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Should I graduate or stay to do more research?


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I have a bit of a personal dilemma that I'm not quite sure how to address.

I've been a grad student for two years now. I became a non thesis Masters so that I could graduate sooner and take more coursework that would prepare me for industry instead of academia. However, over the last few months, I've actually made some great progress with my research, and I'm not entirely sure how to proceed. After months of repetitive data analysis, I actually discovered something that has enough support and value that it could easily be published in a top-notch journal (Frontiers in Plant Science, to be exact) and there's lots of potential to make further notable discoveries. 

I switched from PhD to non thesis Masters because a) I personally don't feel that I am neither ambitious nor patient enough to make it all the way to a PhD, b) I want to leave town and relocate to a larger place (my grad school is in a VERY small town), and c) I'm ready to be done with school and find a job.

On one hand, the research I'm doing seems like it could have real implications for future research projects. While I will definitely get at least one solid paper published with my name, I almost feel like it is a waste to graduate when you're on the cusp of a meaningful discovery. Sure the lab could easily continue the work and let another student take on the project, but it doesn't change the fact that I could still potentially stick around and make further discoveries/publications. 

On the other hand, I REALLY would like to graduate, get a job, and try to start living at least a semi-ordinary life, again. It would be great to get a job where I could actually make some real money for a change. 

Basically, I'd like to be done with grad school, enter the workforce, and stop living as an impoverished grad student, but part of me feels that I'm passing up a great opportunity to make some meaningful scientific discoveries. If I wanted to, I could postpone my graduation for a later date (I'd like to graduate this December) and continue to research in the same lab, so it's definitely an option if I chose to stay. Still, it would mean living in a small town while making very little money, which are two things I'd really like to avoid.

Does anyone have any feedback on what I should do? I'm not sure what is the best choice for me, considering that I'm not planning to go into academia.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can offer me some feedback.

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How much more time would you need to invest in order to make these potentially meaningful discoveries? Is it something that could happen by delaying your graduation for a semester or is it something that would take years? If it's the former, I'd go ahead and stay since you seem to like this research. If it's the latter (years away from a major breakthrough), then I'd continue on with your previous plan of graduating and finding a job. But that's just me.

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My opinion is the same as rising_star's. If you can truly finish this with one extra semester, then do so. But remember it's really easy for researchers to think they are close to a result but after more analysis, it turns out even more work is needed. I often think I am 80% of the way finished only to realise that the remaining "20%" will take as much time as I have already put into a project. 

I am guessing the option to graduate and then stay with the lab as a paid researcher is not available? If you haven't asked your advisor about this, you should do so. They might be able to pay you at least the same as your grad stipend, if not more, since they no longer have to pay for your tuition. I know a few students who transition out of academic work by staying with the lab as part-time workers (getting a higher hourly rate but fewer hours = same stipend / cost to the PI) while they search for jobs and/or tie up personal loose ends before moving on (e.g. a partner who needs more time to graduate or finish their contract or whatever). 

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If it were me, unless there is a clear timeline that's short enough, I'd graduate and move on. Even with a clear timeline, things can often take longer than you expect when it comes to publications. Since you're certain that you want to get a job and move away, it doesn't make a lot of sense to stay for this potential publication, unless it's really at an advanced stage and you can see the end of the project (or at least, a point where a paper can be written up). It might be a shame, but once you're out of graduate school and have moved on, this won't matter anymore. 

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First of all, thanks to everyone who's replied. This is some great feedback.

Secondly, I'm actually not sure how far I could take it, or how long it would take. I work with annual fruits, so testing with future samples would definitely take some time! I don't believe by any measure that my work is going to win any awards, but let's just say that I've found something that connects some dots that nobody else found yet. Best case scenario, sticking around for one more semester would allow me to potentially write and publish one more paper, but that would be about it. Also, since I know I'll get at least one good paper under my belt by graduating this fall, and since I don't plan to go into academia (or teaching in academia, at the very least), I can't imagine that having one more published paper will contribute to my career (I plan to go more into the business/consulting/management direction) that heavily. 

I guess it's just that I'm a non thesis major who's ready to join the real world, but at the same time has found something worthy of a thesis, so I'm not sure if there's a right or wrong choice for what I should do.

Once again, thanks in advance to any feedback!

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To be blunt - do you care? If so, how much?

If you don't care, it kind of doesn't matter whether you are 2 months or 2 years away from a breakthrough. If grinding it out is going to feel like a slog and is keeping you from what you really want to do...why do it?

On the other hand, if you are truly passionate about this discovery and think the world needs to find out about it - and you are so interested that you are seriously contemplating putting graduation and work on hold to finish it up - then do you owe it to yourself to finish it?

There might be a middle ground. If the discovery you have made is enough in and of itself to publish a paper, is it possible for you to graduate and then write the paper up from wherever your new city and job is? (This may mean writing the paper in your spare time, but if you are really that passionate about it then maybe that is okay to you.) Another alternative is finding someone else in the lab to write it up as first author, but making yourself available as a consultant or analyst and getting second authorship on the paper.

Whether you think are likely to want to re-enter science and academia is another consideration...if you consider your decision to discontinue your PhD as more of a temporary break than a permanent solution, you may want to consider more heavily finishing the paper, since papers are important in science and academia. If you are relatively sure you don't want an academic career you may not want to bother.


When I finished my PhD and moved to an industry position, there was a paper I was second author on that we still hadn't published. I agreed to work on it, thinking that it only had a few more months to get finished and published. That paper took a whole dang year and a half to get out the door and published - it got rejected from two journals before we finally got an R&R at the third and then we had to do the R&R. I deeply resented the evenings I spent re-doing analyses and re-writing parts of the paper.

I much preferred the approach I took with the other work that I had in-progress that was actually kind of close to publication when I left my postdoc. There was a new postdoc coming in behind me who had similar interests. I spent most of my six week notice period weeks prepping the data for publication and leaving extensive notes for her, with the intention that she should be able to pick up the work and (with some work of her own) turn it into a paper if she so desired (and I genuinely did not care whether or not she listed me as an author on the paper).

But that's because I hate writing scientific journal articles, so YMMV.

Edited by juilletmercredi
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