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I'm a physics phd student, but I did my undergrad in cs+physics at well known school in the midwest.

I really regret going to grad school for physics, I gave up a lot of earning potential, time to develop new skills and I've forgotten a lot of my CS background. Most methods in my area have already been developed and the pressure to publish (pushy advisor, several projects not producing the intended results, and proposal writing) has always been hampering away at my free time to think. I really dislike this system. At the same time, I'm sure exists in industry too (never had a real job). I'm not going lie, I feel a bit trapped, but I'm still a fairly positive person.

In the sciences, grad school is sold as a necessity but I'm starting to think this is a way of fueling the ivory tower.

I realize that this is a bit incoherent/ranty, but whatever. :)

You don't have to stay. Look for development jobs or internships for the Fall semester. If you like it more than what you're doing now, don't go back. If you decide that you want to get into the physics, the go back. Plenty of grad students take a semester or two off and go finish their PhDs. If your advisor blows a gasket, well, you can probably do better somewhere else anyway.

I know a lot of graduate students and early professors who have a fear of private industry. I think they all know they can make more money outside of academia, but they don't realize they can work fewer hours and not have worry about a bad tenure committee screwing up their careers. A bad boss can make my work life suck, but he'll need to work hard to completely nuke my career.

Anyway, I understand how you feel. Despite my lackluster GPA, a couple professors want me to go on for a masters in math or statistics. You should see their faces contort when I tell them I don't want to go to graduate school or I don't want a career in academia.

You spent your life in academia, surrounded by people who spent their lives in academia, who have surrounded themselves with people who spent their lives in academia. Get some fresh air, fill your bank account, and then decide.

I agree, I realized the truth of your second-to-last sentence sometime during grad school. These people have played the academia game and it worked out for them, and their sense of self-worth and prestige is tied to their standing inside the system. Of course, the academia game is a lot more difficult to play these days.

I was a Physics undergrad+ Physics / Materials Science PhD and I ended up just quitting 4 years into my PhD. You can do it too. You don't owe your advisor anything and you've definitely put in your indentured servitude. I ended up getting a job as a data analyst / scientist and never looked back. You can work on interesting problems, use the same experimental design knowledge and methods, and get paid $100k more than a grad student.

Four years? Is it common for a Physics PhD to take that long? I thought most fields are closer to two years.

Four years would be on the very short end these days. Most doctoral programs in math and the sciences are a MINIMUM of four years, with average terms creeping up to 6. Never say never, but a 2-year doctorate is pretty much unheard-of.

Some people think of this as 2 years for a Masters and 2 more for PhD, but in practice most hard science programs don't really offer a true Masters program. When I got my doctorate, a bunch of us figured out we could apply to get our MS diploma after we finished our coursework -- hardly anyone in the PhD program had ever bothered before. We all got them and put them on our desks as a kind of inside joke.

Don't some universities give MS diplomas out to people who make it so far in the program, but drop out before getting their PhD as a kind of "well, here's something for your work"?

Yeah those are usually referred to as "terminal masters", meaning that you terminated your education with as MS.

"terminal masters" more usually refers to a field where a Masters degree is the highest attainable degree, like a Masters of Fine Art (there is no Doctorate of Fine Art).

Although searching Google - I can find references to the usage you're giving.

But, I fully agree that a Masters in a hard science, especially from a top research school, is almost always a consolation prize for those who drop out. My program would not accept students into the program for a Masters, it was PhD only, unless you dropped out.

That's been true for awhile. After I graduated in the late '80s I wanted to go back to school for a masters degree and was politely informed by multiple universities they were only looking for students who intended to get a PhD.

Ah I must have been mixing up Masters and PhD.

Stats for European schools can also be different. I know of some that have short PhD programs but require you complete a masters before applying.

I took 7 years from the start of grad school to my PhD. The main reason was that my first thesis project was an utter failure.

My impression from talking to a lot of people, is that the European schools simply manage the PhD process to make sure it doesn't drag out too long. It's expected to be shorter, so it's shorter.

My best friend and I both did PhDs in astronomy starting at the same time, me in the UK, him in the US. I completed in 4 years, he took 9 years.

The big difference was that the PhD in the UK launched you straight into research on day 1. No teaching, no courses. He spent the first couple of years in courses, and a lot of time throughout the degree in teaching. In some ways I envied his coursework, since I was basically on my own from the start (his grad courses sounded very thorough and interesting). However I do not envy the 5 extra years it took him.

That was all a couple of decades ago now, so things may have changed.

Indeed, my graduate coursework was full time for 2 years, and the failed thesis project probably cost me 3 years.

Luckily, AIP has a survey for this as well!


Only 3% of surveyed physics PhDs took 4 years, nobody took less and 6-7 years was average.

My Ph.D. took 9 years from start of M.S. program til defense.

I was, relatively, fast at it as well. M.S. was 2 years. Ph.D. was 4 years of research, 3 years of writing. Though I spent the last 2 years of writing ABD working full time for a "startup".

I really enjoyed my time in grad school. I was a computational physicist, doing molecular dynamics. The reason I went into academia was lack of professor positions . The writing was on the wall. So I decided to go the industrial route.

With the impending closure of my latest venture, I am looking around at options, and am actively interviewing. As it turns out, it looks like my thesis advisor is retiring at my alma mater, and they have an open position.

I am thinking deeply as to whether or not I really want to do physics. The pay is terrible, and I am marked as an "undesirable" as I had left academia.

I'll keep looking for my next place. This said, the Ph.D. was a good thing to do. I learned a tremendous amount, not just about a narrow area, but how to compute, measure, and reason about things that are complex.

Seems like this is in demand now. Makes me happy.

People who go straight from undergrad to PhD often take 5+ years (in the states and Canada, at least), especially in the experimental fields

For many in experimental tracks, when I was in graduate school for a physics PhD, 4 years seemed like the shortest you could get out in. There were a lot of people that started immediately at 22 and were almost 30 by the time they were ready to graduate.

If you go straight from undergrad into a PhD track four years is a reasonable minimum, yes. You can at some institutions at least opt to take an MS along the way (as I did) after your two years of graduate level course work is completed, and then continue to complete the PhD.

I was 6 months into my PhD in physics - just been given assignment based on obscure Austrian codebase and a quick briefing based on nature article ("Let's discuss when you have something - seeya!") when an opportunity in software came about (a graphics gig - the last thing I wanted to do was write CRUD apps). Never looked back. I was ridiculously underequipped in theoretical as well as practical side beyond linear algebra and C++ but we had a great team and I had the chance to learn quickly.

One thing - if you decide to move to industry, make sure the first years you can learn from someone more talented than you - even if informally. This is critical, software is a craft.

A few points.

I spent 7 years in grad school, then quit without a PhD. I don't regret it for a minute. I managed to spend 7 years studying topics that interest me, that I will not get to study had I gone straight into industry. Sure, while working you may have some spare time to study some math/physics. But nowhere near at the level you could/did in grad school. There's really no comparison.

If you're not happy in grad school, perhaps:

1. You don't like your research topic.

2. You don't like your advisor.

As an example, I did not have a very pushy advisor, so I learned what I did in a very relaxed manner. Bad idea if I were to end up in academia as a career, but it worked out great for me.

It does suck not finishing the PhD, but once I was in industry, I saw the jobs that most PhDs in my research topic would have ended up with - and most of those jobs are horrible. I worked with them for 4 years, and moved into programming. While the satisfaction of solving really challenging problems is no longer there, the programming job overall really is much better: More autonomy, more creativity, better work schedule, etc.

But bottom line: Grad school is for learning the stuff you are passionate about. If you're not doing that, either change your topic/advisor, or leave.

Don't feel trapped. There are lots of CS experts out there who are competent but have little domain knowledge expertise and therefor limited understanding of what they're writing software for. Just push ahead and see it through until you get bored with it. Being the person around who can write software and understand the underlying physics of this or that problem that you're seeking to model makes a world of difference and is a very valued skill in some fields.

We hire people with your exact profile for data science jobs all the time. You should be applying to DS jobs like there's no tomorrow.

Also a physics PhD student. I never touched CS as un undergrad, but I got very interested in writing software as an undergrad when I started in an experimental HEP group (I've never taken any formal programming courses). I don't completely regret going to grad school even though I often think about the likelihood that I leave physics when I graduate to get a job in software development. I also dislike the academic system - and that's the biggest contributor to that likelihood to leave for the software industry being high. The physics itself is no longer _incredibly_ interesting to me, but I can't shake the data analysis itch ;)

> Most methods in my area have already been developed and the pressure to s/publish/ship (pushy s/advisor/PM, several s/projects/products not producing the intended s/results/sales, and s/proposal/budgets writing) has always been hampering away at my free time to think. I really dislike this system.

Sounds like you have plenty of "real job" experience ;-)

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