Saturday, May 23, 2015

The PhD Misconception

[This is an anonymous submission]

Currently, I'm nearing the end of my undergraduate career in Biology/Environmental Sciences. From the start, I thought I was doing everything right. I was studying a STEM major and getting involved in the environmental field, a supposedly "booming" part of the economy. I started research my first semester of freshman year, got to know all of my professors, participated in four internships, led tutoring sessions, and kept on the President's List, all while being extremely active with organizations on campus. I always thought I would stay in academia and become a professor - or that is what all of my professors assured me would be the best route. I wanted to do something important that bettered the earth we live on for future generations. 

But, what they didn't tell me about were the messed up hours, extremely low wages, and countless postdoc years. I started to observe all of the graduate students in my department. Most of them did really cool stuff while they were here - ecological restorations, public health microbiology, etc. - but most either ended up chasing postdoc after postdoc, waiting for a faculty position to open up, dropping out, or just...disappearing after graduation, never to be brought up in alumni news or updates.

Now with graduation nearing, I've almost entirely ruled out attending graduate school for the sake of working in academia. While I believe the work I'd most likely do to be extremely important, especially considering the environmental challenges we face now, I also want to be able to live my life fully, and be compensated accordingly for the effort I put into my work. 


  1. Do not undertake PhD or postDoc....RUN! :D believe me.... I am just about to get my PhD in the electrical engineering from the University in UK and I did not find a single thing there related to making people's lives better or making a real difference in the world.... people are simulating experiments on the computer, writing papers which will most likely stay only that: papers...

    1. I am sorry Bojana that you had an unrewarding PhD experience. In general, for some people, going to graduate school is exactly the right thing to do for their happiness. I have zero regrets over getting the PhD. The problem is that the state of academia today is such that pressures and competition after the PhD make it difficult to have a rewarding post-graduate career experience.

  2. You confirm an axiom I have created:

    No amount of education, nor intellectual capacity, can assure the acquisition of wisdom.

    Thus it is quite possible to see a circumstance where a person with only a high school degree and an IQ of 120 is wiser than a PHD with an IQ of 160.

    The point is, if you were wise to begin with, you would have researched the job prospects before you embarked upon this path.

    If you really want to help people, get a PHD in nutrition, research optimum diets,
    and become a nutrition guru, i.e, write a book, get self -employed as an opinion leader in the world of nutrition and health. Quit waiting for others to hire you. I have an AA in lib arts, a relatively worthless degree, but I never am without employment for years ago I decided to become self - employed.

    Also, your post is not anonymous, you are Larry Teytelman, correct?

    1. You are replying to a post from an undergraduate, not a PhD. The post was emailed to me [Lenny Teytelman] and the person asked to post it anonymously.