Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Would I tell someone to go to Grad School?

Last post Bill asked, in the comments, if I would tell someone to go to Grad school or not.

Some back story - Bill and I have the same ex-advisor and he picked up my project. So - he knows exactly what I went through at the end and knows it really wasn't pretty. I have heard of worse ways to graduate, but I certainly had a little worse than average ending. I could have picked my lab a bit better. That said - the grass is rarely actually greener on the other side, so I probably did about average. We were funded and had a decent degree of freedom. Many are much worse off. Many are better off. Sort of a wash there.

So...that wasted a paragraph ducking the question...

I have no idea.

I don't think anyone could have talked me out of going to grad school.
Toward the end my wife had to talk me in to finishing.

There are some people who just have to go to Grad school. There are others who are going for the wrong reasons. If you are going because you didn't get in to medical school - you are doomed to failure. This person should be talked out of it at all costs. They are going to be miserable and likely be really bad at it. On the basis of a very small sample size, I would say they won't even finish grad school and will wash/be washed out. No one will enjoy this.

For me - I learned a lot. The last almost 2 years were a complete waste of time, in that I had learned all I was going to learn in that lab, but the first bit was critical. I have, now, a HUGE advantage over the folks who did not go through school.

Things I learned:
  • How to read a paper. Really read it. Understand it. And do so quickly.
  • How to design an experiment so that I actually learned something.
  • Techniques. Lots of techniques. Useful now that I work in a tool vendor... Knowing WHY people do experiments, and what experiments follow which experiments is key/critical. If you haven't gone to school and only were a tech, I am not sure that you get this as much. Possible, but less likely.
SO - Back to the Question.

Would I tell someone to go.

What do they want to do? Be a professor? (if yes - then they have no choice. Grad school is the only way). Go in to Industry? (if yes - then they have no choice. Really the only way to the top of the research heap is with a degree). Go in to Business? (more choice....read this blog!)

Why are they doing it? Parents have degrees (horrible reason!!!!). They didn't get in to medical school? (Worst reason ever.) They don't know what else to do? HORRIBLE reason.

I would say that to make it through you have to start in a condition of absolute gung ho can't be talked out of it and all of you people whining are losers that I am better than.

Then the beatings commence, and soon you are a senior student whining and complaining with the rest of us and the first years are looking at you funny. If you don't go in believing you can crush it.... DON'T GO. You won't make it.

If the person is a technician and is wondering - thats harder. One of our former techs I didn't think would do it and she went off and did it. Lost track of her, so I don't know how she did. (Pubmed just told me she has 2 papers.... so she did alright actually!)

Summary - I think this is a totally personal thing. If you can be talked out of it, you probably shouldn't go. Some random dude being able to talk you out of it is the least problem you are going to face completing the degree. If that is enough of a deterrent, you are hosed when the real pressures come to bear. You see your friends leading "normal" lives and making real money and going on vacation (imagine not going to lab on Xmas day!!!) and buying houses and all sorts of normal stuff.... A guy talking negatively about it is the least of the problems you will face. We probably all should denigrate it.


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.

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.

Anonymous said...

Dr.J has hit on something here. As an American doctoral candidate nearing graduation, I really wish I'd considered doing a PhD internationally in England or Australia. There would have been no complications from a language barrier and I could have completed the degree in half the time. Plus, I would have gained valuable personal and professional experience from living abroad for a time. Moving seems daunting, but three to four years really isn't that much time.

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'.