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Please motivate me to carry on with my PhD!

  1. Jul 17, 2013 #1
    (or tell me whatever your opinion is)

    I am in my second summer as a graduate student and have reached a point where I am questioning all my decisions. I used to think that what was most important in my professional life was that I be doing something I loved (and that it at least payed decently). For some reason, I've gotten to the point where I'm starting to think that money is more important, and even though I still love physics, I am not sure if it's worthy enough to choose it over easier money. So I'm thinking that maybe it was a better idea to have done a master in finance or something like that, and get more money faster. The PhD in physics might lead to good money, but there's a lot of work in between, whereas for some reason I picture everything else as being a piece of cake. This is one point where I might be very mistaken. Adding to all this, I've gotten to an age where I'm hoping to find a good woman with whom to eventually build a family. So for that purpose, I want to be financially stable as soon as possible.
    If I carry on with the PhD, I have two options at graduation: go on with the traditional academic route, or opt for industry. Since I'm starting to lean more towards industry, why should I waste any more time with my physics research in my PhD, rather than going straight to work or studying something more closely related?
    I'm sure these doubts I'm having are common among physics grad students, so I would be very happy if some of you shared your stories and/or comments. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2013 #2


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    When I was making the choice to keep doing onward to a PhD or drop out with my masters I tested the career water. I sent out my resume to various prospects and see how many replies I got and how well the interview went. So by the time I had to make a decision, I had real job offers to follow up on instead of just speculating at what is possible.*

    It would behoove you to see if you are actually employable to a job with your current education and experience instead of finding out afterwards. This will also let you see where your heart lies. Does a financial future appeal to you much more than doing physics? Who knows, but once you actually have options to pick from, you'll be in a better position to decide.

    *For your information, I choose money over a phd, which ironically, now i'm leaving money for a phd. My wife makes twice as much as I do now, so I have that option :).
  4. Jul 17, 2013 #3


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    I recently finished my PhD, and I have to say that I questioned myself for the majority of it. Not for a lack of interest or ability, but because of my personality. I am a supremely optimistic and happy person. I find enjoyment in so many different areas of life that I know that I could be happy doing anything as a job. I can program, engineer, rebuild engines, do drywall, plumbing, electric, landscaping, teach, etc. and be happy doing it.

    This makes it tough to go for something that I love doing, but know that I won't be paid as well as another career (say, engineering, where I should be QUITE employable, and will love it just as much). I had a job offer for some engineering job right out of bachelors before my PhD for about 60K USD, which is about median here, but I turned it down to go back to school. Now I wonder if I would have been happier taking it and just working my way up. I won't make that much money until I finish post-docs and its been so many years, and I'd probably be in the 90s by now, have a house, nice toys, and enjoy my time.

    But I still love physics; its challenging, fun, interesting, respected, acceptably paid, and there is plenty of room for development. So I think I'll stick with it :)
  5. Jul 17, 2013 #4


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    If one can, go for the PhD! Espeically if one is single, i.e., without a family to support.

    I quit near the end, and if I can, I'd like to go back an finish one, since a lot of my work is cutting edge, innovative, and original/independent. I work with many PhD in government research and industry.

    It's not a waste of time. One is supposed to contribute to the state-of-the-art and expand the envelope, as well as demonstrate original thinking and the capability to accomplish independent research.

    So just do it!
    It helps to have a supportive spouse. :approve:
  6. Jul 17, 2013 #5


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    I'm old with a Physics BS and my biggest life's regret was not going to Graduate school. :cry:

    Oh. And I'm poor. So money was never a consideration.
  7. Jul 18, 2013 #6
    Thanks all! I'm more motivated to carry on!
    One more thing... how does one date while doing a PhD? It's really tough since it's almost all guys in physics grad school and it's hard to find the time to go out and meet girls. Any suggestions? I'm looking for a wife-material type of girl :)
  8. Jul 18, 2013 #7


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    Bascially, date like one would do as an undergrad. I married after my BS, so was married during my MS and PhD programs.

    Dating is an opportunity to learn about each other. Simply find a nice woman, and just start spending some moments together, e.g., go for coffee or lunch. Then see where that goes.

    I considered all of my dates as potential wives.
  9. Jul 18, 2013 #8
    Uh, I think you don't. There's that joke about priesthood and science phd's being similar in that regard...

    I would follow Mathmarne's advice, don't do anything rash and quit without having a solid job(s) lined up, not in this economy. I echo dlgoff's sentiments, though I'm technically not "old".

    If you don't like your research area that much, then I would advise changing research field if it's a possibility. Sticking through years of doing poorly paid work for something you don't like is a recipe for disaster. Enjoying what you do for most of the week will definitely make living the frugal lifestyle of a grad student more tolerable. If you're used to a more lavish lifestyle like most middle class American families, I understand it's a big shock to most, especially if everyone around you (family, old classmates from school or uni) is making more money than you and/or talk down to you for being a poor into your late 20's/30's.

    It seems like people who come from poorer backgrounds are not affected by this drama, since even a grad school stipend and their subsequent job prospects are a HUGE step up for them financially from where they are coming.
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