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6 PhDs up, 6 PhDs down

  1. Jan 8, 2008 #1
    Seriously what are they teaching PhD students these days in grad school that want to go into industry? We have had 6 fresh PhDs come in to interview for a post doc position and all of them have been shot down easily on a whim. They have come from all over, from schools in China to Harvard and small little schools you have barely heard of. The quality of PhDs who have applied for the position is very much underwhelming.

    Yeah your adviser is a big shot, so what? It is good to give a brief discussion of his and your group's work, but don't make it impossible or extremely hard for us to determine what work you actually have done and what work was not done by you but your group. Who your adviser is or who you have studied under may raise an eyebrow for 5 seconds, after that no one cares. You have to show what YOU can do.


    A PhD today came in and made a huge mistake in his presentation today that even a sophomore in college would have even caught. Seriously do 'famous' advisers actually take time these days to actually advise their students or do they just try to get as many students as possible to have bragging rights and to make funding for their projects easier? Do they even have professional development seminars for fresh PhDs?
     
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  3. Jan 8, 2008 #2

    chemisttree

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    I feel your pain. As you become more experienced (and old and crotchety) you will notice these deficiencies more acutely. I remember once when an brand new PhD tried his first reaction in my lab. He was trying to make a grignard from 3-chloronitrobenzene. He even continued with his reaction after I pointed out the obvious error. Spent lots of time and money isolating fractions, NMR, mass spec... the whole enchilada.

    His PhD Thesis was based upon syntheses and characterization of polymers that required the use of grignards in the first step...:rolleyes:
     
  4. Jan 8, 2008 #3


    The candidate today claimed to have dibrominated his starting material by using only 1.1 equivalents of NBS and got a 82% total yield! That is more like a 200% yield. Seriously where was this guys 'famous' adviser to catch that one?
     
  5. Jan 8, 2008 #4

    mgb_phys

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    I was in an experimental physics group, because high schools no longer teach shop classes (and anybody heading for a physics PhD wouldn't take them) it's very hard to find someone with any practical skills.
    My supervisor suggested giving someone a motorbike engine to re-assemble, he then dropped the requirement to Ikea furniture and finally claimed he would take any student who, after being left alone for 5 minutes in a room with a screwdriver, was still alive.

    He also felt the replacement of valve electronics with CMOS was unfair because instead of clumsy students being weeded out by 400V heater supplies, the poor innocent CMOS part was killed instead!
     
  6. Jan 8, 2008 #5
    :rofl:
     
  7. Jan 8, 2008 #6

    Moonbear

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    For starters, PhDs really aren't given much training in what industry looks for, afterall, everyone they're seeking advice from is in academics. I try to be honest about that with students who ask me about industry options and point out that having never had any experience in that career path, I can't give them good advice about how to get a job or what the jobs are like, or what to look for. I can only suggest they find a contact in industry and take the initiative to talk to them and find out from someone who has experienced it first hand. If they don't take that initiative, then they sure don't deserve the job.

    And, yes, I do also understand your concern about not being able to tell what part of the work is the recent graduate's and what part was their mentor's. Unfortunately, those people also get academic jobs, and get their first grant still resting on their advisor's laurels, and it's too late once they've gotten tenure to realize they can't hack it on their own.

    I suspect you're going to get a higher percentage of the "wash-outs" in industry because those people get steered out of academia. One way I've found to get a better idea of what a post-doc candidate's qualifications are is to call their PhD mentor. Don't rely on letters of reference. It's easy to write a positive letter of reference by simply focusing on the good qualities and omitting the bad. It's a lot harder to "fake it" over the phone, and often when there is no longer a paper trail of evidence, you'll get more honesty too. And, you can ask straight up..."In this publication, who did the part using...?" And then if it was them, you can ask further questions...did they need assistance? Have they done a lot of that, or is that their only experience with that type of protocol/procedure/design/etc, and they'll need further training?

    And, when it comes to "famous" advisors, it depends on the advisor. Some have a great reputation for training and research excellence because they keep their lab small and really take the time to oversee everything and make sure their students are directly trained by them. Others have become famous more for volume of publications, and while they may have done great work many many years ago, they are now just chugging those out because they have huge labs where there will always be a few who do great work to keep the publications coming out, and others can slack off unnoticed. Often, in labs like that, they do not oversee much anymore, and have assigned that responsibility to a heirarchy of research assistant professors, post-docs, technicians, grad students and undergraduates. Sometimes it requires some sleuthing to find out how a lab really functions and how much independent work vs assembly line work the members of a lab are producing.
     
  8. Jan 8, 2008 #7

    Moonbear

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    :rofl: Indeed, I've had to teach people with PhDs how to use a drill and screwdriver.

    In the ag school, we used to be able to let the cattle weed out those who didn't pay attention to their surroundings, but now we have too many regulations that require us to protect people from their own stupidity.
     
  9. Jan 8, 2008 #8
    All I am asking is "Where is the quality control?"

    To me it seems that universities have become nothing more than degree manufacturing companies with little quality control. Lots of professors seem to only aim for quantity and not quality in order to pad their own resumes at the expense of their students. It is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO obvious in interviews and in Q&A when a PhD candidate has had little to no guidance at all from their adviser.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2008
  10. Jan 8, 2008 #9
    does that mean since i know how to dis and re assemble an engine and ikea furniture you'll hire me over a phd? it's funny how when you're in school no one will give you a job unless you're an academic star and after school apparently no one cares.
     
  11. Jan 8, 2008 #10

    mgb_phys

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    I mean if you want to come and do an experimental physics PhD, you are going to need to solder, machine parts, create and understand engineering drawings and work with cryogenics, pumps and high voltages without killing anybody.

    "Grad students are expendable - but there is a lot of paperwork if you have happen to expend one"
     
  12. Jan 9, 2008 #11

    Integral

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    I have been out of work for a total of 4months in the 30yrs since I completed my BS in physics. Every job I have had required my degree, but had I had ONLY the degree would have been flipping burgers. What got me the work was my practical experience in the US Navy as an Electronics Tech. There is nothing like some real hands on work experiance.
     
  13. Jan 9, 2008 #12

    Moonbear

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    Isn't soldering and machining parts a job for someone in a shop or a technician? You don't need a degree to do those things. A PhD teaches you how to think, plan and design experiments, analyze data, understand the theory behind the work, know how to write it all up and communicate it for publication, etc. There's no "shop class" for PhDs. Presumably, you could hire a high school student if that's what you want done. Depending on how the lab was organized and who did what (i.e., did they have technicians to do all the soldering for them while they focused on planning the experiments and overseeing the designs), anything specifically necessary for them to do for future experiments, they should learn during a post-doc.
     
  14. Jan 9, 2008 #13

    mgb_phys

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    It's hard to find technicians anymore - they want job security and pensions and other expensive things, short term contract researchers are much cheaper.

    You can design equipement far enough in advance to have it made - if the project works out smoothly but often modifications and new systems are needed urgently.
    And sometimes it takes longer to design and draw something properly for a manufacturer than just to lash it together yourself.
    Then there is field work - if something stops working or needs modifing at the south pole or on top of a mountain you have to be able to do it yourself.

    Actually the most difficult thing I learnt was how to do customs clearances to get complex bits of equipement into countries all over the world.
     
  15. Jan 9, 2008 #14

    Gokul43201

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    Ow! If you work in a lab that does difficult measurements, you can expect to spend a large amount of time soldering, machining, designing and building things. I joined a group that had just moved to here from a different school. I spent about 5 years building a low-temperature, low-noise lab and a clean room, essentially from scratch. That includes, soldering and brazing parts, designing and building measurement and control electronics (none of the electronics we use is off-the-shelf), designing, programming and putting together HVAC control systems, rebuilding pumps and gauges, machining parts, assembling, modifying and repairing cryostats, building and modifying (vacuum and other) plumbing systems,...the list goes on.

    After I leave, the lab will be moving again to a different building, and the firm that was hired to put together the new cleanroom have only screwed up thrice so far and taken 2 years to do that, and used up all the money in the process! :rolleyes: This is why we do things ourselves.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2008
  16. Jan 9, 2008 #15

    Dr Transport

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    Universities are in the business of pumping out degrees, quality is not a consideration in some cases.

    I have interviewed people with advanced degrees and they don't know jack, they all want two computers on their desk and a window with a view. Working in the lab and getting dirty or going out on a test and hugging a camera in -20 windchill is not an option, neither is coming in at 5:30 or 6 or staying past dinner time or both.
     
  17. Jan 9, 2008 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Most people straight out of academia are lost when they meet the industrial world. It is even a bit of a joke in industry. Eventually the skills translate, but it takes time to adjust and get past the learning curve. And like Integral said, having some practical skills in advance does help a great deal. As for substandard Ph.D.s, that is very bothersome. Of course some people just don't interview well. I only a BS in physics, but I remember totally blowing one interview where the questions asked should have been no problem. It was just one of those days.

    Most Ph.D.'s that I've worked with were doing the dirty just like everyone else [2 AM and working in the plant for a critical start-up].
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2008
  18. Jan 9, 2008 #17

    f95toli

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    One problem is of course that PhD students sometime aren't ALLOWED to do many of those things. I guess it depends on where you work but in my experience there are always Heath&Safety people that will object to students (or senior researchers for that matter)
    even being in a workshop. And in some cases I guess they are right (most of the laws and regulations are there for a good reason). When I was a PhD student I spent quite a lot of time maching simple parts since out technician was usually quite busy but the only reason I could do that was because there was a "hidden" workshop on campus; it was closed down a few months before I left.
    We are planning to hire some interns that will work in our lab over the summer but I was recently told that they will NOT be allowed to e.g help with nitrogen or helium transfers.

    Also, the amount of practical experience will also depend on the "culture". A good example is Japan where most researchers -at least in my field- rarely do anything "practical", they even have technicans that maintain things like cryostats. In many cases this is VERY detrimental to the quality of the science since the scientist do not always understand the equipment they are working with.
     
  19. Jan 9, 2008 #18

    Gokul43201

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    That's crazy! I've never heard of such problems. Most physics departments I'm familiar with specifically have a machine shop for grad students to use.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=phys...ient=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official

    Again, this is ridiculous! Who's going to do the transfers then?
     
  20. Jan 9, 2008 #19

    Moonbear

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    The helium transfer union probably. :rolleyes:
     
  21. Jan 9, 2008 #20

    f95toli

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    Well, I guess I am (as usual).
    We do not have that many PhD students where I work now (I currently work at an institute, not a university) so most of the practical work is done by researchers; although some work is done by technicans.

    I should perhaps mention that I am currently working in the UK. I have worked here for just over two years now and in my experience they seem to take H&S even more seriously here than in Sweden (I am swedish and did my PhD there).
    Maybe the regulations are different in the US?
     
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