Andrew » Sun Dec 05, 2004 10:06 am

"And would the image of a graduate program that touted their preparation for the real world suffer for being branded as soft and second-rate in scientific training?"

It probably would. Someone tried to do that, though. I believe it was the Univ. of Dallas that established a Doctor of Chemistry program, not PhD, with the idea that this would be a doctoral level program that prepared students for industry along the exact lines that you mention. It sounded like a great idea and the chair of the program (Lynn Melton) told me the students get employed by industry at PhD level salaries. However, I have never actually met one of these students and don't really have an objective assesment of the program. I suspect for it to be widely accepted, it would have to come from a more prominent school. Meanwhile, students come from grad school and we spend the first year retraining them so that they are useful in industry. I asked an MIT faculty member about this problem once and he said "we teach the science and let industry teach about industry. Or do you think we ought to be teaching about industry and leave the science to you guys?" I have to admit, he had a point.
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What did we expect?

Postby Joel » Mon Dec 06, 2004 12:16 am

I graduated from life science before the industry has became hot recently. After I have graduated, the government started to invest in the institutions or university for the research to compete with other European countries. The TV news, magazines and news papers are projecting that life science is a great career. Then the number of the students who registered for life science major shot up and became double of its size in the year right after I graduated.

Even though the government and media gave a encouraging and promising future for this industry, there aren't many jobs available. Job agency staff and my friends who graduated from this life science found that there aren't many jobs available for large number of life science graduates.

Many institutions and universities also don't allow their employees to work full time and start business as a part time career even though the universities are promoting entreprenuership. It seems like they backfired themselves.

More and more undergraduates think that they can find jobs if they take up life science courses. Frankly speaking, many of them don't like the subject. They work very hard to get a degree in order to find jobs. In the end, they can't get jobs and are in study loan debt.

The debt is growing in compound intrest. If they can't find jobs, they can't pay for the debt.

They work so hard for the degree for the banks not themselves.


What did we expect?

Postby A. Sam » Mon Dec 06, 2004 12:39 pm

For the most part I agree with Andy. I would add though that there is some hypocrisy going on in the ivory tower. I think grad schools do teach a lot of real-world job skills but it's for academic jobs and not industry jobs. They get away with the imbalance because supposedly it's only in an academic setting where the best science goes on. That's debatable, but as an example of non-science skills being pushed under the guise of research training, the politics of grantsmanship and the eye for carving up projects into minimum publishable units are skills quickly and enthusiastically importuned on us but do not necessarily make for the best science. The only reason that faculty can't be culled from the ranks of industry is that they likely won't get grants, it has nothing to do with knowing how best to teach research skills. I think that's a little unfair.
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What did we expect?

Postby Kelly Ann » Mon Dec 06, 2004 1:18 pm

While "the politics of grantsmanship and the eye for carving up projects into minimum publishable units" are academic skills, I think they help in the industrial world as well. For one, whenever you put two people together you will have some sort of politics. In my previous industrial experience, there were always business objectives as well as quarterly reports (if not publishing expectations) that had to be considered while doing research. While I am not one who wants to fight for a grant for the rest of my life, I am grateful to have learned how to "play the game" and effectively communicate research goals and defend the work that I am doing. Personally, I am grateful for those non-science skills that I have learned in my graduate experience.
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What did we expect?

Postby Bill L. & Naledi S. » Mon Dec 06, 2004 2:03 pm

This is a fascinating thread...lots of well-considered commentary.

Bill's two cents:
PI's should be responsible for teaching their students and postdocs how to do science, and they should also do what they can to help those students/postdocs to launch their academic careers. But we shouldn't expect PI's to prepare students/postdocs for non-academic careers. They don't know anything about non-academic careers.

This is where the universities, and the major funders (NIH, NSF, etc.), both of which benefit from the accomplishments of those students/postdocs, should step up. They need to make sure that even 1st year grad students understand that, odds are, they won't land a tenure-track position at a research university. Then they need to provide programs to help students/postdocs to explore and prepare for the various career options available to them.

Regarding Andrew's comments about UT Dallas' industry-oriented PhD program in Chemistry, I have visited at UT Dallas and met some of the students in that program. They really did appear to be successful on the post-PhD job market, often because of the industry connections they made during their PhD project years. There should be more programs like it!

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