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Programs Doubting to go for PhD after real research experience

  1. Aug 24, 2012 #1
    Dear all,

    I've just finished my second real lab experience (after my bachelors thesis). I spent 3 weeks in ISOLDE working on the beamline that would collect the data for my master thesis. The experiment was a huge success.

    I enjoyed it a lot, but at some point I just felt like I was running after the leading postdoc asking for jobs to do. I tried showing initiative, but at some point that seemed to be impossible.

    This all has me wondering over actually trying to go for a PhD position. Therefore I was wondering if you guys had a similar experience and still went for a PhD.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2012 #2
    I'm a theorist, so my "real research experience" was staring at Mathematica or a whiteboard until I went cross-eyed, but what you're describing is pretty much how things go until you get up to speed in your research area. By the time you know enough to be innovative and show initiative, you'll be writing your dissertation (after all, getting to the level where you can do independent research is what your PhD studies are all about).

    As for whether or not you should go for it... no. If you have to ask the question, then no. It's a bad idea. Academia sucks, the job market is terrible, and you're wasting your potential. For every faculty position out there, there are two hundred postdocs waiting in the wings, and for every postdoc there are five newly minted PhD's hoping that postdoc quits. Getting a PhD is crazy; get out now while you have the chance.

    If you have any wavering doubts at all, it's better to quit. Only if you are willing to sacrifice your career, your whole life, for the slim chance that you beat the odds and make it into faculty should you try it; except, even then, you shouldn't, because you aren't the guy. The deck is stacked against you. The one guy you need to retire in order for a position to open up that you might have a shot at will instead decide to keep working well into his '90's, because he can. It's a suckers bet. Don't do it.

    (Signed, a bitter postdoc, who's probably writing this to discourage future competition.)
  4. Aug 24, 2012 #3
    I've never doubted I would like to do a PhD. I'm just wondering if I would be suitable for it after what I just experienced. If not I will have to start looking for a job in a few months. If somebody thinks I am suitable, he or she would probably offer me one.

    It's not the path to academia that attracts me in doing a PhD. I just like doing physics, even more now. I would like to take the opportunity before entering industry.
  5. Aug 24, 2012 #4
    Oh, I don't think your experiences have anything to do with lack of ability. Given that you were working on your master's thesis, I surmise that you've just recently finished up the normal required graduate level coursework. From there, depending on the specific discipline of your research, taking another 2-4 years to get up to speed to the point that you can start doing independent research is not unusual. Prior to that, research is mostly following your advisor (or the senior postdoc in your group, or whomever) around, doing what he tells you to do.
  6. Aug 29, 2012 #5
    I've talked to my supervisor at the experiment and he sees no reason why I shouldn't be able to do a PhD. He warned me for the very long days where all planning is impossible. Like last week we had an unexpected experimental run every night from 6PM till 10AM. This apparently happens a lot. Maybe it's because I was there only for the experiment (he lives at CERN), but I really didn't mind.

    He encouraged me to work my *** of on my master's thesis, because this also gives you an idea of research. This was my plan all along. :)

    As of now I will be included in the list of authors on all the papers coming out of this experiment and I am already in the list for a previous experiment. Is this worth mentioning somewhere when I apply for a PhD or is that useless?
  7. Aug 29, 2012 #6
    Yes mention it.
  8. Aug 29, 2012 #7
    I can't tell you what to do but only give my current PhD story.

    I've never been the type of person that comes up with original ideas besides some rare occasions. What I can do is work hard, analyze something for a really long time, and solve problems. These traits scream industry type work after I'm done with my PhD. I think I would make a far below average research professor and that's good because it's never been my goal.

    The reason I'm doing a PhD is to experience higher level ideas, mostly from classes and independent studies. I want to see how these things work from inside and out, that alone was reason for me to leave a very high paying career. I don't regret it yet and I'm starting my 3rd year in a physics PhD program.

    On the other side of this, I've met and seen some fellow students that are the type of people that come up with great ideas effortlessly. The type of ideas that even the experts in those fields still say "Huh, I never thought about it that way before" or "That's a really interesting idea, talk to me after class" and then end up working along side the professor their sophomore year in college helping with research. If given the chance I'm sure those kids could do something great but there always seemed to be a common trait among those types; they couldn't stand to do the grinding-out everyday tasks (actually writing up a project, debugging code, finding the error in the 2 page algebra problem, etc.) They thought of that stuff as boring/wrench-turning and for that reason I'm not so sure they will be happy with their lives, because if they don't land that research professorship at that ivy league school they'll think of themselves as failures.

    I'm with Aimless on this point though: "If you have to ask the question, then no." I waited 4 years of working in the "real-world" before I was ready to go back and do a PhD. The good thing by waiting this long is that I made great money and don't have to live like a broke grad student for 5-6 years. The only down side was I had to refresh myself on many things to get ready for these classes but that can even be thought of a positive because those old ideas look different relearning them years later.
  9. Aug 29, 2012 #8
    I was this type of kid - creative one but I couldn't stand mundane work. And you know what? I decided to screw Physics and went for creative field (you know a field such as entertainment) where creative stuff:grunt work ratio was much better than in science. That was the best decision I have ever made.

    Many artists, writers and other creative people have Physics background because we are interested and ask "why?" question but we aren't suited for science while people like you are.

    Science is 5% of creativity and 95% of boring stuff. Being able to do boring stuff is much more important. More or less you are suited to be scientist in 95% while I am in 5%.

    Those children will probably be happy in different than science field because waiting until 40 with doing creative stuff is too much. When I was doing research for my bachelor thesis I have felt like a brainless drone so....

    doing PhD is fine as long as you enjoy doing boring and mundane work. If you don't, you should find different field.
  10. Aug 29, 2012 #9
    seems like there's less grunt work in terms of solving book problems in many other fields. the grunt work in terms of actually having to do experiments is always there, in the real world, but the grunt work in terms of solving problems with an answer in a book is not.

    Physics seems to have a great deal of both.

    Maybe you can consider switching to a field with less "problem solving" gruntwork and more "real world experience" grunt work like computer science.
  11. Aug 29, 2012 #10
    Are you still talking to me?
  12. Aug 29, 2012 #11
    That pretty much describes me. Except that I am content doing the boring stuff as well because I realize that there will always be a bit of both. It is a sacrifice that one must make to be able to do something they feel strongly about.

    I have thought about that as well -- you know about going into a a field that would be easier for my personality traits. But something stops me from that -- I feel that working on physics is something very personal to me. And plus, I take it as a challenge -- I feel that those who are creative and are able to break the "boring" barrier (have a fair amount of discipline) are the ones who are more likely to have a greater impact.
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