Friday, February 23, 2007

Another installment of: Sometimes I wish I hadn't gone to grad school.

Recently I've had the opportunity to meet more professional women from industry, and talk to them more than I had before. Some of them do not have PhDs.

And yet. They are doing the same kind of work that a person with postdoc experience would do. They are designing new assays and doing research. They are using multiple techniques.

Multiple techniques! And here I thought that without a PhD, I'd be doing nothing but multiplex PCR, day in and day out.

(In fact, I know some people who have PhDs who do nothing but one technique, day in and day out).

They are paid well. They dress well. They get per diem when they travel. They work with other women because the imbalance is less severe. They have all the toys at work. They don't work weekends.

And so I have to wonder what the hell I was thinking. If I had known how much the industry would change, and that there were industrial bachelors or masters degree level positions where I could do a multitude of interesting things, I might have thought twice about grad school.

If I had any idea what grad school would actually be like, I'd like to think I wouldn't have gone. I'd like to think I would have chosen the chance the get paid more right off the bat and move up sooner based on abilities and experience, rather than irrelevant diplomas and other superficial measures.

The one shining light in all this is that I know I get more freedom. And I get to read.

Unfortunately I can't go back now, and there's no guarantee that even in industry all the suffering to get the degrees and postdoc experience would pay off.

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At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms PhD,

In industry there is a "glass ceiling" for people without PhDs. So even there, you're better off having an advanced degree. Unless you want to be an RA (technician) for life, or go into the business side of things.

At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A biomedical research dep't at my university is putting on a seminar series for jobs candidates in cell/nol bio. ALl 4 candidates have a Cell, Science, or Nature paper. FYI.

At 10:28 PM, Blogger Elli said...

man, amen to that.

*waves of jealousy at how your science actually HAS an "industry" compoenent*

yeah, grad school has been pretty disappointing so far. fortunately, i'm less than a year in, so I have another good ten months of lying to myself that it's all because I picked the wrong program, and that grad school somewhere else is really all sunshine and roses. :P

anybody knows the stats on transferring in a PhD program?

At 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a previous "pro-industry" commenter. I'm glad that you've had the chance to talk to some of these people. I'm back working on a PhD myself now, but I was impressed at the amount of respect I was given in industry with just a master's degree, and how "easy" life was in comparison with graduate school. Ultimately I came crawling back to academia because I couldn't stand *not knowing* about all the new molecular techniques, but at my old position I was already writing grant proposals and was nearing the point of running my own projects (after only 3 years). I have still been thinking about ultimately becoming a professor, but due to my experiences in industry I now know I would be fairly content there as well.

As I've said in the past: Keep those options open! :)

At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely sympathize with this post. I often worry that I am over educating myself with my PhD. I have no interest in being a faculty member, I had a great job working with the United Stated Geologic Survey as a student tech. and then they hired me on after by B.S. My boyfriend, now husband, moved across the country for graduate school and so I decided 15 months later to join him and also attend the same school, in the same department. I really enjoyed the work I did in my master's thesis and decided to stay on and continue with my adviser for a PhD. Part of me felt like I really enjoyed the project and another part of me felt like I should have the same education as my husband so there was never any "well you just have a master's conversations." Although I don't think he would have ever done that.
But now I'm nearing completion of my project, still needing to write it all up, and wonder if I made the right decision. I really enjoy the lab work and the discovery of new ideas, but I hate the bureaucracy of science in terms of publishing and comparing yourself to others, and other problems you post on your blog.
I also try to just take things day at a time, as I never got into the science for the money.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger veki said...

I met my friend recently who graduated in telecommunications and she found her first job as sales person in the computer shop. She realized that she could not recognized various ADSL and ISDN modems and why they differ. She was so angry that actually she failed although she was excellent student. She felt that all that university thing is a sort of fraudulent behavior. Her frustration was so intimidating for her. On the other side there are people with MA and even PhD who do not know any foreign language. What academic circles are doing in fact to us?

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Depresso said...

This is a very interesting post to me, because I have had similar feelings about graduate school (the Ph.D. part) myself.

My experience confirms what you have written. People with Master's degrees have performed some very very interesting work, and worked on (multiple) very interesting projects.

I like the fact that I have a Ph.D., I like seeing the three letters after my name. But, I would rather have taken up an interesting job after my Masters than completed a Ph.D. program.

Having said that, I don't think I would have obtained my current job without my Ph.D. In that sense, I think my Ph.D. was worthwhile. I also think, that it increases my chances of getting interesting jobs in the long run.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having worked in industry before heading to grad school, I think I can make a couple of comments...

The work is much more relaxing, you get paid more, and you definitely tend to work less weekends. You also spend a lot more time in meetings than doing lab work, but on the other hand, you're (usually) working on a tangible goal, and in collaboration with other people. You can move up in the company as you learn new techniques and prove your value.

However... without a PhD, the "respect" you earn isn't very mobile, especially between companies. Which, given the frequency of layoffs and companies merging, can ultimately prove quite a hinderance.

At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see you've actually met some women working in industry.

I think industry now has a lot of exciting work to be done, you just have to look for it!!

that's ok, the more people stick with academia, the more chance I have at landing an industry position that I'll like.

so yeah.. uhh.. nevermind.. academia rocks.. it's so cool to be a PI and write grants and papers.. to have the freedom to choose your research.. yes yes... its good... please go back to your bench.. please...

At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Life is too short to be unhappy.

At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Reluctant Chemist said...

Oh, dear - please don't look at it in such bleak terms. I myself am a researcher without a Ph.D. (they call us "associates"). Certainly, you can get paid more to hone your bench skills in industry at the B.S. or M.S. level. BUT...if you do have a Ph.D., the speed of advancement, as well as the number of opportunities for advancement, can make up for the years you've missed making money. Of course, even with a Ph.D., you still have to know how to play your cards right (same goes if you have a B.S. or M.S.).

Don't forget: graduate school still gives you the chance to indulge curiosities and questions that you probably won't have the chance to once you leave academia.

At 7:10 AM, Anonymous TW Andrews said...

Without wanting to be an industry cheerleader, yes things in industry can be pretty damn good. Given your particular set of frustrations --lack of respect, lack of other women to work with, lack of a clear path for advancement, dependence on a network--I think you have the opportunity to be quite satisfied in industry.

And I say that not because I think academia's bad (it's not--at least not inherently), or that for-profit research is better than non-profit research (they're just different), I've said it because industry is a lot better on what seem to be your principle sources of frustration.

there's no guarantee that even in industry all the suffering to get the degrees and postdoc experience would pay off.

Do you perceive a guarantee that you'll get a tenure-track teaching position and be able to work on the research of your choice in academia?

You're obviously smart, and you write well. There are lots of companies that would be lucky to have you.


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