Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ponderings of a PhD Student: Grad School Blues

Lately it seems every time I open my inbox, check twitter or flip through the pages of a science community publication, I come across an article that makes me pause to question my graduate studies. For instance, the winter edition of Health Solutions features an article with the sub-heading "A Ph.D. is no guarantee of a university position". The March University Affairs? An article "the PhD is in need of revision", which while lamenting about long times to completion and high drop out rates, also draws attention to the fact that in many fields, 'we may be producing more PhD students than we need.' Says the vice-president academic of UBC, Dr. David Farrar, who goes on to say "They need to know when they get into this where it's going to take them."

Even on my own blog, I've often draw attention to the shockingly low success rate for PhD's eventually finding faculty positions at universities (only 20-35%). The suggested solution? apart from revamping the system to be more selective of graduate student admissions (read as: train fewer of us). Is to provide extra funding (usual only one year) after completion for you to train for another field entirely. Many people opt to head towards public policy, law or business.

As it stands for me, I still can't imagine myself anywhere outside of an academic institution. So what I'd like to see, fewer articles focusing on the negative, suggesting we opt out of academia early; and more good advice on how to develop my self over the next 3 years into becoming a part of that lucky 20%.


  1. I could not agree more, everyone seems quite free with the depressing predictions of the future but finding people who will give you more advice then just 'work hard' is difficult. If working hard was all it took then there wouldn't be so many unemployed PhDs.....

    Have you had any success in finding such advice? How did you go about getting it?

    1. Thanks for the great comment! And certainly there are certainly some general sources available, between great student run websites (GradHacker) and initiatives organized by schools (for instance UofC has recently started a MyGradSkills program). However I find that a big part of it may come from effective mentorship relationships, as well as being open and ambitious about your goals with your supervisor.

    2. How to succeed in academia.
      a) Be ruthless. Be prepared to steal ideas and to use everyone you know as a stepping stone.
      b) Have no compunction about working in a system that exploits 80 percent of its labor with slave labor conditions (basically, don't have soul).
      c) Suck up to your profs, even if you disagree with them, and always act sure of yourself. (Bullies love authorative types like themselves)
      d) Don't go into academia wanting to change the world for the better. Do it for the grants and the tremendous profits you'll make for the university.
      e) Don't complain when they raise your class sizes to over 1000 students and be willing to spend at least 4 to 5 years working across the country as a VAP.
      f) Be prepared to hide the truth from upcoming grad students (e.g. that most of them will be slave labor for the grist mill).
      Do these things and you will be successful.

  2. That was a great input. I hope it will be read by other universities and your school too. I hope the management will react and make a move towards your concern. Thank you for sharing this wonderful information.


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