Lessons from my PhD (utk.edu) 403 points by andrewnc 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 130 comments

 My big eye-openers (some from postdoc) were more about the sociology of science than the day-to-day productivity:- Even the most blatantly wrong and illogical published work can only be displaced by another publication that explains/does the same phenomenon better; i.e., people are going to keep believing in phlogiston until someone shows them oxygen. If you simply point out inconsistencies in phlogiston theory, in person or in writing, they may well make a variety of unwanted psychological deductions about you.- Similarly, nobody actually enjoys being around critics or enduring criticism, and therefore you will observe many senior scientists partially avoiding the major downsides of being a critic by artfully concealing criticisms inside what sounds to the uninitiated like mutual affirmation sessions. You have to listen very closely and learn the lingo to pick this up.- Never question a scientific superior (other than maybe a direct mentor or very close colleague) with any other approach besides "I have a helpful suggestion about how you can maybe reach your intended destination better/faster/more precisely". Regardless of where that destination might be, such as off a cliff or into a wall.- The opinion/fact ratio you are allowed to have as a scientist is directly and very strongly correlated with seniority, H-index, and so on.- The incentive structure of scientific publication is such that there are big rewards for being right on an important question, bigger the earlier you are to the party, and little to no penalties for being wrong, so long as the error cannot be provably and directly linked to fraud. There are a variety of interesting consequences to this incentive structure.
 In addition to ringing true, this seems largely in line with Thomas Kuhn's thesis in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions [0], a book which despite its shortcomings, should be required reading for anyone in a STEM field.
 Kuhn's thesis doesn't have a lot space for the sociology of science to have this kind of influence. Of the classical theses of scientific progress, this comes closer to Lakatos' thesis of research programs.[0][1][1] Lakatos, Imre. (1978) The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Philosophical Papers (J. Worrall & G. Currie, Eds.). Cambridge University Press.
 > The incentive structure of scientific publication is such that there are big rewards for being right on an important question, bigger the earlier you are to the party, and little to no penalties for being wrong, so long as the error cannot be provably and directly linked to fraud.This is fantastic insight and I'd like to thank you for sharing it with our group.Would you agree that the model of rewards for correctness and penalization only in the case of fraud is the core feature of science? And what separates it from business or politics where being an honest failure is worse than being dishonest but successful?Again, this is a great post, and I think you have a fantastic future in the sociology of science!
 It's a good question, and I don't like posting excessively long comments and didn't have time to make it concise, so here's an attempt at an answer:https://pastebin.com/fsrTtiKYI think science is too big a thing to have a small set of "core features", and the question of how to usefully define "honesty" in a scientific context is another big topic, but reading about "bullshit" (the term of art that has its own literature, not the colloquialism) is a good place to start thinking about it.I would suggest that fraud is one of the rarest types of dishonesty, because people who are both smart and dishonest have less risky ways to proceed, and that such people are very glad fraud exists, because it misdirects attention away from their arguably more damaging and prevalent methods. Feynman has a passage about how honesty in science is more a state of mind, which I agree with. But really, the techniques to be dishonest with low risk are the same in science, journalism, politics, and business.My field isn't sociology of science though; these are just views from the genomics trenches.
 myle 4 months ago [–] Are you trying to provide an example for many of the points of OP above or am I overreading this?In your message I observe, very careful criticism, uncalled praise, admission and defense of a system that excludes most criticism...
 I'm joking a bit with the style and my limited experience leads me to agree with the OP.The middle paragraph includes my sincere response that a system where discovery is rewarded, failure forgiven, and dishonesty punished is ideally suited to the mission of science.So I was left wondering if the OP would expand on what their thoughts were about the interesting consequences.
 That seems to ring true, but - it also seems a bit defeatist, don't you think?"Never question a scientific superior?" Not parsing that concept, please elaborate.
 Very early on, I noticed that graduate students tend to be idealistic, postdocs extremely cynical, and faculty ruthlessly pragmatic perhaps to the point of occasional shortsightedness. Clearly, something about this progression is expected and normal. I'm a postdoc now, so I'm right on schedule.I think the way it ultimately works is that you have to be disillusioned from the grade-school fairy tales told to the public about how science works before you can learn to live and work in the environment that actually exists rather than the one you wish existed.> "Never question a scientific superior?" Not parsing that concept, please elaborate.tech < grad student < postdoc < junior faculty < full prof < Big Guy/Gal < Nobel Laureate < NIH DirectorPeople above you in that chain will accept limited feedback on methods to attain their chosen goals and will greatly resent questions about whether their selected goals are worthwhile/realistic/rational, or whether their gestalt vision of the field's conventional wisdom is correct.
 "People above you in that chain will accept limited feedback on methods to attain their chosen goals and will greatly resent questions about whether their selected goals are worthwhile/realistic/rational, or whether their gestalt vision of the field's conventional wisdom is correct."Corporate management has the exact same situation.
 skj 4 months ago [–] Yeah but it's a lot easier to not care.
 Yeah, in corporate world, at least you're paid to not care, and can change jobs easily. In academia, you're paid shit, and changing labs is not nearly as easy.
 natechols 4 months ago [–] I agree with most of the GP's points and I don't think of them as defeatist, but rather a call for realism when dealing with people (versus data, which have no ego to bruise). It's very hard to devise a system that rewards individual achievement without ever falling prey to classic human flaws. The good news is that science over time tends to be self-correcting, and all that requires is a commitment to shared principles and methods, combined with enough anarchy that no one individual can screw up an entire field (Trofim Lysenko being the most extreme example, but any bureaucracy can accomplish this).
 jpeloquin 4 months ago [–] The presentation is cynical, as xab31 themself attests, but I don't think it's defeatist.1. Bad work only being displaced by good work: everything works like this. To replace some useless commercial product (take your pick) someone has to come up with something better. Same goes for information.2. Nobody liking criticism can be rephrased as it being important to attack ideas, not people, when you have to work with those people.3. "Never question a scientific superior" is the first piece of advise I think is too cynical. As a warning against undermining a colleague in public when you need their support, I agree, and that's kind of a restatement of #1 and #2. But science really does have a culture of publicly debating contentious ideas. You can definitely be more critical in an event specifically held as a debate / open forum than in a presentation Q&A though, and at a social event it's polite to be at least vaguely supportive.Kind of a tangent to the later points: Day to day scientific research is mostly chasing dead ends and other activity that is (in hindsight) mostly useless, but there is genuine societal value in having a large body of skilled workers available. That is, science spends a lot of time spinning its wheels trying to figure out the right question to ask, and once this becomes clear there is rapid progress. This means the papers published in between the breakthrough periods aren't really worth paying attention to unless you work in that area. Having a lot of scientists and engineers in the workforce so we collectively have a decent chance at obtaining and exploiting next breakthrough is the point, the papers are just a byproduct.
 >"Never question a scientific superior?" Not parsing that concept, please elaborate.If you think you've been put on a bum topic or your supervisor has put you on the scientific equivalent of a PIP with no way up or out your room for maneuvering is limited, to put it politely.
 wbsss4412 4 months ago [–] I understand the impulse to not want to be defeatist, but sometimes it’s both easier and more productive to stop running into the same walls over and over and instead find the path around them.
 mcguire 4 months ago [–] It is what it is, and it is mostly pretty successful. More or less.
 Ostrogodsky 4 months ago [–] Well, as defeatist as going to work fo a FAANG and not expecting that your managers will give a toss about fairness, their users privacy, or the spirit of regulations. Life is like this. Right now in the African Savannah a lion is mauling a gazelle, it happens daily.
 Beautifully put.Your observations aptly apply to industry as well except for your final one regarding the incentive structure.Thank you for commenting.
 This is true here, as well. I once asked about something related to SSL/TLS (fairly politely) and was kind of mockingly escorted by some groupies to the corner since I apparently responded to an Apache developer.I was just trying to learn. Learning bad is what I learned.
 > "...Scientists go looking for trouble."It is several repeated and very costly attempts that I made to do just that which leads me to give the advice I did.The pyramid quote is an interesting one. Obviously there is a tension between being passionate about an idea/goal/cause but not being overly siloed. It seems the best-case scenario is: pick your passion, find some people who're thinking in the same general direction, and compromise the vision among yourselves.Let's just say that the thought of solving some of the problems I'm interested in from outside academia has occurred to me. But I'm sure it's not all sunshine and rainbows on the outside, either, and moving from academia whose primary motivator is risk aversion to something like a startup is an extreme culture shock, the more so because my objective would be building something real, rather than bilking gullible VCs into an acquihire.Really good thoughts there.
 Thanks! What kind of problems outside academia are you interested in?
 Well, I do aging research (mostly from a computational+biochemical perspective). I've met most/all of the important players in the field, and it baffles me how this important area of research continues to be a backwater, as far as the public's concerned.It's hard for me personally to think of something more important than aging, so if I were to expand outwards, it would be to pursue the same goal, but maybe with fewer constraints. In general, I'd work towards streamlining and automating certain aspects of it. Technologically, the field is in the Dark Ages. There are realistically ~200-300 (max: 5000 including subordinates and techs) people in the entire world working on this seriously, which is fairly mind-boggling, considering that it is the primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and indeed COVID-19, along with many other diseases and the more transhumanist and futurist implications.
 This reflects my experience as well.
 Young people need to realize that the things we love about science: the uncompromising search for the truth, its international and no-boundaries character, the ability to bow down to evidence, the ambition of the ideas, are just a very distilled fraction (basically the highlights) of a what it is a very mundane, fragile, political human activity, full of petty and lame characters, absurd situations and pathetic developments.
 > full of petty and lame characters, absurd situations and pathetic developments.Yeh, I wish I could understand this a few years ago. Pursuit of truth is not the primary goal of many tenure profs it seems.
 DarylZero 4 months ago [–] Well there's science and then there are social institutions that undertake science. But science can exist outside the institutions.
 From my experience failing my PhD it's not so simple. The head of my lab have a bunch of topics he want to (make other people under him) investigate, sometimes really precise. One of the PhD student literally got his thesis question handed down after an experimented researcher worked on it for 6 months. Other like me had to found one themselves. It's obvious that the first student got a head start of about a year. The irony is he is now in difficulty writing his thesis, despite having published the required number of papers, which is not too surprising since he didn't get the problematic by himself.
 I recall the same things. I remember being bitterly envious of students that seemingly were given topics to examine while I had to spin my wheels for a good year or two coming up with my own ideas to explore.Looking back my perspective is very different. First of all, my ideas generated a minor spike in publications for the lab all centered around my work. After I graduated I continued to advise new students to continue what I started.I now think in these teems, which might sound cynical but simply reflect the vicious nature of academia. 1. The students given topics, the ones I was jealous of, all kind of sucked. They were given topics to advance a short term goal and gtfo. It may seem paradoxical or cruel but a savvy advisor will maximize both short term and long term gains. I was a long term bet, the others were short term plays. 2. I benefitted greatly from being forced to identify my own topics. This is the one skill that I use every single day. Every hour of every day. As time goes on the ability to evaluate ideas deeply and with some speed effectively defines what it is I do for a living. 3. Students given topics were cheated out of more valuable long term skills for the lab’s short term gains. This is not always universally true, of course. Some super stars really can crank through a deep serious topic quickly and continue on to generate novel research if their own. One such person may appear in a university department once every ten or twenty years, they are extraordinarily rare. 4. I was well aware of the exploitive nature of grad school, did it anyway with a clear head for what I wanted to get out of it and my only disappointments came from when I giddily let my guard down and expected more than what I already realized would be forthcoming. A specific example, my advisor would use my conference paper acceptances to fund their own personal travel and vacations; I was not allowed to present my own first author papers. Silently tolerating that sort of bullshit, in part, allowed me to graduate.
 "A specific example, my advisor would use my conference paper acceptances to fund their own personal travel and vacations; I was not allowed to present my own first author papers."That's really very bad. Learning to present to your peers is an important part of the process, as is getting your name and face out in the field.
 Wow, not being allowed to present your own first author paper is pretty bad - unless someone else contributed a lot of the work and was made second author + presented?
 Not at all. The papers where I was first author were essentially 100% all my work. Second or third authors were advisor and a committee member that helped edit, closely read proofs and pseudocode. Certainly helpful and deserving of authorship but a steep drop off in contributions from first author (me) to them.Advisor had family in Europe (I am in US), and would use these conferences to create extended family vacation plans.Of course when I think back on this I am still pissed! But years have passed and I am doing well in my career. I am able to not get too fixated on it.And yes, I agree with the people saying it was terrible and very wrong. In terms of all the possible terrible and very wrong things that can happen to a graduate student this is maybe, in the grand scheme of things, about mid-range maybe?
 jjdredd 4 months ago [–] Wow, those who could find their own research topic were lucky. I've never seen anyone in my environment get that much freedom. The supervisor sets the problem and the student must solve it.Edit: I was under the impression that even the postdocs are hired for a specific task.
 BeetleB 4 months ago [–] > Suddenly, in a Ph.D - not only do you not know the answer, you don't know the question too.Mirroring what tasogare said: There are a lot of research professors who will not give you the flexibility of finding the question. They often are paying you to be an RA, and will want you to work on their topics, not yours.This may vary per discipline. In the circles I was in, this was the norm, though. Some professors were open to you choosing your own topic, but the "contract" was similar: If they are funding your research, then you should work on your own topic "on your own time".
 I know what you and tasogare refer to and I've seen it happen. I had to fight to change my thesis topic 3 times and also change advisors. Of course, it is not simple.I wouldn't change anything from my initial comment though. Flexibility is not binary - it's a gray scale. If you have ZERO flexibility, you should accept the implication that such a Ph.D will be stripped of some valuable lessons. On the other hand, you can always decide to not do it and move to a different professor. You could also decide if the broad area is ok with you before you take an admission to a lab.
 yt-sdb 4 months ago [–] I'd frame it this way: a good senior researcher knows when to give a junior researcher the question or not. First-year grad student? Pair them off with a postdoc for fast iterating on an established project. Fourth-year grad student? Push them by letting them flounder a bit and learn to find their own questions.I agree that in practice, this simply varies a lot by discipline and advisor.
 You missed the most fun option: pair them up with a problem that leads to nowhere!
 This is all completely true."Then, just when you've gotten the hang of this finding answers game you discover that the real expectation is to be the one who formulates good questions."And that is where I personally failed.On the other hand, there's that funny moment...One of the things I've heard repeatedly from pilots is that first solo flight changes everything. Before that, you're just some human. Afterwards, you are some human who can fly. Everything is somehow different, although I've never seen anyone really successfully describe how. I suspect it's different for everyone. But then I'm not a pilot.In your dissertation defense, someone whose knowledge and intelligence you respect immensely will ask a difficult question. When you answer that question confidently and to their satisfaction, the world is a different place. For one thing, you're no longer student and teacher; you are peers. But that's not all it is.
 Spot on! I had the same misconception, but it worked out OK b/c I was motivated at least in part by curiosity. When you're curious, you ask enough questions to get to the edge of knowledge and then pose a novel question. If you enjoy the coursework purely b/c you like having nice tidy answers to everything, being at the edge is uncomfortable & research isn't for you. OTOH, in my PhD coursework, the HW questions were almost always solved ones where we just had to reproduce the steps to get the answer that was included in the question formulation; this burned much of my curiosity out by the time I was done.
 Those dead ends are negative results. While not easily publishable they can form the bulk of a thesis. Many people get demotivated because they treat a thesis like a journal publication. I, for one, was glad I finally didn't need to sex up the language to convince some editor.
 > need to sex up the language to convince some editor.I hated this pressure. I wrote up the core of my thesis as a manuscript for a second-tier journal, but my advisor though I had a shot at a first-tier publication. I disagreed, but I rewrote the paper anyway, and had to significantly rework/descope it. It ultimately wasn't accepted for the first-tier journal, so I rewrote it a second time for the original journal. The whole process was immensely frustrating (cat-herding coauthors, playing volleyball with editors/referees, trying to discern whether my concerns about overselling my results were legitimate issues of integrity vs. instances of imposter syndrome, ...).I fell in love with the hard sciences because "reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." [Richard Feynman] Finding out how much PR is actually involved was hugely disillusioning.
 > The benefit of all of this work and discomfort is that you come away with the ability to answer worthwhile questions that haven't yet been answered. And that's a highly transferrable and applicable skill.This is why I have come to see that PhDs can in some cases make excellent founders. Source: CS PhD turned founder ;-)
 And this makes everything else in the survey easier. Topic sentences and presentation skills are useful but most important is having something original and substantial to say. The rest follows and is easy by comparison.
 Two things I would add to this that I learned early on in my PhD:1. Presentations aren’t really about conveying information.I sat though so many dull presentations, they were very informative but I can read a paper quicker than they can badly present the same information.The best presentations were the ones that covered the whys of the work, the applications, the next steps, the specific problem areas - often these aren’t covered in the paper but, armed with that extra insight I am far more likely to read the paper and remember it.Presentations are (as the author says) about telling stories.2. Show up. So many PhDs waft around not doing a whole lot, and so land up being on the program forever. This only benefits the uni and is detrimental to the student. I noticed in the first month of my PhD that most people did a lot more work at the end than the beginning - so I flipped it, worked consistently from day one and got done in just under 3 years.Carry this over to your daily life and it’s almost a super power for getting stuff done. Consistently showing up and plugging away in something reaps rewards.
 > So many PhDs waft around not doing a whole lot, and so land up being on the program forever. This only benefits the uni and is detrimental to the student. I noticed in the first month of my PhD that most people did a lot more work at the end than the beginning - so I flipped it, worked consistently from day one and got done in just under 3 years.Amen. PhD is a marathon. Other degrees may be a 100m or 400m race but PhD is about consistency.
 100% agree with number 2. A PhD is a job. 5 days a week, 9 to 5, or you’ll never finish in 3 years. Fastest I saw was 2 years, which was a guy that put in all the hours. Slowest was a guy that took 8 years, ‘full time’, though he was never there, but clearly didn’t have a job. Goodness knows how they supported themselves for all that time. In the uk you had a grant for 3 years when I did mine.
 Yep, this was my attitude - I was technically done in 2.5 years but my uni wouldn’t let you submit until 2yr 10 months - so I started my first company in those intervening months.To anyone reading this who is considering a PhD, start writing up your thesis as soon as you can, like 6 months in if you can and have enough to start. You can always go back and change when you’ve written but it makes life so much easier if you’re “always writing up” then you’re not terrified of starting.Oh and yeah: 9 to 5, full time, give yourself a standard holiday allowance and stick to it.
 Thanks for that perspective. I just finished my applications last month and am anxiously waiting on decisions. I always thought 4 years was the absolute minimum.
 It depends on the discipline, the programme, and (particularly) the country. I did mine in the UK, where the funding is for 3 years and the expectation is ≤4. I managed that (modulo two terms of sick and paternity leave) and so do most others in my field. The quickest I saw was 2 years 6 months, by someone with an impossible combination of intelligence and relentless 9-hour productive days. Some take longer (financially and professionally problematic), not that many drop out.In some places in the US taking >8 years is normal. In some parts of Europe it's an actual job, with delineated teaching responsibilities, a pension scheme and everything. In Russia the equivalent isn't even called a PhD. It's not a standardised process.
 I guess that makes sense - in the EU a masters degree is usually required for a PhD which is not the case in the US. That accounts for 1-2 years at least.
 Yes. The standard "1+3" funding programme covers a 1 year MRes or other masters degree with methods training in advance of the PhD programme starting. I got mine separately, so just had "+3" funding. Like in the US, a PhD without funding is normally a bad idea.Edit: It generally remains shorter than a US programme, though. We tell ourselves that our focused BA/BSc programmes provide a better foundation than the broader US undergraduate degrees, but I suspect the truth is just that it's cultural differences.
 I was very lucky to not need a masters, 3 years BEng and then 3 PhD. I couldn’t have done another year. I was dying to get out but the end. My wife did 3,1,3 and I have no idea how she did that extra year.
 >In Russia the equivalent isn't even called a PhD.Are you thinking of Candidat Nauk or habilitation?
 Candidat Nauk. As I understand it the Russian doctorate/habilitation is closer to our 'higher doctorates' (DSc/DLitt/DM etc.) which are rarely awarded and are mid/late career distinctions. There's no requirement for habilitation here, so PhD is almost always a final degree.
 While I agree with no. 2, I think part of the reason that makes me not do it is realizing that I will have to do it all my life if I become a faculty. I have seen my friends graduated from Ph.D. and they literally told me that their life is basically the same, except that they now have service tasks to do on top of research. To think that I will always have to plug away and not have enough time for family or relationships makes me a bit demotivated.
 Research, teaching, and service.As a faculty member, each of your three constituencies is almost completely invisible to the others. So each one thinks you work hardly at all. Only your family sees the total hours, and only your tenure and promotion committee sees the total contributions (and typically they up-weight research, so don't skimp there).
 “Showing up” is the best advice of all, better than any of the (great) ones presented by the article. Actually, none of the other advices will work unless you show up. I’ve seen people digging around for advice in the hopes that it will save them from disaster or help them do more with less time, but the truth is that the advice only works if you are actually willing to suffer through the working hours.
 I also did a PhD and this is all true. I realized many of these things years later.I think many of these points come down to confidence. When you are in the trenches, you really, really do know a lot, and you know it in incredible detail. In fact, in your career, if you leave academia you will probably never know a unique small "thing" in such detail ever again simply because you will have to make something as opposed to studying it. Not even your professor knows everything about what you do, and so she may give advice that seems to contradict what you think. It is vital that you trust yourself enough to speak up. Yes, the professor is really smart, and knows more than you, but she didn't spend 3 weeks in the lab wrestling with some optical setup like you did and you know some things better then her, better than anyone in fact. It's hard to admit, I know.Also, you may really have wrong assumptions about the progress you're going to make in the project. You may feel very bad after a year of messing around while the prof thinks you're doing well. Talk about these feelings. The prof knows what's normal, you on the other hand may think you're the next Einstein (and assume Einstein wrote something great every other month) and constantly disappoint yourself.
 Similar to learning software engineering on the job. Once you're leaving the baby level you stop being able to take the more senior engineers' word as golden. You will know some things better temporarily due to recent intense exposure. The tricky part is figuring out when that's true and when others can see something you can't. This never leaves you I guess.
 > It is vital that you trust yourself enough to speak up. Yes, the professor is really smart, and knows more than you, but she didn't spend 3 weeks in the lab wrestling with some optical setup like you did and you know some things better then her, better than anyone in fact. It's hard to admit, I know.It's really not. It was obvious to me about 9 months in that my advisor really didn't know all that much. The professors who really seemed to have technical chops were either new faculty still trying to get tenure, or the rare iconoclast who didn't play the game and had a single grad student. The tenured professors with large research labs were frankly better politicians than they were scientists.
 I agree, I was fortunate to have a very nice prof, really dedicated to the development of his PhD students, who saw the importance of social events and tried to have some fun himself, eager to roll up his sleeves and help in the lab, he enjoyed it. He was a bit further in his career with no need to publish or perish anymore.That's also an advice I give to aspiring PhD students, look for a warm place, talk to the other PhD students about the working atmosphere. You don't want to end up a "measurement slave", as one of the 4 PhDs that (and I quote a prof during a talk) "was burned on this subject".
 There is another, more fundamental lesson, that I learned during my (failed) PhD - make sure that the environment suits you. By this, I mean do some research beforehand about the supervisor and the alumni. If possible talk to one of the other PhD candidates in their department and find out if you are compatible with the working environment.This could be hard to do such early in your life, as one does not have much experience. Usually it falls in one of two categories - either you are someone that can do the work but needs support and guidance, or you prefer working on your own, in which case a more hands-off supervisor would be OK.If you are of the former type and find yourself working for a supervisor that doesn't offer much support, it will be very hard to finish anything, and most likely you will become demotivated and drop out. Likewise, if you want to try things on your own but your supervisor wants to dictate where to go next, there will be a lot of conflicts and even the possibility that they block the thesis until it is done their way.Having other PhD colleagues around and bouncing ideas off of them is worth its weight in gold, make sure that there is at least one that is working on something similar as you are.
 Yeah, this is great advice for undergraduates considering graduate applications. I lucked out with my supervisor in terms of his advising style (rather hands-off, which suited me), but I could have easily gotten stuck with a bad match. I picked the school, rather than the advisor, which I now realize wasn't the best way to go. [Edit: I will say that picking a school where there were multiple faculty to choose from in the topical area was a good decision, because that provides options.]
 All of these tips are good, but the “get excited” one has been my secret weapon through life.A professor in undergrad gave me the tip to get excited or even feign interest when reading dense written material in order to retain more.After trying it throughout a difficult class I was amazed at how well it worked. I applied it to every other academic thing I didn’t want to do and noticed immediately how much easier and enjoyable school was. I still use the “fake excitement” trick for my work all the time.Also, it’s kind of like a Trojan excitement because after I fake the intense interest I do genuinely become interested more often than not.
 It's hard to remain excited when so many professors don't prepare for lectures, teach outdated material, rely on question banks for exams, and play the part of ball-breakers. I went back to school for a different degree program in my 30s with a fresh perspective and a much bigger drive from 15 years ago when I did my first two degrees. Mind you that it was during COVID but what did I get? A bunch of "read these chapters, take these exams" kind of lectures. The current education model is shot, particularly the PhD degree where you practically grind out nonsense for years on end only for your advisor to collect the funds and stick their name on top of your papers.
 > stick their name on top of your papers.Maybe you have a more independent mindset having gone into a PhD program a little later than most, but the whole point of a PhD program (at least in the sciences) is that it’s an apprenticeship. You study under an established researcher using their grant, so it’s not “your” paper. You are supposed to work together using grant money from your advisor.If you have obtained grant funding on your own and are working independently on a novel research project you thought of yourself, then you can call it your paper. But that scenario usually doesn’t happen, because it’s hard to come by funding without a good proposal, and it’s hard to write or qualify for a grant without the training one gets in a PhD program.If you are working using grant money, lab equipment, lab space, data, models, software, or methods acquired and developed in your advisor’s lab, then even if you write an entire paper yourself it’s still both your names that go on the paper. I’ve had a few like that and was glad to share the credit, because it wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
 > My wife is finishing up her PhD in American History and I can tell she's getting bored[PhD candidate] is finishing up [gender pronoun] PhD in [field] and I can tell [gender pronoun]'s getting bored.I just turned your statement into a template that works for every PhD candidate of the last 100 years.
 If I had written this article myself and titled it “Lessons from my First Year as a Full Time Software Dev” a lot of the bullets would have been the same. Especially the Daily Progress and Get Excited bullets. Those two tend to go hand-in-hand given how often you need to do a thing with the only tangible reward being the accomplishment of the thing.
 I do not have a PhD, but this is how I believe professional work should (and probably used to) operate. I’m extremely bored and annoyed by management practices that do nothing but track and assign work. When I started my career, it seemed a like a lot like a PhD described here. It was in space systems, and everybody was responsible for finding a problem to solve independently within the mission requirements. In that scenario, a PhD felt like a waste of time compared to professional work. Today it feels like I sorely need it (or an MBA) to climb the micromanagement hierarchy.Is there such a place today as a professional?
 The value in formal education is mostly reading, writing, and thinking skills. How to express and communicate increasingly complex ideas to others. PhD is not much different.There was just a Reddit post saying that 54% of US adults have a reading level equal to or below a sixth-grade level according to the US Department of Education. Many communication problems can be attributed to differences in prose, document, and numeracy literacy."If we want to have an educated citizenship in a modern technological society, we need to teach them three things: reading, writing, and statistical thinking." – H. G. Wells
 Nice list! A bit micro on a few points, but nice things to highlight. On a zoomed out View, a PhD will teach you a lot about the life cycle of creative projects in general - idea inception, prototyping, feedback, iteration, presentation. It will also teach you perseverance - oh boy, will it teach you perseverance.At the same time, it will not teach you some things you'd pick up in industry - team work in particular.
 Great article. I especially loved the parts about presenting, greying out the boring stuff makes a ton of sense.What is the appeal of posting your daily progress on a public form? Do you not feel this to be a kind of invasion of your privacy? Is there some benefit that isn't immediately clear?
 Really helpful! I love the 'Managers as input/output machines' part.
 This is really good and I've saved it to revisit it later. Very concrete and insightful. Unlike a lot of meta-posts about PhDs that tend to be pretty watered down or abstract.
 This is really good advice, with actionable tips for once. Bravo!
 You could have learned all of this stuff at a good mid sized company.
 Invaluable.I've put that on my list of things to distil, review, and put into action.
 YMMV. What I learned from experience that I already knew from education is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is a real tension when picking a graduate school. Do you go with the topic of interest and a tyrant? Or do you pick an amenable advisor that's in a different research field? I guess one can get lucky and find both but that wasn't an option the year I applied. The thing about graduate schools and research domains is that there a typically only a handful of choices if one is lucky. The other thing I learned is graduate schools never admit absolute power corrupts absolutely and when one points that out one is immediately ostracized. Go along to get along should be a sign over ever graduate schools doorway. Or dog eat dog.

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