# Does publishing matter?

1. Mar 31, 2012

### llstelle

I'll like to share this great article on the contrast between academic and the working world (it's written for engineers especially from the computing side, but largely relevant to anyone in the natural science/engineering field).

"Academia is not like the real world: Your GPA largely doesn’t matter (modulo one high profile exception: a multinational advertising firm). To the extent that it does matter, it only determines whether your resume gets selected for job interviews. If you’re reading the rest of this, you know that your resume isn’t the primary way to get job interviews, so don’t spend huge amount of efforts optimizing something that you either have sufficiently optimized already (since you’ll get the same amount of interviews at 3.96 as you will at 3.8) or that you don’t need at all (since you’ll get job interviews because you’re competent at asking the right people to have coffee with you).

Your major and minor don’t matter. Most decisionmakers in industry couldn’t tell the difference between a major in Computer Science and a major in Mathematics if they tried. I was once reduced to tears because a minor academic snafu threatened my ability to get a Bachelor of Science with a major in Computer Science, which my advisor told me was more prestigious than a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Academia cares about distinctions like that. The real world does not.

Your professors might understand how the academic job market works (short story: it is ridiculously inefficient in engineering and fubared beyond mortal comprehension in English) but they often have quixotic understandings of how the real world works. For example, they may push you to get extra degrees because a) it sounds like a good idea to them and b) they enjoy having research-producing peons who work for ramen. Remember, market wages for people capable of producing research are $80~100k+++ in your field. That buys an awful lot of ramen. The prof in charge of my research project offered me a spot in his lab, a tuition waiver, and a whole$12,000 dollars as a stipend if I would commit 4~6 years to him. That’s a great deal if, and only if, you have recently immigrated from a low-wage country and need someone to intervene with the government to get you a visa.

If you really like the atmosphere at universities, that is cool. Put a backpack on and you can walk into any building at any university in the United States any time you want. Backpacks are a lot cheaper than working in academia. You can lead the life of the mind in industry, too — and enjoy less politics and better pay. You can even get published in journals, if that floats your boat. (After you’ve escaped the mind-warping miasma of academia, you might rightfully question whether Published In A Journal is really personally or societally significant as opposed to close approximations like Wrote A Blog Post And Showed It To Smart People.)"

Original source: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-programmer/

2. Mar 31, 2012

### ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
What you have listed is very superficial and vaguely condescending. I would not listen to an "advice" given with such a tone.

There are plenty of other valuable resources to consider career in industries. I've highlighted one as far back as in 2009, giving a link to this article in Science Career section. It has a lot more specific points to address without needing to belittle a career in academia.

Zz.

3. Mar 31, 2012

Staff Emeritus
I wouldn't take academic advice from someone who doesn't understand the difference between "number" and "amount". Maybe the academic system did fail him, but that would be long before he got to college.

4. Mar 31, 2012

### llstelle

I've just completed reading the article you've linked, and it is useful too, in a different dimension. I stand by my recommendation of the article I've linked.

For instance, the facts stated are true. Being offered a $12,000/year stipend in graduate school (en route to a possible career in academia) vs a$80,000-$100,000 starting pay (though admissibly on the higher end) is a realistic and concrete situation. The worries of GPA, major etc. are concrete. On the other hand, there are parts of the article you've linked to that have equally poor information: "Depending on the industry, scientists contemplating a job at a particular company may have to do a bit more soul-searching than their academic counterparts do. "Anyone going from academia to the private sector should ask themselves, 'Am I selling out?'" Frankly, this is above is prime example of superficiality. Beseeching the reader to think "Am I selling out?" or to "do a bit more soul-searching" doesn't help at all. I can reduce the syntactic sugar to: If you are trying to make a decision, do a bit of soul-searching! What about: "Look at it open-minded and without any prejudice," he says. "There will be good and bad positions offered in both academia and industry." This doesn't say much either, it just says: Be open-minded. OK. What now? On the other hand, telling some facts (in a scathing tone, perhaps) leaves the reader much more to ponder on. I wouldn't cast it as superficial or condescending; I would say read it and use your own discretion. 5. Mar 31, 2012 ### ZapperZ Staff Emeritus That's a horrible comparison. A graduate stipend is NOT a salary! You are comparing someone who is going to school with someone who is starting a career! Why not stop there? Why not compare the money a high school kid makes versus an entry level engineer? The article has A LOT more to say than those you quoted. In fact, it has a lot more meat than the "talking down" article that you quote. It gave specific examples on the differences in doing "research" in academia versus in industries. How come you ignored that? The people in academia that you are putting down are the ones that are making many of the advances that you are enjoying now. Like to play with your iphone and ipad? Why don't you trace the origin of those capacitive touch display? There is plenty to say about "job satisfaction" both in academia and in industries. Unfortunately, you seem to only use "income" as the major criteria. If that is all you care about, why even bother going into science? Do you also have an article that dissed science majors and urge them to go into accounting, economics, business, etc.? After all, those often command top salaries. You may not see anything wrong with that article you cited, but I do. It appeared to have come from someone with an axe to grind, and certainly is bitter about something. Zz. 6. Mar 31, 2012 ### ParticleGrl I think this distinction is a touch disingenuous. Everyone I know starting a physics phd program considered themselves at the start of a career in physics. So did their advisors. The allure of graduate school is the very fact that its the start of certain type of career. For most of graduate school, you are working with your advisor to advance both of your career goals. You also teach classes for the school. Further, the knowledge you learn during a phd program is narrow, highly specialized information- nothing at all like undergraduate. Its closer to a career-oriented trade school. Also, the choice students are making is taking a job out of undergrad vs. going to graduate school, so if you don't get some of the same skills from graduate school you expect to get from an intro career you will be in trouble on the job market. Comparing income is fair and its important prospective students consider the huge opportunity cost of graduate school. 7. Mar 31, 2012 ### llstelle The obvious point of convergence is on a time scale, for someone who is considering either career path (academia or industry) immediately after graduation. I think you're missing the point that this gaping (and unfortunate) difference that you're pointing out is precisely what the author of the article is trying to emphasize. I didn't ignore that. It was the first thing I said: There is "meaty" and "meatless" information in both articles. However, you seem to be seeking to confirm the "meatless" hypothesis in the article that I've cited, while trying to confirm the "meaty" hypothesis in the article that you've cited. I apologize if I didn't point out my intention, and I now make it clear: I've chosen only to draw the "meatless" examples from the article that you've linked to so as to balance the premises of this argument and demonstrate the confirmation bias in your post. I have not edited my posts above. A cursory read of the two posts will show that I have never suggested income as a major criteria. (I've not even mentioned anything about criteria, let alone a "major" one.) I did, however, mention that it is a "concrete" figure, and not something with subjective undertones like the ethical cost-benefit of "selling out" and "soul-searching". I'll describe a bit of a personal anecdote. Near the end of my undergraduate applications process, I was deciding between two admissions offers. It was a storybook situation. One of my publications from before entering college was on the privacy of language, and my research was heavily influenced by Wittgenstein and Chomsky. Each were affiliated with the two universities that had offered me admission. The two universities were at different cities that had the same name. At one of them, I would have studied law, which I felt more confident at since I had research in the philosophy of ethics behind me and scored consistently highest at Knowledge Inquiry. And I was aware that I had a statistical income advantage if I completed law school. At the other university, law was only available as a graduate degree; I'd have a semi-liberal arts education, and would be majoring in physics. When I was a child, I had no idea about academia; I just loved the planets and was absolutely delighted when I first found out that objects even laid beyond the Kuiper belt. I pondered my inabilities at physics, never went beyond the science fair in my research pursuits - but it was my passion. The internet helped me make my decision. A series of articles written by someone on this forum was a major part of it - that's how I came to be aware of this website. I still direct my pre-freshman, prospective physics majors to the articles. My intention was just to share an article and I've done my extent of fairly defending its author. I must say it's slightly ironic that the same person who had a huge influence in my career choice would turn out to accuse me of putting down that very career choice that I've chosen. I own neither an iPhone or an iPad. I'm not familiar with the origins of capacitive touch display. But I happened to spend an entire year carrying out my research at the same facility that is responsible for many breakthroughs in tactile feedback and haptic technology that you see on Android phones today. I do have an appreciation for the work that my colleagues had done. I was taught at my college to respect everyone, to read his or her words, not judge his character or educational background. After all, some kids came in straight from high school with Olympiad medals and schooled everyone at algebraic geometry in freshman year. Others are blind or deaf. Some have ADHD or dyslexia, and probably don't know the difference between "number" and "amount" very well either. More relevantly, everyone makes innocuous writing mistakes. Here's someone who presumably spent a good amount of time writing the article, without a vested interest or (much of) anything to gain from swaying his readers' opinions. I think it's unfortunate that you'd cast aside the entire article on this trivial basis. Now, I've done my part of sharing the article. I think it's fair for the audience of this forum to decide what to take from this entire thread without further argument. Let's stay back on topic. Last edited: Mar 31, 2012 8. Mar 31, 2012 ### Choppy The article as a whole I think has a lot of good advice - in particular aspects of job hunting and negotiation. One has to keep in mind that, as llstelle pointed out, the article is largely targeted towards computer science/engineering types, rather than the more broad scope of readers on this board. I don't necessarily agree with everything in it though and I think the clip that llstelle chose to post is probably the most controversial part - from an academic point of view. Hopefully this isn't news to anyone. Maybe it doesn't matter in this person's circles, but it's important to keep GPA in perspective. 1. Undergraduate GPA is the single biggest factor in determining admissions to graduate school and professional schools. If you're even considering either of these, you don't want to ignore it. 2. GPA is what determines (academic) scholarship eligibility and for many of them, a certain minimum has to be maintained. 3. In the context of this article, we're talking about employment in the "real world." I know of several positions that require a specific GPA. If you don't make the cut, you're simply not eligile for the job. Further, GPA is one of the first things that professors will look at when writing letters of reference. All of that being said, I'm still of the opinion that it's better to focus on learning the material rather than doing everything possible to boost your GPA. My point is not to ignore it, which could be interpreted as this article's advice. Yes and no. For one counterpoint, if the job description says "degree in X required" and you have degree in Y, where Y is approximately equivalent to X, you're at the mercy of those same decisionmakers who don't know the difference. What's important for a student is to focus on the actual courses and material covered. I would agree that largely, no one really cares what your minor was - even in academia. On the other hand, it does succinctly underline where you focused your electives and there may be a few situations where communicating that efficiently could be helpful. Maybe this is different at different schools, but I don't really remember professors really pushing students in any particular direction as an undergrad. Either way, this point makes the author really sounds like he or she doesn't know how academia works. Graduate students are not, in general, efficient researchers. And there are a lot of professors who have "real world" experience and know exactly how it works. What's the definition of "capable of producing research" being applied here? I would assume it means already having a PhD. I have to weigh in on this. I'm very much with ZapperZ. A graduate student is not an employee. Employees in the "real world" make much more money, but that's it. They work on what they're told to work on because somewhere it does something profitable for the company. Graduate students are students, earning an advanced degree. They are entitled to pursue interests of academic merit. They are entitled to advanced classes in their field and personal mentoring by well-established researchers. They are entitled to library facility use which grants access to thousands of journals. In the end they get an advanced degree and the privileges (increased earning potential, academic and industrial job options, prestige, formal skills in research, field contacts) that come with it. AND they get a stipend. These stipends don't come out company profits. They come from taxes. I'm not even sure where to begin with this or whether it's even worth addressing. One important point is that just about all work that comes from "industry" is published along with conflict of interest disclosure - which is an academic "buyer beware" sticker. Further, it's usually done in conjuction with academics. So I'm not sure that it's a completely realistic to suggest that once you leave academia you have simila oppotunities to do academic work. Further, comparing peer-reviewed literature to blog posts is like getting your facts on social issues from political ad campaigns. 9. Apr 1, 2012 ### chill_factor i read the article. i would just like to say that the writer of the article is socially inept and speaks in an uncomfortable and abrupt tone. that is in direct contradiction to his claim of having "good communication skills" and is not good for the type of career path he's promoting. 10. Apr 1, 2012 ### ZapperZ Staff Emeritus I disagree with both. You are comparing someone who is still a full time student with someone who is a full time employee! Even the IRS makes such a distinction! So who are you to say that this comparison is valid? By the same token, you could say that to every single graduate student in the country. And you know what? Those who are there and paying their own fare makes ZERO amount of money and, in fact, has a net LOSS of cash flow since they also have to pay for their education. Using your logic, going to law school and business school and medical school is a no-no! Actually, there is very little meat to the article you cited. And that is what I meant by it being highly superficial. It is more of an "admonishment" than anything else. It talked down to people and belittle those who actually chose the academic route and going to graduate school. Sorry, but you blatantly make the income comparison as the major criteria. You can't seriously believe that, for example, "politics" isn't as bad in industry as it is in academia! Have you ever seen the politics involved in a law firm? No? How about an accounting firm? How about upper level management? The only "solid" comparison that you have made is based on income! And I've already stated why that is not a valid comparison, not only because one doesn't consider a "stipend" to be a full-time salary, but also you are ignoring the fact that many of these stipend comes with full tuition wavers. It means that for many schools, this is almost a$20,00 credit that, for a brief period of time, the IRS wanted to tax.

Sorry, but if you have been on this forum for any considerable period of time, you should know that something like that never goes unchallenged. And I AM challenging the validity of many of the things that both you and that article has said.

I can cite you many anecdotal stories as well. I had a job offer from Applied Materials after my graduation, with a generous salary. Yet, I turned it down for an postdoc position that paid HALF of what I would have made. Best Decision I've Ever Made! It opened up doors that I never would have had. While I did not eventually go into academia, I now live a life that I had wanted doing what I love the most. To me, that matters as well!

And if you want to talk about irony, think about this. Most of my writings on career advice has always tried to emphasis to students that they simply cannot be very narrow in their school curriculum as to reduced their "employability" in the private sector. Read my essay as proof that that had always been my philosophy. I've always tried to INFORM students about all the possibilities, and all the issues regarding employment, especially in physics, so that they are fully aware of not just what is out there, but also the reality of the job market in what they do. The fact that people in, say, condensed matter, can also excellent candidates to work at Intel, Motorola, etc.. etc. means that they have a wider net to cast when compared to someone who is a high-energy theorist. This is important to point out, but it should be pointed out in such a way as to NOT DISS those who do chose to be high-energy theory! Re-read your first post and tell me that this is not what you did and what you cited.

"The prof in charge of my research project offered me a spot in his lab, a tuition waiver, and a whole $12,000 dollars as a stipend if I would commit 4~6 years to him. That’s a great deal if, and only if, you have recently immigrated from a low-wage country and need someone to intervene with the government to get you a visa." "If you really like the atmosphere at universities, that is cool. Put a backpack on and you can walk into any building at any university in the United States any time you want. Backpacks are a lot cheaper than working in academia." "You can lead the life of the mind in industry, too — and enjoy less politics and better pay. You can even get published in journals, if that floats your boat. (After you’ve escaped the mind-warping miasma of academia, you might rightfully question whether Published In A Journal is really personally or societally significant as opposed to close approximations like Wrote A Blog Post And Showed It To Smart People.)" Shall I go on? Putting on a back pack and walk through a university is equivalent to have a "university atmosphere"? And I wouldn't even touch that insulting comment about "recently immigrated from low-wage country". And this is the article you sent to impressionable students? Sorry, but not responding to such a thing will do a disservice to everyone who you directed to read it, because it will imply an implicit endorsement. This whole thing reminded me of a poor article written by a liberal arts major to sway students into majoring in the liberal arts. Instead of writing down the strong points of doing such a major, this person instead decided to diss and deride those who do major in the sciences and engineering! In other words, just like what is being done in political campaign! Can't find enough good points about you? Why, just bash the other person! And yes, I would not let something that stupid go by unchallenged either! Zz. 11. Apr 1, 2012 ### ParticleGrl I don't think you are responding to anything I said, simply reiterating that the full time student's title is "student." In many labs, its impossible to tell the postdocs from the graduate students in terms of the work they are doing, the time spent in lab, etc. And yet your asserting one isn't doing work for the university, and one is? First, grad school is a completely different entity then medical school or law school. Law students don't teach prelaw classes for the university, etc. Law school students won't get kicked out if they don't get enough research done, etc. In professional degree programs like law, medical school, you take your specific sequence of courses/rotations, and then you are done. Medical and law school are very much like undergrad. Grad school is not. Graduate school is very much like work for the university. Second, obviously medical students and law students should factor in the money they could be earning when deciding to attend school! Opportunity costs are real! 12. Apr 1, 2012 ### atyy Does the IRS really make such a distinction? 13. Apr 1, 2012 ### Vanadium 50 Staff Emeritus No, Zz just made it up. Of course they make that distinction - otherwise why would Zz post what he did? To take one example, to be a "qualifying child", you must be less than 19 or less than 24 if a full-time student. 14. Apr 1, 2012 ### Pythagorean I get charged taxes for my assistanceship earnings, and I don't fill out a special bracket. But, as a student I also get deductions, which outweigh my measly earnings. 15. Apr 1, 2012 ### Pythagorean Oh yeah, and yes, publishing matters. 16. Apr 1, 2012 ### atyy What if you are not someone's qualifying child, is there any distinction then? Or are all students qualifying children? 17. Apr 1, 2012 ### llstelle 18. Apr 2, 2012 ### ZapperZ Staff Emeritus That's strange, because that would be the point I would make. Opportunity costs for graduate student in physics is certainly higher than just a B.Sc! How come that was not considered? If I were to get people to wake up and smell the roses and to consider a non-academia career, I would use the fact that employment in academia is very low. This is not a surprise, and it is something I've mentioned already several times. This should get people to start thinking about wanting to go into such a career. But this certainly is different than telling them not to go into graduate school in science, and certainly is a different tactic than dissing those who do. This is now going in a different direction. I have ZERO problems with telling graduates to open up their view and to consider non-academia employment, considering that the majority of them will end up there! What I have a problem is the condescending view that has been taken towards those going into graduate school, and the comparison in earnings being made with someone who is a full-time employee. Zz. Last edited: Apr 2, 2012 19. Apr 2, 2012 ### ZapperZ Staff Emeritus Look beyond the superficial! The Lab/university considers a postdoc as an employee, while a graduate student isn't! One gets medical benefits, the other doesn't! At the lab here, there is no difference in status between a graduate students and an undergraduate intern, other than the length of time they spend here. There's a huge difference between them and a postdoc, including the difference in overhead costs! And oh, while we are at it, look at what status the INS/USCIS would allow a full-time international graduate student to have, versus what a postdoc should have. Try arguing with them that you think they all do the same work! I don't quite understand this. In view of what is an "employee" versus what isn't, there's more in common between graduate student in science and those going to Law school, versus graduate student and someone who is employed by an industry! Both graduate student in science and those going to law schools are both STUDENTS! In fact, graduate student in science typically are FULL TIME STUDENTS. And to address the statement I made about IRS, as Vanadium has pointed out, your parents would know the difference between you in a full time graduate school versus you already working when they take their deductions! And yes, there is an age limit to this. I still can't believe people still think that comparing a full-time graduate student with someone who is a full-time employee is a valid comparison. Zz. Last edited: Apr 2, 2012 20. Apr 2, 2012 ### atyy Yes, a student can have an F-1, a postdoc not. But by the same token, one can be a resident for tax purposes but not immigration purposes. If a student is on an F-1, would his parents have him as a qualifying child for US tax purposes? 21. Apr 2, 2012 ### ParticleGrl Honestly, I think you are the one looking at the superficial. Your only point seems to be that some people have the title "student" and some people don't. We can all agree on that. Graduate students are "full time students" but most of those full time students spend 0% of their time in class, and roughly 100% doing value-added tasks for the university. This is obviously hugely different from medschool and gradschool where students spend about 0% of their time doing value-added tasks for the university and 100% of their time in class. If a graduate student stops showing up, the university has to hire someone to replace them in the lab and classroom. If a law student stops showing up, the school probably wouldn't even notice. At my old university the gradstudents got medical on a university plan, and the postdocs pay for their medical out of pocket. I don't think this is uncommon (I might be wrong). But my point is that if you were to walk into a lab and observe the work being done for a few weeks in a lot of labs you'll be hard pressed to decide who the postdocs are and who the gradstudents are. They might have different TITLES, but they are doing the same work. If someone is choosing between going to graduate school and working full time THEN THIS IS THE VALID COMPARISON OF OPPORTUNITY COST! Thats how opportunity cost works- you compare what you could be doing with what you are doing. What opportunities am I passing on in order to pursue what I'm doing now? If someone is choosing between working full time as an engineer or pursuing their phd, do you really think how much they could make as an engineer doesn't matter? 22. Apr 2, 2012 ### Pyrrhus Also, don't forget the other difference. A postdoc has the PhD, and also many more years of experience in comparison to the PhD student, and even the PhD candidates. 23. Apr 2, 2012 ### atyy So yes, for management, and maybe for pure mathematics. But in general, can't a graduate student do absolutely first rate work? OTOH, I certainly appreciate the importance of good management in science - that is a very important contribution. Still, I would count non-management contributions such as general relativity also to be scientific contributions. 24. Apr 2, 2012 ### Pyrrhus I think the gap of completing a PhD dissertation is being neglected. This gap is not trivial. There are many ABD out there. A Postdoc already proved himself to be able to carry out the research, and complete it. I am not saying PhD students cannot do first rate work. I am saying PhD students do not hold the degree, and lack the experience of a Postdoc. Frankly, one of the reasons a professor may hire a postdoc is because a postdoc has more experience for a specific research subject, and this experience is required now for the project at hand instead of letting the PhD students acquire in several months or so. Last edited: Apr 2, 2012 25. Apr 2, 2012 ### Choppy There's a lot of talk about opportunity cost here. But somewhere there seems to be this assumption that the opportunity cost doesn't actually "buy" anything for the student. That's where the disagreement is stemming from. If it takes you two years to get a master's degree where you are getting paid$20k per year, compared to starting an entry-level position that pays $45k per year, your opportunity cost is$25k per year (plus lost investments, less work experience, etc.)

But you GET a master's degree out of the deal. So after 2 years, you have (1) a higher earning potential, (2) opportunities to do work you may not have been previously qualified for, and (3) the education itself.

Is the opportunity cost made up for by the higher earning potential and everything else that comes with the advanced education? That's the question that a potential graduate student should be asking.