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Thinking about doing a PhD? You think you are really smart? Think that getting a PhD will help your career? Think again. Getting a job is much better than 6+ years PhD

Reader opinion: My Glittering Research Career

I obtained my PhD almost 15 years ago and, my gosh, all that hard work has certainly paid off!

This past month, for example, I’ve been involved in a fascinating project researching chemical removal of stubborn deposits from kitchenware. All in all, I’ve investigated thousands of pans, pots, trays, plates, knives and assorted utensils, together with a range of surfactants. As I haven’t yet been able to obtain funding for this vital research, I’ve had to conduct it clandestinely, in the guise of temporary kitchen porter / pan scrubber. (Clever, eh!)

Last year, my interest in psychology was augmented by intensive field research into consumer responses to door-to-door sales pitching. This study involved the elicitation, collation and analysis of many thousands of doorstep verbalisations, including such responses as: “Bugger off”, “Piss off”, “Go away, or I’ll call the police”, “Get off my property” and “No, I don’t want any bloody double glazing!” I’m currently writing up this work for publication in The International Journal of Postdoctoral Bollocks.

Before that, a short-term project at the local mail sorting office enabled me to investigate the relative effectiveness of strong coffee versus high-caffeine energy drinks as a strategy for staying awake during mind-numbing, eight-hour night shifts. (Unfortunately, this work had to be aborted, as the researcher dozed off before completing any of the experiments.)

These examples offer a snapshot of the important research I’ve been doing lately. Thank goodness for my PhD! How could I ever have forged such a varied and rewarding career without it?

James T.

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Reader opinions: PhD/postdoc Intellect in over-cherished Nobel Prize culture

Postdoc – a highly educated slave ( Part I )

Who wants to become a postdoc? An oxymoronic description of the postdoc title makes you think twice what domain of the education actually makes one to become a slave or if the education in general is a bad idea. Above all, what is a postdoc?

 

A postdoc can mean the job title, a person educational level or a particular career stage in one’s scientific endeavor. Postdoc is a short form for postdoctoral scholars who (1) have completed 5 or 6 years long research training in one lab that earns them a glorious three letters, Ph.D and (2) who are currently pursuing another research training in another lab in the name of ‘further training’.

 

A 5 or 6 year long endeavor in doing repetitive tasks to discover something new and mandatory publication earns you a glorious prefix in your name, Dr. and yet using Dr., in social setting is pretentious and no one appreciates your in-depth knowledge of how silicon and silver makes a better bonding, maintains the heat capacity and offers a significant thermal expansion or your true discovery of a protein that is involved in a particular step in secretory vesicle trafficking in cells.

 

If one is truly enamored with the research, one can expect a true recognition of their work as they spend hours after hours, burning midnight oils, and physical and mental labor. But if I tell you that ultimate credits for all the work and research, you have invested so much in the hope that yours would be truly appreciated, will end up in someone’s else name in the end, would you be better prepared for this reality or would you still enjoy the research?

 

Imagine, now it’s your turn that you are a freshly minted ‘Assistant Professor’, managing the lab and junior scientists such as graduates and postdoc alike, all the credits will go under your name and the ultimate award such as Nobel Prize if ever given one, will go to you, while you are sitting your ass all day long and every little glitch and experimental, technical problems are daily managed by those lab rats, would you wonder if the system itself becomes somewhat of a joke or you become another one entangled in the system and supporting the system after all?

 

Now I want to emphasize that if you become a principal investigator one day and deservedly showered with multiple awards for managerial prowess, publications wizards, I for at least would not bat an eye on your award.

 

However the very nature of the Nobel Prize and truly positive connotation it carries describes the nature of the award, i.e., you discovered something extraordinary or invented something marvelous. Nobel Prize is not for your management of the lab, or smooching with those upper echelons in academia in a cloak of “I’ll scratch yours and you scratch mine” social achievement. This prize is intended for a true discoverer, not a managerial award. Scientists salivates Nobel Prize but the essence of the prize and nature of the science has immensely diverged over many decades with a glut of many undergraduates, graduates and postdoc alike squeezing at the bottom of the ivory tower, pushing even higher you up in the tower where you compete against your peers with the publication number game.

 

Name me any PI in STEM fields who received that glorious Nobel Prize after 1990s, actually worked their ass for the very project that led them to where they are now. Name me one. Nobel Prize is a gambling after all. If you pick one project and stick to it with many graduates and postdocs over the year, publish tons of papers on the topic, you’ll get to see a silver lining at the end of the tunnel because all the hard work, technical skills, knowledge by graduate students, and inter-disciplinary knowledge carried by postdocs make your seed project work in the first place. It’s not about your brilliant idea that earns you the Nobel Prize. It’s the hard work all put by the graduate, postdoc slaves and you take the credit for a ‘true discoverer’ in the end?

 

The reason I said I wouldn’t bat an eye if you won the Managerial Award for discovering something new after working 30 years in the lab is because you’re just basically managing the lab.

 

Now you might ask “If I’m so smart, why don’t I take up the project and make me win a Nobel Prize then?”

 

Here’s a few projects that I can throw in the air that will earn me a Nobel Prize if I ever given a chance at the Top University with tons of graduate and postdoc slaves.

 

1. Stem Cells regeneration to fully functional heart

2. Curing the most debilitating cancers with some drugs, any cancers will do

3. Return the cancer cells into normal cells by getting rid of chromosome numbers

 

They all seem grandiose and definitely will earn me a Nobel Prize if I initiate those projects. But remember it’s ‘easier said than done’. Those who are making those grandiose projects possible in the first place are graduates and postdocs alike. The very bottleneck in your entire project could depend on the troubleshooting skills of graduate students or subtle observation of postdocs in the lab.

 

So next time, don’t get cocky that you won a Nobel Prize. It’s just a joke and you are another scammer on this earth, sucking the blood out of grad, postdoc slaves and taking the credits which you will use to smash down any of the next comers in your research field that you don’t want them to stay. Period.

 

End Part I

 

Reader opinion: We, the young Tyrant, proclaim the year of 2018 to be Year Of (Anal) Destruction for the Inglorious Academia

Editor’s note: We are advocating desperately to save you from very very long years of misery named PhD. One of the worst deal you can get anywhere. PhD makes people mentally and physically sick. Given this context, we don’t mince words. We call shit as shit. Write us if you have a story good or bad to tell!

In this essay, I will prove MATHEMATICALLY that the Academia is a fraud. I will prove it, using their own numbers and their own words. Again, I will provide a mathematical proof of fraudulent nature of academic research to anyone who is willing to read.

First, let us read the following statement:

Science Magazine has republished an article in their Science Careers section on the role postdoctorates have come to play in the U.S. economy. The article had been published in August 2002 but still makes for an interesting read today. Quote: “Postdocs are one of the greatest bargains in the U.S. economy. Where else can one hire Ph.D.s, whose training and smarts put them among the best and brightest in the world, to work 60 hours a week for $30,000 to $40,000 a year, with limited benefits and little power to influence their working conditions?

Please find the article here:

Let me emphasize two points here for you:

1)         The original article was published by “Science Magazine” in 2002. – mark the date!

2)         “Postdocs are one of the greatest bargains in the U.S. economy. Where else can one hire Ph.D.s, whose training and smarts put them among the best and brightest in the world, to work 60 hours a week for $30,000 to $40,000 a year, with limited benefits and little power to influence their working conditions?

Read again “With limited benefits and limited power to influence their working conditions”. This implies that the entire system that exploits phd-students and SLAVE-O-postdocs was CREATED BY DESIGN!!! The system was designed to exploit these peoples, it is not a flaw, it is not like this because of economic downturn, unfortunate circumstances or some abusive PIs. It is all by design!

Now, let us look into this article The disposable academic Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time It was published by “The Economist” Dec 16th 2010 – mark the date again!

I will quote some “meaty” passages from the article:

1)         Between 1998 and 2006 the number of doctorates handed out in all OECD countries grew by 40%, compared with 22% for America. PhD production sped up most dramatically in Mexico, Portugal, Italy and Slovakia. Even Japan, where the number of young people is shrinking, churned out about 46% more PhDs.

2)         But universities have discovered that PhD students are cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour. With more PhD students they can do more research, and in some countries more teaching, with less money. A graduate assistant at Yale might earn $20,000 a year for nine months of teaching.

3)         In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors.

4)         There is a glut of postdocs too. Dr Freeman concluded from pre-2000 data that if American faculty jobs in the life sciences were increasing at 5% a year, just 20% of students would land one. In Canada 80% of postdocs earn $38,600 or less per year before tax—the average salary of a construction worker. – probably less now, due to massive oversupply PIs can hire people on $30-36 000/year before taxes.

The most recent article of this sort has been published by The Guardian in 2018:

They called my university a PhD factory – now I understand why:

Quote: “PhDs are manufactured; they drop off the end of a conveyer belt, but no one cares what happens to graduates after that. All universities care about are the fees paid by students and the cheap labour they provide. This is the opposite of efficiency: no factory would mindlessly churn out goods that no one wants.

With all this being said, let’s turn to the official statistics by the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the USA. Two tables, linked below, are of primary interest.

Table 1. Doctorate recipients from U.S. colleges and universities: 1957–2016

Table 31. Median years to doctorate, by broad field of study: Selected years, 1991–2016

Number of Ph.Ds granted in the US alone in 2002 (article in Science magazine published): 40,031

Number of Ph.Ds granted in the US alone in 2010 (article in the Economist published): 48,029

Number of Ph.Ds granted in the US alone in 2016 (the most recent year for which the statistics is available): 54,904

Now, let us connect these dots. The article in “The Economist”, discussing massive supply of academic labor (i.e. graduate students and slave-o-postdocs) was published in 2010 when 48 thousand of PhDs were granted, 6 years later the rate of PhD production INCREASED by ~7 000 a year! The inglorious conveyer belt actually ACCELERATED. If you add the numbers from NSF statistics, you will find out that ~ 360 000 PhD across all domain of knowledge were created in the USA alone. In the USA alone! I do not have statistics across other countries of western world, but it must be identical. As I have mentioned in one of my previous essays, Western Universities are craving for MOAR! MOAR! MOAR! More students – more cheap labor – more grant money – more money to support bloated university administrations. 360 000 PhD – this is a city larger than St.Louis, Missouri or Pittsburgh, Penn. It is a city comparable to Cleveland, Ohio or Tampa, Florida !!! in 6 years only universities in the USA produced number of PhDs, sufficient to populate Tampa, Fl. ! Imagine a city, entirely populated by PhDs!!!! AND – 6 years down the road – another city filled with PhDs is created! Where is the end to this madness?

Let’s look at another article by B. Benderly:

Changes will not come simply or easily,” the ACS report concurs, “but lack of adjustment to sclerosis and to new realities will inevitably enervate our enterprise and diminish American capabilities in science and industry.” By engaging both morality and the nation’s—and the research enterprise’s—own long-term self-interest, perhaps ACS can succeed in sparking desperately needed reform.Until that happens, American academic science’s self-defeating addiction to cheap labor will continue”[ACS – American Chemistry Soc.]

Sparking a reform? Are fucking kidding me? What reform?

Again, “The Economist” published a well-researched article, supplemented with numbers, back in 2010. Since then the academia only ACCELERATED the rate of PhD-production. This is an ULTIMATE PROOF that no amount of writing will help. Academia doesn’t give a shit about all these articles. The Economist, The Guardian, NSF statistics? What kind of writing do you need then? A letter from pope Francis? The proverbial writing on the wall? Academia resisting changes by means of ignorance, lie and deception. There is no way for a change by argument, by honest debates etc. It is an obvious FRAUD! Moreover, magazines like Nature and Science are not benevolent observers. They are not there to help, they are not the solution, they are part of the problem.

Let’s look at anther numbers. How long does it take to finish a PhD? NSF statistics says that for STEM it is on average 6.7 years since start of graduate school and 5.7 years since start of doctoral program. Now, when I applied for postdoctoral fellowship, they had a cut-off of 3 years since the degree was awarded. Some fellowships give more generous 5-years cut-off. Again, anyone is more than welcome to supply further information. Please, can anyone explain to me how a degree which takes 5.7 year to finish, can be “valid” for 5 years only to apply for fellowships? It is a SCAM !!!

If you embark on graduate studies now, in 6 years down the road, when you have your degree at hand, ~330 000 PhD will be produced in the US alone. Given the acceleration trend, the number might be close to 400 000 or even half a million. Let me ask you: why a degree from Harvard or Yale is valued so much? Because it is unique, because it is rare. Because it is a mark of quality! If everyone will have a PhD from Harvard, will it be valued any longer? The answer is “NO”. River sand is abundant, so it is cheap, diamonds are rare and expensive. It is supply and demand. The more PhDs will be produced, the lesser will be their value. Effectively, university eroding value of PhD degrees for all PhD-holders – past, present and future.

It has already become apparent, as it is described in this article in “Slate”:

The Academy’s Dirty Secret

An astonishingly small number of elite universities produce an overwhelming number of America’s professors. The top 10 universities produce three times as many future professors as those ranked 11 through 20. Above, Harvard University’s Kirkland House.

Essentially, PhDs from non-Ivy-league Universities (no matter, how long/hard you were slaving to get you degree) are useless and will be getting even more useless. I have selected two interesting “meaty” comments for mentioned article.

Comment 1:

Most PhD and Postdocs in the US hardly get any value addition (in terms of independent thinking or as problem solver/ scientist). They are not groomed as scientists but exploited as technicians. Majority of faculties are NOT much interested in grooming (particularly the intelligent and capable ones who might become a competitor in future). Many select candidates who are excellent as slave labour and “yes sir” type work force. One professor once told me that he (like many other) specifically recruit from Asian countries who are known to accept lower salary/fellowship, tolerate regular abuse, insult and routinely work during weekends and late night.

Most are just technicians, at best, and not scientists. They hardly can survive outside the security of academic world that thrive on taxpayer funded grants to produce useless data for data sake (in form of mundane publications). They hardly can develop new technology or useful product to generate wealth and/or add value to the organization. That’s (lack of credible selection and accountability as a faculty) why influential network and being “yes sir” of such “big boys” make perfect practical sense to get plum academic jobs.

The consequences are visible almost everywhere in American higher education and research sector. As per latest data (2012) USA ranks 16th in terms of quality of output as compared to only 2nd in 1995 (when systemic data collection started). Global competitiveness of US R&D based industries deteriorated too.

Comment #2:

I know my comment is extremely late, but I googled “Who’s getting these tenure-track positions?” and this post came up.

The biggest difference between the Ivies and other schools is that Ivies can afford to give their students better funding. Grad students in the Ivies have very little teaching expectations and are paid to focus on their research. Therefore, they have more time to devote to their scholarship, which means more time for fellowship applications, dissertation research, job market materials, etc. This is not the case for Northwest Southern University where PhD students teach 2 courses a semester and barely make minimum wage.

If a school cannot afford to provide full funding to their PhD students, then they cannot afford to have a PhD program. Period.

If a program cannot place at least 50 % of their students into tenure-track positions, then it needs to shut down. Before students attend the school, they should be required to sign a document that details the current dismal state of the job market and the fact that it’s likely that they will not gain satisfactory employment. There are way too many PhD holders and not enough jobs.

Right now, the academic job market is broken, and no one’s being held accountable for it. It’s a shame when getting a tenure-track position is likened to winning the lottery or getting a position in the NFL. Getting a tenure-track position shouldn’t be an unattainable dream.

When students tell me that they want to go to grad school, I vehemently insist that they don’t. However, if they really want to go, I tell them that they need to go to a Top 10 university in their field, and even that’s not a guarantee that they’ll get an academic job. I also tell them not to pay a dime for their PhD schooling and avoid schools with ridiculous teaching expectations, low placement rates, and small/no funding packages. – end of the quote.

Massive over-supply of cheap labor was created and used by University Admins to effectively eliminate tenure and create swarms of dozen-per-dime adjuncts (junk professors). A detailed description of “best and brightest” is give by Gawker in a dark series of articles called “Academic Underclass”:

http://gawker.com/tag/adjunct-professors

More horror is available here: https://junctrebellion.wordpress.com/

It is pure and simple mathematics: 1) more PhDs granted – less value they hold; 2) more PhDs – the more “cut-throat” the competition is. Overall, in my experience the situation is getting worse by year or even faster. It is really bad!

I quote from above blog:

It has been over five years since I wrote of a devastating experience – one of many devastating experiences – I have had as an adjunct in American Academia. The blog was called “Being a Stupid Slut”, and it discussed, through a story about my own humiliation, the ways in which we who serve as adjunct faculty in American academia are treated with no respect, how we feel devastated and demeaned, and how important it is that we refuse to accept this abuse and find other ways to live out our callings. I meant this when I wrote it five years ago. But it has taken me five long years to finally reach a point where I can “walk the talk”. I have left adjunct academia, convinced that there is no hope and no sense to working on the “inside” for improvement.   I plan to continue my work, including finishing the documentary film and the book, from the outside, where I can be as ferocious as need be. <…> In recent years, this particular university spent millions of dollars in legal fees fighting one of our many attempts to unionize the adjunct faculty, even going so far as to argue that we should be barred from the “faculty union” we wished to join because “adjuncts weren’t faculty”. They went to great pains to talk about the many ways that we could not be, and were not, considered faculty. <…> The university’s adjuncts will still, therefore, earn the poverty wages we earned before “winning” the right to unionize. We still have no healthcare. We still have 15 week contracts that can be canceled at the university’s whim. We are still, clearly, not worthy of any respect or professional treatment in the eyes of the university itself. Worse still, the union, which is so often seen as the best hope to undo this labor abuse nationwide, has been exposed as being toothless in its ability to wage any significant fight on our behalf. Too often lately, unions have been reduced to acting as apologists for administration with what I call the “It’s the best we can do for now” argument, meant to placate and anesthetize the exploited.

I have said it before and will say it again: no amount of “mental counselling”, “unionization over peanuts”, “time-management skills” and other nonsense will change anything in this rotten system. They know damn well what they are doing. There is only one possible solution: WALK AWAY! WALK AWAY! WALK AWAY! WALK AWAY! WALK AWAY! WALK AWAY!

Reader opinion: Taking career advice from universities and professors to do PhD

If you’re a student pondering about doing a PhD and you listen to professors’, universities’ career services or scientific journal’s advice on going to the graduate school, you deserve to fail in your career!

Why?

Because you’re an idiot and as harsh it may sound, you’re gullible enough to think they’ll give you a legitimate career advice. Rather, it is the inverse — you’re volunteering to play a rigged game, where they’re looking out at their own interests and benefit from your sweat equity.

-JRC

Free will PhD to your career grave

I feel vicereally of freedom of choice, just like you probably do. You as free human, be able to engage in activities that you so choose, that nobody but you should be able to dictate what you will do or have to do.

People have given lives for freedom of choice. Great and an essential concept we
all cherish.

Naive young students chose PhD for potential glory. It’s their own free will which ruins them. Academia is like a cult. Few religious leaders at the top get the glory. Rest of them are just peanut-getting slaves. Voluntary slaves are slaves too.

At the end of the day, only you suffer and nobody to blame. While we can’t argue for limiting freedom of choice, we can’t recommend either the mindset of savant like, bone-headed determination for doing PhD. Freedom of choice is good, you
have to be smart to have your choices work for you.

Warning to Post-docs: you have 5 years to get tenure or…

There are many hidden costs of a PhD. Spending 5 to 8 years after college is just one of them. This added to another 2-4 years of postdocs makes the total years after college between 7 to 12 years. These years are not only sucked out of what supposed to be your golden years of 20s and 30s. They also have a terrible opportunity cost.

But that is not the whole story! There is another big surprise waiting for postdocs down the line that almost nobody tells them about! YOU HAVE 5 to 6 years of being employed as a post-doc before not being considered anymore. Yes, you heard me right! This ‘coveted’ postdoc job that pays almost nothing to peanuts, expires too, and you will be over-qualified for it! Why? Because most universities and institutes prefer to employ freshly minted PhDs, and don’t consider older candidates anymore. Many universities and institutes have actually a 4 year window for new postdocs. Also, please remember, grants are only given to new PhDs within 1-3 years of graduation!

It is like your PhD has an expiration date. Out of all places, a PhD expires only in academia. What the irony! After that, what you gonna do? If you get a tenure track position, good for you. If not, you will be up for a big and ugly surprise. Industry and real world doesn’t want you either. They regard a PhD with many years of postdocs as a risky hire, someone that is over-qualified and likely quit on them, and/or find the job not interesting! Not to mention that they likely think your experience is not worth much except in academia. One can act desperate but it is gonna make himself look like a loser and the employers will shun you even more. You can assure them as much that you will never quit and be a good boy, but their opinion of PhDs without a real job experience is mostly negative. You can argue all you want but that is the reality of the outside-academia world. Experience is valued more than papers and publications/citations.

You can dance as much as you want but at the end of the day, all you want is a decent pay and adequate work that keeps you entertained. Academia will almost certainly not provide you with a job despite your best intentions. It will also certainly not give you a good salary for your skills either. But hey! Who needs either?

Today’s PhDs are busy working hard so their supervisor, aka master, can get good publications and tenure! Rest assured PhD students, your effort will not go wasted and/or unnoticed! At least you are helping your supervisor getting his tenure and/or cementing his status as a big shot prof. He may write you a good reference letter as well, worth nothing in industry. As a side effect and on some rare occasions, you may even advance human knowledge. But getting a job and money will likely not be something you can easily accomplish!

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