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PhD, then what?

  1. Nov 1, 2003 #1


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    PhD, then what??

    I am just wondering about carrier tracks, what happens to people when they get their PhD? Do they always end up as postdocs and eventually professors? Or can you you just stay postdoc all your life..

    What different kinds of professors are there? I have heard about associate ones, assistant ones, ones that are on some kind of trackt.. it really says little to me.

    Can professors work part time or it really something that recuires one to work 12 hours a day?

    What is your view on all of this? Is there a large difference between fields?? eg Chemistry, Biology, Physics
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 1, 2003 #2

    Tom Mattson

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    Re: PhD, then what??

    You wouldn't want to.

    Postdoctoral positions are temporary (usu 3-5 years), and they pay peanuts. That means that every time your term is up, you have to write a research proposal that justifies your continued employment for about half of what you are worth. In my former research group, we had a guy who was just brilliant. He was a better physicist than than even my advisor (our boss). But he just couldn't land a permanent job at the school. He was nearly 40 at the time and had a wife and two kids, and he was making $42k/year, which is what a new college grad can expect to make.

    When I complete my PhD, I am not wasting any time in academia. I am going straight to R&D work for GE or IBM or something like that.
  4. Nov 1, 2003 #3
    Re: PhD, then what??

    Well first, many of those who get Ph.D.'s don't end up in academia. Many don't even end up in the field they got their degree in -- just like people who get college degrees.

    Permanent postdoc! Now there's a scary thought! Of those who remain in academia, you more or less eventually make professor, or you leave. There are exceptions for some non-tenured staff positions, but they aren't really "postdocs" -- that term is usually defined to mean a temporary 1-5 year appointment (and you almost never become a professor somewhere you postdoc'ed at, the idea is to get some diverse experience).

    In American universities, there are assistant, associate, full, and emeritus professors, in increasing order of rank. (Emeritus really means "retired".)

    There are tenure-track and non-tenure track professorial positions. Tenure-track is what most professors are -- either tenured, or trying to earn it. Assistant professors are usually untenured -- at most places, you get tenure at the associate or full professor level.

    Tenure means you can't be fired without a formal review board and due process, as opposed to the corporate world where you can be fired on the spot for essentially any (legal) reason. A tenured position is essentially permanent (you have to do something really extreme to get fired). Tenure is supposed to provide academic freedom and job security (so the university can't get rid of you for holding unpopular views, you can safely engage in long-term speculative research that may not pay off immediately or at all, etc.)

    In a non-tenure track position, your title may be professor (but not always), but your job is not indefinite. Non-tenure track professors can be pure lecturers/instructors, or pure researchers ... and there can also be "research staff", who are researchers who aren't called "professors". (I'm kind of fuzzy on the difference between them and non-tenure track research professors ... I haven't run into a non-tenure track "research professor" myself, maybe it's just a different term used by some universities for the same job.) A non-tenure track position is generally some kind of limited appointment, but you can often renew your term periodically if they like the job you're doing. Or you can have a contract like a regular corporate job.

    Most professors are extremely busy people. Once you have tenure, the "publish-or-perish" pressure fades, so professors have more free time. Some of them branch out and consult part-time, write books, etc. ... but one way or another, they still end up busy.

    I don't know about that. In academia there are more differences between, say, the sciences and the liberal arts than there are within the sciences ... but the general academic track system is mostly the same across fields. There are probably more differences between university systems in different countries (e.g. American vs. European) than there are between fields in a given country.

    Here are some random links to pages at various universities describing aspects of their academic systems:

    http://www3.niu.edu/provost2/facpers/appm/II6.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  5. Nov 1, 2003 #4


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    Re: Re: PhD, then what??

    First of all: thank you SO much for explaining all that Ambitwistor, you have no idea how much that helped I've got a degree similar to a BSc from a college, and all the students from there (3 yr later) have ended up as analists at some diagnostic lab.. not my idea of making a carrier.. so I really have no experience with the possibilities.

    Tom, you say a fresh college grad will start out at $42k, that sounds like a lot to me..

    And then what is the percentage of females that have a PhD and have a carrier in academics? It sounds to me it is impossible to have a family on the side.

    So, let's talk about industry then, what is the prospect for a PhDer? Will always go into managment?
  6. Nov 1, 2003 #5
    Re: Re: Re: PhD, then what??

    The Ph.D. really helps if you want to get into the research side of things, as opposed to being an analyst or something.

    Well, the point is that if you get a BSc and go out and get an industry job, you can be immediately making as much money as an academic postdoc who's 5-10 years older with a Ph.D. ...

    I don't know the percentage. Certainly there are women professors who have families -- relatively common in biology. (Look around your department.)

    It depends quite a bit on how the parents are splitting responsibility for child-rearing. If the woman is expected to be primarily responsible, then of course it will be more difficult. (But then, many careers are time consuming, not just academia.) If not, then it shouldn't be much more difficult than a male professor having a family, other than maternity leave for the actual childbirth.

    Ph.D. scientists don't usually go directly into management. But anyone who (Ph.D. or not) who works at a career long enough tends to get boosted up into management, unless they choose not to be.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2003
  7. Nov 1, 2003 #6
    42K/year out of college is a statistical average. Engineers may make 50k/year, while liberal arts may only make 25-30k/year- this is assuming a bachelors.

    Also Monique, not sure if it's a British spelling, but it's career, not carrier
  8. Nov 1, 2003 #7


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    There were actually very few female professors at my department, I am not too sure about their family feelings, but I definately have noticed an undertone of regret.

    So let's talk about the different degree then, BSc, MSc, Ph.D.

    I assume that with a Ph.D. in the industry you'll be head of a research group or something?

    With a BSc one will be an analyst, performing experiments thought up by another.

    But what will someone with a MSc do? Is it all a matter of the starting salary and opportunities?

    If someone with a Ph.D. makes as much money as someone with a MSc, than what is the point in going through those years of thesis writing?
  9. Nov 1, 2003 #8


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    Well, I worked as a BSc research assistant at a University, and sure didn't make 40k.. but I guess there is a difference between Universities and companies. What I've seen BSc at a University make between 25-30k in Biomolecular Sciences.

    haha, thank you for correcting me, I thought it looked stange (as English does at times), it is actually Dutch spelling coming through: carrière, which again came from French sorry about that.
  10. Nov 1, 2003 #9
    Really? I'm surprised. Biology departments I've seen looked like they were maybe 30-40% female.

    Well, I can't say that I have really asked any of them about their family feelings, so I don't know.

    I don't know too much about industry, but it probably depends on the organization. Some places employ lots of Ph.D.'s, and there you may not start out heading a research group yourself. Others employ mostly BSc's, so a Ph.D. may be put in charge of them.

    Again, I'm not too familiar, but my experience is that a MSc isn't a big advantage over a BSc, except they usually have a higher starting salary, as you say. As you also note, some entry-level jobs are only open to MSc or higher, but a BSc with some amount of work experience can often substitute.

    Well, remember that we were comparing a Ph.D. postdoc in academia to a lesser-educated person in industry. Industry pays higher than academia. But generally a Ph.D. will get paid more than an MSc for the same job, and there are many jobs that are only open to Ph.D.'s -- especially in academia, where you pretty much need a Ph.D. to do anything at all.
  11. Nov 1, 2003 #10
    Yes, that's definitely true. Also, Tom is in physics, and if I recall the statistics correctly, physicists are on average better paid than biologists.
  12. Nov 1, 2003 #11
    The three most productive fields adjunct to physics are engineering, business and computing.

    The average working American will change careers four times before retiring. My conscience has steered me toward the social sciences, making my master's degree in physics more recreational in application than practical.
  13. Nov 1, 2003 #12
    ce ne fait de rienne:wink:
  14. Nov 3, 2003 #13


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    Where I work we have many PhD's, very few of whom have managemant positions. There are pretty good opportunities to advance without getting too bogged down with administrative responsibilities.

    We rarely have openings, so we take any opportunity to get new people in different ways. We often have NRC (National Research Council) post docs work here, and offer them a permanent job if they look like a good fit.

  15. Nov 6, 2003 #14
    sounds like you want to retire before you even start. get your life focused on something that gives you passion rather than looking at the escape routes.
  16. Nov 7, 2003 #15


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    Who are you addressing to?

    I've got passion, I am just at a loss what the possibilities are. I wouldn't have started a master if I was looking for escape routes, I could easily have stayed a research assistant.

    At this point the Dutch people look at me and ask, how come you are doing a masters, shouldn't you be doing a bachelor first? All the american people are looking at me and asking, how come you are doing a masters, shouldn't you be in a PhD program?

    Before I made the decision whether to do a PhD or do a masters first, I searched the internet and there were professionals saying that a masters is more valuable to have than a PhD, if you compare either the one or the other.

    True or not.. that is the question I am asking..

    Just yesterday someone asked me: so what will you gain with doing a masters? Honestly, I couldn't answer the question..
  17. Nov 7, 2003 #16
    Of course it varies by field, but PHD are generally required to do research, or to teach. Like in psychology, a bachelors or masters in psych is pretty much as useless as a liberal arts degree. If your dream is to do research, then you will need to do the PhD. I do not think you will find the type of work you want(at least from the US perspective) in research. Of course I don't know about the rest of the world. There may be other opportunities for MA's elsewhere.

    In non-scientific fields PhD's are purely for the glory of calling yourself a doctor or professor. In scientific fields, it's pretty much a prerequisite.
  18. Nov 7, 2003 #17
    There are some employers, particularly in corporations and in fields like engineering, who regard Ph.D.'s as over-educated and not practical enough.
  19. Nov 7, 2003 #18


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    Yep, that is what I heard too. This two year stretch will be a good experience, since I get to work with a variety of people without having a contract to hold me down.

    I also noticed that the foundation that is created by having a master is far stronger than a PhD that is very specialized to only a single subject.

    I'll make a scedule for myself for regularly checking all the online job openings and find out through that what the current state of research and demand is :)
  20. Nov 7, 2003 #19
    Really?? That may depend on field, country, or institution. In physics in the U.S., the Ph.D. requirements usually include everything that a Master's student is required to do, plus much more. I have heard that European Ph.D.'s specialize more than American Ph.D.'s, but I have no personal knowledge of this.
  21. Nov 7, 2003 #20
    Ambit brings up a great point. This can happen in the Tech industry as well. For example say an employeer is looking for a programmer. He has three resumes in his hand, one person has a bachelors, one has a masters and another a PHD. The employeers will very likely not take the PHD because he thinks they are over educated and will demand a much larger salary. He will likely take the bachelors because they will demand a much lower price and can prolly do the job just as well even if a little training is needed.
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