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Adelaide9216

Did anyone tried to discourage you from pursuing a PhD?

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I went to writing retreat this weekend with strangers, but mostly PhD students from different backgrounds and universities. When I said that I wanted to pursue a PhD, one of them was kinda paternalistic to me, saying that it's hard to do a PhD, that only a few people end up becoming a professor, etc...and all that stuff. I could sense that she was discouraged about her own situation (and probably thought that I am naive to be wanting to do this). I kinda cut her off and said that I know all of that, I have been told these things many times by again other PhD students who don't really know me and I have read articles about the current state of the job market for PhD graduates. But I still want to try to pursue a PhD. I am not being naive. I am making a choice to go forward DESPITE the job market because I am confident that I can find a job outside of academia if I don't find one within academia. I'm really open to other possibilities. There's nothing that hinders me from trying at this point. I told her that I don't want to condemn myself before having even tried. I like doing research, I feel like I have a good ability to tolerate pressure as I have proven already many times in my life and if it turns out that a PhD is not for me, I can stop. I ended up in grad school by accident, but mostly out of passion. I am not one of those people who wanted to do a PhD as a kid or even as an undergrad. I decided to continue in research because I genuinely enjoy it and could see myself in that field, it fits with my personality and my lifestyle. But if in 5 years, I don't like it anymore, nothing can hinder me from stopping, I am only 26, nothing can stop me from changing my mind. Yes, I would like to teach, but I am open to doing something else (non academic job) if that doesn't happen. 

I have never been the type of person who lets herself be discouraged by others (especially strangers). Sometimes, when I get that speech about the job market for PhD students, people come back, worried, asking me "Did I discourage you from pursuing a PhD?" and every time my answer is "no". Of course, not. There's a lot of things that I would have never accomplished if I kept listening to people trying to instill their own discouragement into me. Nobody is going to tell me what I am able (or not able) to do, especially complete strangers who don't know how I work under pressure. My supervisor thinks I can do it and I trust her, she's been working with me for the last 5 years. I give a lot more credit to her opinion on my ability to complete a PhD than strangers.

/rant

 

 

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THIS

yes I know it's hard. But I do feel I'd have great opportunities OUTSIDE academia as well. It also really depends on your field (psych with quant skills goes a long way these days tbh). Plus, I wouldn't mind working in academics in a different country necessarily - and having a degree from an American top school is by no means gonna harm in that pursuit..

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You are severely discounting the real reason why people discourage others from getting PhDs. They know that you are aware of the job market, and that you are willing to look past that for reasons of intellectual fulfillment. I went through the exact same phase. However, what you are discounting is that academia is a culture, steeped in its own jargon and way of life, and once you spent 5+ years in it, you become really constricted mentally and physically, thanks to an environment that has only cultured and trained you into becoming an academic. It is much harder to shake this feeling off than you think; the idea that you can do other things outside of the academy becomes blurred. It really has nothing to do with the facts; it is about how people end up feeling. I, too, resisted this feeling for many years but it got to me. I attend arguably the biggest-name university in the world, and I do not expect that I will be able to continue this lifestyle, which is heart-breaking. I, too, thought I could break away. But it has proven to be hard. For a humanities PhD, I have quant and coding skills too, as my secondary specialization is digital humanities. Can I think of ways to phase out of the academy? The career services people can. But me? No, because it's a lot harder than I thought--and I, myself, am the limit. In short, I am addicted to academia...

I'm not discouraging you from doing academia. My professors told me not to, but I did it anyway because I thought I knew better. Do it, but just remember that you, too, might get addicted.

Edited by frenchphd

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6 hours ago, Adelaide9216 said:

There's a lot of things that I would have never accomplished if I kept listening to people trying to instill their own discouragement into me. Nobody is going to tell me what I am able (or not able) to do, especially complete strangers who don't know how I work under pressure. My supervisor thinks I can do it and I trust her, she's been working with me for the last 5 years. I give a lot more credit to her opinion on my ability to complete a PhD than strangers.

That's basically what you need to tell yourself whenever someone discourages you. I can see you have considered very carefully that you want to do a PhD. You have also found a great supervisor. By all means, follow your heart and go ahead! As you identified, that PhD student was likely just letting out her frustration of not seeing a future in academia. 

I had a similar version of story. I have been warned by supervisors, fellow colleagues etc. that if I don't exactly know what I want to do after PhD and plan ahead, then I am screwed for sure, because it is difficult to find a good lab even if I am after a postdoc. I did worry about my future, as I have seen PhD students in my department struggling to find a job after graduation, even if they decided to leave academia. In the end, I decided to just finish off my dissertation and see. After all, there is no point worrying about life after PhD if I don't get my PhD in the first place! I still attended career seminars etc., but my focus was to get my PhD done. Then, a few weeks before I submitted, I learnt that one of my supervisors got funding for a cutting-edge project that I am interested in. I approached him and that's how I got my current postdoc position. Obviously, I could not plan in advance that my supervisor would get funding. 

I am still not 100% sure whether I will stay in academia, but I reckon this job will equip me with skills that are transferable outside academia. Sometimes, you need to take one step at a time and see where you should go next. You can't always plan everything ahead. 

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YES!

Currently, I'm just waiting for interview invitations from the places I applied to. So I did it, I applied to doctoral programs despite people in general being discouraging and not understanding why I want a PhD.

For context, I recently finished my undergraduate program in biomedical engineering in a top university in Colombia. The academic culture here is VERY different from that of the US (I can compare the two because I've been involved in academic life in both places). In Colombia, most people stop at undergraduate level education (if they get any). If they choose to go further, most of them do "specializations", which are 6-12 months programs that are valid only in Colombia. Others, however, go for a masters degree, which is very costly and of course time-consuming. I guess many of the same worries some people in academia have in the US can be seen in Colombia as well at this level: "Will I get a job if I have only professional titles instead of experience?", "Will I be overqualified?", "When will I start making money if I keep investing even what I don't have in more education?", "Will there be a job market for me?", and the list goes on. All of this is just for the masters level! Now imagine you want to pursue a PhD. If you want to do this in Colombia, then you're probably gonna have to pay a lot of money (yes, most doctoral positions in Colombia are not paid, you are the one who pays and it's not cheap). On top of that, the job market really is discouraging, you will likely be overqualified and end up having to leave the country. Besides, in Colombia, people use to think that you cannot get a PhD without a masters degree (I know professors here who don't accept PhD students unless they have a masters degree), which makes the academia lifepath even more expensive and time-consuming than I personally think it needs to be. All of this being said, just imagine the look on the faces of people when I was just finishing my undergraduate program and told them that I was applying to doctoral programs in the US. "But you don't have a masters degree", "Are you ready to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life?", "Isn't that too expensive?", "What if you get in and then you don't like it?", "Are you sure you're qualified for that?", and the list goes on...

I had a very close friend who seemed to really enjoy going against my desire of pursuing a PhD and doing so just after finishing my undergraduate degree. This friend used to say that doing a masters first was better because that would give you more experience and increase your chances of being accepted into a PhD program. This friend also used to say that it was pointless applying to top-level doctoral programs because we're just recent undergrads from a third-world country and we just don't have the set of skills or the mindset to get into any of those miserably competitive programs. Another thing this friend used to talk about a lot was how expensive just applying was: GRE is over $200, TOEFL is also over $200, then you have to ask for transcripts which are around $70, then sending everything is a lot of money as well, and on top of that you have to pay the application fees; this friend also used to say that if you get an interview it's better if you personally go there, which means international airplane tickets and, of course, a Visa if you don't already have one. I won't deny that it is indeed very expensive applying to graduate school abroad as an international student. But that was honestly my problem, not my friend's, and not anyone else's.

Sadly, friends were not the only ones that seemed to try to discourage me (I like to think that people did this unconsciously). One time, my parents told me that they were not happy with my decision of applying to more than 1 doctoral program. They didn't understand why I was applying to places that were not the University of Kentucky, my "safe" place, where I did a 1-year internship. Fortunately, I worked as a tutor and my city's Town Hall funded me...and I also got help from an amazing American friend who blindly believed in me, so my parents didn't have to spend a cent on my applications. Money can really be a straitjacket, or better yet the lack of it. Thankfully, I managed.

Not everything was discouragement though! People whose opinions I really cared about encouraged me to apply to doctoral programs ASAP! This includes my research advisors in the US and in Colombia, I'm talking about PI's, postdocs, professors or group leaders. Logically, I chose to listen to them, which is partly the reason why I ended up applying.

As for the pointlessness of applying to top-level doctoral programs, I think that was pure BS (sorry). I decided to apply to the Mayo Clinic's PhD Program. I recently got an email inviting me to interview weekend in February. Yes, I am personally traveling to the US for all interviews, thanks to my city's Town Hall who also chose to believe in me instead of being like "No way, PhD's are too expensive and not for you".

I'm sure I'll struggle with some things, but so what, I'm choosing a PhD not because it's easy. Graduate school is where I wanna be and nothing's gonna stop me. I think discouragement only encouraged me even more

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I am 29 and started applying for PhD. By the time I finished, I'll be 36-37. I got married 2 years ago, and my parents are anxious about me settling down and having family with children.. What's sad is that I explicitly mentioned I didn't want any kids, but I think in the end I will but will need some time for school / career before setttling down.

This is a compromise I came up with them, I told them I will have kids just need time, instead of I do not want kids. Sometimes they express some disagreement when I told them if I get into PhD it'll be another 5-6 years. They kept asking, what about your husband? Did you ask him? Did he say yes? Why didn't you talk to him? ETC.

Many people in my family are very anxious about me getting kids (cause I'm the first one who got married in the family, both Mom and Dad side). And they are pressuring my parents, which in turn to me.. I don't like this, but lucky me, I am 10000 miles away from them so I don't have to listen to them everyday :P 

 

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My father in law has questioned my entire return to school on multiple occasions. I've been trying to finish undergrad since 2008 while working, supporting my husband through his graduate career, and raising a small child. Now I've been able to commit to my studies full-time and pursuing my dream of Clinical Psychology PhD. My father in law does not comprehend why, since I was making a fairly decent income in my past career without having any degree (albeit in a different field). 

I also have about 90% of the professors and graduate students telling me how it is next to impossible to get into a PhD program, especially straight out of undergrad. 

Still, I've worked hard to be (and stay) on this path I am on because I love it. Yes, it is hard, but I feel more fulfilled. To me, it is worth the effort to do it. 

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Not actively, although some of my family members feel that given the awful academic job market I should opt for law school instead of history programs.  It doesn't bother me since it comes from a place of love and they support me, they're just worried that I'll burn 5+ years in a program only to really struggle to find employment.

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19 minutes ago, fortsibut said:

Not actively, although some of my family members feel that given the awful academic job market I should opt for law school instead of history programs.  It doesn't bother me since it comes from a place of love and they support me, they're just worried that I'll burn 5+ years in a program only to really struggle to find employment.

Given the state of the legal job market, you may be better off in a history PhD program. 

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Yes. 10000 times yes. first my parents tried to talk me out of a career that required a PhD, now they're pushing me to jump straight from undergrad into grad school. I had to find my voice quickly and really stick to my guns and what I want out of life.

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One of my professors actually tried to. He was also my faculty advisor for my senior design project. Every time my teammates and I went into a meeting to update him on the project, he would ask what our future plans were. I would say that I am taking a gap year to apply to PhD programs. He always shook his head at this, saying I should go into industry. He especially didn't like the fact that I wanted to do my PhD program in biomedical engineering. He said too many people were getting PhDs, especially in that field. He said that I would get a bigger salary in the long run if I went to industry. He would ask us every time, I would say the same thing every time, and he would TRY to discourage me every time. It obviously didn't work because here I am getting worked up about getting into grad school. I honestly care less about the money. As long as I am getting compensated fairly in my future job, then I will be happy. I didn't become an engineer to be rich. I want to do research that will hopefully benefit people. I also want to challenge myself and get the gratification of successfully getting a PhD. Dr. also is a nice sounding prefix, but that's not really why I want to do it. I think it's sad when someone you look up to, like a professor, tries to get you out of doing something you want to do. Maybe they think what they are doing is for the best, but I don't think becoming rich is better than doing what I want. I am lucky that no else has discouraged me and I also fortunate to have a close family members that are academics. I am super thankful for their encouragement, because as made obvious by this thread, people don't get the support they need when it comes to pursuing higher education.

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Yeah, when I told my mom I got into my PhD program, she responded, "How much is THAT going to cost?!" as though it were a terrible life choice. When I told her they were paying me to go, she still wasn't satisfied. She says she just wants me to be happy, but she thinks happiness means married with children. I expected that since no one in my family went to college, no one would really understand a PhD, but I didn't expect them to be so actively against it. But I'm proud of myself, and happy with my choices! :)

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On 12/16/2018 at 10:04 PM, frenchphd said:

You are severely discounting the real reason why people discourage others from getting PhDs. They know that you are aware of the job market, and that you are willing to look past that for reasons of intellectual fulfillment. I went through the exact same phase. However, what you are discounting is that academia is a culture, steeped in its own jargon and way of life, and once you spent 5+ years in it, you become really constricted mentally and physically, thanks to an environment that has only cultured and trained you into becoming an academic. It is much harder to shake this feeling off than you think; the idea that you can do other things outside of the academy becomes blurred. It really has nothing to do with the facts; it is about how people end up feeling.

I want to re-emphasize this. Let's set aside for a moment family or others who don't know anything about academia for a second, and focus on advanced graduate students or people with PhDs trying to discourage people coming in or thinking about PhD programs. I feel like some people are characterizing this as malicious or clueless strangers trying to steal your dreams and framing this as some kind of rah-rah "believe in yourself!" overcoming of obstacles, but IMO, that's not what this is.

I received my PhD 4.5 years ago (hard to believe I will be 5 years post-PhD this year!). I currently work in an industry job that I would not have gotten without my PhD - not in the same way, at least. And I still spend some time actively or indirectly discouraging people from going to get a PhD. It has nothing to do with these people's work ethic or whether I think they're able to do it, or anything like that. In fact, I have gently discouraged people who I know could do a PhD no problem, who wouldn't have any issues getting through the work. (To be fair, I don't usually give advice unsolicited - but since I work in an environment in which I am one of a few who has a PhD across my company, I get asked this question a lot.)

First of all, while many students come in knowing about the job market, some don't. Some people's professors have told them the old canard about the wave of retirements coming soon (you know, the one they've been spinning since the 1990s), or whatever else. Some of the people trying to warn you may have been in this bucket, and they are only trying to be kind and pass on information they wish they had when they were new.

Second of all, many students haven't thought about a Plan B if they don't go into academia, and I want any person who's asking me to think about it before entering the program because the academic market is so terrible. I want them to realize that the chances of them becoming a professor are pretty slim and think about what they want to do after. Furthermore, I want them to realize that a lot of successful academics are also exiting the academy for Reasons. The issues of a tight job market don't end once you secure the first tenure-track job; some people are stuck teaching in small towns or other areas they don't want to be in; some people get stuck with toxic departments; some people have always planned to "write their way out" but find it increasingly difficult in this atmosphere. I know I have a perceptual bias: since I am an ex-academic with a PhD, academics who want to leave contact me all the time (sometimes, out of the blue) to ask about how they can do the same thing. So I don't know what the real percentage of academics looking to leave is, but it's definitely not zero.

Thirdly, and most importantly, what frenchphd said is true. I went into my own doctoral program not even wanting an academic career at all. Through six years of a PhD and a year of postdoctoral fellowship, I started to question what I thought I wanted because of the subtle (and not so subtle) cultural and social pressures of going through an academic PhD program. Professors tend to frame their work - overtly or more subtly - as the only work really worth doing, or the superior choice. They tend to infuse their efforts at career guidance with the same feelings. Few professors are fully informed on the options that you might have outside of academia, so they are of little help there. (I launched my non-academic career search by my lonesome, and when I did secure my job - I am a UX researcher at a large technology company - I had to explain to my postdoc supervisor AND my doctoral PIs what it was. They had never even heard of the field or knew it existed, and it's populated primarily by ex-academic psychologists.)

The other thing here is that so much time, opportunity cost, and potentially money could be saved by someone who knows they want to work outside the academy, or for whom the chances are good that they will, by not going to a PhD program. I am 3.5 years into my career, and I have done really well pretty fast for someone at my stage; I recently got promoted to management at work. That said, I often wonder where I'd be if I had invested the 7 years I spent PhD + postdoc working instead - not just financially and career-wise, but mentally. I don't regret the years I spent getting my PhD - I learned some valuable skills and tools, met some lifelong friends, got married, and produced a large project I am proud of. But when people ask me if I would do it all over again, knowing what I know now...I don't know the answer to that question. Usually, I lean towards no.

So yeah, usually the discouragement has nothing to do with how you work under pressure or what you're capable of, and it's not trying to squash your dreams. I want people who go into doctoral programs to go in with their eyes open. I always end my spiels with saying if you can go to a PhD program knowing that you likely will never be a professor; that if you are in the infinitesimally small group of people who do get a professorship, it'll likely be at a teaching college with a 3/3 load or more; that your non-academic job search, should you undertake it, will largely be powered by you with little outside support - and yet you are still so passionate about your field and research that you want to do it anyway and can be satisfied simply by the process of studying an area you deeply love for 5-7 years - then yeah, a PhD is for you!

Supervisors aren't necessarily the most reliable sources of advice, either. Yes, they know you, and they know your ability to complete the PhD. But most of them have survivor's bias, and also many of them haven't had to look for a job in years, sometimes decades. They only know how difficult the market is second-hand, and frankly they are not really evaluated by whether or not they get their students jobs - they are evaluated far more on how much research they get done, and they need graduate students to accomplish that.

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