Escape from the ivory tower?

posted
29-May-15, 03:15
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for shimmer28
posted about 5 years ago
Hi everyone,

I am a PhD student in computational chemistry. I am going to start my 5th year soon. I probably would graduate next year sometime. But I don't know what's next after the Ph.D.?

I've seen many talented and hard-working postdocs get stuck in post-doc positions. They shift from one postdoc to another. They move from one state to another. They publish good papers, but they can't land on an idea position (i.e. tenure track profess).I can't help wondering I am not as smart as they are, can I find a position a few years later? What if I can not find a academic job after 10 years.

Second, I feel like this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. I work on projects, I publish papers, I do what a phd should do, but I have this feeling that this is NOT what I want to do for the rest of my life. I feel like I don't have strong motivation inside. I saw my advisors working extremely hard to write proposals to get fundings. They don't even have time to do the real research, which they are really interested in. This is not the life I want.

So, I start thinking finding a job outside of academia. But I don't know what I can do. I've spent 7 years in graduate school (3 years M.S + 4 years Ph.D.) and I have none experience working for a company.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. I created a survey about this topic. If you are interested, here is the link
You also can comment on this thread.

Thanks!
posted
29-May-15, 13:11
edited a moment later
by Tarina
Avatar for Tarina
posted about 5 years ago
I've just completed your survey - I found your questions useful in answering some of my own unspoken thoughts.

It's interesting that you are now struggling with the questions I was struggling with two years ago: should I stay in academia, despite having difficulties finding a decent academic job, or should I enter the corporate sector. I chose the latter for financial reasons.

I'm currently writing an ebook on my experiences as a PhD candidate working full-time in the 'real world'. You can check it out at www.survivingyourphd.strikingly.com .

Good look with the decision-making process!
posted
29-May-15, 16:54
edited about 2 minutes later
Avatar for KimWipes
posted about 5 years ago
You are not alone. I am also towards the end of my second postdoc and I am not sure which direction I should take next. Getting a tenure track position is ideal but rarely comes true. My university has recently hired a new assistant professor and he also has 3-4 years of postdocs after his PhD. When I asked how he got the job, he said he'd applied over 100 positions and finally this came along. That's insane to me. On the other hand, I am not sure if going back to "real world" is always a good solution as now we have tasted the forbidden fruit, it is just much more difficult to be happy with a daily dose of goddamn oatmeal for breakfast everyday. I know some of my former PhD friends who ended up working for industry and they are extremely bored with the work. One of the lucky ones who is currently doing an industrial R&D for a big Pharma company did some excellent postdocs at big name university on top research topics. He jokingly sums up his new industrial R&D job as improving adsorption of a bum rash cream on babies dippers (apparently he is not lying and that's what he really does for the research). The rest of my former PhD student friends that gone to industry are simply developing MS excel spreadsheets!
posted
29-May-15, 21:04
Avatar for shimmer28
posted about 5 years ago
Tarina, your website looks awesome!!! I hope more people can see your website and read your ebook.
Thanks for participating my survey!

I just want to see how many phds are out there struggling. I want to help myself and of course other phds. But I just don't know how...Your website is a really good example though.

Also, I realized that it takes a lot of courage to leave comfortable zone. To be honest, I don't think many people have this courage. They may just stay where they are, even though they don't really like what they are doing.




Quote From Tarina:
I've just completed your survey - I found your questions useful in answering some of my own unspoken thoughts.

It's interesting that you are now struggling with the questions I was struggling with two years ago: should I stay in academia, despite having difficulties finding a decent academic job, or should I enter the corporate sector. I chose the latter for financial reasons.

I'm currently writing an ebook on my experiences as a PhD candidate working full-time in the 'real world'. You can check it out at www.survivingyourphd.strikingly.com .

Good look with the decision-making process!
posted
29-May-15, 21:13
edited a moment later
Avatar for shimmer28
posted about 5 years ago
Thanks for your reply.
After reading your post, I realized that industry is not heaven. There are also things we don't like and things we have to worry about.
I guess it really depends on personal choice. If I am more happy staying in academia, I probably should stay. If I am not, I probably should think about leaving.

For my case, I just know that I probably would be an OKAY scientist. But I won't be a GREAT scientist. If I am no better than my competitors, I don't think I can find a job in this field.


Quote From KimWipes:
You are not alone. I am also towards the end of my second postdoc and I am not sure which direction I should take next. Getting a tenure track position is ideal but rarely comes true. My university has recently hired a new assistant professor and he also has 3-4 years of postdocs after his PhD. When I asked how he got the job, he said he'd applied over 100 positions and finally this came along. That's insane to me. On the other hand, I am not sure if going back to "real world" is always a good solution as now we have tasted the forbidden fruit, it is just much more difficult to be happy with a daily dose of goddamn oatmeal for breakfast everyday. I know some of my former PhD friends who ended up working for industry and they are extremely bored with the work. One of the lucky ones who is currently doing an industrial R&D for a big Pharma company did some excellent postdocs at big name university on top research topics. He jokingly sums up his new industrial R&D job as improving adsorption of a bum rash cream on babies dippers (apparently he is not lying and that's what he really does for the research). The rest of my former PhD student friends that gone to industry are simply developing MS excel spreadsheets!
posted
29-May-15, 23:36
by Eds
Avatar for Eds
posted about 5 years ago
There are no /great/ scientists; just those on TV, or not.
posted
30-May-15, 10:36
edited about 2 minutes later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 5 years ago
Quote From KimWipes:
You are not alone.....



I think it is wrong that people always describe it as a simple choice. As if you would just decide to get a job in industry and then it is done. I can only talk about the life science section but here it is at the moment as hard to get a R&D position, as it is hard to get an assistant professorship. There is simply no difference. I am working at a company at the moment and the few senior researchers (of which some led their own groups before or still do) are telling me exactly the same.

There are tons of jobs in industry that can easily give you the challenge that a permanent academia position would give you but these jobs go to the best 5% of post docs. Majority of people who join a company and work in industry are not working field related anymore. Maybe we mean exactly the same but it sounds like industry cannot provide interesting jobs, which is not true in my opinion. When you work in a job where you develop MS excel sheets you are just not working in a science position at that company. A lot of people have to do that because of a lack of opportunities. By just thinking a moment I already remember five Post Docs who searched over a year (hundreds of applications as well) for a stupid sales position (selling kits and laboratory devices), where a bachelor would have been more than sufficient. But why take a bachelor if there are over 2500 biology post docs enter the market every year in a country like Germany ?

I think you can consider yourself lucky to get some job nowadays. It is not that you just bite the bullet and work in industry.

The longer you've been in the ivory tower, the harder it gets to escape, especially if you have no industry internships or things that make stand out of the crowd. Let's be honest, every competitor holds a PhD and many did one or two Post Docs. If you don't have an outstanding publication record (if so, you would probably not necessarily leave academia) you will have a hard time to explain why you're ivory tower research experience is beneficial for industry research teams. People often talk about soft skills and how working as a scientist taught them tons of other useful skills, but if every post doc has useful soft skills, noone has ;)
posted
01-Jun-15, 00:31
Avatar for catalinbond
posted about 5 years ago
I'm also coming to the middle of my second post-doc and wondering where on earth I'm going career wise. I like doing research, but it seems the higher you go the less research you actually do! (indeed my boss spends 80% of his time applying for grants!) Boss is keen to put a grant in with me named on it, but I know chances of sucess are slim. I've considered a few non-academic options but don't think there are many industry options for my field (Psychology). Sometimes I regret doing a PhD at all. Sometimes I think it will all be fine and something will come up... just not sure what that something is right now....
posted
01-Jun-15, 18:06
edited about 3 minutes later
Avatar for KimWipes
posted about 5 years ago
@Dunham and catalinbond
Reading your last post seems that none of us can find an answer to the dilemma. But no worries :) Your train of thoughts passes through the same stations as mine.
One day I think of I should just quit the postdoc thing and find myself a "real" job , next day I am excited about my research being cited and say to myself, I will make it to the top of the ivory tower if I hang out few more years and if I can publish more. Sometimes I think I should have left the university with a bachelor degree many years ago! and at the most I could have got a professional masters like an MBA (1 to 2 years) but the next day, I see MBA type people fooling themselves of "the masterty thing" where in fact they are more of admins and they constantly complain about stress of their career, then I am glad I did my PhD... It is a confusing world living in an ivory tower :)

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