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applying to grad school while friends have found jobs


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I have my heart set on applying to graduate schools. However, many of my friends have accepts job offers for after graduation, and while I'm happy for them, I can't help but feel envious that they will be making 70k+ for an entry level job (+a potential for an equal amount in bonuses). It's hard for me to grasp the fact that someone just out of college could make this amount (my friends are going into technology and finance), which I probably would not even have a chance to make decades down the line when I'm established as a professor.

 

I know that people don't go into academia for the money, and I am passionate about what I plan to study. But surely I'm not the only one out there who has had these thoughts? Thinking about this is making me somewhat depressed. Could anyone share their thoughts, and perhaps how they've come to terms with this?

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I understand how you feel. I think the current system is really broken when you compare how much graduate students are paid with their skill and experience level. Many US schools don't even treat graduate students as employees -- at least in Canada, we are considered workers and have the same rights and can contribute to retirement savings plans etc.

 

Unfortunately (in my opinion), the prevailing attitude amongst both the current profs and many current students, is that if we want to devote our lives to research, we have to be willing to suffer through these crappy conditions. As much as I can, I work to get better conditions for myself and my fellow students. Many students (who then become faculty) feel like grad school is super awesome because you're basically getting paid to go to school (a nice change from undergrad where you have to pay a lot of tuition!) plus you get great experience. However, I always try to remind people that there is a huge opportunity cost for us and that is my main justification for why I think we should have better working conditions (higher stipends and more benefits) to make up for this fact.

 

For me personally, my main concern about money is whether I have enough to live the lifestyle I want (i.e. not just the bare minimum to survive, but to be able to be comfortable and have financial security for the future), without worrying about money (either now or for the future). So, this factored into my grad school decision -- I definitely rejected some offers solely because the stipend offer was extremely low. Even at my current school, where the stipend is decent for grad school standards, I would not consider myself having financial security if my spouse was not providing a second income. In my ideal world, graduate students should earn about 40k to 50k per year.

 

For the future, while I plan to stay in academia where possible, I am only going to apply to and accept post-doc positions that will pay me a salary that will allow me to have the life I want. I am estimating that I would need somewhere around 60k/year at that stage of my life. There aren't very many postdoc positions like this outside of fellowship positions, so it will be pretty hard. If I can't get this, the promise I've made to myself and my family is that I'll find a job elsewhere, in our hometown, that will provide the financial security. Having a PhD can help achieve this and I'm planning on doing things that will give me the experience to be employable outside of academia. So, I think I feel better about investing many years and money into a PhD because I think I have "a way out" if academia doesn't go well. I am happy because I feel secure that the PhD will improve my future job satisfaction and financial security.

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Perhaps go out into industry and work for a couple of years before returning to do a PhD? That way you can i. Save some money, learn (new) professional skills, gain practical experience ii. Get a better idea what it is you want out of life. If the thought of a low income for the rest of your life makes you "somewhat depressed"...perhaps the inconvenient truth is that you should pursue a well-paying non-academic career instead.

 

I can relate to what you're describing. Most of my friends decided to go into degree-level jobs after they graduated, I did a couple of research internships and applied to PhD programs. I was (and still am) envious of their financial stability. 

 

However, a large salary doesn't always bring happiness & fulfilment. I know several of my friends are struggling through their work training programs, not 100% satisfied with the jobs or questioning if they really chose the right career. The most miserably unhappy person I know of is working in finance. What I love about academia is that fact that I can use my brainpower on a daily basis to learn lots of new things and solve a variety of problems - to me that will always trump a well-paid but mindless job. 

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What I love about academia is that fact that I can use my brainpower on a daily basis to learn lots of new things and solve a variety of problems - to me that will always trump a well-paid but mindless job. 

 

That's how I feel too, as long as it's enough salary to not have to worry about my future or making ends meet :) My main career goal is to work in a job where I can use my knowledge and skills to solve problems (whether it's research or for a corporation or whatever), instead of just using (mindless) labour. So, academia is one path that would satisfy my goal, but it's not the only way! But I guess if I have to choose between mindless labour or not being able to give my family the life we want, then I'd choose mindless labour.

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I can relate. I have thought about this too. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you view it) when I think about other people in these professions I don't get very far into my internal discourse. I have never been strong in the sciences and have no interest in  law or business. I have a tough time studying and working on projects I'm not interested in so pursing my interests was the only way to go.

 

Have you seriously taken a moment to consider what it would be like if you had chosen to follow the path of one of your friends? Apart from the salary....Think about what it would be really like to pursue a degree in any of those fields and work in the field for the next 30-40 years... What would that look like on a daily basis? Your friends aren't so enviable now, are they?

 

(Note: I'm not knocking down anyone in the other professions; it's all about finding your passion and what you're interested in doing). 

 

We live in a capitalist society and getting compensated differently for our contribution to society is just a reality we can't get around. While I've thought that people who grow up loving medicine or law and end up becoming doctors or lawyers are lucky, I also think I'm lucky that I discovered what I enjoy doing and have the opportunity to pursue my chosen path. A lot of people never get that opportunity and some can only dream about the opportunities we have to attend grad school and become reseachers, professors and the like.

 

I have my heart set on applying to graduate schools. However, many of my friends have accepts job offers for after graduation, and while I'm happy for them, I can't help but feel envious that they will be making 70k+ for an entry level job (+a potential for an equal amount in bonuses). It's hard for me to grasp the fact that someone just out of college could make this amount (my friends are going into technology and finance), which I probably would not even have a chance to make decades down the line when I'm established as a professor.

 

I know that people don't go into academia for the money, and I am passionate about what I plan to study. But surely I'm not the only one out there who has had these thoughts? Thinking about this is making me somewhat depressed. Could anyone share their thoughts, and perhaps how they've come to terms with this?

Edited by jenste
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I have my heart set on applying to graduate schools. However, many of my friends have accepts job offers for after graduation, and while I'm happy for them, I can't help but feel envious that they will be making 70k+ for an entry level job (+a potential for an equal amount in bonuses). It's hard for me to grasp the fact that someone just out of college could make this amount (my friends are going into technology and finance), which I probably would not even have a chance to make decades down the line when I'm established as a professor.

 

I know that people don't go into academia for the money, and I am passionate about what I plan to study. But surely I'm not the only one out there who has had these thoughts? Thinking about this is making me somewhat depressed. Could anyone share their thoughts, and perhaps how they've come to terms with this?

My thoughts:

1- what is it you are depressed about exactly? that someone who did the same amount of work you did is making more money? as is life.

 

2- it's not all or nothing. this is not a life sentence. i'm not giving up the rest of my life because i go to school! you can change your mind now or later. you can change your mind afterwards.

 

3- there is going to be a committment for some period of time. the main question is- can you achieve the things you want without going to grad school? for me, simply, to do the work i believe i want to do, graduate school is the logical path right now. and im applying right now- have no idea if i'll even be accepted. but really that's all it came down to - is grad school the path for what I want to do in my career?

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I think there are some generalizations being made about life outside academia, and no one should be going to grad school smugly satisfied that they're escaping some cradle-to-grave careerist drudgery. 

 

If you want a secure career and being able to provide for your family, then you should weigh that against your degree, I'm a dreamer as much as anyone, but no one should end up as one of those poor PhDs earning nothing as an adjunct faculty somewhere. It seems like OP is mostly concerned with his current status relative to his peer group, but I'd wager that over time your degree will help you in ways you can't quantify at the moment. 

 

I agree with Takeruk that PhD students should be better compensated for the work they do, i.e. earn at least enough to put away a little for retirement, and it seems like some people stay in the poorly compensated post-doc limbo too long. At the same time, having no debt is nice, I mean compare with a student taking on $50k a year at a lowly-ranked law school (eeek!). 

 

At the moment I'm talking to any PhD I can find while applying to schools, trying to collate and distill all of their collective hindsight. So far this is what I've learned:

 

1. (from PhD guy running massively successful healthcare startup): during grad school try to develop yourself outside of your niche, (ex. management skills, technical, interpersonal, etc). It's difficult but by balancing this you can prepare for a move out of academia should your plans change. Along with this you should try to network throughout your degree, so you have something you can build on following graduation.

 

2. Don't work for a bastard PI: One of my chemistry professors did his PhD at Caltech, and he said there was one prof who refused to write LORs for any of his students for top 20 schools, in order to stop them competing with him for grants!

 

Anyone have any others?

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I can relate with the feeling. However, I get a bit of a sick satisfaction knowing that those friends earning 70K/year after a business degree absolutely hated every waking minute of their undergrad. And now it appears that they hate their cushy jobs, too. At the very least, I can say with honesty that I greatly enjoyed my undergrad and continue to enjoy my graduate schooling.

 

Of course, it goes without saying that I'm still holding out for a juicy scholarship to come my way...

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Logic should guide your graduate-school choice. Like Caffeinated said, is it right for you?

 

Now, if you can make money and "shoot for the stars" while doing what you "love" and are "passionate about," then why not try your hand at a good job and then just stock up your bookshelves with all the essential texts you would've read in your graduate program and self study?

 

You don't have to go through a graduate program to research and publish. :)

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it's not about where you are and what you're doing now, but about those things 5+ years from now. Grad school is an investment of your time and opportunity costs as a stepping stone to what you really want to do. People are motivated by different things and in various proportions, be it money, fulfillment, legacy, whatever. And while this can change with time, i think grad school is the opportunity (as well as a test) to explore its career potentials and get a true grasp on what you really want.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Honestly, I can't relate to this at all. I am so secure in knowing where I want to be in the future and what I want from life and feel so comfortable with the fact that I have backup skill sets and don't have too much pride to scrub toilets if I have to to pay the bills, PhD or not. Most people I know had no clue what to do after college, but I had known for years. Goals are so so so important to me that even though I was giving up a life of "cushy" desk jobs and use of a skill set I have developed-- business management, I haven't doubted it for a second. I know it can be hard when you see people able to do things financially you can't, but if you have good friends, they'll be understanding and make activities financially inclusive for everyone. Besides, employees are more disposable than ever before; I doubt any of them has true job security, and unless they are fiscally responsible, they may have no money in the bank for a rainy day. Just something to think about. Besides, you make friends in graduate school and they understand your limited time, energy, and funds-- you will be okay =). Once you get there, if this is really what you want in life, you'll feel so thrilled with the opportunity you have to be there, you'll be laughing as you get to research something you love and about half of your friends are miserable in their jobs.

ALSO, most importantly, when you look at people's social media pages and all, you are seeing their highlight real, not the full picture. Don't ever compare your day to day with their highlight real.

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