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I would say "stay as far away from academic research as you possibly can" is the best advice someone can get these days. It is an awful, stressful waste of the prime of your life.

From what I saw in biomed only 1/10,000 or so will end up with the time, skills, and appropriately ambitious project to allow a decent job to get done. The rest will be forced to produce BS (literally, most of it is just misinformation at this point) or quit before even graduating.




>I would say "stay as far away from academic research as you possibly can" is the best advice someone can get these days. It is an awful, stressful waste of the prime of your life.

On the other hand, spending some years pursuing a PhD can be a great time to build skills and introspect in life. I grew a lot in that time in a way I don't think I would have with a job.

Of course, if you have a very stressful advisor, it isn't worth it.


Actually, my adviser was quite laid back. As a result, I was able to build a lot of skills in order to complete my project. However, notice I said able. I had to self-teach and self-fund to do it, the academic stuff was really just an obstacle.

I think something like a basic income would allow the a certain type of person to achieve the same, and do it much faster and cheaper than getting a higher degree. I wonder if that is one reason why most of these problems started when higher education/research became less of an "elite" activity, ie as discussed in subnaughts link in this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12805406


> On the other hand, spending some years pursuing a PhD can be a great time to build skills and introspect in life.

as software dev, I would never, ever, ever want to be in academia compared to the jobs I went through. much more life to be lived, much more money to spend on life to live (ie travelling around the world), and CV/skillset that gets door opened for next jobs.

you can build proper introspect in life when trekking few weeks among 8000m peaks, diving in coral reefs or anything in between, just give it a bit more than 1-2 weeks.

great PhD can be interesting experience, but for me, it would always be subpar to great job


Doing something like a PhD is a great place to find other people who might be interested in co-founding a startup!

NB That's what I did after ~5 years in academic research at a UK university and never really regretted not finishing by PhD as I had no intention of going back into research.


I strongly disagree. A PhD in the sciences or engineering is a degree in how to do research and it prepares people for careers in research or for careers that require communicating research. If a person is only satisfied with being a professor at a R1 university, then don't do a PhD, but there are a ton of other jobs that require or greatly benefit from having one, e.g, teaching universities, NASA, government labs, many research oriented groups in companies (FAIR, Google Research, biomedical companies, etc.), science policy advising, etc.

One needs to have clear expectations going into the PhD about what they are trying to do and they need to have clear communication with their advisor.

The vast majority of PhDs in science and engineering do very well and find jobs, but most don't get professorships at research focused institutions. Having realistic expectations is key, but a career in research is great.

A PhD is stressful and takes 5-6 years, but it can be a great experience with the correct expectations and a solid plan. The main problem is that most PhD students don't seem to think about those things nearly enough and have unreasonable expectations.


>"a degree in how to do research"

Well, here is how I was taught to do research:

  1) You come up with a vague idea that one thing should be
  positively/negatively correlated with another thing. 
  2) You measure some proxies for those two things that have only 
  been half-validated, if at all.
  3) You make a bunch of dubious statistical assumptions and check
  whether there was *exactly zero* correlation between the two proxies.
  4a) Your sample size was too small relative to the noisiness of 
  the measurements and p>0.05. So you ignore the result.
  4b) Your sample size was large enough, or you got lucky and p<0.05.
  So you publish saying these results support your theory or are 
  counter-intuitive, depending on the direction of the correlation.
Please do not think this is at all a critique of my institution/instructors, this is a (the?) method being taught as "science" worldwide. Basically, I have nothing to add that hasn't been said before about that method:

http://www.fisme.science.uu.nl/staff/christianb/downloads/me...

http://bml.bioe.uic.edu/BML/Stuff/Stuff_files/biologist%20fi...


>A PhD is stressful and takes 5-6 years, but it can be a great experience with the correct expectations and a solid plan. The main problem is that most PhD students don't seem to think about those things nearly enough and have unreasonable expectations.

Honestly, I think the main problem is mostly that PhD students are, on the one hand, full-grown adults supporting themselves, and yet are, on the other hand, paid McDonalds wages to do the most intensive intellectual work our society has for Goldman Sachs hours.


I'm a PhD student, and I doubt I could have said it better. And depending on the field you're in, your only choice might be working as a postdoc until a suitable academic position opens up. Thankfully, there a way more options post-PhD in engineering.


I've known people (with PhDs) who worked for Goldman Sachs. They considered the work-life balance to be much better than academia (and some industry). Co-signed on the rest, though.


Damn. As a 4th year PhD student, this hit me hard. You've worded my feelings on academia better than I ever could.

Edit: I see Cyph0n has beaten me by a few minutes. Oh well.


Regarding vast majorities of PhDs not getting jobs in professorships, I think this is just true for pretty much all PhD's no matter the subject..at least anecdotally speaking. I was given an offer to teach at a community college however I declined as I just don't really like teaching. Most of my peers joined government agencies or lobbyist firms due to the nature of the field (Public Policy.)

I didn't find the PhD to be too stressful, from the jobs I left to enter education I suppose I was well adapted to stress management. That said I think it's a mix of adviser and individual's personality. I despise the work force (that is an understatement) and love learning. Part of the reason why I browse and lurk on HN as I love coming across stuff that I'm not at all oriented with. I don't think I'll become a programmer or anything..it's just I love learning even things I barely understand (e.g. Quantum anything!)


I really really wish people would separate advice by field rather than unfairly tarnish all of academic research with an incredibly broad brush. I'm a PhD in CS and while a lot of results are incremental, there is far far far less BS than in biomed from what I've heard.




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