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Grad School and Public Health (benkuhn.net)
67 points by luu 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

I wonder if there's a good way to think about the relevant counterfactual: how happy would PhD students if they did not pursue a PhD? The post assumes that depression and anxiety rates would be very different absent the PhD, but I'm not so sure.

It would be interesting to see response data for the same people during both their undergraduate and PhD programs. But even this is compounded by the quarter-life-crisis issues that are common at PhD ages anyway. Plus, the pool of PhD students consists entirely of people who said "yes, working in relative isolation, for years, with little pay, on a topic most people don't care about, sign me up!". As one of the people in that pool, I'm not so sure we'd be way happier in the other pool. There is a consumption value to doing a PhD and taking the path that interested you. And there is consumption value to not having a normal office job.

To be clear: I think we (professors and current graduate students) should make sure applicants understand what a PhD is like and best practices for minimizing the probability of a bad PhD. Even after controlling for intelligence and ability to work hard, it is definitely not for everybody. But likening it to a public health crisis on par with HIV, acknowledged clickbait or not, is a bit much.

>I wonder if there's a good way to think about the relevant counterfactual: how happy would PhD students if they did not pursue a PhD?

I would be damned miserable.

>Plus, the pool of PhD students consists entirely of people who said "yes, working in relative isolation, for years, with little pay, on a topic most people don't care about, sign me up!".

Look. I've done both industry and academia. Money is great. I would be happy to get more money in academia. However, working in tech in a crowded cubical farm in a massive company, for years, on a topic most people don't care about, is not so different from academia as we typically believe.

> However, working in tech in a crowded cubical farm in a massive company, for years, on a topic most people don't care about

That's not the only way to have a tech career, though. Maybe that's the highest-paying option for most people, but you can also do remote work, work for a small company, work less than full time (if you're good enough) etc. Basically there are ways for regular people to have not-super-stressful tech careers. It doesn't sound like there's a way to do that for PhD's unless you're already independently wealthy.

I dunno. Most people I know who've tried to have more laid-back tech careers eventually got laid off and had to hit the interview circuit pitching themselves as more ambitious.

And I really don't think they were underperformers. I think the industry is just structured so if you stay in one job long enough, trying to avoid stressing yourself out over "moving up", your company goes under.

Just to give a data-point when it comes to this question: I'm doing an in-industry PHD in Europe where I spend half my time at my university's lab and half at my company, working on the same project that I love, so I'm in a good position to compare the two.

As a result of this scheme, I'm terribly depressed half the week, the environment in academia is so much worst and so very hostile. I was discussing it with my university colleagues and apparently we're one of the better labs in the country when it comes to team cohesion and work environment so I suspect it's not an isolated problem.

I dread going to my lab, I feel like calling in sick every morning that I have to go there. I get no work done at all during the day I just wait it out until I can get home and start working. The buildings are run-down, the people are non-responsive staring at their screen until lunch which is the only time we get a bit of human contact, people have irregular hours unless they have to teach in which case they're in their class the whole day so I see and talk to no-one for two days. The work-life balance is nonexistent. My advisor is great but as mentioned in the article, she's the only one who cares about my work on the university's side of things and I barely see her once a month. Also there's none of the small benefits that you get in a company like free-coffee, food, etc... At my lab we have a water-boiler on the floor, plugged into a socket in a corner of the room.

All in all it may seem like small things but it comes together to make it a terrible environment, and I'd like to think I'm a fairly emotionally resilient person but if i had to spend any more time there I'd quit in a hot second.

May I ask where are you? I have been in many European universities and I always got free coffee (not food, but neither in private companies).

I'm in Germany though I won't say more than that for obvious reasons ;).

The coffee example was the first thing that came to mind but really it's so much more than that. At work we do weekly team meetings, we get regular themed events during national celebrations as well as over the whole year like baking contests, sports competitions, vacation photo contests, ... We get a sense of direction from management, we get a sense of purpose from our work and the whole company is focused on working together on a single goal to release our products, we get to interact with other departments and talk to people with a huge range of skill-sets, we're made to feel our work is valued, etc ... Obviously there are drawbacks that I won't go into, it's not all rosy, but a lot is done so that work feels like a pleasant part of the employees' life and not a dreadful grind to get through.

Though the environment is weighing on me and I seem to have only negative things to say, I'm very grateful for the opportunities that my university has provided for me, and I love my labmates. I often feel it's a personal failure that I haven't been able to bring over some of my company's positive traits to our lab to spur some life into it, and that someone else might have done better in my place.

This is a good point. There are too many confounding factors. I recently finished my PhD and reflecting back, it was hard and a lot of work, certainly not what I imagined as an undergrad. I worked most weekends and holidays and have a few projects that failed and grants I couldn't produce the results, subsequently losing funding. It was a bit debilitating watching friends and family enjoying the 9-5 lifestyle.

Honestly, what kept me afloat were my Chinese and Indian colleagues that pretty much lived in the office but were candid about the experience.

I'm not staying in academia because physics AP's don't make that much compared industry positions (I want a cybertruck :) ).

However, I'm glad I finished, because it's opened quite a few doors in industry to work on cutting edge tech with problems I want to work on.

On the contrary, what kept me alive during the PhD was that if I do well, I won't have to get a 9-to-5 job

Yeah, you’ll get a 7 to 7 job.

Excuse you, academics at the top of the food chain have the complete freedom to choose which 60 hours to work every week.

I knew professors that slacked around all day long. In principle, you can work only one month per year writing an excellent research paper. And of course, planning your lectures during the rest of the time.

This is not my experience with the newer generation of professors in STEM.

Writing that paper means making getting funding and that means networking (giving talks, creating/maintaining collaborations), participating in inter/intra department grant writing, managing students to produce the work, etc.

Of course you could write an amazing research paper but more often than not it won't go to an amazing journal unless you have positive connections in the field (-ie potential reviewers and editors).

Papers in good journals -> Easier to get grants.

A major part of the tenure packet is grants and awards.

Teaching is not the top priority.

You can live just off your usual salary, you don't need grants if you're frugal.

Typically the university pays professors salary and gives you a startup fund.

Professors have to bring in grant money to fund students, build a lab, travel to conferences to advertise the work, etc.

Plus the university gets a little slice of the grant.

If you don't bring in grants you'll be fired. And good luck funding a lab w/o grants.

Not everywhere is like the US.

> how happy would PhD students if they did not pursue a PhD?

I think we can get some of this data by examining mental health after grad school. I know for a fact that my anxiety attacks are all gone since graduating and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have happened if I'd gone straight to industry instead.

Don't you have similar worries in (at least top tech) companies as well?

What did you have anxiety over that is so different? I guess in grad school you worry about papers getting accepted/rejected, potentially funding running out, failing to produce interesting research and dropping out, this type of thing right?

In companies you have performance reviews, promotions and layoffs, office politics etc. to worry about.

I think the biggest difference between academia and industry stress is that stress in academia is so personal. Your entire career is building up your own personal brand of research, which has to be novel, interesting, reliable, etc. If something goes wrong, like you don't get a grant or you find that you made a mistake or a paper gets rejected, you can't blame your company's leadership for poor decisions, so it's a much more personal reflection on your abilities as a researcher. The rejections are also typically much more often along the lines of "this was a bad idea, I don't know why you spent the past two years doing this" and less like "could you fix your code formatting to match our style guide." And because nearly everyone who does a Ph.D. does it out of their love for the field, feeling like a failure at philosophy is much more personal than introducing a bug or whatever into your code.

a. Advisors have infinitely more power over you then any future manager

b. You can switch jobs but you cant effectively jump gradschool. If I want a change of pace another job is always available.

c. Grad school has greatly diminished returns if terminated early. 5 years of PhD work but no thesis defense means you dont have a PhD. Lots of companies you can just leave and they still count towards your experience.

d. Grad students get paid peanuts, you have to worry about finances. Tech jobs pay a ton, I may worry about promotion but I dont worry about going to a restraunt/buying nice things/etc. If I want something most of the times I just buy it.

All of this makes grad school substantially more stressful than a normal job.

I see I'm interested in the differences of US vs European (continental, e.g. German) system here and to what extent all the American blog posts and comment threads are applicable here.

In Germany it's not considered grad "school", you're a full time "scientific employee" employed by the state and on a somewhat different plane of bureaucracic existence you're also a "doctoral candidate". The pay gap between academia and industry is also much smaller. It surely exists, but a scientific employee gets about 45k eur gross per year. Straight out of a masters it's typically 55-65k, or if you're really good maybe 75 (roughly) .

And I know people who dropped out and found a job without issues. In whst world does it not count as experience that you've mentored masters and bachelor students, probably took part in industry cooperation, traveled the world for conferences and gave talks, did in-house miscellaneous IT work, like you would at a startup.

It's really hard to compare an American PhD student straight out of bachelor's in medieval philosoohy of religion vs a doctoral candidate after a masters in Germany researching, say, machine learning for energy efficiency.

So here are some super rough pre-tax annual numbers for a STEM path in the US (looking at my peers who did physics and some of whom went into ML, which is what I did)

Grad student ~30k

Postdoc ~50k

Assistance professor ~ 100-150k

Distinguished full professor ~ 250k-350k

Industry after masters ~ 100-150k

Industry after PhD ~ 150-300k

Distinguish engineering fellow in industry (physics) >500k

Nowhere even close.

I work at one of the major tech companies. I manage a team and a production system that could cause serious trouble if it went maximally off the rails. I sleep great.

In grad school I had panic attacks. I felt like shit. My self confidence was terrible. And this was despite publishing modestly successfully. In grad school the feedback you get for your work is (as best I can tell) almost entirely random (paper reviews are totally broken). Many people either have a completely absent advisor and no mentorship or a slavedriver who expects you to work insane hours and steals your credit. It does not surprise me even one bit that a huge number of grad students have mental health problems.

>"yes, working in relative isolation, for years, with little pay, on a topic most people don't care about, sign me up!"

The question is whether the person making that decision feels forced into that decision because of the circumstances in their life. I think a lot of people who have issues during their PhD are there because they are under immense pressure -- from their parents, peers, or wallets -- and the life of a grad student can only compound that stress rather than alleviate it by providing some measure of satisfaction.

Who does a PhD because of immense pressure from wallets? Aren't PhDs a terrible financial choice in the vast majority of fields?

That is why you are under pressure. You have to get by with very little money and it causes stress.

Not everyone starts a PhD right after undergrad. It'd be interesting to look at PhD students who started later in life and see how they take the program. Anecdotally, they have a lot of problems too.

I think the structure of school in general is pretty bad for mental health. I finished my CS BS degree earlier this year, and the quality of life improvement from not being in school anymore has been huge. Instead of constantly worrying about homework, not being able to predict my schedule (due to different homework assignments taking different amounts of time, etc.), and sacrificing sleep on a regular basis, I go to work for 8 hours and then then don't have to worry about it for the rest of the day. It's not a job I want to have forever, or one that I find particularly interesting, but it's still way better than being in school. I stopped taking antidepressants after relying on them to live for about six years, and I'm doing fine.

School sucks. I don't know what the solution to that is. Maybe there isn't one. But I didn't truly realize just how bad it was until I was done with it. I can only assume it's worse when you're in a graduate program, particularly in a field like philosophy where your post-graduation prospects are so low.

This is correct. That said, the structure of full-time employment is also pretty bad for mental health. Our world is just overall structured poorly for mental health, and I say this not facetiously.

> not being able to predict my schedule

Funny you should say that. In grad school, I could predict with reasonable accuracy where I'd be any given day and time, because I kept roughly the same routine every week. It was comforting.

I didn't have the same experience at all.

This depends on how hard your BS program was / how much time and effort you put in.

Not so much, it mostly depends on how much organization you did of the time and effort. I worked two jobs and double majored with honors. I knew exactly what my schedule was going to be.

As someone currently contemplating pursuing a PhD and working in the Public Health space, I don’t like this author’s take.

Sure, many PhD students report a high burden of stress, but comparing this to the general population is a poor assumption.

The prerequisites for getting into a PhD program (the least of which is an undergrad degree) already says something about the difference in the population.

I think you could very easily reverse the causation. High stress people tend to seek PhDs rather than PhDs produce high stress people.

And making the comparison to STDs as a health burden is naive. In the populations I’ve studied, the burden of STDs as a health issue falls almost exclusively on those with less education and lower opportunity.

A PhD is a choice made by educated persons, STDs arise out of something that isn’t a choice made by educated persons.

The stresses of grad school exist because the environment is deathly competitive. More people want to think for a living than there are positions to do so.

I’m resolved to the fact that I would never pursue a PhD for the sole fact of getting a tenure track position, but rather because I want to challenge myself. If I do pursue a PhD, I’ll probably be another member of the population reporting elevated stress, but not because I didn’t choose that path. At the same time, I wonder if I won’t be just as stressed to pass on the opportunity.

>>> The stresses of grad school exist because the environment is deathly competitive.

I believe there's much more to it. I've got a PhD, as does my spouse, my brother, and a couple other relatives. There are three major stress sources to consider:

1. You get nothing until you finish, and there are many things that can knock you off the rails: Your advisor can lose funding. He can lose his job, move to another town, or even up and die on you. You can encounter health or family problems that force you to go on leave, with no safety net or assurance that you can get back into a program. Every day you spend exposes you to a risk that you won't finish and become "the most miserable person in the world: The grad school dropout" to quote Matt Groening.

2. You're working directly for a person who is under little or no supervision, ethical control, etc. Students are at risk of getting overworked, harassed, and bullied by their advisors.

3. You're basically working alone with nobody to motivate you or help you pace your work, and nobody has a vested interest in your progress.

You need to talk to a lot more PhD students before you pursue this. I dropped out of a PhD in public health because my advisor was terrible and didn't care about my progress, lied to me about how long it'd take, and eventually dropped me like a fried laptop when she needed more time. Every one of her students dreaded the hour meetings with her more than any other activity. I got a massive rush of relief and happiness every time I left her office. Furthermore, after all of this, she handed my research to a post doc for him to be first author.

If you want a challenge, climb a mountain. If you want a terrible time, join a PhD program.

Sounds like a bad advisor. One question though, did you get a sense of this from current students before accepting the offer?

I’m not suggesting the situation is your fault for not knowing. But part of my advice to potential grad students is to talk to several current students of the advisor you’re considering. Reasonable advisors will not be offended by this, and if done in an informal off-the-record way (e.g. in person), I think most grad students will be honest about a bad advisor. Or at least impart some feeling for how their experience has been. For example, I personally know of cases where current students explicitly warned against working with an advisor during the admitted phd student visit day.

Not trying to argue that you should have avoided the situation, but I am curious about cases where the talk-to-current-students advice breaks down.

When you imply people are making choices compared to others. What evidence are you making your assertion from besides assuming people choose what happens in life. People are born with variables that factor into what path they’re forced to experience. I think it’s great when people take a step back and try improving these paths for the benefit of the persons health. Otherwise progress from previous generations is being not used to the fullest.

I’m not sure I understand where you’re coming from...

Even if not absolute, there is certainly more choice in pursuing a PhD than getting an STD.

Maybe someone experiences pressure to pursue a PhD (I have to some extent) but the end choice is in their hands, and anyone seriously contemplating a PhD will quickly realize the stress associated with it. Of the couple dozen or so grad students I’ve talked to, they were fascinated by subject matter and decided to pursue it further. Most were well informed of the consequences (stress, job outlook)

Pursuing a PhD signals privilege. Getting an STD does not.

I'm asserting there is no choice. Depending on the life born into, one will lead to a certain path compared to a different life. Since everything depends on the birth, genetics, parent financial status, geographic location, and the chain of external forces (events) that happen where every previous event factors into the equation. You on the other hand are asserting that you believe people can choose and while ignoring how that can even be the case.

I see. We disagree on a philosophical basis. I’m not a determinist.

That said, I can respect that you are.

Why are you not a determinist when studying sociology? What gives you the idea that people are choosing things. Research related to neuroscience about how the brain effects people should be enough with the logic of understanding determinism. Also how can you make a choice that's truly your own without being effected by the system you're in. Nothing is different than your birth (we didn't have choice over) and people just like to assume what follows is different because of how society conditions us to assume it.

As a grad student, I feel compelled to repeat my usual spiel: it's just supply and demand.

All problems of grad school are caused by a massive oversupply of potential grad students, tens to hundreds of times more than necessary to fill all permanent faculty positions, and the fact that we willingly participate despite long hours, low wages, or, as the author complains, depressing architecture.

As long as this holds, it cannot be stopped by any economic reform or social pressure. It's part of the deal when you sign up.

Completely agreed with the fundamental point that it's all about the "funnel" from ~100 (arbitrary number) grad school hopefuls to ~1 tenured role. Unless the number of hopefuls changes, the only design choices correspond to a bunch of "selection events" where the group could be winnowed: grad school admission, qualifiers, granting degree, offer postdoc1 after degree, offer postdoc2 after postdoc1, offer tenure track after postdoc2, offer tenure after tenure review.

The "shape" of the funnel will reflect the design choices we make, based on which groups to be "kind" towards, and which groups to be "brutal" towards. I think prevalent mindset is that it's acceptable to be most brutal in grad school admissions, or after granting PhDs -- because then people have a degree to take away and get to leave with a sense of closure, without much sunk cost worry.

The system of each faculty member graduating significantly more than one student is fundamentally unsustainable, and will lead to all kinds of problems. They can only be shuffled around and partially hidden, but never fully solved. It's amazing how many otherwise smart people don't want to understand this.

Absolutely. I helped to write a series of tests that had to create a 200:1 funnel. There was some debate over whether it was less brutal to cut, say, 20:1 and then 10:1, or 10:1 and then 20:1, or perhaps add another stage and cut 10:1, 5:1, 4:1. For every argument for early cuts there was an equal and opposite argument for late cuts. But I think every cut was still equally cruel, since multiplication is commutative.

100 is not bad. My friend got a PhD in humanities with the goal of professorship. He applied to positions where literally 150 other PhDs applied, so your chance is much less than 1%. And now, that friend is doing ad junct slavery, 10k a year for 15 hours a week, no benefits, plus only 3/15 students at this school do the homework and participate in class. And did I mention he had 300k in loans?

CS PhD student here. I think you're oversimplifying "all problems of grad school". For example, severe anxiety about developing interesting research and passing peer review (which often has randomness involved) has nothing to do with "supply and demand". Also, would you tell a depressed friend of yours that their declining mental health is "part of the deal"? Surely there's a better academic world we can create.

But these are fundamentally supply and demand issues. Why is there so much pressure to develop interesting research? Because there is a deluge of research coming out from our huge oversupply of graduate students, and you only will progress to the next stage if yours is deemed most interesting. Why is it hard to pass peer review? Exactly the same reason. Why don't people just quit their abusive advisors? Again, same reason.

None of this is an argument against having empathy, but it is an argument against high-minded ideas that are supposed to change things without addressing the root problem, namely the 100:1 oversupply of grad students.

For example, peer review can be brutal, so why not start journals with gentler peer review requirements? Well, those already exist, they're called lower-tier journals. But they haven't relieved the pressure on PhD students one bit, because you can't make a career by publishing only in such journals. So why not just ban top-tier journals? Then competition would instantly shift to drumming up buzz for your papers by some other route, to get citations. Why not ban selection based on citation counts? Competition instantly shifts to indirect avenues, such as recommendation letters from prestigious people or extreme polish in presentations. And so on.

As a simple example, (anecdotally) most CS graduate students currently have a much more comfortable (even cushy) time in grad school compared to counterparts in the hard sciences. Just an observation, not casting aspersions or making a value judgement.

>they’ve been convinced to tie up their entire identity in being one of the lucky 10%3 that lands a tenure-track research job,

For context, this is a philosophy program!

STEM PhDs have a good enough job outlook that I don’t need to explain it. Humanities like sociology and history can often be parleyed into a career in social work, politics or law. This isn’t always the best career path, but it’s still a good bet for being the most interesting.

But philosophy is unique. It’s supposed to be central; philosophy is that field which justifies itself while work in other fields is demanded by some external force. Philosophy is humanity’s attempt to say things which are not contingent on other things, assuming that’s even possible.

So who could possibly tell a philosophy PhD that they’re on the wrong track? Shouldn’t philosophy, itself, provide that argument? And shouldn’t dealing with the questions of life itself, at the highest level, be at least a little stressful? Wouldn’t it be a little strange if becoming a philosopher follows a generally unremarkable educational trajectory?

Unfortunately that is not true, and I speak from experience.

4 years doing a physics PhD in the UK, almost all my experiments failed (in the building managers cranked up the heating/air con so the temperature was fluctuating +-5 degrees throughout the day and all carefully aligned optical components couldn't be kept aligned, etc way rather than the expected effect is weak), 30 mins with a supervisor once every other month, only person in group other than supervisor, etc.

Physics is definitely STEM, and I found it horrendous to find a job after graduating. It took in excess to 500 tailored applications and 6 months to get anything at all. I was only a few weeks away from depending on welfare to avoid homelessness when I finally got an interview.

STEM skills shortage is an outright lie, all I see is an entire order of magnitude oversupply for STEM educated people.

Overall Grad School is an absolutely horrible experience, and I would completely defund public purse support of any university that engages in PhD "research" or "teaching" if it were in my power to do so.

> I found it horrendous to find a job after graduating. It took in excess to 500 tailored applications and 6 months to get anything at all.

Honestly, six months isn't that long. I've spent that long looking for a job. But I found one. And furthermore, getting a job in physics at all is the whole point of grad school. If that isn't a success condition for you, of course you shouldn't go to grad school. If you want money, be a chemical engineer or write software.

And this doesn't make you look good:

>4 years doing a physics PhD in the UK, almost all my experiments failed (in the building managers cranked up the heating/air con so the temperature was fluctuating +-5 degrees throughout the day and all carefully aligned optical components couldn't be kept aligned, etc way rather than the expected effect is weak), 30 mins with a supervisor once every other month, only person in group other than supervisor, etc.

I've been in two grad programs and had close experience with another three. Grad school is supposed to be self-directed. Unfortunately a lot of students show up with no communication skills and aren't helped in building them. But you can't self-direct without communicating. Especially not in science.

And everything about this paragraph points to a lack of effective and timely communication from your end. No contact with advisor? Advisor is busier than you are. You email first. Building manager stupid? Tell them off. No others in group? Email someone at another university. No response? Try someone else. You sit in a room and work alone, you lose.

Those are all things I wish I had done when I was in a PhD program, of course.

10% is pretty low, but, even in math (the only field I really know anything about), only about 1/3 will end up with a tenure track position.

> Instead, they’re riddled with anxiety and depression because they’ve been convinced to tie up their entire identity in being one of the lucky 10% that lands a tenure-track research job, then hung out to dry by the gatekeepers they probably thought would help them.

I'd be interested in seeing a survey on how many people currently working on a PhD believe it will lead to a tenure-track job. I'm a PhD student now and I'd be skeptical if it were more than 25% of people in my department, for example. (I myself have no interest in tenure-track jobs.) There does seem to be more demand for the jobs than there are jobs, but I think in the STEM fields I am familiar with, people are more realistic about what types of jobs they are qualified for. It helps that STEM fields have more options than the humanities, for example, too.

Also, my guess would be that many PhD students realize that they won't ever get a research job, and they treat this as their opportunity to do research.

CS is incredibly unique here since the "backup" plan is incredible and many people prefer it. Go speak to people in fields like history and although most people say "well at least I got to have fun in grad school for a while" the truth is that they all want faculty positions and the number of applicants per position is growing past 500:1.

Pretty much this. They entered the lottery and lost. The terrible irony is that as awful as grad school frequently is, you still have a clear purpose and some degree of social status and you haven't lost the lottery yet. Which is to say... unless your skills are highly marketable in industry (probably meaning you are in engineering or science) things will likely get much worse once you graduate.

Several Ph.D.'s I know work in jobs largely unrelated to their qualification and interest simply because there aren't many jobs outside of academia that make good direct use of a humanities Ph.D.; some languished for years in adjunct positions before giving up in hopelessness and frustration. Some work as administrators, however - universities seem to value administrators with Ph.D.'s, and at least you get to work at a university and interact with students occasionally. And you can, uh, still teach as an adjunct on the side. Maybe.

The sad truth is that universities (in the US at least) are almost feudal systems, built on the backs of adjuncts (who do the teaching) and grad students (who do the research.) Yet in spite of an absurdly cheap workforce, tuition is incredibly expensive and universities drink money like water.

As a Physics PhD, I certainly went into grad school wanting to get a faculty position; is suspect most people did in my cohort.

Of course we're mostly data scientists now, because only 5% win the faculty lottery.

Data science wasn't a path that existed when we started. I wonder if its existence changes what people going into a Physics PhD expect.

> Of course we're mostly data scientists now, because only 5% win the faculty lottery.

This seems like a sad waste of physicists, even if the faculty pyramid scheme is obviously unsustainable. I for one would like to see more actual advances in physics.

What can you do?

Suppose you magically double the number of faculty positions. Within one year all of the new positions could be filled a hundred times over. Now you've back to the exact same scenario, except that now you also have twice as many slots for grad students, too.

Create more national labs, research institutes etc. that widen out the end of the funnel without widening the start.

/fellow physicist who went into DS

Perhaps, but many of these labs are extensions of universities. I do research at SLAC, a national lab which shares grad students with Stanford.

Most of my cohort are now data scientists or ML/AI engineers.

Honestly, the trend I seeing is that weaker students -ie can't find data science or consulting jobs- move on to post-docs.

Although, there are the dedicated few academics that also move on to post-docs as well.

Physics research always involves statistics, cough, 'machine learning' cough so that's how people are selling it these days.

I'd take a post-doc simply to avoid either of those careers.

Hahaha, some of the people I considered the most academic in my physics cohort are going consulting.

After 5-6 years of making 25k per year and working long hours (which is not bad given the cost-of-living where I was in grad school is low), the salary becomes a very real draw.

The thing is if you want to become a professor a PhD is the only way. However low the chances are, they are zero otherwise.

Grad school is difficult and stressful, but doing novel things normally is. Comfortable boring things make for not-so-good research topics.

Also a median time of 7.5 years for a PhD sounds unlikely... in my field (physics) that's probably more like 90th percentile. Perhaps that length is right for humanities, which do tend to be longer than the sciences, but there are an order of magnitude more STEM PhDs than humanities PhDs and many STEM PhDs are likely shorter than physics.

I agree. I couldn't find any statistics, but my impression is that in math, 4-5 years would be typical. At the school I went to, if you started without a Master's degree, 8 years would be roughly (give or take a semester or 2) the maximum amount of time one could spend on a math PhD, so there's no way it can be close to the median time.

I thought this was saying "public health grad programs are worse than STIs" and I was so confused...

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