Thinking about doing a PhD? You think you are really smart? Think that getting a PhD will help your career? Think again.

To PhD students; you are not smarter than those that didn’t get a job in academia

Often PhD students are disillusioned about their own abilities and ignore the writing on the wall until it is too late. Yes, you are not that special, and you are not smarter than those endless numbers of postdocs and PhD holders that didn’t get a permanent job in academia. Yet you cling to hope until you are hopeless.

The harsh reality of today’s academia is that demand outnumbers supply by 10 to 1. For example, only 1 faculty position is created per 10 new PhD students in the US according to recent statistics. Add to that the new drive of universities to hire “junk”, sorry I mean adjunct positions; all temporary with little job security.

It is a very weird world where the brightest of the students are slaving for 4 to 8 years to advance the career of their supervisor who is by the way well cushioned, and really would use more slaves. In return your name appears on  few publications, but your worth to industry is not so much. A poor life choice is not well regarded, and many industries want well skilled people, not PhDs that are well trained at being critics.

To blatantly say it; If you think you can do better than the other students and PhDs who regretted it then by all means go ahead but you have no one to blame but yourself. Hope doesn’t change the bleak job prospects.


Readers reporting a PhD scam program: ECE SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY

Here we try to expose the PhD scam through our commentary and PhD users contributions and stories. We also like to report on some “clearly SCAM” PhD programs that are brought to our attention by our readers. One of our readers commented on one of the article with this:

“ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY , CARBONDALE. Stay from ECE PhD program at SIU Carbondale. It is a scam to hire cheap labor for 6/7 years from countries that are in economic trouble such as Iran, Bangladesh, Iraq etc. At present Phd drop out rate is over 95%. There is no information about present or graduated PhD students on their website. First 3/4 years professors behave nicely and after 4 years they start abusing students verbally. Finally they force to leave the program by cutting off minimum funding. Very soon a group of PhD students are planning to sue the department and fortunately they have audio recording of few professors who often abuse students.

PhD reader story: Unemployed and divorced

I wish this site had existed when I went to do PhD in the early 2000s.

I’m 40 years old now with a PhD and a 3 postdoc in life sciences + publications in high impact factor journals. Guess where I’m at:


This year my wife left me because she was tired of seeing me out of work every two years. Not a fault of her at all. Like most women, she desired a normal middle class life and a family. And i wasn’t able to give that to her.

All because I gave a damn about science and research in the name of *passion*.
All because I didn’t consider the economics and market demand of PhD.

Heck, nobody ever told me about this. I thought a PhD and postdoc from top labs/schools and the publications will get me a decent career — the one I’d enjoy doing for the rest of my life. Half way through my PhD, I realized my tenure-track dreams were close to zero. I tried to escape the system so many times and move to industry. However, after getting PhD, no company ever wanted me. Sending 200 applications to those pharma/biotech companies resulted in zero replies.

To pay my bills, I’d reluctantly accepted a postdoc further confirming my slavery to academia. When the funding ran out, I was given a pink slip (surprise!). De javu. I only had two choices: either get another postdoc or stay unemployed because corporate world doesn’t want me. After sometime, I was ineligible for postdoc jobs too. Apparently your PhD has a shelf life of 5 years after which most labs/universities restrict you to apply for postdocs.

So I spent 7 years for a degree that’s worth only 5 years!

Epic scam.

Little did I realize I’ll have to struggle in my mid-thirties and now early forties to get a decent job.

Here’s the truth most PhDs ever realize: the real world doesn’t care about your PhD, your publications or your *passion* to do research.

The whole academia system is one giant ponzi scheme that takes advantage of your feelings and emotions. Don’t listen to them — the university, the professors or *experts*, who have hardly ever worked outside academia.

I was desperate to find jobs in industry and somehow got hold of the CEO of a mid-sized pharmaceutical firm for an interview. I didn’t get the job because he couldn’t see where to fit me in his organization. Take for example, as he ran through the choices:

“- I can’t put you in sales or marketing because you’ve never sold a product
I- I can’t give you a manufacturing or production role since they require different expertise such as GMP, GLP, etc unrelated to yours
– I can’t assign you a role in quality control/regulatory since you’re not aware of the compliance and regulatory issues related to the pharmaceutical industry
– We like so many pharma companies are into generics and there is no R&D arm; so I’m not sure where to have you within us”

None of this was done in a condescending way. It’s the reality.

And then I understood this:

Really world values different set of skills (life skills) over academic smartness.

You may think I’m disgruntled. However, most of my PhD classmates ended up the same as me. They’re in the postdoc treadmill for years and hoping the grants don’t run out. Most of them are one step away from losing their contracts. Yet, they don’t have a choice.

You can argue that not just the PhD, but even regular college degree has no value — the grass is greener syndrome.

Nope. For regular degree, you’re fresh out of college and you’re in prime — in early 20s. It’s easy for the companies to take you under their wing and mold into what they want. The industry training/internships exist for that reason.

No company would ever want to train an early-mid-30s-just graduated person (the average age of PhDs from a graduating class). My undergrad friends that decided NOT to enter graduate school are settled now — family, cars, 2 bedroom apartment in the suburbs and other assets. And here I’m close to broke, separated and unemployed — a total loser.

If I’d had to say to my younger self and to others thinking of graduate school, it is this: Don’t think academia is telling you the truth. Don’t get into PhD even if win a scholarship. Research the hell out what you’re getting into. No Harvard. MIT or other Ivy won’t count. I know many of my friends who spent their lives around Harvard/Kendall Square in their graduate school years thinking they’re safe. They’re still there, as postdocs!

A 4 year degree in a subject that the market demands is quite enough (engineering, computers, accounting) and you learn the world skills through apprenticeships, industry training or internships.

So what’s next for me. Not sure! I’m tired of being tired. I’m swallowing my pride and thinking of applying to nearest Starbucks or McDonald’s. At least they’ll pay me a minimum wage higher than a postdoc!

PhD, common questions, easy answer

These are some of the queries that appear with Google search.  The answers are obvious, yet unbelievable to aspiring PhDs. PhDs like to think a lot, for 0 money, strange habit.

why doing a phd is often a waste of time

Always a waste

phd waste of time and money

Yes, 6 years of voluntary slavery and abuse from old fossil professors

phds are arrogant

PhDs suffer after the degree. Jokes on them

grad school is a waste of time

Yes, big time


For the billionth time, NO

most in demand phd degrees

Hahaha haha hahaha

value of a phd degree

Negative 6 years and negative 1 million dollars

100 reasons not to go to grad school

You can write 100000000 reasons. Simply put, no money, zero career, depression, you burn for nothing. Nobody gives a damn.

Reader story: Top School PhD, still bad karma

I want to first thank PhD Scam for getting the word out so that tragedies like mine can be avoided.  I myself am getting out of academia this year.  I have been planning for months.  A bit about myself.  I have a PhD from a top school.  I have a steady stream of publications in top-tier journals like nature, etc, until last year.  I have gone through a few interviews and even gotten an offer last year for a tenure-track position, which I turned down.

What kind of idiot would turn down a tenure-track offer?  Whether or not I am an idiot, I will let the readers judge.  The offer was for $43000/year with a three course per semester teaching load in a university located in a fairly high cost of living region of US.  This translates to 12 hours lecturing per week plus maybe 10-20 hours per week of office hour plus 10-20 hours of prepping and grading per week (assuming I actually have the time to prep), plus approximately 10-20 hours of “faculty services”, not to mention time needed for research and mentoring students (assuming I care), say another 10-20 hours.  Anyway, we are looking at upward of 50-80 hours per week.  40 hours if I do the absolute minimum.  Remember also that summer breaks is really meant for you to catch up with your research and writing grants.  For conservative estimate, let us just assume that I only work 60 hours a week on average.  There are about 50 weeks a year (if one exclude the holidays) so that means if I had taken the post I will be earning $43000/50==$860 per week or 14.33 dollars per hour.  I am sure the astute readers would have recognized that this is less than the $15 minimum wage that fast-food worker are asking for in recent news.  Regardless, the custodian cleaning my office in my current university earns $15 per hour + benefits.  I chuckled at the offer and pointed out that I will be making less than the guy cleaning my toilet so it must be a joke.  Obviously, the other side did not find it so funny.

It turns out my “discovery/calculation” is not new.  It really is true that one can earn more doing non-teaching non-research university jobs with comparable if not better job security (and prospect) to that of a tenured professor, see Peter Lawrence’s paper in the 2009 PLOS Biology.  It maybe less mentally engaging but with the accumulated pay leaves and the peace of mind that comes with a secure job, I can surely accomplish a lot more as a university staff doing science as a hobby.

Not believing this revelation, I asked the payroll lady in my department if there are any science/research positions available at my university with more security than a postdoc.  She was very sympathetic because she had talked to others like me.  She quickly explained to me the concept of soft-money and hard-money and told me the simple answer is no, there is no secure scientist job because there is no hard-money for it.  One thing she said I would never forget.  She said that she cannot understand why ultra-smart people spend years to obtain PhD so that they can get jobs with far lower pay and way less security than hers.  Guess what I cannot fathom it either.  I am furthermore shocked that I am getting punished for spending my best years doing good science and aiming to be a good educator.  I feel like an idiot, like I have been in a cult all these years.

Even if I am okay getting less pay than the guy cleaning my office and with the potential of getting fired years later because of failed tenure.  I still have a dependent spouse and a kid to worry about — Day care costs and unexpected further tragedy can easily cost an arm and a leg.  In fact, I am living paycheck to paycheck and I worked 70+ hours a week because of publish or perish mentality, not anymore though since I am quitting.  My advice to the uninitiated is to avoid doing PhD unless you have no life and have no plan for one ever.  If you do want to live to your golden years and have a family, the good news is that you can now join the university bureaucracy because that is where the future jobs really lie.

Think of the number of people needed to maintain MOOC, setting the prices and deals, protect the copy-rights etc.  Imagine how can we possibly educate the next generation without people inventing multiple standardized tests and administering them.  God forbid, how about compliance.  How can we possibly know what rules to invent and what rules are followed and efficiency achieved without people telling us these rules and many more to measure the efficacy over and over and over again.  And how can we possibly know that good research is being done without a huge propaganda machine to say that it is.  The best part is that you do not need a PhD with years of training to do most of these jobs.

Happy New Year, and Amen


Reader story: Survivor of the PhD scam

Yes, I have a useless PhD in history from a western land grant university in the US, about a third rated school. It took me six years to do – but I achieved the PhD debacle. Since getting my degree in 2010, I have not been able to find any academic job, nor any stable job whatsoever. I have had to work low level, low paying retail jobs, part-time crap jobs, for only 10$ per hour!  Yes, I was working with younger, high school diploma dudes – myself being the only idiot with a PhD! You just have to swallow your pride in the end. And this will be the general theme of my letter to you.

I was going to cut and paste a long letter that I had wrote some years ago on the blog, ‘100 reasons not to go to Graduate School.’ But after being out of the Doctoral-PhD-Amerikan Graduate School Cult – for over five years now, I think I have a better perspective on things.

During my last year of doctoral studies, the same year I had to do the oral defense of my dissertation, and receiving ‘the paper,’ I was not getting any hits on jobs. Again, I was in the Humanities, and History is one of the worst offenders. It was also 2010 and the overall US economy was going into free fall. I had a straight 4.0 average, but I was coming out of a third-rate university in the American west. As you know, pedigree counts for everything. Any Harvard dude with a PhD in history is at least guaranteed some job offers – regardless of his qualifications. I was not so lucky.

After defending my dissertation, and then later, receiving the toilet scroll diploma, I was now a PhD – but with no future job prospects at all. I was super angry. I always had past struggles with anger-anxiety issues – but now they came back with a vengeance – and I was living inside of an inferno, well within a mental maelstrom of rage and fury. Thank goodness that I was living alone at the time.

I was also close to a really cool college bar in my area, so I would just spend every night at the local bar drinking alone, and during the day, I would use the university library, since I still had my university library account after graduating. I was also lucky in that I didn’t owe any money. I had a teaching assistant scholarship during my entire doctoral career. Actually, my teaching assistant crap job was the longest job that I have ever had in my life, six years – inclusive of my time in the US military!

A partying extravaganza at Burning Man later in the year softened my hard fury and outrage of having been betrayed by my own history department. After the Burning Man Festival, I decided to drive to California, put my stuff in storage in San Diego, just travel to Latin America for a year, and I would look for work over there. I decided to stay in Mexico City and Puebla as a base, and I didn’t really look hard for work. I did party a lot and just did my own things for a year. This helped too, and it was fun, but I also experienced an armed robbery in Tijuana, and living in Mexico, exposed me to some real nasty sights. But it was a good trip. The anger and betrayal was still eating inside of me however.

I returned to the States a year later, and decided to relocate to a small town in southern Colorado. I thought that the small town in the west would be a better way out. I accepted the fact that I had no usable skills whatsoever after getting a PhD degree, so I had to swallow my pride again. I decided to start a new career – welding.

After getting my PhD in 2010, I actually took two welding courses because I had a feeling that my supposed historian career was never going to happen. I took a summer sculpture class at my crap university, and then took a welding for gunsmiths course at an NRA school in this small Colorado town – where I was to relocate after living in Mexico for over a year.

That academic year, I started my welding course, and man, was it a shock. I was in a junior college class with mostly younger guys, from rural Colorado, just out of high school. Even though I looked and felt young, I was the old man there, and it made me feel weird. Also, the younger guys looked at me like some freak – a PhD in history bum getting a welding certificate at a local junior college? Even the welding instructor looked at me funny. Was I really a doctor, well, a useless doctor?

I later got on with the welding instructor, and we even went shooting together out in the mountains. In order to get a discount on the welding classes, I decided to teach a course there as a part timer. It was pathetic International Relations Course of only six students. My pay as an adjunk bum was 1000$ for four months of work! The guy working the burger board at Carl’s Jr. was getting more money than me!

After doing some welding courses, I tried to get into some type of welder helper position in the region. No one would hire me. I only had one interview. Again, the PhD thing made me look like a weirdo. I realized that many Americans, and rightfully so, don’t respect people who spend six years getting a completely useless degree. Also, employers can see that us PhD deviants are quite different from the common herd. We don’t take sales promotions and employee loyalty scams seriously. We are just too jaded and intellectual for that stuff – few owners are going to take a chance on a doctor historian who really knows how capitalism works.

I soon fell into the bad job, part-time, no pay world. I started writing freelance articles for the local rag paper. I only got 35$ per article. The editor had me doing sports stories, but I had to take orders from the full-time reporter: a twenty-something fat kid just out of a bachelors degree from a third rate college in Texas. When I asked for a full-time reporter position, the business manager of the paper blew me off. She gave the full-time reporter job to a foreign student on one of those foreign visa scams. For the next few years, I had to go begging for work. The only reason that I did not end up homeless was due to family money. My father died soon and he left me some money in his will. Since getting my PhD, tragedy kept befalling me.

All this time, my anger never abated. Time does heal the pain. But when I ever thought about my time getting my PhD, receiving my PhD, and the betrayal of my department that refused to give me the truth about the terrible awaiting job market – and what most stirred me up – the fact that I would never work in academia for the rest of my life – I reverted to the hostility. I wasn’t until four years after getting my PhD that the resentment subsided.

The final answer, which I discovered, is that all former doctoral victims and PhD recipients of the Amerikan graduate school cult, must detox and deprogram their minds from that terrible Amerikan pyramid scheme scam. First, one has to accept that one fell for the scam.

I was scammed, and most PhD recipients get scammed. We were scammed into believing that so many years of doctoral studies and then receiving a PhD would make good prospects. Quite the contrary really – getting a PhD will destroy one’s employment future. I was scammed and that is that.

Next, comes the real hard part. The deprogramming and detox is intense. We were also part of a bizarre cult of cowardly and institutionalized professors, parasitical administrators and bewildered students. Some of the worst sufferers were our fellow graduate students.

While we performed our doctoral scam, we changed our vocabulary to use academic speak, and our writing changed too. We had to self-censor ourselves, become politically correct and watch our backs: sexual harassment codes, non-oppression work environments, etc. Paranoia ruled the hallways, and yet our work never ended. We also had to work terribly long hours, often leaving the library late at night, or spending whole nights inside the graduate office-dungeon.

Unlike other crap jobs, the work never ended. Teaching assignments finished at the end of semesters – but not our reading lists, sitting in three hour, boring course seminars, then studying for exams, the Exams, the Prospectus, chapter drafts of our dissertation, and then the Defense.

Now graduate students are even expected to attend conferences, present papers – and even publish in obscure journals that nobody reads. Finally, we had to endure departmental petty politics, peculiar adviser attitudes, the terrible competition for scarce departmental funds between other weird grad students with whom we had to share small offices, and watching in horror the ABD zombies that taught part-time adjunk classes, never getting their PhDs, or those ABD doctoral phantoms that still hung around the library – but could never finish their dissertations – all on ‘the long term program.’ The common meanness and pettiness between graduate students was super nasty. We were definitely in a cult environment.

The worst part about this graduate schools cult was that it warped our minds. The worst vice of all was the pride and arrogance of the graduate student. We believe that we are special, yet weird. We know the truth – and we especially know how to do research and write – at least we think so. This vice is hard to kill, but when I was working crap jobs again, like I had before getting the PhD – I had to let the pride go for my mental sanity. The other vice that we pick up, usually from the tenured professor gang – is cowardice. We learn to bow our heads to any administrator whim or to whatever our adviser wants and needs. We project our anger while grading the pathetic undergrads’ work.

The other vices were envy and jealousy – and especially against those who did find the coveted academic job after the PhD, or those that got lots of good scholarship money to travel to their ‘doctoral research destination.’The bastards who won the Fulbrights were especially hated.

As this cult and scam mutilates the mind, it also takes a terrible toll on our bodies. Due to grad assistant low pay and the never ending work hours, we are on campus a lot, like all day and all night, We become scroungers and scavengers for any and all free food deals. We know every free pizza get together on campus – even if it is on the sports complex side of campus. Besides the grad student socials, if it is an undergrad club, we attend them anyway for the free bagels, burgers and junk food. We’ll even try sneaking into the undergrad dormitory cafeterias in order to wolf down some OK pizza.

Many of us, and especially in some departments, like history, get into a binge drinking manias. My alcohol intake reached heavy proportions. We were even known as the history drunks. At one time, we even had a tequila bottle in the smelly, small refrigerator in the grad student office-dungeon. I gained weight and often had crazy bowel-toilet movements – all due to this eating when and whatever available – and whiskey, gin, tequila and beer deluge. Luckily, during my doctoral studies, I still did regular yoga workouts and in the end, began to attend the university gym.

Yes, it took me four full years to fully detox and deprogram myself from that wicked scam. Whether I get any future academic job, or whatever good job – I don’t really care. I am now cool following the Dhamma and digging on tranquility. I accept the horrible fact of getting hooked into the graduate school swindle. Sometimes one loses in life. I also learned the truth about the US military through my four years in that bad institution. Life is like this, we lose a lot, and once a while – we triumph. I learned to act a man and deal with it. But there is one thing I will not allow. If some person asks about doing graduate school or a PhD, I will dissuade him or her completely and will tell the truth like I am doing in this letter. Once one knows the Truth, then one cannot compromise with Evil.

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