Regret your PhD? Would do it all over again?

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  • #51
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So you think the "dirty details" from just a few people have more credibility, and sufficient to draw a valid conclusion?

It's not either or.

In cosmology and social sciences there are two types of studies, those that go deep and shallow, and those that go wide and narrow. In quantitative research, you ask the same question for a large number of people, whereas in qualitative research, you do deep interviews of a few people. It's really useful if you do both.

One problem is reporting bias. If you what to know if fruit loops causes cancer, and you put out a internet post that asking for interviewees that have eaten fruit loops and gotten cancer, then surprise, surprise, surprise, you'll find that amount your interviewees, it appears that there is a correlation between fruit loops and cancer. And if you have a set of interviews of people that have eaten fruit loops and gotten cancer, and then you do a statistical survey of fruit loops eaters, then I'd be more likely to trust the latter because of reporting bias.

However, it is simply not the case that statistics are *inherently* less subject to reporting bias. Salary and satisfaction surveys are *notorious* for having self- reporting bias, and in this particular situation, I would tend to trust deep interviews more than I would a survey unless I had a lot of confidence that the creators of the survey were very, very careful about controlling for reporting bias, which I do not have in this case. The thing about deep interviews is that if you go in knowing that you are likely to have a biased sample, then by asking the right questions, you can figure out how the sample is biased, and then try to piece together what is going on. Also, you get deep information about what is going on that you would not get with surveys.

One other reason that I tend to trust interviews rather than surveys in this particularly situation is that interviews are harder for amateur data gatherers to get wrong. Statistical surveys are deceptively easy to get very wrong, and the problem with surveys is that it's harder to tell if you've biased your sample.

Also, if you ask me if I what I think about the AIP numbers, they don't wildly differ from what I think I would get if I asked my friends, but......

If you asked most of my Ph.D. friends if they would do it all over again, they would likely say "Yes, I'd do it over again" however if you asked them "why?" the answer would be "if I didn't do my Ph.D., then there would have been no chance in hell that I would have gotten my green card." This would nicely explain some of the numbers. The US citizen column has higher satisfaction because they include people that finished their Ph.D. and got US citizenship, the non-citizen category includes people that still have hope of getting US citizenship, and anyone that has given up hope of US citizenship has left the country and is not part of the survey.

Of course the problem with this is that it if turns out that most Ph.D. holders would do it over again for a green card, this would be useless information if you are already a US citizen, and if that is what is going on, you'd never be able to find it out by those survey questions. If you think that this what is going on, you might be able to get the data with other survey questions.

Also, it helps if you do studies with *different* biases. For example, if you ask people on this forum about their Ph.D. experiences, you are going to be biased toward people with native level fluency of English and are comfortable using that language to talk about themselves.

And note, if you think statistics can't tell you anything about what's going to happen in the future, what makes you think anecdotal stories can? These individuals are more clairvoyant?

People can think, and when you interview people you watch them think. One thing that you can get with stories that you can't get with this particular survey is historical data. You can talk to someone and they can tell you that they think that X is going to happen because X happened in 1970.

Also a lot of the data that gives *dynamical* information is stuff that doesn't fit into a close-response survey. When you do a survey, you have an implicit model for what is going on, and the answers are restricted enough so that it's hard to see that there is something basically wrong with the model, whereas if you use deep interviewing, you are more likely to get information that challenges your model of what is going on.
 
  • #52
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I feel like playing Edith Piaf's - Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

I wouldn't regret any of the decisions that I made before getting my Ph.D. The only regret that I have is that I felt bad and guilty about making them at the time, and had I had to do it over again, I would have made the same decisions and wouldn't feel bad about them.

It's oddly weird that to look back because at the time I had a very different mindset, and a lot of the things that I thought and felt make no sense to me now. What ended up happening was that the decisions that I made were *really* beneficial to me after getting my Ph.D., but at the time, I felt like a fish out of water, and swimming against the tide was quite tiring.

The big regrets are what I did after I got my Ph.D. Curiously, I didn't have any problem jumping into industry since I had lot of computer experience and this was in the middle of the dot-com bubble. However, it was still a gut-wrenching and traumatic process nevertheless. One mistake that I made was that since I felt like a "freak", I didn't keep my old research links. I felt like an "stranger" walking into the department, which means that I didn't visit very often, and after a while my research networks got cold.

The odd thing is that my dissertation adviser was pretty supportive and one of the nicest people that you'd ever meet, so he didn't intentionally make me feel out of place. I'm still not sure where this feeling of being a freak came from, and it's hard for me to figure out because I'm a different person now than I was before, and I don't feel what I did, but it took literally *years* to change my view of the world.

One thing that would have helped a lot is if someone had just mentioned to me that I was "normal", which is more or less what I'm trying to do now. A lot of the conversations that I'm having are essentially conversations with a younger me, so I'm telling high school students and undergraduates what I wish someone had told me when I was at that age.
 
  • #53
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The odd thing is that my dissertation adviser was pretty supportive and one of the nicest people that you'd ever meet, so he didn't intentionally make me feel out of place.

This actually is quite scary to think about. I have these imaginary scenarios in my head of telling my dissertation adviser about quitting academia.
 
  • #54
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This actually is quite scary to think about. I have these imaginary scenarios in my head of telling my dissertation adviser about quitting academia.
Why? I mean, I really don't understand, since the professor I'm doing research for as a summer student now is really down to earth, and I can openly discuss whatever with him. He even mentioned before I started that I'm going to pick up skills that are going to be helpful if I ever go into industry, and he also keeps contact and is interested in other people's experiences with working there. Having said that, he said multiple times he loves academia and wouldn't know what to do in industry, so it's not like he's keeping one eye open for any better opportunities. And as he got his PhD in the US, I'm really puzzled by all these accounts of professors being so out of touch with reality, and only seeing the world academia and nothing else.
 
  • #55
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Well, since you are looking for all fields, not just physics, I'd say I haven't regretted doing a Ph.D. in computer science at all. Aside from the fact that the entire process, while painful, was incredibly worthwhile, and introduced me to people and concepts I would have never been exposed to otherwise, I have no doubt that it has given me an increased freedom of career movement that I wouldn't have had if I had not done it.

And I'm paid bloody well too. I'm sure that the Ph.D. has repaid the opportunity cost of not going directly into industry after getting a BS several times over by now.
 
  • #56
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Why? I mean, I really don't understand, since the professor I'm doing research for as a summer student now is really down to earth, and I can openly discuss whatever with him.

Not all research advisors are as understanding. If you go to graduate school, you'll have friends working for a variety of advisors, and you'll be amazed how different the grad school experience can be.

He even mentioned before I started that I'm going to pick up skills that are going to be helpful if I ever go into industry

Having said that, he said multiple times he loves academia and wouldn't know what to do in industry

The second quote here should make you at least a little worried that about the first. I was told throughout grad school I was learning things that would be fantastic for a tech. industry career, and was developing an amazing CV. It was only when I started applying for jobs that reality brutally crushed perception. I'd recommend finding out which industry these skills are supposed to be useful for, and I would get in touch with people who actually work in these industries.
 
  • #57
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The second quote here should make you at least a little worried that about the first. I was told throughout grad school I was learning things that would be fantastic for a tech. industry career, and was developing an amazing CV. It was only when I started applying for jobs that reality brutally crushed perception. I'd recommend finding out which industry these skills are supposed to be useful for, and I would get in touch with people who actually work in these industries.
Nah, the second quote is actually a bit mangled, since I didn't know how to put the second part of it into words. So the first part, him loving academia, stands as is, but the second part should perhaps be modified or omitted altogether. I see what you're getting at, but it really is just me being bad at putting it into words and not remembering what exactly he said.
 
  • #58
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@Ryker, what if your specialties are purely theoretical pen and paper thought type things? When I conversed even with the more personable professors I know, they explicitly stated graduate school in mathematics has one goal: not learning mathematics; but training for a career as a mathematics researcher and making the transition. That is, we already learned to excel at mathematics as undergrads. Maybe the situation is different in physics. Many of these professors really don't use computers any more than to check email and type documents (they said so).

So my situation may be different from yours.

Whatever the case may be, I agree with ParticleGrl that one should be careful.
 
  • #59
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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.

That for me is enough to justify ignoring any parental protest.
 
  • #60
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That for me is enough to justify ignoring any parental protest.

Perhaps for you, but I'd say a lot of people underestimate how little that actually says. Getting good grades in a theoretical subject and enjoying it is the absolute, absolute basic requirement to having any future at all doing that theory (which few people will pay you to do).
 
  • #61
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Perhaps for you, but I'd say a lot of people underestimate how little that actually says. Getting good grades in a theoretical subject and enjoying it is the absolute, absolute basic requirement to having any future at all doing that theory (which few people will pay you to do).

Also getting support from parents is really important if possible. Graduate school is a hard and difficult road, and it makes it a *lot* easier if your immediate family and friends are supportive. If the problem is just that the parents are worried about job prospects then having someone that knows the situation talk with the parents is going to save a huge amount of problem later on.
 
  • #62
jasonRF
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I earned a PhD in electrical engineering about a dozen years ago, and do not regret it at all. I specialized in plasma physics but do not use any plasma physics in my work: I do a lot of signal processing, experiments, feasibility studies and systems engineering. For me, by far the best result of having the PhD is that it opens doors - where I work folks with PhDs get the vast majority of the "interesting" work. Someone with a BS would likely be tasks to help someone like me by doing more routine programming tasks, doing tests in the lab, etc. - stuff that can be made enjoyable but typically doesn't leave as much room for autonomy. Of course, the better the person is, the more they will be recognized as someone you can "turn loose" on more interesting tasks that give them more flexibility. In any case, it isn't too surprising that the best folks that we hire in with BS degrees usually end up going to grad school after a few years. That is always an option - working and then deciding to go back at a later date (at least in the US).

I actually went to grad school hoping to become a professor. But I met with two of my advisors old students who became profs and between a post-doc or two plus the tenure fight, they claimed to have had about a decade of 70 hour weeks, which sounds miserable. Hence I went for a regular job. Yes, the sample size was 2, but further discussions with a few profs in my department confirmed that 40 or even 50 hour weeks was less than most people end up working during the tenure run, but 70 probably wasn't necessary either. I like having a life outside of work, so took the easy way, and for most of the years I have worked reasonable hours (the last few years have been brutal, though).

Anyway, whatever you chose I wish you the best.

jason
 
  • #63
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Well, since you are looking for all fields, not just physics, I'd say I haven't regretted doing a Ph.D. in computer science at all. Aside from the fact that the entire process, while painful, was incredibly worthwhile, and introduced me to people and concepts I would have never been exposed to otherwise, I have no doubt that it has given me an increased freedom of career movement that I wouldn't have had if I had not done it.

And I'm paid bloody well too. I'm sure that the Ph.D. has repaid the opportunity cost of not going directly into industry after getting a BS several times over by now.

Would you mind elaborating a bit on your experiences? I'm interested in fields related to physics, particularly computer science. I wonder, because there is a lot of computer science that is just like physics or pure math, very esoteric and not seemingly useful in industry. So I'd like to know what you got your CS Ph.D in specifically, and what your job is now? Anything else you'd like to add would be nice too. I don't know too much about the CS field, so it's difficult for me to gauge these things so I'd like to learn more.
 
  • #64
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ParticleGrl,
Did you consider applying to postdocs that aren't specifically in particle theory? It is my understanding that a lot of fields that are booming and in huge demand - or will be in the near future - eat up physics phds. But they aren't exactly 'physics' postdocs. Fields like systems, synthetic, or computational biology love people with physics backgrounds. I was curious if the same is true in engineering fields, so I googled engineering postdocs and the first two ads I saw listed physics phd as a requirement (engineering phd was listed as well, but believe or not it was listed after physics... not that this necessarily means anything). There's also obviously fields like medical physics.

There's a massive movement in biology and bioengineering for people with quantitative backgrounds, and funding is not hurting in these fields the way it is in the pure, traditional fields. I would be shocked if someone with your background couldn't land a systems biology or electrical engineering (just giving two examples) postdoc SOMEWHERE, and this would directly lead to experience in these technical fields you want to get into. If someone with a physics phd can't get a postdoc in any field, then my perception of the research landscape is completely off.

Also, are you still restricting yourself to living in a specific area for your job applications? Isn't this basically career suicide when you're looking for your very first job post-graduation? Unless you're just ridiculously lucky and can land something exactly where you want it. I'd think a more reasonable strategy would be to work anywhere for a couple years at the absolute best job you can find then try to land a job at your desired location after you have your experience/value built up?

Just some thoughts. I know the situation isn't as fantastic as it could be for physics phds, but a particle theory phd who can't land any scientific/technical postdoc or job anywhere regardless of trying is something I just can't comprehend.
 
  • #65
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Did you consider applying to postdocs that aren't specifically in particle theory? It is my understanding that a lot of fields that are booming and in huge demand - or will be in the near future - eat up physics phds.

I think your understanding is incorrect. The problem with post-docs is that there are enough people with exactly the right credentials applying for a position, that there is no need to look for someone that has "almost the right credentials."

If someone with a physics phd can't get a postdoc in any field, then my perception of the research landscape is completely off.

Just curious what your background is. If you are (for example) a string theorist that found it easy to get a biological science post-doc then your information is better than mine, and I'll ask you a lot more questions. My perception is that it is practically impossible to get a post-doc "out of field" but I'd be glad to change that perception if you have better data than I do.

In particular, if your data is based on what professors in your department are telling you then, you (and they) need some spritzing with cold water.

Isn't this basically career suicide when you're looking for your very first job post-graduation?

It turns out that it makes life extremely difficult if you are geographically limited, but people need to know this before they get into graduate school. It becomes *very* difficult to move once you have settled done somewhere. Some of the barriers are psychological, but psychological barriers are still real barriers.

I'd think a more reasonable strategy would be to work anywhere for a couple years at the absolute best job you can find then try to land a job at your desired location after you have your experience/value built up?

The problem is that even after you have experience, you still don't have that much choice of location. If you are doing physics Ph.D.-type finance in the United States, then there is a 95% chance that you are going to live in NYC.

Just some thoughts. I know the situation isn't as fantastic as it could be for physics phds, but a particle theory phd who can't land any scientific/technical postdoc or job anywhere regardless of trying is something I just can't comprehend.

Get used to it.

The good news is that you won't starve, and everyone that I know has ended up with something decent. The bad news is that getting there can be quite traumatic.
 
  • #66
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My opinion is coming from the fact that I see tons of 'theoretical biology' type positions (systems, synthetic, computational) advertised specifically for people with physics and related degrees. Not biology, unless it is bioengineering (and that is often listed after physics). I also did a quick google of engineering postdocs and they seem to list 'physics phd' as the desired qualification. I'm saying physics phd *IS* the exact right credential for a lot of these jobs; not that it is 'almost' the right credential.

Also have talked to quite a few professors in the past in the biological sciences and the feeling seems to be almost universal among the younger ones that there is a massive necessary shift towards people with quantitative backgrounds. Physics is no longer even considered 'out of field' to biology because they prefer physicists for biology related research positions.

I work at a biotech company, and the head of my research group straight up said that he 'doesn't need another molecular biologist'. He needs someone who thinks differently -- and he specifically said physicist.

I don't have published statistical data, however. Where are you getting your data that suggests it is impossible to find a post-doc 'out of field'? What exactly do you mean by 'out of field'?

The problem is that even after you have experience, you still don't have that much choice of location. If you are doing physics Ph.D.-type finance in the United States, then there is a 95% chance that you are going to live in NYC.

Yeah, that's if you are doing finance. There are plenty of other industries out there.
 
  • #67
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I work at a biotech company, and the head of my research group straight up said that he 'doesn't need another molecular biologist'. He needs someone who thinks differently -- and he specifically said physicist.

That's also true where I work, but I've found that the bit of academia that I'm familiar with is quite siloed.

I don't have published statistical data, however. Where are you getting your data that suggests it is impossible to find a post-doc 'out of field'? What exactly do you mean by 'out of field'?

Personal experience in astrophysics. What happens is that if you have a principal investigator with funding to study pulsating white dwarfs, he'll look for someone that has experience in exactly that area. If your physics Ph.D. happens to be in pulsating cepheid variables then you are out of luck.

Nice to know that things are different elsewhere in the universe :-) :-) :-)

The information that you provide is really useful because if you see a post-doc position advertised in astrophysics and it happens that the people offering the astrophysics post-doc are researching anything that is even slightly different from what your dissertation was on, there is no point in even applying. It's nice to know that this *isn't* the case in other fields.

Yeah, that's if you are doing finance. There are plenty of other industries out there.

Yup, and one thing that we really, really, really need are diverse career paths, because mono-cultures are bad, and if finance is the only one hiring then it's bad if that collapses. So part of looking at other fields is so that I have a parachute in cause this all blows up.
 

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