Too soon to talk about life after grad school?

We are all quite familiar with random hallway conversations in the Science building. You know, the ones that start with a courtesy “Hey, how’s it going?” or mutual curses to the unending winter, and soon turn into an hour long discussion covering a range of topics. I don’t remember who it was with, but one of those conversations revolved around the purpose of a PhD program, and how it can be different for different people. In fact, when asked about plans after a PhD, which is an awfully loaded question, we might feel an obligation to say ‘teaching’ or ‘professor at XYZ University’, in an effort to try and meet unspoken expectations. However, not everyone might want to become a professor. Not everyone might want to teach. May be there are other personal goals and interests that a student has, and can be fully capable of accomplishing, while using all that he/she learnt during the long hours and years of a PhD. 

Here is a fairly simple post written by a professor at the University of Texas-Austin on life after grad school.

It would be interesting to know what your opinions are on such set expectations, and if you had the choice to do anything (forget money and time and family and all those trivial things for the moment :p), what you would you pick after grad school.

Let me start. Like I said earlier, I don’t like the question myself because it forces me to think way ahead in the future. But I realise that what I say need not be written in stone, and I’ve never really taught before coming here. So while my opinions on teaching are swaying by the semester, I can see myself doing a multitude of things after grad school – research, writing (all sorts), and may be a little teaching.


About Divya

Predator-prey behaviour fascinates me enough to cross oceans. I wish I could read like Vicki the 'Small Wonder'. When I take a break from all the paper-reading, I read other things, mostly but not necessarily to do with science. I also wish I could write as much as I read, but clearly there needs to be an equilibrium whose stability I cannot guarantee. Also, I usually need the help of music to get me through all the reading and writing. See a pattern?
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2 Responses to Too soon to talk about life after grad school?

  1. Pat Cain says:

    I guess my first thought to the question, “what you want to do after your PhD?”, is why would you get your PhD if you didn’t want to become a professor? I’m not exactly sure what you could do with a PhD if not to become a professor. Most of my experience comes from academia, with a short stint of possibly going into resource management during my Master’s. I know from a management perspective that you’re incredibly limited from going starting in that field with a PhD, but you certainly cannot get a foot in the door without a Master’s. PhDs are too “academic” for applied fields, which is sad because academia and resource management should embrace each other, not push each other apart.

    In my idealistic and probably naive viewpoint, PhDs should be highly conceptual, drawing inspiration from fields far from their own, hence the “philosophy”, or love of wisdom, part. You don’t necessary need that to manage fish stocks or deer populations because you already have so much on your plate from politics and economics. You don’t have the time to develop and test a theory, like say, the paradox of enrichment, because of all the other pressing issues at hand. That’s where academics come into the picture. Going away from management, why would need a PhD to run a non-profit environmental group or outdoor education school? A Master’s degree seems like it should be enough to get you started on those.

    From the UT-Austin professor’s post, a majority of his students still went into academia. Categories 1, 3, 4, 6, 8 are all very academic, making up 77%. Categories 2 and 7 have research jobs at governmental or industry organisations, which might not actually require the skills learned during a PhD degree. They aren’t paying you to develop and test theories that could turn out to be completely wrong in 40 years. It’s probably just in that particular field of research, people don’t typically earn Master’s degrees. I know I lot of molecular and micro folks who skipped a Master’s, so the entry level education requirement is then set to a PhD. At the CDC, you certainly need to be able to use cutting edge technology to identify a new bug and develop treatments for it in inhumanly fast time periods. But you certainly wouldn’t develop ideas of parasite game theory. The former is something a Master’s degree (and lots of experience) could teach, but the former seems in my mind more along the lines for a PhD.

    Hm, that’s a long comment. Here’s the tl;dr:

    I am idealistic and naive, but I think PhDs should be highly conceptual, drawing inspiration from fields far from their own. Master’s degrees should help you develop skills needed for most jobs. Something like that.


  2. Divya says:

    Ouch! That was a bit harsh I think :p
    Sure you don’t NEED a PhD to “run a non-profit environmental group or outdoor education school”, but you can certainly add a new dimension to it. A PhD is a time and process through which one can and should, like you say, think conceptually and develop ideas. It is also a kind of training, like with a Master’s, albeit a different kind. So, I don’t see why things learnt during a PhD have to become useless if one doesn’t become a professor. Coming out of the five (or indefinite) years, one is well-equipped with a more focused skill set, but more importantly, has spent an insane amount of time going back and forth on the scientific method. And this I think is a bane-turned-boon (if you will), that’ll never go to waste.


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