PhD – The advertisements

by phdscam

One department in Harvard university advertises like this.

The graduate program of the Department of Economics is addressed to students of high promise who wish to prepare themselves in teaching and research or for responsible positions in government, research organizations, or business enterprises. Admission to the program is limited to candidates for the PhD.

While, university of Toronto graduate school has this to entice young and naive students:

The School of Graduate Studies promotes the intellectual risk-taking that produces cutting-edge scholarship. We seek to develop your passion for inquiry and to offer innovative learning experiences and excellent teaching that will provide you with the tools to tackle the intellectual challenges you face with excitement and creativity.

In reality, you will be taking crazy (statistically speaking) risks in persuing a PhD. 95% or so research projects just produce pretty much nothing of significance. The chance of you making a groundbreaking discovery is slim. You may be smart but that wont suffice to produce excellent discovery in PhD. Laboratory equipments, time availability of professors, thesis project – all these are outside your control and at the end you will be fighting just to finish the program, not produce excellent research. 

If you are one of the failed 95%, what is gonna be your career in your chosen field? You will be chasing “fellowship” or postdoc positions with little pay and lot of work. Postdoc only delays the inevitable. You are still not in a “real job” and you will be at a disadvantage when you actually seek one. Whether or not you did “cutting-edge” research is irrelevant, you will be concerned about getting enough money to retire and feeding a family. You will be bitterly aware that life is not fair.

Those who did successful research in PhD, wont be in much better shape either, there are hordes of Postdocs hoping to land a tenure job at some point. You will be competing with them. If you seek a non-academic job, it turns out the new boss doesn’t care about your PhD project and will question you why you want switch in the first place.

The advertisements from graduate schools never mentions that you may be stuck in PhD for 7+ years and no jobs at the end of the tunnel and you will be miserable for all intent and purposes. PhD breaks some individuals beyond repair in some cases. It is in your interest to ask suggestions from the recently finished PhDs and pay no attention to the university advertisements AT ALL.