Author Topic: Advice for PhD student  (Read 1652 times)

carloco

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 125
  • Location: Richmond, VA
Advice for PhD student
« on: June 07, 2019, 04:08:12 PM »
My son is in his fourth year of his PhD in physics.  Last November he told me that he wanted to quit.  He mentioned all the usual complaints of PhD candidates. Disillusionment with academia, his research is not as exciting as it once was, his advisor is not in his exact field of study, his days go by and he doesnít seem to be making any progress. 
I told him to reconsider.  That he would have to stay until this May anyway to earn his masters degree. When he talked to His advisor, he mentioned that he had enough material to publish two papers and collaborate with another physicist.  That would be enough to graduate.  Now it is May.  He tells me that he didnít make much progress since December. 
I find it frustrating.  I mentioned that he could ask for a leave of absence.  That he sounds burned out. He keeps mentioning how much he could be making if he got a real job. 
His tuition is covered by the program and he gets an stipend of $1500/month.  He lives very well (which I pointed out to him)
Any advice from those who were in the same boat?
I know he will be ok if he drops out.  I canít help but think that when his life is filled with obligations and responsibilities he wonít be able to go back if he changes his mind.  That this opportunity is once in a lifetime.  That this is more a life achievement than a career builder. 

RWD

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3189
  • Location: Mississippi
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2019, 04:27:47 PM »
A life in academia is not for everyone. It has certainly been a source of much stress for my wife.

He is in his fourth year and doesn't have a masters yet? Usually you should get a masters degree after two years. It would be nice to at least finish the masters since it sounds like he is close and then the time/effort wouldn't be wasted.

Has he done any job hunting for what he could be doing instead of getting a graduate degree? Any comparisons of what positions/salaries are available to a holder of a masters in physics versus just a bachelors degree?

BicycleB

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1106
  • Location: Live Music Capital of the World
  • Older than the internet, but not wiser... yet
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2019, 04:51:32 PM »
It sounds like the problem isn't advice, it's following it. (Sorry if this sounds overly blunt!!)

As an expert avoider / procrastinator, I notice he already complained, got advice, didn't take it, is still moping with no result. He will need to take more action to succeed, whether he pursues physics or a Geek Squad job or a handyman business or a data analyst job or jostles for a good begging corner near his favorite bridge to sleep under.

I mean - good advice would be apply for jobs, wrap up the papers, get the master's; if no job has materialized, apply for more jobs, hustle through What Color Is Your Parachute, become more Stoic, fall in love with a thrify person who's enthusiastic about life, live cheaply, and invest. Maybe he needs to hear "Life only gets worse when you avoid it, you're about to end up homeless because you didn't apply for the job you'll need when you flunk out, get your butt moving". But I'm not sure what type of language, if any, would work. That's the substance from one cranky old outsider's view.

PS. I was once a physics major who dropped out of the field. Whether you view that as bias or experience is up to you.   :)

ETA: @carloco, it's a good point that he won't have this type of opportunity again. Maybe he just needs to hear "Look, I know you're discouraged, but when you buckle down and finish, you'll feel better about yourself." Worth a try...

Maybe follow up with "Anyway, once you time out of your assistantship, you'll need to move faster anyway, just to work at a job and not be homeless. It's probably easier to finish the degree than do what comes next, you might as well finish. You'll feel better once you get some momentum going again."
« Last Edit: June 07, 2019, 05:02:05 PM by BicycleB »

Laserjet3051

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 689
  • Age: 91
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2019, 04:58:52 PM »
I was in the same situation as him except in a different STEM field for my PhD. I was determined not to quit and spent far too many years getting my PhD. In retrospect, it wasnt worth it, for me at least, not by a long shot. Sure theres the whole pride issue, but when it comes down to cold hard numbers, I gave away way too many years of not earning any income for a degree that in many cases does not pay any more than a Masters job position with similar responsibilities in industry.

On average, yes, PhDs will have higher level job functions and salary than MS, but I have witnessed over the decades, countless exceptional, bright, industrious MS folks with identical, as well, as superior job functions/salary compared to PhDs.  Unlike academia, there really is no glass ceiling in industry for a MS person.

carloco

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 125
  • Location: Richmond, VA
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2019, 05:09:42 PM »
He has has earned his masters degree.  His disappointment with academia is related to staying in the program, in that environment, to finish his degree.  When he finishes he will move to private industry. His skills will be aplicable to any number of jobs (data analysis, programming, and who knows what else)
It is true that advice is easy.  Following is another thing.  I was wondering if there were people in the forum that were feeling burned out, thinking of quoting, and turned around buckled down and finished.
I donít see a downside with staying.   He has no obligations or responsibilities.  All he has is time.  2 years of salary itís what will cost him (minus the stipend).

Laserjet3051

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 689
  • Age: 91
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2019, 05:13:28 PM »
He has has earned his masters degree.  His disappointment with academia is related to staying in the program, in that environment, to finish his degree.  When he finishes he will move to private industry. His skills will be aplicable to any number of jobs (data analysis, programming, and who knows what else)
It is true that advice is easy.  Following is another thing. I was wondering if there were people in the forum that were feeling burned out, thinking of quoting, and turned around buckled down and finished.
I donít see a downside with staying.   He has no obligations or responsibilities.  All he has is time.  2 years of salary itís what will cost him (minus the stipend).

Yes, this exactly what happened to me.

mavendrill

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 51
  • Location: Columbia SC
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2019, 09:30:14 PM »
I hold a PhD, but not in physics (though I studied that in undergrad).

I advise people regularly to quit phd programs.  Its low paid work, which for many/most leads to low paid post docs and then fighting for pretty low paid assistant positions, only worth it because the salary growth for the super-productive is excellent.

From your post, it sounds like he isn't super productive. So if he struggles and finishes, he will probably be able to double or triple his salary for the following few years, and hope to attach to industry somewhere.  When he does that, all of his current concerns will get worse, and the PhD likely won't do him as much as the missed ~4-5 more years of real salary and benefits.

Also, a $1500/mo stipend is (depending on responsibilities) pretty low.  That is much much lower than the stipend for PhD students in physics where I got my PhD.  Its certainly not worth hunkering down for and toughing it out.

My advice is thus as follows:  Start looking in industry for something he wants to do, or some place he wants to take his career.  He seems to want to do this anyways.  Once he has an offer in hand (and probably not before), he should go talk with both his advisor and his graduate director about his options. 

(Sidebar paragraph for why, feel free to skip:  Universities and programs face internal and external pressure to matriculate their graduate students, and to do so "on time."  He is almost certainly going to not graduate "on time" so if the program director is smart, they will want the best remaining reputation they can get from him.  He's not likely to publish too much at this point, or win many awards, but a high paying industry job AND graduating is pretty sweet outcome for them, far better than him continuing until his funding runs out, him dropping out and working at geek squad or starbucks. 

So the program director might be willing to work out a deal for part-time status, or trying to waive any remaining lab work required or residency requirements (presumably he is long past course requirements and comprehensive/qualifying exams at this point).  A productive job in industry with the ability to continue doing some data collection/experiments/lab access and finish slower is no guarantee, but it is something that most competitive programs have seen done.  The minimum from those conversations should be finishing with a MA.

FWIW, I highly recommend not taking a leave of absence.  Depends on the particulars of his advisor, lab, and research, but most people who take leaves of absences from PhD programs don't try to come back, but more importantly, the lab will likely have moved on without him (out of practicality and necessity).  So he might technically be able to do so, but it could forfeit publishing all his work so far and functionally mean starting over, with an advisor who now thinks he is a quitter.

As for the downside of staying, the biggest downside this hypothetical:  he finishes his funding (guessing thats 2 more years) then scrapes together lower funding for another 2 and then quits.  He might make $65k over those 4 years of unhappiness.  Then assume the economy goes bad (bloody likely, considering in the US it hasn't been doing this well this long without correction in a very very long time).  So he leaves that and gets a mediocre part-time job Geeksquading it, and makes 30k in year 5, then gets a full time gig (not a real career) and makes 45k in year 6 before getting into a place where he can grow, build his career, and have retirement in year 7.  So over those 6 years he might make $140k with likely minimal benefits in years 3-5. 

Lets say he gets a job in physics in industry, entry level at national average or about $50k instead.  Give him 4% raises/COL adjustments, and assume private sector job provides reasonable insurance and retirement but no promotions.  He makes $330k over those 6 years, with an additional 10-15k free employer retirement contributions.  So he stays and it costs him ~$200k now, he doesn't finish his PhD, his career and retirement have fewer years to grow.  Plus most importantly, depending on the offer, if he drops out he might actually still finish his PhD.

TLDR: The economy is great, and PhD programs are terrible career moves for all but the most motivated and passionate individuals.  If he can get a great offer, I'd encourage him to take it.

Freedomin5

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1840
  • Location: China
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2019, 10:27:07 PM »
Wait...I'm confused. You say in your initial post that he "would have to stay until this May anyway to earn his masters degree" and that he "didnít make much progress since December". So that would sound like he does not have his masters degree.

Later, in a different post, you say, "He has earned his masters degree."

Does he or does he not have his masters? With his masters, if he does not want to continue his PhD program and instead wants to find a job, I would suggest that he start looking for "a real job" (his words, per your post). Sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side. If he starts getting interviews, go for the interviews and see if he can get a job offer. Once he gets a solid job offer that he has accepted, then decide whether to quit/defer his PhD. At least then he has options and won't feel as "stuck".

There is no shame in dropping out of a PhD program. But I would not encourage him to drop out or take a leave of absence until he has something else lined up. And the previous poster who commented that most people who take a leave of absence don't come back to finish the program is correct.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2019, 10:43:38 PM by Freedomin5 »

SquashingDebt

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 205
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2019, 06:10:38 AM »
What sort of job does he want?  Does it require a masters or a PhD?  As someone who also got a PhD, I recommend that people only start a degree (or in this case, finish) if it's necessary for their desired career.  It's important to consider, because in some cases it can make you overqualified for the jobs you actually want.

Don't discount the mental health toll that graduate school can take on people. 

Arbitrage

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 414
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #9 on: June 08, 2019, 08:04:35 AM »
Sounds to me like he should drop out; he has his Master's degree so it's not all for naught.  I have several friends who dropped out in similar situations, and they're doing just fine.  I also have colleagues who stuck it out after being disillusioned.  They're doing ok as well, but they definitely wasted several years doing very little in the lab (took a long time to finish their PhD). 

I agree that in most cases in STEM, getting your PhD is not a great financial move; it wasn't for me.  It does open up job opportunities, but also can close other job opportunities/make them more difficult.  If he doesn't really want to work in the sorts of jobs that require a PhD, and doesn't have the motivation to actually complete his PhD, there's not a great reason to continue other than the title/feeling of achievement.  That's important to some, but is it important to him?

caleb

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 79
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #10 on: June 08, 2019, 11:57:57 AM »
I was in the same situation as him except in a different STEM field for my PhD. I was determined not to quit and spent far too many years getting my PhD. In retrospect, it wasnt worth it, for me at least, not by a long shot. Sure theres the whole pride issue, but when it comes down to cold hard numbers, I gave away way too many years of not earning any income for a degree that in many cases does not pay any more than a Masters job position with similar responsibilities in industry.

On average, yes, PhDs will have higher level job functions and salary than MS, but I have witnessed over the decades, countless exceptional, bright, industrious MS folks with identical, as well, as superior job functions/salary compared to PhDs.  Unlike academia, there really is no glass ceiling in industry for a MS person.

I absolutely empathize with @carloco 's son and @Laserjet3051 , having also spent way too long getting a Ph.D. without serious advising directed at getting me out the door.  Out of pride/stupidity/fear, I stumbled along for about four years feeling very alone and entirely burned out.  In retrospect, they were the worst years of my life, by far.

I landed in academia where a Ph.D. is a hard requirement, in a job I genuinely enjoy and find fulfilling.  In my case, because the Ph.D. route was the only path to the job I wanted, I'm glad I stuck with it.  That said, I realize that I'm totally an outlier.

I would never tell anyone else to do a Ph.D., regardless of funding, regardless of the institution, regardless of the program's track record.  It's not worth it.  It's too many years of your life, and the outcomes are very uncertain.

From what you've described of the situation, he could easily have 3-4 more unpleasant years ahead.  He's got to decide if that's a reasonable price to pay for whatever benefits he thinks he'll see for having the Ph.D. over the Masters.  Dropping out now is a grey area.  He's still got a long way to go, but he's also put in more work than the Masters requires.  Tough call.

carloco

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 125
  • Location: Richmond, VA
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2019, 01:54:32 PM »
I apologize for the confusing details.  He first approached me in November 2018. He needed to stay until May 2019 to finish the requirements of the masters.  Whenhe talked to his advisor in November he was told that it would be possible to graduate in another year and a half or so.   However, it is May 2019 and he mentioned that he hasnít done much work for the PhD. 

carloco

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 125
  • Location: Richmond, VA
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2019, 01:57:12 PM »
He wont be looking for a job in academia.  He has great knowledge of data analysis, programming , etc. Which is what he enjoys doing.  And thatís part of the problem. Going forward (if I understood correctly) there wonít be much of that.  It will be more concentrated on writing papers. Etc

caleb

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 79
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2019, 02:25:33 PM »
That this is more a life achievement than a career builder.

The quotation above reads as a red flag to me.

Getting a Ph.D. as a notch in your belt is a bad idea.

And, at the danger of reading the situation entirely wrongly, getting a Ph.D. as a notch in your dad's belt is an even worse idea.

clarkfan1979

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1840
  • Age: 40
  • Location: Kauai & Denver
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2019, 02:33:23 PM »
I have a Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology.

I had a good experience in my MA program. It took me 2 years full-time and another year part-time. It was a lot of work, but I'm glad I finished. The program and faculty were supportive.

I had a very unpleasant experience in my Ph.D. program, which was another school. It took me an additional 5 years full-time and another 4 years part-time. It should have been 4 years full-time and 1 year part-time. Many other students in the program had similar stories.

The entire program is not very supportive of getting graduate students to graduate. The program website lists me as their last graduate. I don't think anyone has graduated during the last 4 years. I think they now have a reputation for not graduating their students, which is good, because it's the truth.

At my Ph.D. program, the faculty are mostly evaluated on bringing in grant money. They use their graduate students for highly technical work and the pay is sometimes less than minimum wage. This is borderline illegal when you are working on grants over a million dollars.

I ended up getting a job in academia that requires a Ph.D., love my career and work/life balance. I am very happy with the end result. However, I would never recommend that someone go through the same thing I did. It was pretty horrible.

Better Change

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 156
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #15 on: June 08, 2019, 02:45:31 PM »
Chemistry PhD here.  Been there, done that.

When I was in my third year, I seriously considered quitting.  I would have had a masters degree at that point, just like your son.  I told my parents my plan, and my dad threatened to drive six hours to see me TO KICK MY ASS FROM HERE TO HIGH HEAVEN.  No, he wouldn't actually kick my ass, but he was serious about "knocking" sense into me.

The PhD is a slog.  There's just no other way to describe it.  Most universities offer pretty good health benefits - maybe he can consider talking to someone?  Needing some counseling along the way is quite normal for PhD students.  They might be able to help with the burnout/lack of motivation/lack of confidence.  Looking back, I wish I had taken advantage of more of those services.

OtherJen

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1327
  • Location: Metro Detroit
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #16 on: June 08, 2019, 07:21:36 PM »
He has has earned his masters degree.  His disappointment with academia is related to staying in the program, in that environment, to finish his degree.  When he finishes he will move to private industry. His skills will be aplicable to any number of jobs (data analysis, programming, and who knows what else)
It is true that advice is easy.  Following is another thing. I was wondering if there were people in the forum that were feeling burned out, thinking of quoting, and turned around buckled down and finished.
I donít see a downside with staying.   He has no obligations or responsibilities.  All he has is time.  2 years of salary itís what will cost him (minus the stipend).

Yes, this exactly what happened to me.

Happened to me too. I hit a wall about 4.5 years in. Probably the only thing that kept me in the program was a 3-month industry internship required by one of my funding sources. I still ended up in my lab on weekends and a few evenings, bit it was enough distance from the daily slog and friction with my advisor that I actually made progress. I got a paper published and defended my thesis successfully at 5.5 years and don't regret it.

I do, however, regret going straight into a postdoc without taking time off to reflect on what I wanted (vs. what my advisor was pushing). I burned out spectacularly after a year and left research. If I'd taken a few months to recover and started applying for industry jobs, I'd probably still be in the field.

OP, if your son is this burned out even before hitting the dissertation writing period, it might be best for him to take the master's. Is there any possibility of taking leave for a semester to get a bit of distance and figure out what he really wants? When you're in the middle of all that academic pressure on a daily basis, it can be hard to think clearly.

carloco

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 125
  • Location: Richmond, VA
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2019, 07:38:09 AM »
Back in November he mentioned that he was going to be applying for jobs in the spring.  But then changed his mind and decided to stay and didnít look for a job. 
It isnít a case of a notch in my belt; I feel like @Better Change Ďs dad;  for me and otherís (that Have not gone through something like this) it feels as if he is quitting at the last stretch.  The day before summiting Everest.  It may be the most difficult part.   
I appreciate everyoneís perspective.   I am also less worried about his future if he decides to quit anyway.   

Tass

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1447
  • Age: 25
  • Location: Southern California
  • Working on a PhD...
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #18 on: June 09, 2019, 10:27:01 AM »
I'm not in physics, but everyone I know who has quit my PhD program with a master's has immediately gotten a job in a related field, making more money than they were in the program, and is looked upon with a tinge of envy by those of us left behind.

I'm in the fourth year of a PhD and have stuck with it through some miserable slogging, but ultimately I am overly motivated not to be seen as a quitter. This is not actually a good reason! The amount of time already put in is irrelevant to the decision, because there's no way to get that time back. The relevant question is, would I like to get a PhD in 1.5 years, or no? I'm betting that smallish time investment will be worth it, but I could be wrong.

Quitting a PhD program isn't necessarily about burning out and giving up; it can also be about realizing that the sacrifices you're being asked to make aren't worth it. It's long hours of grueling work, often with limited results, often for limited credit, always for limited pay. If your son says he could be making more in industry, there's a good chance he's right, and I suspect data science gets a lot of its best candidates from PhD students who never finished. I think whether he finishes his PhD is much less relevant to his prospects than whether he can network effectively, put his skills to use, and be successful in a work environment that will likely be friendlier in every way.

For the record, I wouldn't air the idea of quitting to my parents unless I was already pretty attached to it. The decision may have already been made. On the other hand, maybe he will finish just because job searching feels overwhelming.

me1

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 109
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #19 on: June 09, 2019, 10:38:54 AM »
A PhD is so weird and not easy to explain to people who have gone through it. Kinda like childbirth, except it goes on for 4+ years... I got through mine (in engineering) but would not encourage anyone who is feeling like this isnít what they need to be doing with their life to do it. He has a masters and skills that he can use to get a good job.
If he plans to go to industry when he is done, I strongly doubt that piece of paper will mean anything to anyone. I found a phd to be mostly learning how to deal with my advisor and a tiny percentage learning actual scientific skills. Itís unclear if that relationship is working for your son? But it could be whatís keeping him from finishing. In retrospect I should have switched advisors fairly early on when I realized I was not getting the kind of support I needed from my advisor. The man who should have been my advisor ended up being on my committee and in general was the most supportive person with my research and the whole process would have been so much easier if I had just switched to his group early on.but you live, you learn.
The 3 published papers is just a theoretical goal. The  advisor is the gatekeeper and if they say you are not done, they can stand in your way of finishing. There is no guarantee that your son will actually be done in another year even if he does what you or he think he is supposed to. Goalposts can keep moving...there is no guarantee he is in the last stretch.

mistymoney

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 138
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #20 on: June 09, 2019, 11:17:25 AM »
the utility or worth or the time it "should" take to complete this degree are largely irrelevant.

this isn't like pushing to finish other degrees - it is a large creation of which the student needs to do not only the work, but needs the motivation and interest to create something and see it through to completion.

Will he regret not finishing it? Likely at some point!

but if his heart isn't in it, he may end up languishing for any number of years 'trying not trying' to do it, a focus on not letting people down rather than something he has interest in, and then never make any progress.

So - if his options are quit now, or quit in 2, 4, 5, years without a phd - which would be better?

Because the only thing that gets it finished is him wanting to finish it.

Perhaps encourage him to see a counselor for a couple of month to clarify his own feelings and goals here. He should take the summer off and think about it. Very long and very hard. Consider also burn-out vs depression or other mental health issues.

I understand that as a parent you can see beyond this phase of life to the 20, 30, 40 years he may have in the work force compared to 12-18 months to just finish this up. But without his own buy-in, it just isn't going to happen.

Quitting is a big life-changing decision - a major fork in his education-career path. And one that it may be prohibitively cost and time-intensive to course-correct when he may start hitting that regret phase.

But he needs to have the motivation to finish this - either enthusiastically or resignedly - so he needs to clarify for himself the pros and cons here as well as what he may or may not be willing to do to finish.

Wishing him well!

mistymoney

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 138
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #21 on: June 09, 2019, 12:07:16 PM »
He wont be looking for a job in academia.  He has great knowledge of data analysis, programming , etc. Which is what he enjoys doing.  And thatís part of the problem. Going forward (if I understood correctly) there wonít be much of that.  It will be more concentrated on writing papers. Etc

If he isn't interested in writing papers, that could be a real issue.

Also - does this mean that all the data is there, and analyzed, and just needs writing up? That is a huge thing. Maybe be why they think he can get done in just 12 months or so.

Checked in with a friend who recently finished a phd. He was mid-career and just wanted this for himself - here are his recommendations to keep moving forward when it gets rough.

https://thesiswhisperer.com/

forming or joining a writing or accountability group with other students

if no peer group seems feasible, can look into a dissertation coach (expensive, but can be good when stuck)

daily writing commitment
he thinks writing a minimum amount of time per day is essential
can start with just one hour or two pomodoro sessions per day (google up pomodoro if unfamiliar) - he said maybe can start with 1/2 hour or one pomodoro per day, but that progress will be slow. He did say that keeping engaged every day is the most important thing that kept him going.

FIRE 20/20

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 268
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #22 on: June 09, 2019, 03:08:15 PM »
I worked in industry with a lot of people with Physics degrees (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD's).  Where I worked, your on the job performance mattered *far* more than your degree.  The only things a PhD is good for in my industry is for a higher starting salary - PhDs start with the equivalent salary of someone with ~4-6 years of experience - and at the top end it's easier to become a Tech Fellow or Director with a PhD.  For 95% of the people in the middle of their careers, the difference in degrees didn't matter.  I'd be happy to offer more details via PM if interested. 

SemiChemE

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 8
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #23 on: June 09, 2019, 08:17:33 PM »
As others have suggested, unless your son wants a career in academia, there are few doors that a Ph.D. opens that are not already open to an M.S. graduate.  I have an M.S. in Chemical Engineering and for 20 years of my career in Semiconductor R&D, I have worked alongside Ph.D.'s and been rated on par or even above them.  A Ph.D. is a requirement for academia and will definitely grease the skids at government labs, but my experience has been that there is no glass ceiling whatsoever in industry.  In fact, if anything a Ph.D. can actually put a target on your back during down turns as it is assumed that you would not be willing to take a mundane manufacturing job for six months or a year until the market picks back up.

That said, it would be a shame for your son to drop out, if a Ph.D. is what he really wants.  It sounds like he is burned out, so he does need a change.  My recommendation would be to look for an internship or co-op in industry.  Usually, these are 3-6 month temporary positions.  In a good economy, like today, they are relatively easy to get and will give your son a chance to experience what industry is like without a long term commitment.  The pay, especially for a Ph.D. student, is usually much better than a graduate stipend.  An internship is essentially an extended job interview, and if things go well, he may have a job lined up by the end, which he can choose to take or defer until after he completes his degree.  Now that it's June, it's a little late to be applying for a summer internship, but don't despair.   Companies usually target the summer to accommodate students' schedules, but my company at least can accommodate an intern at any time, though it does require finding a supportive hiring manager.

You may have concerns that taking a break from the Ph.D. program could slow things down, but in reality, an internship will most likely give your son confidence and demonstrate to his advisors that he has other options.  My experience is that professors often take grad students for granted.  They want them to graduate eventually, but they'd just as soon get as much work from them as possible for as long as possible.  Suddenly, they'll be more interested in keeping him in the program by treating him better and giving him more resources.

tyrannostache

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 157
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #24 on: June 10, 2019, 05:01:09 PM »
I just want to add to the "quit already" chorus. If there are other jobs he wants to do and that he has qualifications for, there is absolutely no reason to stay. Unless an academic career is the only possible career you can imagine, a PhD is primarily labor of love and pride.

I sometimes wish I had quit my (humanities) PhD when I started to get disillusioned and started to see how awful the job market in my field was. Financially, I would likely be far ahead of where I am now. My DH (STEM PhD) also stuck it out and is now trying to make the transition into industry. For him, there are definitely jobs where the PhD has been a roadblock, and he would have been better served by pursuing an MS and legible experience.

There's also the matter of what a PhD trains you to do. Beyond your subject matter, there's a certain way of writing, talking, and thinking that seems normal when you spend a lot of time in the academic world. It's highly critical, highly territorial, and focuses on tearing ideas down rather than figuring out how to make them work. This tendency doesn't always play well in industry, and it can be a really tough habit to break.

If your son has already identified a non-academic field that he wants to pursue, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't just go for it.

the_fixer

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 532
  • Location: Colorado
  • mind on my money money on my mind
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #25 on: June 10, 2019, 05:26:34 PM »
My perspective.

This person needs to decide if they want to be the person coming up with the new ideas or implementing the ideas.

Both can be rewarding but both have limitations.

Once you have the PhD it seems harder to get run of the mill industry jobs in STEM fields and will likely get beat out by non PhD candidates that have great experience. If you stop at the masters in STEM it seems to limit the options for being the person coming up with the new ideas.

Of course this is not 100% the case and people do make the leap between but that seems to be the exception.

Both are fine options but both are limiting in one way or the other so time to think about where he wants to be 5 or 10 years down the road.

Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk


historienne

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 345
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #26 on: June 11, 2019, 02:01:16 AM »
I'm (obviously) not in physics, or even STEM generally.  I think he should quit, though.  You say there is no downside to staying in the program, but that's not true.  The downside risk is that he gets even more severely burnt out, perhaps to the point where he can't stomach staying in physics at all any more.  He's a human being, not a robot, so that's a meaningful possibility.

FWIW, my husband does have a Ph.D. in a STEM discipline, and regrets getting it.  He went into industry afterwards, and the roles he has wanted have ended up being ones that he didn't need the Ph.D. for (he's basically a software engineer in industry research settings).  So for him, it was 3 years of lost salary without significant upside.  More importantly, it was three years of being borderline depressed all the time, which took quite a while to recover from even after he moved into industry.  He wasn't well suited for that kind of work, despite being plenty intellectually capable, and it took a real toll.

schmerna

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 50
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #27 on: June 11, 2019, 07:08:44 AM »
Feel free to PM me, I have vast experience in this area. 

Most PhD students have this feeling at some point in there doctoral studies.  It is a combination of disillusionment, wanderlust, imposter syndrome and lots of other emotions.  It intensifies during "bad science days/weeks/months" and starts to recede when the student is making good progress.  Making good progress takes hard work and drive.

Has he established a committee?  Start talking to them.
He should reengage with his friends inside and outside of school
Talk to the student counseling center
Talk to the career development office, update his CV, take a quick look at the market
He needs to commit to doing something each day, writing, lab work, applying to jobs



For writing help:
Productive Writer listserv is offered for free and open to all, especially graduate students writing papers, proposals, theses, and dissertations.

15,000 subscribers from 297 graduate schools in 30 countries.
Provides tips on time management, motivation, writing process, writerís block, and much more.

https://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/manage/optin?v=0017CAV_ERFAzG-bsR2rbY4QAU7BD0rR-PSX5tTIbrEZ2ZeIq_5sM5oWHAbahjfmMIGSvpAJ7HrEUjDdkA30V4yDtmqj6CGS-LQz0U82PlXorTBCl_m9s0uy6RqXjLfMKNDrLd2IfqQn-LxsaNquIr1NcmoVRej3H-CNiCOo3rfvhhqbF224ECZNA%3D%3D

JoshuaSpodek

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 278
  • Location: Manhattan
    • Leadership, values, meaning, purpose, importance, passion
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #28 on: June 11, 2019, 07:10:47 AM »
I have a PhD in physics, which I got in 2000. I chose the field because I loved it and the degree because it was the only way I knew to practice. Everyone's talk about jobs in this thread would have been irrelevant to me. My goal was to follow in the line of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Feynman. I had less than zero concern that whatever happened, I'd be able to earn money.

About 4 years in I saw that physics as practiced today wasn't what I wanted. I despaired for a while, feeling I had few options. Looking back, I was shortsighted to think a physics degree narrowed my options. It doesn't, it increases them, which I didn't learn until later. I ended up co-founding a company while in school and split my time writing a thesis, a patent, and a business plan (after learning what a business plan was, as I had zero business experience). The new outlook recharged my batteries to finish by giving me a finish line: if I didn't finish before our first funding I never would, so it gave me a target to sprint for.

Leaving the field was right for me because I learned it didn't match my interests when I saw it closer. Whether I should have finished the PhD or not is a toss-up. Saying ABD is meaningful for enough people to bridge the gap. I don't understand why he doesn't have a masters. I thought everyone got theirs after passing the qualifying exam. Something sounds off that he doesn't have his yet.

If your concern is his ability to make money, getting into a decent program means he has the skills to do fine.

If your concern is his giving up what you consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, well if it's so wonderful, you could do it. You don't. It's not right for everyone. Only he can determine if it's right for him.

Which gets me to the most important point as I see it. Universities teach academic skills -- analysis, research, etc -- but rarely the social and emotional skills of life. You would have mentioned if he was a 16 year old star, but you didn't, so I conclude he's an adult. He's likely lived a life so far protected from the social and emotional challenges of professional life. The only way I know of to develop the skills to handle these challenges is through experience, which means sometimes making choices you regret, sometimes with consequences that endure decades. Still, try as I might, I can't see any way in which advice from a mom helps him here unless he specifically asks for it. You didn't say he did.

The most useful message from a mom I could think of would be of support, love, and listening, acknowledging the emotional, professional, and intellectual difficulty of the situation. Even if he asks for advice, I'd double-check: "Are you sure you want my advice?" before giving any. He may choose contrary to what you think best. He may choose something he regrets every day for the rest of his life. He may choose something that feels so right he'll wish he had chosen it years before. He'll scrape his knees learning to walk. What are you going to do, walk for him?

We all face such decisions. Any one of us could choose to take on any life passion right here and now. Almost no one does. Maybe a regretful choice here will lead him later to go for brass ring later that enriches his life more. Maybe sticking with something too long will kill what he otherwise might have at least appreciated.

As far as I've learned, the most useful result is not a given decision and its result but the social and emotional skills to decide. So far he has likely had little experience to develop those skills. Now is his chance. A mother's support and listening seem most useful to me, even if he scrapes his knees. Unsolicited advice would only stop me from sharing.

BicycleB

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1106
  • Location: Live Music Capital of the World
  • Older than the internet, but not wiser... yet
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #29 on: June 11, 2019, 11:42:06 AM »
Fwiw, @carloco appears to a dad, not a mom. Though maybe all the points above still apply...

thesis

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 145
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #30 on: June 11, 2019, 12:04:53 PM »
Jacob Fisker did a PhD in Physics, he's still FI. Your son might find his blog interesting: http://earlyretirementextreme.com/

It sounds like your son enjoys physics but not writing. If he doesn't enjoy writing, academia is not for him.

On the one hand, it's nice to get a little push to help you accomplish something, but on the other hand, there is this horrible, monolithic cultural pressure to "not give up on your dreams", and for whatever reason, quitting anything is seen as "giving up on your dreams". I hated school but I finished my Bachelor's and I'm so glad I did. But that had practical value (qualifying for jobs that require a bachelor's degree). But a PhD? You hardly need that for anything. You get perks. Accolades. You get to call yourself a "doctor". That's about it.

Make sure your son has his master's, whatever the situation there is. This will allow him to work in Physics, but hell if he needs that PhD for much more than academic positions and stuffy research roles. It sounds like he would hate those anyway. It really is okay to try something and decide it isn't for you. Also research "sunk cost fallacy".
« Last Edit: June 11, 2019, 10:02:06 PM by thesis »

JoshuaSpodek

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 278
  • Location: Manhattan
    • Leadership, values, meaning, purpose, importance, passion
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #31 on: June 11, 2019, 12:46:48 PM »
Fwiw, @carloco appears to a dad, not a mom. Though maybe all the points above still apply...

Oops. Sorry for the confusion, everyone, and for the misidentification, @carloco.

Tass

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1447
  • Age: 25
  • Location: Southern California
  • Working on a PhD...
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #32 on: June 11, 2019, 01:51:07 PM »
I don't understand why he doesn't have a masters. I thought everyone got theirs after passing the qualifying exam. Something sounds off that he doesn't have his yet.

In my field in the US, you only get a Master's if you quit after the qualifying exam. Most of us get a Bachelor's and a PhD with nothing in between.

John Galt incarnate!

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 423
Re: Advice for PhD student
« Reply #33 on: June 13, 2019, 06:10:11 PM »

  I can’t help but think that when his life is filled with obligations and responsibilities he won’t be able to go back if he changes his mind.

This  happened to a friend. She regrets not having finished her PhD when she was single w/o children.

 That this opportunity is once in a lifetime.

He seized it and now he ought to hold on to it. Too much has been exerted and expended to  quit at the 4-year mark.



 That this is more a life achievement than a career builder.

I emphatically agree that it's a feather in his cap. It should yield much satisfaction throughout  his life regardless of his career's direction.


« Last Edit: June 13, 2019, 06:38:59 PM by John Galt incarnate! »