Why grad school?

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Why grad school?

Postby Karen » Sun Feb 20, 2005 7:05 pm

It was an easy decision to pick MBB- molecular biology and biochemistry- as a major in undergrad. I loved working in a research lab and loved taking science classes. I worked as a lab tech for about a year and i then decided to go to grad school for my PhD.

I have been in the PhD program for about 6 months-and I have been thinking about leaving. I feel that my love for science is out weighed by the cons of having a PhD. By cons, I mean competitive job market and uncertainty with having a "Successful" research project.

I read a posting for feb 18 titled "the economics of science" and one person suggested that students don't think things through when they enter grad school. I think that the students that leave grad school actually do think things through. A major reason why people leave PhD programs is that their is too much uncertainty- not only with research but also with having a career in science. Some people (like myself) like science but maybe not like the competitive nature of science and in every aspect (both industry and academia) it is highly competitive and risky. In other words, even though one may put 110% into a research project there is still a chance they will get nothing productive out it (ie publications) and this can also be extended to their career as a whole.

I am confident that I am making the most practical decision to leave...if anyone has any pros about staying in grad school please share them. I would appreciate it alot.

Why grad school?

Postby Emil Chuck » Sun Feb 20, 2005 7:22 pm

Obviously the decision is yours to make to stay or go. Certainly after 6 months you have an idea how research science is like for scientists. It sounds like what you like about science is the discovery aspect of it so being a lab technician or manager sounds like a more attractive option.

But I will admit the nice thing about having a Ph.D. (even if you become a technician) is the credentials of a colleague. There are a few people who think if you're working in a lab as a technician then you're not a colleague until perhaps a few years in as a technician.

You have to determine for yourself the rewards of the Ph.D. program and how it matches with what you want for yourself. Talk to other people in your program, including the program director and the graduate career counselor for ideas.
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Why grad school?

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Feb 20, 2005 8:03 pm


Forums like this can go a bit negative, because there are many people who are in the "frustrating" stage of their career development. They post their concerns, and it feels better to know they are not alone. But don't think that all these people are leaving science . . . You'll find them a couple of years from now, successful in some job,. somewhere, and hopefully still posting on this forum. But please remember that there is no way we can get the tens of thousands of happy and successful people in the sciences over here to counterbalance those concerns you've read!

If you make a decision to drop out, it must be made for your own personal reasons, after adequate research, of which this forum is only one portion.

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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Why grad school?

Postby John_Mastro » Sun Feb 20, 2005 9:09 pm

Staying you in grad school allows you to work in fascinating work. If it is not fascinating to you then leave by all means. It also gives you the slim chance of a career where you call the shots more than in other occupations. The down side is over the last couple of decades the chances of getting a permanent job have declined. The most important thing is for you to have the drive to be independent. If you do not , you will have a hard time surviving.

Why grad school?

Postby Val » Sun Feb 20, 2005 9:51 pm

If you worked in industry or national laboratory after college for few years, you would go through different stages (e.g. R&D, regulatory, marketing) of a real-life project, and you would form your own opinion what are your strenths and inclinations. You would then naturally want to develop those strengths, and you would want to go to the graduate school to do that development. Your motivation to get through the graduate school would be concsious and high. Besides, your experience in the real-life world would would help you to deal with the crap which happens to a more or less degree in any graduate school.

You may drop out or postpone your graduate degree course for a year or two if you see an interesting opportunity in industry. The general rule is not to leave your current position until you prepared your next position to go to.

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Why grad school?

Postby Tom » Sun Feb 20, 2005 10:00 pm


This is a really tough decision, and I personally have seen and heard of many students who have left the program after realizing it did not meet their expectations. However, I think you should spend a little bit more time before making an impulsive decision.

In the contrary I think 6 months isn't enough time to make a fair judgement. The first year is always a shock for every student I've met (esp. those who come straight from undergrad). I think you should wait until classes and rotatio ns are over and you have settled in the lab. That is when you start doing real science and have more freedom to be involved with your own personal project. If after that experience you still don't think the Ph.D. is for you aim to complete a Masters (most universities have that as an option for those who drop out of the program after they pass their qual). At least you won't feel you wasted the effort of applying and studying if you come out with a degree. Also, if you hope to pursue any scientific or alternative career in the sciences having a Masters wouldn't hurt.

Finally, I agree with Dave that many posts on this board to tend to be on the negative side. However, maybe knowing this professed "truth" by other people in the field will better prepare you to avoid the typical mistakes most Ph.Ds make in their careers.

Also, although I think you should prepare for the future I don't think you should worry too much about it. You can never know what will happen 10 years from now, and probably most of the fears you worry about won't even come true. I think as humans we spend way too much time worrying about something we can't control (the future) and not doing enough about something we can control (the present).

Why grad school?

Postby Ken » Sun Feb 20, 2005 10:32 pm

I wish I could pull up some of my posts from a year ago (before I finished my PhD) on another board. At the time, I was angry, confused and was laying awake at night wondering how I had made such a terrible decision to get a PhD.

A year later, and I'm not only so glad that I finished my PhD, I'm also glad that I started it. I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing, except probably playing first base for the Yankees.

Grad school is hard. It's demeaning. You're poor (okay, that hasn't changed much yet). You work hard. Your friends who are using their BS degrees are making more money. The social life can be non-existent. But, it gets better afterwards. It's sad that much of grad school is about making it through this battle of attrition.

But, familiarize with all the non-bench jobs out there in industry that require a PhD. There's a lot of them. You get to use your knowledge and experience, but don't have to pipette or do mini-preps.
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Why grad school?

Postby John Fetzer » Mon Feb 21, 2005 12:44 am

Many young students on here grouse about competing, both in school and to get a job, as if science is some badly unique field. Look and find any profession, law, accounting, engineering, the soft sciences, and so on, and you get the same competitiveness among students and graduates looking for jobs. If you want a non-competitive field, you have to look very long and hard. Even areas like sales are highly competitive.

No lucrative jobs are not sought after enough to create competition. Only undesireable jobs are easy to get into.

Given that, why not go with something you like and will do better at because you do. If you drop out or switch fields, you might find less competitive pressure. On the other hand you will be doing less enjoyable things for a living.

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Why grad school?

Postby Don Haut » Mon Feb 21, 2005 8:32 am


I all grad students go through what you are doing, many do it several times during thier training. You work 60+ hrs per week trying to do something that seems to never work, you have a hard time explaining to anyone outside of you lab what you are doing. You watch as friends from college begin to have both the money and the time to develop lives outside of work (something you believe will take 5-10 years before you can do it). It is very frustrating.

I got to that point at leat once per year in my grad career. At one point, I got so frustrated that an experiment I was doing kep failing (in the end, I did it 26 times before it worked!) in my car and started driving East. I was going to just leave all of my possessions there and start a brand new life! Six hours and 350 miles later I decided that maybe I should go back.

So, you are not alone - everyone goes through what you are going through.

I think you should take some more time, and really think about this.

If it is security you are looking for, I am afriad you are going to have to forget about it. I know of no careers where their is real security any more. As has been mentioned before there is competition everywhere.

I can tell you that the best way to both succeed in a career is to do something that you genuinely enjoy. Not because it will make you smarter or better able to execute (I may, but it also may not). But because it will enable you to deal with the inevitable setbacks you will see as your career progresses.

Keep in mind also that your career path will morph over time. Opportunities will change. The environment will change. Your interests will change. So start with a base of something you enjoy, and continue to build on that.

I dont do bench science any more - my career has morphed over to the business side of science. And if I had to do it all over again; the long hours, the isolation, the frustration, the abject poverty. I would do it again in a heart beat.

Don Haut

Why grad school?

Postby Carlysle Tancha » Mon Feb 21, 2005 11:02 am

It is nice when there is a reward at the end... It is only after having this reward that people like Don would say "I would do it again in a heartbeat." Notice that a number of people are also not doing bench research; how did they get into these other positions?? Did they have the "right" friends? Some would say to netowrk, but if you are watched 24/7 and trying to "get out," where are you going to network with a person when your whole networking community--university or scientific meetings has only academics whom can't see beyong the ivory tower?? I also know of a professor whom was up for tenure--she obviously was well beyond her "frustrating years" in her early career, but she realized how much life she no longer had and just dropped out of life. Don't deny your instincts--be true to yourself, but also challenge yourself a bit to get the exposure. That is how you are really going to benefit from the situation.
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