All the reasons NOT to go to grad school

DrugMonkey is trying to fix the NIHand especially the way the money is allocated with lots of ideas, one of them being to stop training so many PhDs.

If you see this graph, it makes sense a lot of sense, because indeed biomedical PhDs are going through the roof it seems. But who are all those people that go to grad school and why do they do it? As my summer student said after hearing us complain all summer about how little we got paid and how hard it was to find jobs after a PhD/post-doc:”I’m not so sure I want to go to grad school anymore”. Because you can blame it on the NIH if you can’t find a job or get a grant, but you can also perhaps blame it on yourself. So here are a couple reasons why you should NOT go to grad school:
1. Not knowing what else to do. There are people who are done with undergrad, may have a year of technician experience and then don’t really know what to do with their lives. Grad school seems like an answer, because it will occupy you for at least another 5-infinite years. Don’t do it though. Because when you’re done with grad school, you will be older, more jealous of your friends who do earn actual money and still clueless about what to do next. Also, you will be overqualified for a lot of things.
2. There are no other jobs available because of the economy. This is kind of related to reason 1, and of course it is nice to know that you will be paid (albeit little) for the next 5-infinite years, but if your only reason to go to grad school is to keep you from being unemployed, don’t do it. Search longer for something you actually want, because being stuck in a lab when you don’t really want to be there is not going to make you happy, and again, you might be overqualified for other things when you’re done.
3. You want to do something sciency. This might be a good reason to go to grad school, but think about it first. Because if you want to be a science writer for example, you don’t need a PhD. And there are many other jobs, for example in industry where you don’t need a PhD to do sciency things.
What other bad reasons can you think of for going to grad school?


Filed under academia, graduate student, life in the lab, science

18 responses to “All the reasons NOT to go to grad school

  1. DON'T go to grad school because you love science, were clever at it, were told to go to grad school by professors, want to have your own lab, have good research experience and enjoy the academic lab work environment, can't go into debt for med school, and want a stable career.
    In other words- if you want a stable career, there are no combinations of other reasons solid enough to go to grad school.
    Also: screw being overqualified.

  2. Holy crap, I hadn't seen that graph before. I had no idea the uptick was that big in biomedical fields. That's just plain stupid.

    Other reasons to not go to grad school:

    4) It sounds hard, and you like to do hard things, compete with yourself/siblings/friends, etc.

  3. Amazing, I fit all three 🙂

    But I already went 😦

    Colleges should require seniors to write an essay on what they want to do with their lives before they graduate. Would help a lot of us confront the realness of reality a little bit sooner instead of just finding another bubble to become ensconced in.

  4. Anonymous

    5) Med school stopped being an option.

  5. Reasons not to go to grad school:
    a) Your friends/family will think of you as a failure if you don't. Flip side: It would make your family proud.
    b) You like your major, but you have no actual lab/research experience.
    c) You've never failed at anything in highschool/college, and therefore think you can handle grad school. All these people talking about it being hard? They must just not be as smart as you. This is actually my main piece of advice for anyone going to grad school. If you haven't learned to pick yourself up from failure, you need to learn it yesterday. If you can't, academia will be hell.

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  7. This “overqualified” thing just drives me crazy. In all managerial-level jobs in non-science-related industries PhD is a plus. You just need to pitch it in a way that it resembles MBA is much as possible, but for good jobs, jobs that pay, PhD is never a show-stopper, or something to be ashamed of. You just diversify you training when you are having it, and then – again – pitch it in a very flashy and super-conscious way, where each paper becomes a “project”, and every student becomes an “diverse international team”, or whatever.

  8. same kind of picture as in the UK – very bleak…

  9. So what is a GOOD reason to go to grad school?

  10. I think a good reason is if you want to do science for a couple of years. To use a cliche that may make you throw up a little: I think it's more about the journey than the destination.

  11. I agree. I once talked with a perspective student for my program who had the same 'alternative background' as me, and his focus was all on having the Ph.D. Like, how fast can I get it and what's the easiest way… Etc. He wasn't asking any questions about what research was like or even acting like he had any interest in science. I didn't think he stood a chance. He did not end up coming to the program.

  12. Silent Bob

    You should go to grad school if you are a starry-eyed idealist. You should go to grad school if a college campus is the only place you ever really felt comfortable. You should go to grad school if you love puzzles, and can't sleep until you figure them out. You should go to grad school if a history teacher ever impressed the hell out of you with his ability to stare out the window and appear to daydream while at the same time delivering an extemporaneous yet amazingly insightful lecture about the rise of Christianity during the Middle Ages. You should go to grad school for the same reason a novelist becomes a novelist, or a musician becomes a musician. You should go to grad school because you love it so much that, were you in any other job, you would still be reading and learning and doing research on the side, by yourself, on nights and weekends, because otherwise your life would feel incomplete. This isn't a trade, it is a calling. You know in your heart whether you should go to grad school.

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  14. Yes, this exactly. I would also say that you should only go to grad school if the idea of NOT going to grad school sounds like setting for second-best. And if the idea of failing at something for several years sounds like fun.

  15. Barbara

    That makes me smile. It seems to fit me. I decided in grade school to be a biologist. I kept doing other things and coming back to grad school, getting an MA a decade after my BA and a Ph.D. almost two decades after that. And I'm glad I did. Grad school was worthwhile in itself. As to the job . . . well, I still volunteer and teach as an adjunct and do consulting. And it's well worthwhile to me, too.

  16. Tracy Lightcap

    NB: The stable output of behavioral/social science Ph.D.s.

    I'm a political scientist by trade. Back in the '70s when the supply of college students began to moderate, the discipline, following the lead of some of the biggest research universities, simply cut the number of doctorates it was producing in half. The market didn't get unreal overnight; it's still hard to get a tenure track job and it's harder now then it was when I got mine. But it isn't impossible. There has also been a real effort to get people with advanced political science degrees into related non-academic employment, an effort that has been going on for some time.

    So what's the point? Only that controlling the number of doctorates issued by disciplines isn't rocket science or controlled from outer space. You see that too many doctorates are being produced and you stop producing so many of them. That takes recognizing that there's a collective action problem and getting people who can solve it to step up to the plate. That's hard, but it isn't impossible or anything.

  17. Well, I think I decided science-related was more important to me than managerial-level; though that may have been a lack of imagination on my part.

    As an aside- people who think they can manage teams and project plan *just* because they have a PhD are likely the bane of some poor worker's existence (not to say that there aren't people with real competencies developed in part during their PhD work, just that there are plenty of criminally incompetent PIs who couldn't run a concession stand).

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