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Which Grad Students Are the Most Miserable? 332

Posted by timothy
from the law-students-get-the-best-free-food dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Jessica Palmer has an interesting post about the miseries of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] graduate students and makes the case that of all grad programs, those in biology are particularly miserable. One basic problem stems from too many biology Ph.D.s and not enough funding, leading to an immensely cutthroat environment that is psychologically damaging to boot. But the main problem is that most of the skills you learn in biology, especially biomedical sciences are only useful in the biomedical sciences and that most grad students don't learn enough 'generalist' skills, such as high level math or serious programming skills, to have other career alternatives if academia doesn't work out. 'A decade ago, sequencing was a Ph.D. activity, or at least, an activity supervised very closely by a Ph.D.,' writes Mike the Mad Biologist."
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Which Grad Students Are the Most Miserable?

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  • by Jack Malmostoso (899729) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:26AM (#35731530)
    I feel very strongly about this.
    Throughout my career (I have a PhD in Chemistry) I found the preparation in maths of Biology majors absolutely abysmal.
    Fact is, the way I understand it, biology (and medicine, for that matter), is not an exact science and individuating a direct cause effect is close to impossible.
    It all relies on statistics, and showing that a certain treatment has a higher probability of causing a certain beneficial effect (or reducing a side effect).
    Then why in the world don't medical doctors and biology majors receive a STRONG education in math and statistics? Is it because the large majority of them are women, thus the whole "ooohh math is hard, there Barbie, go back to the kitchen" comes into play?
    I find this a shame, it makes me dispute every finding in medical and biology science.

    For further information, see Ben Goldacre's work.
    • by mangu (126918) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:42AM (#35731652)

      Throughout my career (I have a PhD in Chemistry) I found the preparation in maths of Biology majors absolutely abysmal.

      To make it worse, it seems to me that *every* college course today is very weak in computer programming. The college graduates I meet seem to rely entirely on excel spreadsheets, with a very few "hard" sciences majors knowing a little bit of matlab.

      Computers have become the universal tool, but no one is able to explore their capabilities, recent graduates are like illiterate peasants in a library.

      A good analogy is to compare software development with leadership. A leader is someone who gets people to do what cannot be done by a person alone. A programmer is someone who gets computers to do what cannot be done by humans. In an age when automation replaces workers, software developers are the leaders. Too bad university students cannot see this simple analogy.

      • by bberens (965711) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:25AM (#35732066)
        While I agree that people from other walks of life should get a good introduction to mathematical programming I don't think it's very important that they get good at it so much as they get a basic understanding of what types of things are possible. The defense contractors (I only use them because I'm familiar with them) seem to have found a nice balance. They hire mechanical, aeronautical, etc. engineers who know just enough about programming to *get by* and then hire some pure computer scientist types to really help them make sure their code is good quality and to help tighten up their algorithms and such.
      • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:50AM (#35732388) Homepage Journal

        >>Computers have become the universal tool, but no one is able to explore their capabilities, recent graduates are like illiterate peasants in a library.

        To be fair, betting on ignorance is always a safe bet, no matter what subject or area of our society you're talking about. Nobody** knows history, math, computer programming, religion, physics, etc. at a very good level these days.

        That said, there's a lot of smart people in every field. Some of the best math people I met were bioengineering professors at UCSD, at least or especially in their areas of expertise. I was fortunate enough to be partnered on my master's thesis project with an AMES guy who was a pretty decent programmer and had a good knowledge of math, but unfortunately the AMES program at the time (early 2000s) was still using FORTRAN. So we had fun getting our code to interoperate, but at least he was competent enough that if I told him how I was formatting my output, he'd have it all read in and analyzed by the next day.

        By contrast, two of the stupidest people I've ever had to work with were at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. It was at the time of the internet boom, so they were having trouble finding competent programmers, so they hired these biology PhDs instead. Their sum output of work in the two years I spent there was half-constructing a web page (that didn't work) and a lot of snarky emails to my professor about how I should be using whatever trendy thing they'd read about somewhere. Because I wasn't using XML or whatever internally in our project, you know, that was the only reason they couldn't get any work done.

        (**Approximately.)

      • In my CS undergrad we had a single math course that used Maple and a single math course that used Matlab. While they gave me exposure to the packages, I spent more times with the quirks of the packages than learning the actual contents of the course. This has caused me some pain in my PhD courses because I'm expected to apply some of these concepts that I probably could "work out" in a math package, but I wasn't able to focus on the theory enough to make application now. It would have been nice to have a
      • by donscarletti (569232) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @10:21AM (#35732738)

        My 53 year old uncle is a senior professor (or whatever they call a full professor in North America) in geotechnical engineering. I've heard him lament how kids these days don't know how to do programming, since there are so many pre-made tools that ALMOST do what you need. Amazing to hear a white haired old chap complaining about my generation and its poor computer literacy, usually that is the one exception that they give us credit for. Apparently his PhD students all come running to him to do basic programming for them. Programming of course is on his IBM monstrosity that cost $100K and who's only practical difference from a high-end Xeon is that it runs a visually identical version of AIX and runs an input-compatible version of his Fortran 70 compiler and graphics package as he used in "the good old days"... turns out that old people are just like that.

        As a professional 3d game engine programmer with multiple published titles, it is a little bit embarrassing when he is going on about the Delauny triangulation algorithm he hacked up back in '95 or whenever and I suddenly realise it's better than what I used a few weeks ago with the benefit of the Internet, at that point I just agree and pretend that I use a similar algorithm all the time. Main point of contention is when he interrupts my anecdotes about writing in c with some disparaging remarks about recursion and how I should use an array as a stack in a for loop to make program flow clear or some archaic bollocks, God help me if he ever sees what I do with python.

        Problem is, you force an scientist or engineer to use FORTRAN or MATLAB and you will get code written with hate. He may make good calculation or publish useful papers in his field, but he'll end up a cranky old bastard complaining about how PGPLOT does not look like it did on the faculty mainframe in '87, that is about as un-hacker as they come. Matlab is obviously designed by someone who hates computers and FORTRAN was designed BEFORE the compiler was invented, meaning it was never meant to be used as what we would call a programming language. Engineers/Scientists love this stuff just to be rude to us, because every successfully executed program written in this spaghetti is a huge fuck-you to 40 years of software research.

      • It's terrible in engineering. I know so many fellow engineers who have little or very atrophied coding skills. They sit around creating these gigantic, clunky spreadsheets to solve problems that a small program could do so much more efficiently. I survived a bloody round of layoffs early in my career because I could do all the firmware and external control software for the hardware I designed, so I was considered way more valuable than a hardware only or software only person.

    • I'm a computer science grad currently doing a taught postgrad in bioinformatics and I can only agree.

      Even in the course specifically about stats, coding and math the programmings, stats and math is pretty weak.

      we cover basic regression in stats which is probably the most solid bit of the course.
      the math I mostly covered in first year computer science.

      The only thing I can say about the coding is that it's even more basic than first year coding in comp sci.

      There's no actual computer science covered th

    • Completely agree. Teaching biologists some proper statistics means they can do so much more. They suddenly can go out of the laboratory, and interpret their own results. Their publications would make more sense. They can plan their own experiments (yes, you need statistics to see what you can measure best to reduce uncertainty the quickest)... They may eventually even be taken serious by other scientists and engineers.

      But please do not translate 'generalist' into 'management' or 'economics' or something. Th

    • by stewbee (1019450)
      Wow, generalize much?

      My wife is hoping to finish with her PhD from Northwestern (in Chicago and Evanston) this summer in microbiology. While she admits that she tolerates math, she is competent with it (if not a little rusty). However, I did find this interesting with the program that she is in, and how it differed from my own experience in grad school. Her university's curriculum was done in a way such that there was little flexibility on what courses she could take. I do not recall any course of higher
    • by Cryect (603197)
      I will say Bioengineering programs are much better as a result for R&D into biology. There is still push back as the changing of the guard is occurring with research guided by engineering methodology slowly gaining ground over almost random testing of traditional biology. Check out systems biology, where you need a strong background in math and computer science to create complex models to use your research results and guide your further research. Note, I was a PhD student in a MolBio program till I d
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Edge00 (880722)
      I have my B.A in biology and my M.S. in microbiology. I see a lot of people here saying biology majors don't understand enough math, but from my perspective I can't figure out where it would fit into the curriculum. For my bachelor's I had a semester of calculus and a semester of statistics. What many people don't realize is a biology major is typically 1 or 2 courses away from a minor in chemistry, I personally had 5 semesters of chemistry. A couple of semesters of physics are typically required also. This
    • I'd say, reading the F* article, the even more general skills will be useful: public presentation, speaking, teaching, communicating ideas. As the writer says, you have to communicate your great ideas if you want a job / funding / etc. Start with those generalist skills and work outwards. Though I accept it's not in the interest of the PhD system to necessarily spend time teaching students these skills, getting research results, getting the thesis written, and getting published are the key indicators of su

    • Why do we are about these things? We'll just outsource to the fine peoples of India and China!

    • by raddan (519638) * on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:33AM (#35732152)
      I second this, but I am not a biology grad-- I'm a CompSci grad. My undergraduate statistics courses were laughably easy, and in both cases, the profs mysteriously liked to do powerpoints in the DARK. The first class was at 7:30AM. The second at 6:00PM. Not good for retention.

      When I came to grad school, I was suddenly thrown into very advanced mathematics. It was assumed that I knew things like graphical models, differential equations, and mathematical logic. I did not. I am now spending my evenings correcting these deficits.

      If I had any advice for future grad students, in any science or technology field, it is this: spend a year after your undergrad time just preparing for graduate school. Study advanced math. Take the time to focus on doing well on the GRE. Get some lab experience if you can. Get some practical experience if you can. I put myself through my undergrad while working full time, and my schedule needed to be coordinated with my wife's career, so I did not have the luxury of doing this. But you should. You really should.

      That said, even the most prepared grad student will feel unprepared when they get here. I don't know a single person who feels they have adequate knowledge. My friends who were mathematics majors bemoan the fact that their programming skills are so poor (and tell me that I am fortunate to have been a lifelong programmer), but I envy their exposure to things like abstract algebra, advanced statistics, and formal proofs. Having to devise and stick to a plan of self-education is the name of the game. I'm glad that I realized this from the start, but grad school is not easy, and only you can educate yourself.
      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>Study advanced math. Take the time to focus on doing well on the GRE.

        These two things don't really go well together.

        The GRE goes up to, what, algebra?

        I didn't even bother looking at the GRE before I took it and got a perfect score on the math section. Literally, the first question was: "x + 7 = 13. Solve for x." ...and it didn't get any harder after that. A perfect score was only something like 95th percentile for computer science majors. That's how ridiculously easy it is - 5% of people get perfect

      • Or... just take the math courses as an undergraduate. Its much more beneficial to you then since it will look good if you give your transcript to potential graduate departments and it you can also get it satisfy electives in your discipline usually by talking to your advisor. I started out as a computer engineering major, and people told me that it would be a good idea to take higher math as electives. I ended up switching to math in the end but my point is that I had math courses satisfying computer engine
    • Medical doctors don't receive a background in math and statistics because most MDs do not do research. An MD is a clinical (professional) degree, unlike a PhD. A math and statistics would help but frankly, most would never use it.
      • When your doctor tells you they "will pray for you" rather than offer treatments you kind of wish they would have taken more science and math in college.
        • I don't disagree; I was just pointing out that most MDs don't do research even if they are partakers of research. One problem comes in fitting science and math into their medical education. There just isn't time - there are too many medical courses to take. It would be great to do during a residency though (if it was in lieu of some clinical responsibilities).
    • I don't think it has anything to do with women. However, I do think that biology majors need to have at least two full years of statistics and math education above trigonometry to even be allowed to get a bachelor of science degree. Linear algebra, probability, statistics and regressions come into mind as useful topics. They also should be forced to take at least a three course sequence in programming topics, such as one course of matlab/R and two courses in CS like Intro to CS and Data Structures. Nowadays
  • by macraig (621737) <(mark.a.craig) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:29AM (#35731558)

    Q:

    Which Grad Students Are the Most Miserable?

    A: Probably the ones who post questions to Ask Slashdot?

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      So that would be IT students then?

    • by macraig (621737) <(mark.a.craig) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:16AM (#35731956)

      Seriously, though, Jessica seems to be living in a well-insulated bubble and doesn't seem to realize that competition is burgeoning everywhere, in every occupation; even janitors are miserable. This small planet is now crowded with SEVEN BILLION self-serving mouths with attached gonads... and thanks to said gonads this dynamic will only get worse (until the agriculture system implodes). Of course those who aren't at the pinnacle of the economic food chain would be less miserable if those at the top weren't quite so effective at concentrating natural resources and wealth. Part of the misery is because we're overdue for another revolt to kick the money-changers outta the temples and topple those dancing with their flags at the top of the hill. From a strictly Darwinian point of view, though, the competition serves a valuable purpose, thinning the herd and favoring those with the best sets of mutations.

      So, do we choose to compete with each other in the best Darwinian tradition, and be miserable doing it, or do we cooperate Borg-like to benefit the whole species? We seem to be evolving slowly toward the latter, but not fast enough to stem the misery.

      • Well said.

      • by wisty (1335733)

        Really? People in the service sector can be happy, as there are 7 billion potential customers.

        People doing research *should* be happy, as while their research may not be the best in the world (due to all the competition), it can touch 7 billion lives. But I guess a lot of researchers suck at math.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:31AM (#35731576) Homepage Journal
    I would have to say out of all the different fields of study, liberal arts are probably the most miserable(though of course for pretty much everyone grad school is a choice....)

    Like, in TFA's view, biological sciences grad students, Liberal Arts grad students are incredibly cut throat. There is very little funding, I would argue significantly less per student than in any of the sciences(many don't get stipends), and literally dozens of PhD candidates for every one professorship. And the grads have an even more difficult time finding employment outside academia. If you think only knowing biological sciences is unmarketable, try knowing a ton about modern German literary theory and not much else of note.
    • by mangu (126918)

      And the grads have an even more difficult time finding employment outside academia

      Why? Where do you think all those managers, salespeople, business consultants, etc come from? A liberal arts degree is the easiest first step to an MBA.

      Of course, a PhD in liberal arts may be overkill, but a masters is great in your resume. It shows you have a flexible mind, can think outside the box, have appreciation for diversity, or whatever is the current trend in positive qualifications for a manager.

      The only way a liberal arts graduate could feel miserable is if he actually enjoys his field of study.

      • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @10:12AM (#35732638)
        I totally disagree. If we are talking about liberal studies, its the biggest joke degree on the planet. Thinking outside the box requires you actually bothered to take science and math courses along with your art and others. Scientific research is where the majority of outside-the-box thinking is even occurring right now.
    • I have a degree in Microbiology, a Masters in Biochemistry and Ph.D in Biotechnology. I am also in Malaysia and a University academic staff. Here in Malaysia, the hard sciences and engineering faculties get the lion share of government funding, fairly or not. Those of us in the life sciences feel that we are a privileged lot compared to the social sciences and are grateful for it. Our graduates generally get good jobs and a significant percentage secure research-related jobs in the many semi-government rese

      • This is an important distinction -- why does the wealthiest country in the history of the world (today's US) have "miserable" scholars? Public funding is crucial in determining what (and even whether) scientific research is undertaken. The current political environment in the United States, which sees the debate between Democrats and Republicans reduced to how much public spending to cut, is generally hostile to research funding. This will inevitably lead to a decrease in the number of people who pursue Ph.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by antifoidulus (807088)
          Of course the truth is the current budget cuts have absolutely 0 to do with the actual budget and everything to do with Republicans trying to cut funding to their political opponents while raining money on their political supporters. Critical thinking skills and being a Republican don't exactly go hand-in-hand and the Republicans will do anything to stay in power, even if that means sacrificing the future of our very nation just so they can score a cheap political victory. Lovely people.
      • Yep, it's definitely not true in the rest of the world. I'm from the US and went to grad school in the US, but spent a lot of time at a university in Thailand while doing research there, and got some insight into how their upper education system works. It was very much like your description of Malaysia (no surprise).

        I envied the Thai grad students, and I'm seriously considering going there for a PhD. It seemed like a much more sane place than US universities, the main reason being that it isn't a cutthroat

    • Well, you could probably be a German translator if you could read German books.
    • by supercrisp (936036) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @10:39AM (#35732946)
      Dozens of applicants for professorships? I've applied for teaching/generalist English professorships in the last year for which there have been 500-800 applicants. No kidding. Those are extreme cases, but most searches, even in specialist areas, are netting at least 150 applications. I think that, right now, any humanities field is a bad bet. In my current department, we've lost about 4 tenure-track lines, and we're having a hard time gaining them back, and these are core areas: early modern British lit, composition, and ESL. It's worse for art history, especially given the teaching expectations. And then the people in German and other languages are seeing entire programs of study wiped out of existence. I don't want to play "who's more miserable?" because there's enough misery going around for everyone to get a share. But the humanities are really suffering for employment now because of the trend toward nontenured, lower-paying teaching roles and the fact that most programs don't have external funding. Whether that equates to more misery or not, I don't know. But it's tough, almost impossible, to get a job paying a living wage, and I don't advise pursuing graduate study in the humanities at this time.
  • Oh no. A former biology graduate student applies her scientific training to conclude that - surprise - biology graduate students have it worser than anyone.

    You want worse? See the link in my sig. Those poor bastards had to deal with the usual academic incompetence as well as malevolent ghosts and the occasional fatal explosion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:37AM (#35731628)

    I did mine in physics, the wife in Biochem. The real issue I saw with the biology program is that you were unable to publish or graduate with a null result. You do a valid experiment, which could have shown something, but it turns out biology simply doesn't work that way, and so your experiment simply confirms what is currently known and shows nothing particularly new (but done in a new way, so it could have.) Sorry, you don't graduate. So people seem to either fake it (here is a 2 sigma result, might be valid, will need more study, yay I graduate) or they flush out, and in either way nowhere does the result get published so the same experiment will get done 10 more times other places. There seems to be not as much respect for the scientific process, only respect for novel results, which results in bad science and bad scientists.

    • ... The real issue I saw with the biology program is that you were unable to publish or graduate with a null result. You do a valid experiment, which could have shown something, but it turns out biology simply doesn't work that way, and so your experiment simply confirms what is currently known and shows nothing particularly new (but done in a new way, so it could have.) Sorry, you don't graduate...

      Wow! That's awful. Bad for the students and bad for the field in general. How much wasted effort happens in di

    • I can imagine that that could become a difficult cycle to break out of. A dissertation is required to be original research, of course, and if everyone knows that tons and tons of things have been tried, gotten a null result, and ignored, then any null result is always going to be suspected of not being original...
    • I don't doubt this is particularly true in biology, since there are so many students pursuing that, but just wanted to say it's also true in geology which is my field.

      My thesis research resulted in a negative result. It's not absolute - it wouldn't be outright lying to say more study could reveal something I missed - but it's certain enough that it makes doing anything with it (e.g. publishing) practically impossible. It was incredibly disheartening, and I got no encouragement from anyone regarding what to

  • I knew a girl at college called Sophie, top-end-of-genius smart and attractive to boot, very shy, got a PhD in Biochemistry if I recall correctly.

    I spotted her about a fortnight ago pricing up merchandise in a local sweet shop. Maybe she chose that, I don't know, but either way it's a terrible, terrible waste of a brilliant mind.
    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:54AM (#35731744) Homepage

      The trouble is, right now there's a surplus of top-end-of-genius smart people with PhDs.

      I know you wouldn't think so walking down the street, but the simple fact is that for every tenure-track position there are about 12 PhDs with useful published work capable of doing the job and doing it well, and even more for adjunct and other non-tenure track positions. The same sort of imbalance exists for research positions. The effect of this is that a lot of younger would-be scientists are working as part-time lab techs, or going into other fields, or trying to survive as part-time adjunct faculty, and the wages of those sorts of positions are steadily dropping. Also, many universities have been trying to save cash by avoiding giving anybody any sort of chance at tenure, leaving would-be academics basically no chance of making it.

      And yes, that's a terrible waste of a lot of brilliant minds, but it's totally consistent with what's been going on in the US for the last 30 years.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        The whole of tenure seems to be in decline, like pensions. A lot of teaching is done by grad students, and a lot of research is done by soft-money PhD's, which basically means you're self employed with all the job security of a sole-proprietorship but paying a university 80% overhead to use their brand name. At the same time college has become incredibly expensive for students, too. I don't understand where it all goes.
  • You all don't realize just how miserable I am.
  • At least, that is what I tell myself as I am looking at starting the 7th year of my PhD.

    Although really, anyone who finishes a biological PhD and can't find a job outside of academia either made a very questionable decision on what exactly to study, or isn't trying very hard. When the US economy was overall tanking, many bioscience companies were - and still are - doing quite well. A former colleague of mine (PhD from the lab I am currently in) had no trouble getting the job he wanted in industry when he finished here, and that is not the least bit unusual in the area I am in.
  • The accepted wisdom when I was in school was that the biology students were less collegial because they were all competing against each other to get into medicine. I don't know if there is any truth to this but, if they weren't working cooperatively with their peers (as we did in Engineeering & Computer Science), then I can imagine that this would lead to a more miserable school experience.
    • by cptdondo (59460)

      25 years ago "working together" was cheating, and would be cause for expulsion. It's only now that those in my generation that were brought up that way are in positions of power that we see how stupid that was.

      I am not kidding - if you were to so much as ask advice from a fellow student on a critical assignment you could be expelled. Cooperation, unless strictly supervised, was not allowed. The sort of informal peer review that goes on today was unheard of.

      Is it any wonder that those who got PhDs then no

      • I think it's time to get rid of the closed book tests and move to a group or by your self project so you don't have some who knows what they are doing but is bad at tests can fail and so you don't some one who has no idea but can cram for a test can pass.

        Also in real world you don't do busy work just to do but in college that leads to people buying essays (for papers in class that are not part of there major) just so they have the time to do some real class work.

  • when it actually isn't one, at all. you need to have a hardy maths head and logic to do any good in it, this was obvious about a century ago but now because everyone has to get to go to university to study what they want it's no longer so and it's increasingly sold as non-technical field, with soft values, caring and all that. like with doctors it used to be that they got to be doctors because they had high level of knowledge in chemistry and biology, good maths heads and good social skills, in other words

  • Although it has its problems, it's about as "generalist" as you can get. I get to program (for simulation, equipment control, and data analysis), do math, make electronics, layout parts in CAD, work in a machine shop, do nano-fabrication in a clean room, etc. Heck, I've done most of those things in the past week alone. I like that for the same reason I liked the project based engineering classes available as an undergrad. However, I'm guessing that many of the engineers who took those classes are now sittin

  • ... If they can't find work after finishing a PhD.

    A PhD project should be - at the least - based on funded research of a PI. It should also be vetted by a committee to ensure it is of adequate caliber for the degree. The results should be tracked and reviewed along the way, and presented in a relevant framework.

    If the student finishes and cannot place their work in a relevant context, or has work that has no relevant context, then the people who were supposed to have advised that student have failed.
  • by JamesP (688957) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:22AM (#35732016)

    1 - Started grad School (MSc)
    2 - Dropped out (or better, was 'invited' to drop out by my supervisor)
    3 - Never looked back

    This: http://xkcd.com/664/ [xkcd.com] doesn't exist

    In reality Academia will go: "this isn't in my research area so I don't care", "you didn't prove the linearity of the solution", "not enough citations in your paper"

    Corporate will go somewhere like the comic, but they may also be happy with you cause you solved a problem that was delaying the schedule,
    no one could solve or it had a bad impact on the product (happened to me, and it got me 'karma points'

    Academia: Too much work, not enough pay. And as the article mentions, it's problems and solutions that don't apply somewhere else (even though mine was in Wireless communication)

    Most of the people that kept going are earning less than me and/or at a previous stage at their careers.

    Granted, my supervisor was 'inexperienced' to say the least.

    Really, I'm glad I got a job instead of pursuing an academic career. Where I can work with what interests me,
    people can use your work, there's less sucking up, less BS and at least I get payed.

    Also this: http://www.phdcomics.com/ [phdcomics.com]

    • I guess it may be specific to computer science, which is not my field, and perhaps I'm just reading into it differently than intended, but I think you might have missed part of the point of the comic. The academic in the comic will take the result and turn it into papers and grad student theses - for other people, with the professor's name attached. The guy who wrote the original code may be credited but is incidental to the other people who will be involved. Too much work, not enough pay, is exactly right!

    • by bmacs27 (1314285)
      Is it true? Is it better out there? I'm right on the edge of walking. My manuscript has been "almost done" for two years.
  • by cinnamon colbert (732724) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:23AM (#35732036) Journal
    As it is currently practiced, biology science at the phd level is a ponzi scheme.
    Research is $, and mostly - almost entirely- paid for by the Fed Gov't either directly thru the NIH/NSF/DARPA, or indirectly via tax welfare for the wealthy (aka tax code, such as the koch brothers giving MIT 100 million for a cancer center.
    Most funding is via the "principal investigator" route: the funding agency identifies an *individual* who gets the money and is responsible for it; normally this is a faculty member at a university
    Biology is also labor intensive; experiments take a lot of hands on time.
    the way it works, professors have slave labor - graduate students, who , relative to their hours and training, are paid peanuts (they are also totally dependent on their professors letter of recomendation for a job)
    The carrot is that after you graduate, you get your own faculty position.
    anyone on /. should easily see this is an exponential growth type of situation: you start with x professors, they graduate y students/year, who in turn become professors.....like most exp growth situations, the crash comes suddenly.
    the clearest evidence of this is that every 20 years or so, the leading PhD nobel laureates go to congress and say, OMG, we have a crisis in funding: there are more PhDs then grant money. And congress, not wanting to see re elections ads with "voted against funding for cancer", obligingly ponies up more money. the last cycle was under clinton; the budget for the NIH, which is the bulk of funding, was doubled
    when this happens, all of the Universitys go out and build huge new research buildings, and hire lots of new profs, cause NIH funding is a profit center for the university (or at least the CEO of the university, since university presidents are now paid like ceos, their salary is tied to total university budgets, so simply to hike their own salary, a univ pres will get a huge new RnD building built to increase unive revenues by 100 MM a year....)
    call me cynical, but that is life
    for those of you who have some familiarity with the system, the postdoc was invented in the 60s, to deal with the 1st glut of phds, and it was for 2 years.... think about that
    • by sandytaru (1158959) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:37AM (#35732204) Journal
      The glut of new buildings on the local campus always bothers me. It's a boom and bust cycle. "We have money lets invest it in new facilities." Three years later, the state budget panics and strips funding for schools by 60 million. School cannot afford to operated, so hikes tuition. Suddenly, that 15 million new research facility is looked upon by the students with a great deal of resentment, and the school cannot actually afford any faculty members to put into it. Probably the most embarassing thing I've seen was at the UC Berkeley campus, in a 4 story math building. A sign on the elevator said, "Elevator repairs have been delayed due to budget restrictions." When one of the top research universities in the entire planet can't afford to fix an elevator, we've got serious problems with our priorities.
  • by Fractal Dice (696349) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:24AM (#35732040) Journal

    Biology is one of the few disciplines in which you can apply an existing procedure and earn an advanced degree. Pick a species, pick a fashionable question, apply that question to that species, gather your data, publish and graduate. I think that tends to insulate some of them from "the real world" a little longer than most fields.

    Also, the study of a discipline tends to be a walk through it's history. The core of biology is still observational and descriptive - statistical analysis and mathematical modeling only came along later, so it's a field where some students feel blindsided by a bit of a bait-and-switch. A student in biology is absorbing enormous quantities of factual data and context and then, fairly late in their education, there is a switch to a more mathematical framework.

    At least this was my qualitative analysis of biologists in the wild - I admit I didn't do any catch-and-release banding or a proper t-test on my hypothesis in the preparation of this post.

    Now if you want to talk about students not prepared to deal with the real world, biologists have nothing on mathematicians. Biologists are at least are encouraged to talk to each other. In mathematics you quickly learn that it is likely only five people in the world will understand your idea. Three of them will be borderline autistic and a fourth carries live grenades in his jacket.

  • "Which grads students are the most miserable?"

    That's easy. Unemployed ones.

  • by mhackarbie (593426) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @09:32AM (#35732136) Homepage Journal

    I got a PhD in biochemistry 7 years ago. I'm now back in IT working as a sysadmin. If I didn't have that previous computer experience, I would be doing day labor right now. I am not kidding.

  • The most miserable grad students are the ones who do their PhD expecting to learn 'generalized skills' to prepare them for industry jobs.
  • by errxn (108621) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @10:19AM (#35732714) Homepage Journal

    Oh, shit, wait...sorry, I read that as "Which Grad Students _Make Us_ the Most Miserable?"

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @10:46AM (#35733064)
    That's easy: the ones that aren't getting laid!

    So yes, the STEM students probably qualify for that honor.

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