To PhD or no to PhD...

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To PhD or no to PhD...

Postby tb » Mon Jan 31, 2005 5:14 am

Hi. I\'m currently halfway through a PhD programme, but for a number of reasons (lack of supervisor support, insufficient consumable funds to perform the projects i want to, and generally not enjoying the bench work), i have been considering pulling out of the course for a while. I had always known that i was aiming for science journalism in the long-term, as i\'m much more passionate aboutt he communication of science than performing the day to day work myself, so was planning on breaking into that after the PhD.

I have just seen a science journalism job advertised in my home town, and so my question is this: do i complete the PhD to break through any potential glass ceiling that exists in science journalism for PhD-less people (is there a glass ceiling?), or will a year and a half of editorial experience count for more than (what will probably be) a second-rate PhD?

Any help would be much appreciated.


To PhD or no to PhD...

Postby Harald » Mon Jan 31, 2005 8:37 am

Employers in general tend to prefer people who succeed at their present occupation to drop-outs. The work of a scientific journalist can be just as hard as bench work. I recommend to complete PhD, unless it is impossible to graduate or you must leave due to financial problems or sickness. Lack of supervisor support is a problem many PhD course students have to cope with.

To PhD or no to PhD...

Postby tb » Mon Jan 31, 2005 11:44 am

I think you misunderstand my reasons for thinking about leaving (or i might not have explained them brilliantly). ALthough i might have been considering leaving even if this job had not come up, I feel that moving from something that, at the moment i have zero commitment or motivation for, to work in an area that I was planning on entering when i completed my PhD anyway, is a fairly positive move. So, it's not really about 'will i get this job?'

So, my questions are these, 'if i get this job, what, in your opinion, are my prospects of moving on to more senior positions?' , 'is there a glass ceiling for those without phds in journalism?' , and 'would a journalism employer look more or less favourably on experience compared with a PhD'

I'm also not afraid of hard work. I just like to work in areas that are almost hobbies, in my case writing, and the communication of science: work then becomes a hobby.



To PhD or no to PhD...

Postby MPB » Mon Jan 31, 2005 12:26 pm

I do some science (medical) journalism, and having a PhD has definitely been a huge help for me. It gives you more credibility when trying to find employment, and also gives you more credibility with people you are trying to interview. I have found that scientists and physcians I have needed to interview are much more responsive and provide much better answers to questions when they know that I have an advanced degree. It also gives you better tools to be able to really understand something, rather than just parroting something that someone told you without really understanding what they are talking about.

Be advised, though, that scientific journalism has been a pretty tough field for the last couple of years. The entire field is driven by advertising revenues, which had dropped off significantly. My sense is that it may be picking up again, but there is still a lot of competition for the better jobs, and I believe that having a PhD will help you at many potential employers.
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To PhD or no to PhD...

Postby Andy » Mon Jan 31, 2005 3:54 pm


Think carefully about whether to quit or not. Having a Ph.D. is generally a good thing. What if you committed yourself to work hard for six months? Then, if after that six months of solid effort, you still don't give a rat's behind, make plans to move on. If you're positive you don't want to finish after six months, no reasonable person would begrudge your decision.

Good luck


To PhD or no to PhD...

Postby tb » Tue Feb 01, 2005 5:55 am

Thanks for your answers...

I mean, I've been working hard for the last year and a half, and I'm not sure I can go another 6 months without beating either my or my supervisor's head against a wall.

I think a PhD would always be on the cards though, it would probably be more along the lines of social policy or the philosophy of science than bench work.

F**k knows!

Thanks again


To PhD or no to PhD...

Postby TF » Tue Feb 01, 2005 9:19 am

Just an idea for your situation.

I know of a person who was in a similar situation at my school. The boss was never around, he didn't really get any guidance, and was basic left to do everything himself. Basically, the grad student ran the lab! What was done was that he ended up working with another investigator in the department and there was kind of a joint chair situation for this person's thesis committee.

Would it be possible for you to either just switch labs altogether, or team up with another lab to help you with your current project? I have been in bad lab situations many time! The situation makes you so angry that either you are even more motivated to get something done or you want to quit. I was in the "more motivated" area before and it didn't end well either.

Have you talked to you advisor about how you don;t think you are getting the training you feel you need? I think communication is another important part.

If all else fails, I think you should give serious thought to finding another lab. I did it myself. At the end of my second year my boss at the time told me she was leaving. My project was starting to stagnate and she was practically no help. I decided to changes labs completely. I mean different techniques and different questions. It was really the best move I have made in science so far. My current boss is interested in my progress, interested in me publishing, and I have done quite well for myself. Even if the particular question that the lab is asking isn't quite in target with your ideal, you can always do exactly what you want for a post-doc.

Don't give up now, you have options, trust me. I've been there.
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