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Programs Regret your PhD? Would do it all over again?

  1. Aug 6, 2011 #1
    I'm just an undergrad who has to make a big decision about grad school pretty soon. While I've been sure about this for a long time, I just want to collect as much information as possible :)

    Title asks the relevant questions :)

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  3. Aug 6, 2011 #2


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    Title doesn't give all the relevant scenario. For example, aren't you at least interested to see how this breaks down into different field? You can't compare someone who did a PhD in, say, English, with someone who did a PhD in Electrical Engineering. Totally different experience, and totally different job prospects.

    I've already posted the latest statistics regarding physics PhDs in the last post on "So You Want To Be A Physicist" thread. That statistics include such a question for Physics PhDs.

  4. Aug 6, 2011 #3
    I wanted anyone who's done a PhD to give their experiences and thoughts on it. Personal experience, not just statistics. And It didn't really come up in my mind that an English PhD would be on a science forum. I assumed the general population that post would be engineering/science fields, which are all related.
  5. Aug 6, 2011 #4


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    Zz's point still stands. The can be large differences in experiences and job prospects even among different subfields of physics.

    Working in a spectroscopy lab with ultrafast lasers is a different experience than doing high energy theory. Job prospects and opportunities after graduation are very different as well.

    If you want an answer that actually helps you, you are going to need to be more specific about what it is you are thinking of studying.
  6. Aug 6, 2011 #5


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    If that's all you care about, then that's fine. But if it gives a MISLEADING impression one way or the other, then it is a disservice! Anecdotes, if they are not taken as that, will tend to skewer one's conclusion of something.

    And your dismissal of the statistics is highly disturbing. One would think that you'd want to be aware of that as a baseline. I'm sure there's a valid reason for you asking such a question. I would hate to think that you are drawing up some conclusion on something based simply on anecdotes without knowing what a more general statistics on the identical topic would be.

  7. Aug 6, 2011 #6
    Thanks Zz. I've looked at all the statistics, from APS to forums. I realize a lot of these responses will be anecdotes and will not give accurate information. I'm asking this question just to hear different perspectives about people who spent so much time in school. Statistics doesn't tell you how it feels to spend 10 years in school and can't find a job. Also, in general I just want to know what I should expect. All undergrads I know at my university say, "I'm gonna go to grad school, do a few postdocs, and be a professor." Some say "I'm going to go to Wall street."

    These are inexperienced students, so they can't tell me real experiences. The reason I'm not stating what field I want to hear from is because I, myself, don't know what I'm going to go into. I just know for sure its going to be physics related. And no, I'm not going to chose a field based on these responses.
  8. Aug 6, 2011 #7
    You're going into your junior year, right? Just taking your first "intermediate" level physics classes? What big decision do you have to make, and how soon?
  9. Aug 6, 2011 #8


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    Perhaps, you should ask yourself, Why do you want to do a PhD? Higher Salary? Prestige?.
  10. Aug 6, 2011 #9
    Try not to overthink it - just make sure that you take all the steps necessary to allow yourself the option to apply for a PhD. The only 'decision' you have to make right now is whether to apply (or prepare to apply) or not; presumably by continuing with your studies now and taking GRE or appropriate tests.

    Then, if/when you're accepted to programs, you will make another decision then. I don't think asking others if they regret getting a PhD is a good measure for anything- maybe we can offer you advice in terms of what we might have done differently or something.

    For now just focus on doing everything that will allow you to have options later :) Good luck!
  11. Aug 6, 2011 #10
    Since my parents found out I want to get a PhD in something Physics related, they freaked and told me I would be miserable and struggle getting a job. So 2 years worth of undergrad work now I am reconsidering it...I never thought about jobs that that much, I just knew I like physics; I get good grades and I enjoy studying it.

    So now I wanna hear about perspectives. This is why statistics won't work for me. So far everyone has been interrogating me on this thread and it was probably a bad idea to post it.

    Maybe I should have stated that it isn't one big decision but rather should I start looking for research as an undergrad, or apply to something more secure...etc.
  12. Aug 6, 2011 #11
    I like physics.
  13. Aug 6, 2011 #12


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    I agree. In my case, I would have gone to Applied Math instead of Engineering for my undergraduate studies.
  14. Aug 6, 2011 #13
    Perhaps I really worded the question wrong. Any advice about a PhD and post-PhD along with experience should have been the title.

    I just made the title the way it is to advocate people to really tell me their stories.
  15. Aug 6, 2011 #14
    You have the strangest parents I've ever heard of, going just by this bit of information. Employment statistics for physics Ph.D holders are out there, that'd be more use than anecdotes.
  16. Aug 6, 2011 #15
    Huh? I think even if it is a misconception that physics PhDs have a hard time with jobs, it's not hard to believe why someone would have that idea (i.e. that you spend 5+ years doing overspecialized work that academia cares about and that may not be ultra in demand outside of it at the moment).

    I don't think the microscopic itsy bitsy details are relevant so much as the nature of the PhD broadly. Was it applied? Was it in a theoretical field that was in demand?

    It's more of a question about getting a PhD versus not; that is very different from figuring out academic interests. I doubt this poster is far enough along the way to even know.

    Also, asking for opinions doesn't imply that one will make a conclusion then and there. I like hearing people's perspectives, so I can think about how they add to my own, as opposed to make the decision for me.

    I agree with Zz that dismissing statistics on a matter like this is incredibly unwise. They are not even that trivial to find (especially if you're looking for meaningful ones), and greatly enhance the perspective of individual posters.
  17. Aug 6, 2011 #16
    This post is gold and exactly what my intentions were. Thank you.
    I also agreed with Zz, and stated already that I have looked at statistics, I just wanted some perspectives.
  18. Aug 7, 2011 #17
    On other other hand you can get yourself in equally as much trouble if you look at statistics uncritically. One problem with statistics is that you may not care about the "average" person making the decision. For example, in a lot of situation, you really don't care about the "average" person, but you care about the worst case situation.

    Also, you have problems with self-selection bias, time series issues, and the way that the question is asked. To get a statistically valid survey, you need to put in a lot of work, and uncritically accepting something that is not statistically valid can be worse than nothing. There's also the problem with making statistics "actionable". Suppose I find out that people with blue hats tend to be two centimeters taller than people with people with red hats. Now what?

    My wife has a Ph.D. in education and they have to deal with this stuff in doing studies in their field, and you quickly find out that in some situations, uncritical use of statistics is a very, very, very bad thing. One way of making sure that your statistics make sense is to do another study, when you take some people that you asked statistical questions from and then do deep interviewing. My experiences in finance have left me extremely skeptical of statistical data. It *can* be useful, but you have to look at statistics with every bit of skepticism than you look at non-statistical data. One particularly problem with statistical data that you have to take into account is that things change. For example a survey of Ph.D.'s and careers taken with people that graduated or will graduate in 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005, and 2015 is going to be extremely different, and if you lump everything up into one big pile, you get numbers that don't mean anything.

    One particular problem is with physicists is small numbers. There are huge difference between different fields, and also differences between different fields of physics, so by the time you take into account all of the differences you are dealing with extremely small sample sizes. For example, last year you are looking at about 20 or so people that got HEP theory Ph.D.'s, and you really can't do random statistical sampling because the numbers are too small.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2011
  19. Aug 7, 2011 #18
    In my situation, getting my Ph.D. has been the best good thing that has happened to me other than getting married and having kids. It's a core part of my life and who I am.

    The weird thing is that my situation seems to be the reverse of the OP. I come from a family in which pretty much everyone goes to graduate school, and getting a Ph.D. is the "normal thing to do" and graduation ceremonies are a lot like weddings and funerals.

    One thing that was weird was reading family letters and finding out that I was pretty much expected to get a Ph.D., even before I was born, and then talking to my uncle and finding out that I was expected to get a Ph.D. even before my father was born.

    One thing that I find strange is the "standard decision making process" that people seem to go through in deciding whether or not to get a Ph.D. In my family, looking at career statistics in order to decide whether or not to get a Ph.D. is a lot like deciding who to get married with, how many kids to have, and what religion to choose based on how much money you can make.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2011
  20. Aug 7, 2011 #19
    On the other hand, one reason I'm extremely skeptical of statistics was that when I was twofu's age I got bombarded with a ton of statistics that purported to show that the United States was vastly underproducing Ph.D.'s and that there would be a massive shortage of Ph.D.'s and faculty jobs when I got my degree.

    Those numbers turned out to be totally garbage, and it would have been more obvious that those numbers were garbage if I had been able to ask the questions that twofu is asking. Unfortunately for me, the internet wasn't quite as developed then.
  21. Aug 7, 2011 #20


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    You are confusing the statistics itself versus the INTERPRETATION of the statistics. The latter requires making a number of assumptions that are required to put the statistics into some context!

    The statistics asking if a PhD recipient would do a PhD again is "naked data". Trying to decipher what the data means (for example, why is the number lower for international students in all categories) is no longer a statistics, but an interpretation of it! The same with "underproducing" PhDs. It requires that one make an assumption on what actually is a required number!

    Do not confuse the two and undermining the statistics themselves.

    But then, I can turn this around and tell you that without knowing the statistics, you might only hear about the tail ends of the Normal curve and miss the majority that is a more accurate representation of the situation! For each extreme case, there are way more "average" case. So what is the more accurate reflection of the situation? The extreme case? I don't get it. Norway had one major shooting incident in how many years that made the headlines around the world. So using that alone (the worst case situation), you are ready to make a conclusion on the crime rate in Norway? Is this rational?

    Last edited: Aug 7, 2011
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