# PhD, then what?

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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

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Originally posted by Monique
Or can you you just stay postdoc all your life..

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. Ambitwistor Originally posted by Monique 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.. 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). What different kinds of professors are there? 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. Can professors work part time or it really something that recuires one to work 12 hours a day? 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. Is there a large difference between fields?? eg Chemistry, Biology, Physics 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://www4.stat.ncsu.edu/~davidian/st810a/academic_handout.pdf http://www3.niu.edu/provost2/facpers/appm/II6.htm [Broken] Last edited by a moderator: Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member Originally posted by Tom 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.
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? Ambitwistor Originally posted by Monique 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.. The Ph.D. really helps if you want to get into the research side of things, as opposed to being an analyst or something. Tom, you say a fresh college grad will start out at$42k, that sounds like a lot to me..

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. ...

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.

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.

So, let's talk about industry then, what is the prospect for a PhDer? Will always go into managment?

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.

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Zantra
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

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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?

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Originally posted by Zantra
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.
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.

Also Monique, not sure if it's a British spelling, but it's career, not carrier
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.

Ambitwistor
Originally posted by Monique
There were actually very few female professors at my department,

Really? I'm surprised. Biology departments I've seen looked like they were maybe 30-40% female.

I am not too sure about their family feelings, but I definately have noticed an undertone of regret.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

Ambitwistor
Originally posted by Monique
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.

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.

Loren Booda
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.

Zantra
Originally posted by Monique
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.

ce ne fait de rienne

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.

Njorl

einsteinian77
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.

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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..

Zantra
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.

Ambitwistor
Originally posted by Monique
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.

There are some employers, particularly in corporations and in fields like engineering, who regard Ph.D.'s as over-educated and not practical enough.

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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 :)

Ambitwistor
Originally posted by Monique
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.

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.

Originally posted by Ambitwistor
There are some employers, particularly in corporations and in fields like engineering, who regard Ph.D.'s as over-educated and not practical enough.

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.

Ambitwistor
In fact, I know a Ph.D. physicist who switched to programming who took his degree off his resume because he felt it was hurting his chances.

I've always thought this was unfair: if a Ph.D. is willing to work for an entry-level salary, then he shouldn't be ignored on the assumption that he will demand more pay.

As for whether the bachelor's can do the job as well as the Ph.D., that depends on the job and the Ph.D.

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Dearly Missed
Well, based on the employment ads, I used to say that the difference beteen a software engineer and a programmer was that the software engineer had a Masters degree, coded in C, and made $35,000 a year while the programmer was a high school graduate, coded in Cobol, and made$55,000 a year. (These are 1980's salaries).

Zantra
I agree that was the case up until recently. Now most places won't even consider you unless you have a bachelors degree- experience and expertise or not

Artman
Get that PHD then start learning the phrase that earns the bread and butter..."What size shoe do you normally wear madam?"

Sorry, nothing constructive to add, just couldn't resist the joke.

Kalimaa23
Monique, would you be so kind as to enlighten me on how the Dutch higher educational system works?

In Belgium, it seems we have a rather unique situation (although this will chance in the near future, Bologna...). University here is a four year program. After two years you will receive the title of kandidaat (which translates very roughly to bachelor) and after two more years, which includes a thesis, you get the title of licenciaat (which is very similar to a masters).

Many foreigners are puzzled that we get these BSc's so fast, but it is mainly due to the excellent level of secondary education. Now in Belgium, every who goes to a university is expected to get a masters, very few people stop after two years. If you want to start working on a PhD, you NEED to have a masters. It seems strange to me to let someone who has only a BSc start working on his doctoral thesis.

The point is, after four years of university, you have a good diploma, and you can get well-paying jobs in the industry. If you want to work in R&D, or want to enter academia, you start you PhD.

As for me, I'll get my BSc at the end of the year. I'm hoping that in a few years I get to do my doctoral thesis, and be able to burrow myself in research

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Good question, Dimitri.. I always had the hardest time explaining my degree to Americans.. the system is totally different.

So: First you do High School, there are four levels in which you can do that:
- not sure of the name: about the same as MAVO = 4 years high school
- MAVO: middle continued education = 4 years high school
- HAVO: higher c.e. = 5 years high school
- VWO: higest c.e. = 6 years high school

After getting your high school diploma, you go on according to your level, you can also do a higher level of high school if wanted.

- not sure of the name: you can do LBO for maybe 2 yrs to get a degree, LBO means lower professional education
- MAVO: you can go to MBO, middle p.e. 3 yrs I think
- HAVO: you can go to HBO, higher p.e. something like a college 4 yrs
- VWO: if you have this you can go to a University 5 yrs

Also here one can go from one level to another, three years MBO and 1.5 years HBO for instance. I you have one year HBO one can go to University and start a bachelor.

To illustrate:
I started high school, after one year, you have to take a test to determine the level. I went to HAVO, did that for 5 yrs. Then I went to HBO, did that for 4 yrs. Now, in my opinion this degree is very similar to a college degree, which is on the level of a bachelors, but I cannot call it a bachelors.

Officially I should now start University from the start, but since I had good grades and work experience they let me start with a masters.

A bachelor here takes 3 years and a master 2 yrs. True, a PhD cannot be done without a masters, unless you want to promovate in the project you've been working on as an analist.

A PhD takes about 3.5 yrs, I think it is only thesis work. In the US I think the average is 5 yrs (in biology at least), but a lot of classes have to be taken and a masters is not required.

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I think this type of system with different levels is good, since it is tailered to a person's capabilities. There are some problems though with the follow-up of the individual.

I, for instance, easily could have done the highest level of high school (VWO) since I had many 8's and 9's, which means I am performing above the standard of a 7.

Same for the HBO, I could have easily gone to University, but for that I would have had to do 2 yrs of more high school to get VWO, or switch after 1 yr of HBO.

In the US you have got straight-A students, I really always wonder, is that because the people are so smart or is it because the programs are not tough enough??? In The Netherlands it is virtually impossible! to get a 10, even if you answer all the answers correctly, the chances are high that a 9 will be given (an answer is never complete).

Ambitwistor
Originally posted by Monique
In the US you have got straight-A students, I really always wonder, is that because the people are so smart or is it because the programs are not tough enough???

One thing I have come to realize about the US education system, from having spoken to people from other countries and taking some education cousres, is that it is extremely diverse ... at some places an A really means something, at others it doesn't.

As to straight-A's ... even if the students had exactly the same performance, an 'A' sounds like it is designed to encompass a broader range of performance than a "10" in your system, so there would be more A's than 10's just because of how an 'A' is defined (e.g., an 'A' might be equivalent to both a 9 or a 10). But people complain about the educational system here all the time, so I wouldn't be surprised if the programs were easier too. Personally, I think that at most high schools here, all you need to do to get an 'A' is work hard, not necessarily be smart. Colleges can be more demanding, but not always. (My high school was much more rigorous than my university, but I went to an unusually good high school.)

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But people complain about the educational system here all the time, so I wouldn't be surprised if the programs were easier too.

This is actually a myth propagated by the misuse of statistics. Most European countries have different levels of high school (and even middle school and elementary school). The lower levels are trained for jobs - for instance in Germany, students in the lower levels go straight to work at a factory after they graduate, it is amazingly effective. The error comes in the fact that when international test scores (on math, science, language, etc.) are compared, generally only the higher levels of schools in European countries are tested and then compared to the general, single level American scores. So, of course, American schools end up looking a lot worse than they actually are.

Ambitwistor
I don't know if it is a myth. I certainly know about the different levels of schooling. But, for example, pretty much all of the German physicists or physics students I've known received more rigorous mathematical training (at both the high school and university level) than the Americans I've known --- and these are not just people from the top-notch German schools, either.

Zantra
I used to want to get a PHD because of the prestige, and at the time what I thought was a wealthy living. Of course when I was 6 I also wanted to be a fireman. My how times have changed.

looking back, I probably should have.. I'm sure that route is much easier than medicine(in some aspects).

Kalimaa23
Generally speaking, US high schools are attrocious. I've known many people who had their secondary eduction over there, and who were completely ignorant. They lacked even the basic knowledge about science, literature, history, and other things...

The worst part is, these people were good (B or A) students!

The complaint about many European (and Belgian especially) Universities is that the entry level is far too high. This is simply because we already get a good level of education before that. For example, even non-mathematical directions get some serious calculus and linear algebra.

Actually this is one of my main issues as well. A PhD then what? One thing I did think about was the money issue. I live in New York and especially teaching or research assistants get paid zilch compared to amount of work a business major does (gets paid about 42k after graduation). It seems so unfair that all the hard work that people do to continue their education gets degraded that we aren't going to be paid enough or simply employed with benefits, etc.

Average TA or RA continuing with their PhD get paid on average about 11 - 18k which might be "ok" if you live in a dumpster lot with other TA's. You might be 25 - 30 years old earning the same amount, and though you might want to become a researcher/professor or whatever, it still seems unfair. I'm still quite skeptical on the whole PhD thing. Biology and Astronomy are my real passions and I one day want to join NASA to become an Astrobiologist, but at the same time, becoming a Professor and expressing my ideas is a beautiful thing. It just seems that money is always an issue.