PhD: the brotherhood of losers

by phdscam

A small percentage of PhDs do get out of PhD trauma and make something out of themselves, career-wise. The vast majority seems likes “brotherhood of losers”.

PhDs usually support themselves by doing the big burden of undergraduate teaching – the marking of exam papers – also known as teaching assistantships (TA). Many universities have unions of these TAs. Unions are helpful in protecting their members’ rights via “collective bargaining“. However, TA unions are more like “collective begging”. In the end, university’s pay master decides whether TAs get anything or not. Ironically smart PhDs need union to protect their below poverty line income.

Why do these smart PhD aspirants do not find this practice despicable and leave academia in hordes? One plausible reason is the collective groupthink “hey, the smart professors were cheap labours too at one point in time, so it must be alright”. Professors are likely smart, at least not stupid, however, they have zero interest in YOUR success. Living in the cocoon of academia, professors are one of the biased (delusional) people on the planet as well, when it comes to judge the importance of their own work. Sadly, those delusions infect smart but naive PhD aspirants. Since there are less than 1% as many faculty positions as there are graduate students, 99% are doomed to fail in having academic career. You shouldn’t fight for something you are likely to fail. If you don’t mind failing, remember this is a fail after PhD+postdoc+tenure track=20 years! In real world, you will get more salary than assistant professor just after two years, if you are paying attention and has some motivation to do work. A PhD student wont fail a real world job.

Some PhDs end up being so delusional even after completing the degree that they pursue postdocs – often not knowing what to do. It’s like doing the same thing (as in PhD) and expecting different result (a career). Real world takes a very dim view of delusions like that. No amount of spinning from professors should convince you otherwise. However, brotherhoods of delusional people pop up everywhere – especially the PhD brotherhoods – the smart losers.