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PhD? Was it worth it for you?

by armis
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EngCommand
#19
Jan6-12, 04:00 PM
P: 38
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
Right now, highschool aren't hiring much in the US (in fact, they've been firing). Maybe as property taxes recover, this trend will reverse.

I've looked into adjuncting, but its not really a solution to a job (pay seems to be about 2k for a 4 credit class). I've applied for some lecturer positions, but haven't had much luck. And I don't know if it makes sense to take the pay cut from bartending for a single year position without very good career prospects. Tenure track type positions at liberal arts colleges are fairly competitive in their own right- they seem to prefer postdoc and industry experience to fresh phds.
Why don't you get a postdoc stint for a few years? Surely it beats working at a restaurant.
ParticleGrl
#20
Jan6-12, 04:13 PM
P: 681
Why don't you get a postdoc stint for a few years? Surely it beats working at a restaurant.
A combination of reasons- the strongest one is a geographical constraint. If you aren't willing to move across the world, your postdoc options can be really limited (or non-existent). The next strongest is probably pay- I'd take home significantly less than half of what I make bartending as a postdoc. I'm at the stage in my life where I need to start paying off school loans and trying to get myself to a more sound economic footing- I'm hoping to start a family in the next few years. Three years spent bartending and expanding my programming skill set seems like it will put a lot more money in my pocket and leave me in a better place in the job market than doing a postdoc (which would just be 3 more years of pen-and-paper physics
+whatever I do on the side). I simply can't devote 3+ more years to a "student/trainee" phase if the actual career prospects are so tenuous.
Lavabug
#21
Jan6-12, 04:56 PM
P: 880
Quote Quote by eri View Post
I did a PhD in observational/computational astrophysics (although the PhD just says 'physics', and that has been very useful). I did a shot postdoc at a NASA center, but decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my life just doing research, so I'm teaching college and just landed a tenure-track position, starting next year. I'm pretty sure that's what I want to do (teach and do research - it's a liberal arts school) so I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. The PhD in physics instead of astronomy or astrophysics let me apply to a wider range of colleges for faculty positions.
Could you please expand on this a bit? Did you choose that phd program specifically because it might seem more versatile to employers? Or did you get a choice in what your PhD actually says? I find myself going down a similar route: want to do a phd in the same field.

Will you get to do your line of research at the liberal arts school or do you have to do something else?

And what does everyone have to say about the following idea: doing a phd just for the hell of it? Just as a life experience thing and later make one's living from something like teaching at private high schools? Would that be wasteful? I don't think I'd like going down the other non-academic paths like IT and finance that many astrophysicists take.
EngCommand
#22
Jan6-12, 05:14 PM
P: 38
Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
A combination of reasons- the strongest one is a geographical constraint. If you aren't willing to move across the world, your postdoc options can be really limited (or non-existent). The next strongest is probably pay- I'd take home significantly less than half of what I make bartending as a postdoc. I'm at the stage in my life where I need to start paying off school loans and trying to get myself to a more sound economic footing- I'm hoping to start a family in the next few years. Three years spent bartending and expanding my programming skill set seems like it will put a lot more money in my pocket and leave me in a better place in the job market than doing a postdoc (which would just be 3 more years of pen-and-paper physics
+whatever I do on the side). I simply can't devote 3+ more years to a "student/trainee" phase if the actual career prospects are so tenuous.
Jesus christ, how much do they pay postdocs in the USA? Here in the UK it's at least 30,000/year ($46278/year). There's no way I could make 30,000/year working in a bar.
daveyrocket
#23
Jan6-12, 06:41 PM
P: 185
It definitely was not worth it for me. Graduate school mortally wounded my interest in physics, and my postdoc has completely finished it off. My skill set doesn't seem to be at all useful outside the field unless I want to be a programmer, and I don't. In fact, not wanting to be a programmer was one of the reasons I went to graduate school.
Vanadium 50
#24
Jan6-12, 07:06 PM
Mentor
Vanadium 50's Avatar
P: 16,105
Postdocs in the US make an average of around $42,000. There is rather substantial variation in this figure. Bartenders in the US can make more than bartenders in the UK though - a lot more, depending on tips.
ModusPwnd
#25
Jan6-12, 07:13 PM
P: 1,047
Quote Quote by EngCommand View Post
Jesus christ, how much do they pay postdocs in the USA? Here in the UK it's at least 30,000/year ($46278/year). There's no way I could make 30,000/year working in a bar.
Tipped restaurant workers in the US generally make between 30k and 50k a year IF they work full time (but most work part time). I deliver pizza and earn the lower end of that range.
eri
#26
Jan6-12, 08:09 PM
P: 976
Quote Quote by deRham View Post
Do liberal arts schools pay you to research as well? How was the hiring process different from hiring for research universities, in your experience?
Most liberal arts colleges expect their faculty to do research, and to involve undergraduate students in research projects. So they don't overload you with classes (give you some time for research) and have professional development money to spend on equipment, travel, and publication costs.

When I applied for liberal arts colleges, I emphasized my (small amount of) teaching background (mostly TAing, and I was luck enough to get a visiting professor position right out of my postdoc). When I interviewed, I did a teaching demonstration and gave a research talk (emphasizing what projects included undergraduate researchers). For me, it's the best of both worlds - I've always loved teaching and college campuses/towns, but I didn't want to give up my research completely. I just didn't want to spend all of my time on it anymore.
eri
#27
Jan6-12, 08:14 PM
P: 976
Quote Quote by Lavabug View Post
Could you please expand on this a bit? Did you choose that phd program specifically because it might seem more versatile to employers? Or did you get a choice in what your PhD actually says? I find myself going down a similar route: want to do a phd in the same field.

Will you get to do your line of research at the liberal arts school or do you have to do something else?

And what does everyone have to say about the following idea: doing a phd just for the hell of it? Just as a life experience thing and later make one's living from something like teaching at private high schools? Would that be wasteful? I don't think I'd like going down the other non-academic paths like IT and finance that many astrophysicists take.
I applied to astronomy, astrophysics, and physics programs, and I ended up in a physics program where the department was 'physics and astronomy'. I took all the courses any physics PhD student would take (and the physics qualifying exams) but my research area was astrophysics. There aren't a ton of jobs in academia for astronomers, and a lot of competition, so if you can also apply for jobs in physics, you'll have a better shot at getting something you like (as long as you don't mind teaching physics). For most faculty job applications, I wrote my letter as 'physicist who can teach astronomy' instead of 'astronomer who can teach physics'. Many departments (even the one I'm at now) tend to think astronomers can't teach physics, but physicists can teach astronomy.

My research is computational and observational - I don't need supercomputers, and I have a lot of collaborations that give me data, so I didn't need much in the way of start-up funding. That was another plus when applying for jobs at smaller colleges - I didn't need lab space and it wasn't going to cost them another 100k to support my research.

A PhD is a lot of work - probably not worth doing just for the hell of it unless you're independently wealthy and have a ton of free time on your hands. For those of us who needed to then get a job with it, doing the physics PhD at least leaves you more options.
ParticleGrl
#28
Jan6-12, 09:53 PM
P: 681
Most liberal arts colleges expect their faculty to do research, and to involve undergraduate students in research projects.
So a note to people considering a phd- you can dramatically expand your options for academic positions by focusing on research that you can conceivable involve undergraduates in. Its difficult to convince a hiring a committee that you can involve undergrads in pen-and-paper theory.
sandy.bridge
#29
Jan6-12, 09:58 PM
P: 778
Well, hopefully you are at least having some fun with your current job, ParticleGrl.
deRham
#30
Jan7-12, 01:27 AM
P: 410
@ParticleGrl, thanks for your advice and clarifications. If only my stuff were anywhere close to non-pen-and-paper.

I would hope though that, since mentoring students in pen and paper subjects is still a profession by itself, that there's still some demand at the liberal arts schools for such a thing. It's definitely possible to give an undergraduate an interesting problem to toy with based on the student's background.
armis
#31
Jan7-12, 04:25 AM
P: 103
Thanks everyone for the interesting stories so far! It is really helping me

I find these points particularly important:

Quote Quote by TMFKAN64 View Post
The Ph.D. has never been anything but a benefit to me, but aside from the financial aspects, it would have been worth it on a purely personal level. I hesitate to use cliches like "mind expanding"... but that's exactly what it was.
Quote Quote by Choppy View Post
Not all of these positions "required" a PhD of course, so in that sense, you might argue that the PhD is not worth it. But my own observations, for whatever they are worth, tend to suggest that PhDs advance quickly in such settings. I don't know if this is a bottleneck effect of PhDs being smarter than the average bear, or if it has more to do with the depth of the academic training - probably a combination of both.
Lavabug
#32
Jan7-12, 04:45 AM
P: 880
Quote Quote by eri View Post

A PhD is a lot of work - probably not worth doing just for the hell of it unless you're independently wealthy and have a ton of free time on your hands. For those of us who needed to then get a job with it, doing the physics PhD at least leaves you more options.
I should have clarified: just for the hell of it -not expecting to become a tenured faculty member- if I can get into a fully-funded phd.

I am far from financially independent and considering where I am at now, a phd seems like the ticket to get there while doing something I have always wanted to do along the way.

Thanks for the reply.
EngCommand
#33
Jan7-12, 08:58 AM
P: 38
Quote Quote by Vanadium 50 View Post
Postdocs in the US make an average of around $42,000. There is rather substantial variation in this figure. Bartenders in the US can make more than bartenders in the UK though - a lot more, depending on tips.
Full-tie bartenders in the UK are extremely lucky if they make more than $27,000/year outside London.
dhruvgupta
#34
Apr4-12, 02:53 PM
P: 1
Hi,

From my point of view, doing PhD is not the quest to remain in academia only. It gives you an edge to flourish in the company since nowadays companies are looking for scientists to boost their R&D activities. So I would suggest to go for PhD If you have got one. Indeed, I am dying to get one but am not able to get success in my quest till now.

Best Wishes,
Dhruv
Mr.Fermion
#35
Apr4-12, 04:29 PM
P: 4
I am finishing my ph.d in experimental condensed matter this fall the thesis defense is basically scheduled. So I can't say that I can directly answer your question directly but I can offer my 2 cents at least. I think that often times when people choose to get a ph.d in physics it feels like some sort of calling and many of the graduate students I meet have no idea why they are really doing it, many just tell me "I love physics and I had to continue to learn more about it".

I was definitely like them when I started, I wanted a sense of accomplishment and I only got that from doing research. There no feeling like having a very nice results that explains something that was previously unknown. Its extremely addictive and gratifying. However, the problem is that getting to that feeling often times takes years, at least in my case. The other side if the coin is that most first year graduate students don't really realize what they are committing too and often times fail to think of the personal and economic ramifications of graduate school.

On the plus side the University will pay your tuition, so at the end of your degree you will not be in debt as you would have been had you attended law school or medical school. However, professional schools are typically 3-4 years in length, in graduate school you are signing up for 5-7 years on average. You will get paid during this time, but on average you will make 15-25k a year depending on school and research group, it sounds like you are on the high end of this bracket. You can also make more money if you have and NSF or similar fellowship, but the high end on those is 40k. The reason I bringing money up is because an average graduate student won't be able to save for retirement for example, and you are also unlikely to make the amount of money you are going to lose over a ph.d compared to if you go in the work force after college. Me and a friend worked it out one day and in order to make up the amount of money lost during your ph.d you would need a starting salary of nearly 250k after graduation, and that's based on average salary of physic B.S that chose to go into industry.

Also keep in mind you will be working 60-80 hour weeks for the next 5-7 years regularly, sometimes more. You will rarely have weekends off, and most of your time will be spent either coding, instrument building, baby sitting your experiment, or designing electronics.

Having said all that I would probably do it all over again, I have no idea why. I think there a sense of accomplishment that comes with a ph.d degree that for some people is difficult to attain in other avenues of life.

In terms of job prospects, I am currently looking for my next move. I am very interested in the financial sector and there was in fact a firm that was recruiting in the last meeting I attended. I handed them my resume and I got pretty far in the interview process, however during the second technical interview the quant I was talking with said "You sound pretty enthusiastic about your research are you sure you want to do this" that and coupled with some really hard technical questions led to me receiving an e-mail that said " we think you are qualified for this job but we don't think there is a match in our current research team". I don't know if that was code for we think you are stupid or if I was too excited about my research. I also applied to Intel and got and interview there but completely bombed it because I really wasn't interested in micro processor manufacturing. Currently I am going through the interview process at Hitachi, have no idea how it will turn out but I figure most of this is just practice since I still have another 8 months until graduation.

My bigger point is that, at least in my experience, there seem to be people hiring physicist out there. Maybe I am just not what they are looking for. But, I got the sense from talking to recruiters and from my interviews that anyone with semi conductor, graphite, or polymer physics experience would be a of great value in the industrial sector. I think you would have great opportunities if you did you ph.d in photovoltaic. There are also post doc opportunities, which I am personally considering because I could transition into a field that has more application to the industrial sector, even do I love superconductors and have become very intrigued by topological insulators.

I don't how much this opus will help you, I apologize for the length but this has been my thoughts on my ph.d degree.
armis
#36
Apr13-12, 10:24 AM
P: 103
Quote Quote by Mr.Fermion View Post
I am finishing my ph.d in experimental condensed matter this fall the thesis defense is basically scheduled. So I can't say that I can directly answer your question directly but I can offer my 2 cents at least. I think that often times when people choose to get a ph.d in physics it feels like some sort of calling and many of the graduate students I meet have no idea why they are really doing it, many just tell me "I love physics and I had to continue to learn more about it".

I was definitely like them when I started, I wanted a sense of accomplishment and I only got that from doing research. There no feeling like having a very nice results that explains something that was previously unknown. Its extremely addictive and gratifying. However, the problem is that getting to that feeling often times takes years, at least in my case. The other side if the coin is that most first year graduate students don't really realize what they are committing too and often times fail to think of the personal and economic ramifications of graduate school.

On the plus side the University will pay your tuition, so at the end of your degree you will not be in debt as you would have been had you attended law school or medical school. However, professional schools are typically 3-4 years in length, in graduate school you are signing up for 5-7 years on average. You will get paid during this time, but on average you will make 15-25k a year depending on school and research group, it sounds like you are on the high end of this bracket. You can also make more money if you have and NSF or similar fellowship, but the high end on those is 40k. The reason I bringing money up is because an average graduate student won't be able to save for retirement for example, and you are also unlikely to make the amount of money you are going to lose over a ph.d compared to if you go in the work force after college. Me and a friend worked it out one day and in order to make up the amount of money lost during your ph.d you would need a starting salary of nearly 250k after graduation, and that's based on average salary of physic B.S that chose to go into industry.

Also keep in mind you will be working 60-80 hour weeks for the next 5-7 years regularly, sometimes more. You will rarely have weekends off, and most of your time will be spent either coding, instrument building, baby sitting your experiment, or designing electronics.

Having said all that I would probably do it all over again, I have no idea why. I think there a sense of accomplishment that comes with a ph.d degree that for some people is difficult to attain in other avenues of life.

In terms of job prospects, I am currently looking for my next move. I am very interested in the financial sector and there was in fact a firm that was recruiting in the last meeting I attended. I handed them my resume and I got pretty far in the interview process, however during the second technical interview the quant I was talking with said "You sound pretty enthusiastic about your research are you sure you want to do this" that and coupled with some really hard technical questions led to me receiving an e-mail that said " we think you are qualified for this job but we don't think there is a match in our current research team". I don't know if that was code for we think you are stupid or if I was too excited about my research. I also applied to Intel and got and interview there but completely bombed it because I really wasn't interested in micro processor manufacturing. Currently I am going through the interview process at Hitachi, have no idea how it will turn out but I figure most of this is just practice since I still have another 8 months until graduation.

My bigger point is that, at least in my experience, there seem to be people hiring physicist out there. Maybe I am just not what they are looking for. But, I got the sense from talking to recruiters and from my interviews that anyone with semi conductor, graphite, or polymer physics experience would be a of great value in the industrial sector. I think you would have great opportunities if you did you ph.d in photovoltaic. There are also post doc opportunities, which I am personally considering because I could transition into a field that has more application to the industrial sector, even do I love superconductors and have become very intrigued by topological insulators.

I don't how much this opus will help you, I apologize for the length but this has been my thoughts on my ph.d degree.
Thanks! This was most helpful. I didn't mind the length and I wished it was twice as long!

Did you do your PhD in your home country or abroad?


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