In the comments were some other questions/views.
To pick those up.
Dr. J said
Just touching on a slightly different international aspect because you have a few international readers. Doing a PhD in Europe/Australia is only 3 years and is only lab work, which seems to be quite different to the US. In this case, I´m not sure its as critical to be the perfect candidate as it isn´t a 6 year slog through course work etc.which really resonates with me. The European Ph.D. is shorter and they don't have classes. I will say that SOME of the classes I spent my first two years taking were actually useful. Some of the others were me, yet again, learning the Krebs cycle and spitting it back out on paper. Still don't have the thing memorized. Hope never to. That is why they invented wikipedia and other reference materials.
It´s also an important point that these days you almost need a PhD for any science related job. In fact, in Europe, you almost need a PhD, minimum of 3 languages and several years of international experience to get anything.
However, I still don´t think you should be doing a doctorate unless you REALLY want it. But don´t think you have to be commited to a life in science just cause you stuck it out. Nothing is wasted, even if afterward you do something completely different.
The qualifying exam that we did was also a big waste of time. There went 4 months of my life I don't get back. And, oh yeah, I still failed the written and had to retake it 2 weeks later. Beyond a stupid exercise to have to memorize stuff that most labs keep on posters that silly vendors hand out.
Anonymous added a paragraph agreeing with Dr. J plus this
The professors in the US love to drone on about the superiority of the American degree, but personally I believe that they're just trying to justify a 50%+ increase in degree time. As with the original post I feel like most of my education came in the first few years, and that my last few have been more about 'work' and less about 'learning'.which it would be impossible for me to agree more with (i.e. 100% is kind of the max...). I was cheap labor. Thats fine, just don't pretend otherwise.
The statement by Dr. J about needing the Ph.D. for just about anything is pretty true. Becoming more true here in the US. I would be interested in knowing if there are more Ph.D.'s in Europe where it takes less time or here in the U.S. Would guess that we have more, but just because we have way more people. Could be totally wrong though and you could correct for population etc...
I agree you don't have to be committed to the life sciences once you have the Ph.D. and, as Dr. J does, do think that you have to be committed to them when you start it. You, in the US system where you are going to spend at least 5 years, have to think this is a pretty good life and be willing to take your vow of poverty to do it.
I almost find the post docs who are, as put, "just sticking it out" becuase they got the degree to be a little worse off. They haven't seen the options yet and are stuck in a rut.
There are so many options out there as to what to do with the degree. No one in grad school tells you what to do and your supposed to have learned how to think for yourself. BUT - those years of brain washing that this is normal and everyone does it are really hard to overcome.