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Walter_Opera
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 at 12:06pm
Tuesday, 17 September 2019 at 10:28pm
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Thread: Lab / group size

posted
17-Sep-19, 22:53
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posted about 3 weeks ago
This is an interesting question - and a difficult situation for you. A smallish lab may mean all sorts of things. The PI may simply value quality over quantity. I knew quite a few very good researchers who hand-picked students, collaborators and research topics in order to ensure high-quality research. They simply wanted to focus on the things they considered really worthwhile, and tried to excel at those, rather than chasing every latest research trend. On the other hand, many mediocre scientists practice empire building and try to expand their group at all cost. Of course, there are many other possible explanations as well.

The much bigger question is whether the group is actually as outstanding as it seems from the outside. Personally, I experienced huge disappointments twice after moving at great expense to seemingly leading research groups with world renowned PIs - only to find out after joining that these groups were basically run by impostors.

Unfortunately, some people are extremely gifted at charming, blackmailing and cheating their way onto authors' lists, grants, committees, etc., in some cases over decades. The best publication lists in the most renowned journals, constant presence at top conferences, etc., do not guarantee that even the most basic knowledge and competence are actually present in the research group. Unfortunately, in my experience this is almost impossible to tell from the outside because in particular such sub-par plagiarizers put a huge emphasis on presenting themselves in the best light when visited by other scientists.

In the end, the best you can do is do your research and then make a decision based on the best information you have available. Unfortunately, there is always the risk that you realize after a short while you ended up in the wrong place.

In any case, best of luck to you!

Thread: Examiners judging my research on the wrong elements?

posted
17-Sep-19, 22:33
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 3 weeks ago
Hi Azhan!

Where are you pursuing your Ph.D.? And did the background knowledge questions just spontaneously pop up during your presentation - or what do you mean when you say "afterward"?

I know there are some countries/universities where the rules actually require a theoretical oral exam on fundamentals of the field - in addition to the Ph.D. defense. The colleague with whom I shared an office during my Ph.D. actually had to do this because he switched fields between his Master's and Ph.D. (from physics to CS), while for myself the defense itself was sufficient (I stayed in CS).

Maybe there was some miscommunication concerning what the actual requirements are for you for completing the Ph.D.?

Thread: Any one worked in States for postdoc or other role?

posted
21-Jul-19, 13:12
edited about 27 seconds later
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posted about 3 months ago
While I haven't worked in the US per se, I was postdoc for close to 3 years in Canada, mostly under the supervision of American professors. In a word, my experience there was underwhelming, and I would definitely not repeat the decision. The culture shock for myself, going from being a postdoc in central Europe to the Canadian-American system, could hardly have been larger. Back home I was on the verge of becoming a PI, having already supervised several Master's students of my own and being responsible for an entire lab. Once I stepped off the plane there and talked to my American professor for the first time, it became clear that I had regressed to being a research assistant. I was lumped in with the "grad students", who were not treated much different from the undergrads. Instead of an office I was given a seat in the shared undergrad/grad student lab. I had no say whatsoever in the topics I was going to work on, despite the fact that I was 100% self-funded through a funding agency in my home country. So I spent two years working on non-sensical, failing topics unrelated to by PhD or research interests, which were unilaterally assigned to me. In short, in the North American system you are not taken seriously until you have "a real job", i.e., a professorship of some sort. "Postdoc" over there is essentially synonymous with "loser", and one should not stay in this phase for more than a few months, maybe 1 year max. I could talk about this at great lengths, so just a few highlight experiences: 1) At one point, I - as a self-funded visiting postdoctoral researcher - was ASSIGNED to work in a project HEADED by one of the local UNDERGRADS. That guy spent his whole day playing World-of-Warcraft, while I was doing to the coding for him. 2) I was expected - among other things - to catsit and help paint the house for my "supervisor". Etc. etc.

Thread: Dilemma Another Postdoc (after a bad experience in both postdoc and PhD) ? Industry ?

posted
02-Jan-19, 14:41
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 9 months ago
What are your career goals? Maybe you should define those first. "Love doing research" is not a career goal.

If you want to work in industry, another postdoc would certainly be most unhelpful. Frankly, it is probably already hard to find an employer in industry now after almost 10 years in academia.

If you want to become a professor, frankly, you are also sort of late after 9 years of doctoral/postdoctoral studies. TBH it is kind of late for you to be worrying about your lack of publications now. Your peers with whom you will compete for professorships now probably have their first research group leaderships, churn out papers monthly, accumulate acquired funding, are forging networks etc.

Doing another postdoc "just because" is a terrible, terrible idea. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.

If you want to become a professor, you should define that goal and pour all your energy into it - publish like crazy, apply for funding, attend conferences, forge relationships. Declare the goal expressly to your colleagues, family and friends. Only then will you be taken seriously.

Drifting into another postdoc position to keep working as a glorified research assistent is NOT the way to go.

Thread: Bypassing Masters and joining PhD in Germany and equivalent countries

posted
02-Jan-19, 14:05
edited about 19 seconds later
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posted about 9 months ago
Virtually impossible IMHO. I have never heard of anybody in Germany being admitted into a PhD without a Master's or equivalent. It's also generally not up to the professor or some committee, but enshrined in state level regulations (Kultusministerium).

Thread: Individual DFG Research funding

posted
10-Dec-18, 09:03
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posted about 10 months ago
I had a DFG postdoc fellowship. (This was, however, about 10 years ago.) Back then the expectation was that one had approx. a 50% chance of obtaining funding for an individual postdoc fellowship. As usual in academia, much of your success will be determined by your literary prowess. If you have a good story to tell in the application and your field is deemed somewhat worthy, you have a good chance of getting funded. At the end of the fellowship, you will be expected to write a final report summarizing your results. Once again, this is primarily a literary exercise - virtually any outome of a research effort can be presented as a useful result, unless all you did was burn down the lab. Of course, the final report will look a lot better if you can cite a few additional publications which were produced during your postdoc. At the end, you get a one-line letter telling you whether your project results were deemed "worthy of funding". Of course, your application and final report will be assessed by external reviewers, i.e., important professors in your field (and/or their grad students).

Evidently you are trying to become a professor (why else would one pursue a postdoc). In this context, there is a lot more that could be said about your approach here for obtaining funding. I can elaborate if you are interested.

Thread: My department purposefully delayed my viva and being so unprofessional. Should I report this?

posted
07-Dec-17, 22:48
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 2 years ago
Not sure where you get the "purposefully" from. Also, frankly, I am wondering a little why you didn't follow up yourself instead of simply assuming that everything worked as planned?

Thread: First day of PhD but found out my stipend is 1500 e/month instead of 2800 e/month.

posted
07-Dec-17, 22:29
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 2 years ago
Your post is somewhat confusing. I do not understand what you mean by a "fixed amount contract" instead of an "employment contract". Are the 1500 EUR before or after taxes and social insurance? Because if they pay you 1500 EUR net instead of 2800 EUR gross as a regular employment contract, this pretty much amounts to same thing in many European countries. Either way, the pay isn't that bad for pursuing a PhD. Also, you won a prestigious fellowship, which is a great start for an academic career. Maybe you shouldn't focus on the money so much.

Thread: False advertisment in a postdoc position post

posted
25-Nov-17, 17:43
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 2 years ago
Quote From TomJ:
Quote From Walter_Opera:
This is in fact fairly common in academia and not limited to new research groups. It happened to me twice, once during my PhD and at one of my postdoc positions, that promised funding turned out to be wildly exaggerated or non-existent.


I have the same impression from personal experience and the experience of friends, hence the 'paranoia'.
I think that University's leaderships do little to prevent it, and it is our responsibility (grad students and postdoc) to make sure this become less prevalent.

We are still experiencing the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession. But this should not serve as an excuse for Universities abusing their non-tenured employees (which is exactly what we observe in the last decade).


This has nothing to do with the 2008 recession. Nothing at all. You can go back 5,10,15,20 or 25 years (at least) - it was always the same discussion. I started my PhD in 2002, and was baited back then with imaginary funding which later magically evaporated. By a famous professor at an elite university with a long established research group of 35 scientists no less.

The truth is: Until you have a "real job" in academia, you are somebody's underling, plain and simple. The one chance you have of improving your situation at least marginally is to acquire your own funding (e.g., through a fellowship or industry funding). As long as you have to rely on other peoples' money, you will generally not be taken seriously, especially as a postdoc, who is expected to become more and more independent.

I guess the main insight here is that in academia, maybe even more than in other industries, it's all about money. If you have it and can employ others, you are an "important scientist". If you don't, you are an irrelevant lab slave who may be "accidentally" omitted from authors' lists. What your actual scientific contributions are, is irrelevant either way.

Thread: False advertisment in a postdoc position post

posted
24-Nov-17, 14:05
edited about 15 minutes later
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 2 years ago
This is in fact fairly common in academia and not limited to new research groups. It happened to me twice, once during my PhD and at one of my postdoc positions, that promised funding turned out to be wildly exaggerated or non-existent.

Thread: My Supervisor is a bullshitter whose career is based on hot air

posted
07-Nov-17, 10:57
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 2 years ago
Unfortunately, having worked in academia for 10 years at 4 different universities on 2 continents, I have to say that incompetent supervisors are a very, very common phenomenon. Frankly, it is the rule rather than the exception. It is important to understand that academic careers everywhere are built on 1.) networking,networking,networking, 2.) politics, 3.) acquiring funding, 4.) forcing one's way onto authors' lists by all means, 5.) overselling oneself, and at a very distant 6.) actual research and teaching.

In short, for every competent academic out there you will find at least one other who got to where they are based on hot air and taking credit for the work of others. I cannot count the number of times I witnessed even tenured professors who had to be constantly corrected by their own students in undergraduate lectures on the most basic subject-matter. For some "senior" scientists I worked with I genuinely wondered how they even managed to get a high school degree in the first place, including one tenured professor who constantly struggled to correctly spell simple words in their own native language.

Unfortunately, the correlation between having genuine original ideas and sound research methodology on the one hand and succeeding professionally in academia on the other hand is close to zero, and at many universities seemingly negative.

The problem is: If you change supervisors, how will you know your next one is not even worse? If they fooled their hiring committee and colleagues, will they not fool you? I switched research groups several times hunting the big names with great publication lists and reputations. However, when I arrived, I understood within weeks that there, too, it was all show and no substance at all. Frankly, it got worse the "higher up" I aimed. Ending with the guy who couldn't spell and didn't have the faintest idea about their alleged area of expertise, but who was so well-connected and powerful that he willfully destroyed my career in the end.

Thread: Do I need a Windows laptop for my Masters?

posted
05-Jul-17, 11:54
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 2 years ago
Why don't you ask your future advisors? They certainly have a better answer than we can give.

Thread: Maths in Germany

posted
02-Dec-15, 13:55
edited about 4 minutes later
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 4 years ago
Another remark that might be helpful for you: At least in the classical structure of German academia, a Masters degree and a Ph.D. are completely different. For a Masters (former "Diplom"), you essentially go to school and take courses and seminars, complemented by a relatively compact thesis period at the very end. As Ph.D. "student", you essentially work 100% and open-ended as independent researcher and teaching assistant, without receiving structured instruction or (sadly often) much meaningful supervision yourself. (Admittedly, this strict duality has been softened a little in recent years by the introduction of Anglo-American-style "graduate schools", but these are still a very small minority AFAIK.) As a matter of fact, Ph.D. "students" are not referred to as "Studenten" at all in German, but rather as "Doktoranden" and are rather considered to be university employees (and technically they usually are), as opposed to the "Studenten" up to Masters level.

Thread: Maths in Germany

posted
02-Dec-15, 13:25
edited about 12 minutes later
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 4 years ago
I am a little surprised you applied for a Ph.D., as you cannot generally pursue a Ph.D. in Germany without obtaining a Masters-level university degree first.

Technical University of Munich is one of the best universities in the STEM fields in Germany and has officially been designated a "University of Excellence". However, take into consideration that Munich has the highest cost of living of any city in Germany, and finding affordable accommodation can be almost impossible, in particular for students.

Other good universities in the south are Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, as well as Tübingen and Heidelberg. RWTH Aachen and TU Clausthal also have good reputations in STEM. Some of the universities in the east (Leipzig, Dresden, Weimar) are also really good and generally offer much lower costs of living.

As a general remark: At least within Germany, there really is no big difference in "reputation" between universities. Degrees from all public "Universitäten" are considered more or less equivalent. Only the Universities of Applied Science ("Fachhochschule", "Hochschule", "Technische Hochschule") are generally considered second class. The perception may be a little different abroad, of course. As a general rule of thumb, larger universities in larger cities and older "historic" universities are considered better. However, in my experience the variation between professors has a much greater impact on the learning experience than the "reputation" of the university as a whole.

If you want to specialize into one particular research topic, however, certain research groups at certain universities may be much more famous and helpful for your career than others. Obviously, you would have to pick a topic first...

Thread: Being a Mech Engg graduate, for my profile, can I try Germany or US for pursuing my Masters?

posted
12-Jun-14, 09:10
edited about 24 seconds later
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 5 years ago
I just couldn't help checking - the DAAD's search engine actually lists 237 (!) English-language Master programs in mechanical engineering in Germany. So you should have quite a choice :-)
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