Why You Need To Leave Academia

Leaving AcademiaWritten by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

I felt like a complete loser. I grabbed a food stamp application and walked out of the poorly lit government assistant building.

The building was in the middle of nowhere and it took me forever to find it on my bike. I made a last minute decision to apply for the stamps in between lab experiments and hurried down to the building hoping my advisor wouldn’t notice I was gone.

One of the postdocs in my lab was on food stamps and told me that I could probably get on them too. It was my last year of graduate school and I had developed a stress-induced kidney condition and was paying off a bunch of related medical bills. My measly graduate student stipend wasn’t enough to live on anymore so I secretly started working as a janitor cleaning cell phone stores. It was a graveyard job, which was perfect because I didn’t want any of the other graduate students to see me.

The idea of getting on food stamps as a PhD student seemed completely ridiculous at first. But things kept getting worse and worse in lab. My academic advisor was treating me very badly and was refusing to let me graduate. My health was deteriorating and the medical bills kept coming. I started talking to other postdocs and found out that many of them were on food stamps, especially the postdocs with families. Then I found out that 3 other graduate students I knew went down and applied for food stamps too. That’s when I decided to go down and get an application.

It was embarrassing on so many levels. I remembered my parents being on food stamps and government assistance when I was a kid and never thought that I would be too. After all, that was the whole reason I worked so hard to become a PhD–so I could create a better life for myself and for my own family some day. I thought climbing my way to the highest echelons of academia would give me this life. I thought I would be paid well, treated well, and allowed to do meaningful work. But I was very wrong. Fortunately, I was able to fight my way out of academia and move into a non-academic career before being put on food stamps. Most PhDs and PhD students, however, have not been so lucky.

Stop Ignoring The Data

As a scientist or other high-level academic reading this, ask yourself…

If the below numbers kept showing up in every experiment you performed or in the results section of every academic paper you read, what would you do?

3X—the fold increase in the number of people with graduate degrees who have had to apply for food stamps, unemployment, or other assistance

360,000—the number of people with graduate degrees on government assistance in 2010

68,000—number of postdocs in the U.S. alone waiting for tenured professorships

8,000—number of postdocs in Boston (a single city) waiting for tenured professorships

100,000—number of PhDs granted in a four year period

16,000—number of professorships opened in the same four year period

84,000—number of PhDs left over every four years

>60%—number of PhDs who will NOT have a paying job at graduation

>80%—number of Life Sciences PhDs who will NOT have a paying job at graduation

<1%—number PhDs will go on to be tenured professors. Lessthan 1%!

43%—PhD students will NOT get their PhD within 10 years of starting graduate school

$42,000 (or ~$19/hour)—annual starting salary (before taxes) of a postdoc in the U.S.

$55,272 (or ~$26/hour)—salary of a 7th year postdoc.

$56,370—salary of an average librarian

You would acknowledge and learn from the numbers of course. Most importantly, you would change your approach in response to the data. You wouldn’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. You’d work to get new data.

You’re not above the data. You are the data. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring the dismal numbers telling you that academia is dying and that you better leave as soon as possible. If you are in academia right now, you are one of those numbers.

The Fairy Tale Is Over

Academia is broken. The time to leave it is now. If you don’t leave, you will be poor, mistreated, and unhappy. There’s a myth in academia, perpetuated by other (mostly unhappy) academics that says you can only be a successful PhD if you become a tenured professor and continue to publish in academic journals. This myth survives by encouraging young PhDs—postdocs and PhD students—to look down on anyone who expresses a desire to leave academia. As a result, a kind of feedback loop is created in academia. Once you’re in the system, the system keeps you there by weakening your mind and eroding your confidence.

You’re told over and over again that nothing else but staying in academia is respected. You’re told over and over again that you can’t do anything else—that there is nothing else. The academic system makes you so dependent that you get used to being treated poorly. You get used to your advisor yelling at you or making you feel small. You get used to believing that there’s nothing else for you in the world. Then, you wake up one day in the middle of your seventh year as a postdoc living in a one bedroom apartment with your family hoping the government will approve you for 12 more months of food stamps. This may sound harsh but it’s reality. There are real people facing this reality—real postdocs and PhDs that I know and that you know too who are waking up every day broke and afraid. Ignoring these facts will not make them go away. Hiding from truth will not protect you from this future. The only way to protect yourself is to take steps to change your situation right now.

Into A Non-Academic Career

Two Biggest Reasons To Leave Academia This Year

There is immense value in getting your PhD. Learning, testing yourself, and working hard to achieve something that matters to you is important. A PhD is a high-level achievement and it should not just be handed out to anyone. That being said, you should not have to endure harassment or workplace bullying to get a PhD. You should not be forced to get some magical piece of data to graduate when your lab can’t even afford a working centrifuge. You should not live in fear and be pressured to stay in a system that does not have the means of compensate you fairly. You do not have to accept this.

There are many reasons to leave academia this year. If you read the above data, you know that the academic career track is now a dead end career track. But the biggest reasons behind the death of academia are not in the numbers, they’re in the day-to-day lifestyle that PhDs have to endure. These reasons include…

1. You can’t do meaningful work in a broken system. 

Most PhDs started graduate school because they wanted to do meaningful work, not just get a big paycheck. Sure, money is nice and PhDs deserve to be paid well, but it’s not all that matters. PhDs want to make a difference. They want to help cure cancer and other diseases. They want to help make the world a better place to live in.

The problem is that it’s becoming harder and harder to do meaningful work in academia because the system is broken. There’s no funding from the government. And whatever funding comes in through tuition is being used to improve amenities for undergrads as part of a new amenities race to keep Universities from closing. This leaves you working a lab that doesn’t have the reagents or instrumentation you need to get published against the one or two biggest labs in your field. Instead, you’re left running Western blots the old-fashioned way and doing other outdated experiments that people in industry stopped doing 10 years ago.

If you want to keep doing this—fine—just don’t act surprised the next time you get scooped right before publishing or when you’re reduced to publishing in a very low-tier journal. You are too smart and too talented to work in poverty you’re whole life. Imagine what you could do if you had all of the reagents you needed and all of the top-level instrumentation you needed. This is what it’s like in industry. There are thousands and thousands of non-academic jobs in the world right now that allow you to do meaningful work while also being paid well. Imagine doing work that you love while getting paid a six figure salary with great health benefits and possibly even getting stock options, a company car, and a starting bonus. It’s possible and it can be yours. But first, you have to make a decision to leave academia. Then, you have to get trained to work in industry.

2. Professors have too much power over you and often abuse this power.

There’s nothing better than a positive professor who inspires you and trains you, sometimes toughly, to be a better scientist. At the same time, there’s nothing worse than a negative professor who tears you down, makes you feel stupid, and doesn’t support your career. In today’s world, the latter is all too common. I can’t tell you how many emails we get with subject lines that read “mentor abusing me please help” or “afraid mentor will ruin my career please help” or similar.

PIs, professors, and academic advisors simply have too much unregulated power nowadays. Seriously, is there any other job on the planet where one person is given control over the fate of several employees (technicians, graduate students, postdocs, etc.) without ever receiving a single hour of management training. Unlike other teachers, most PhD-level PIs and professors are not trained in teaching. Most are not tested once in their ability to communicate or train other people. Yet, they’re given full control over other people’s careers. These same people are also given thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars in public funding without ever receiving a single iota of financial training. It’s madness.

No wonder there are so many cases of PIs and professors harassing and bullying their employees and students. My own PI used to scream at me in the middle of lab when he was angry. He would scream. Right in front of other postdocs, graduate students, and even professors from neighboring labs who were walking by. And everyone ignored him. They acted like it didn’t happen. I remember walking past my PIs office on more than one occasion and seeing whichever technician or graduate student he was yelling at crying in the seat across from him. One time he was yelling so loud that you could hear him through the door—“I’m the boss now, get it!? I’m the boss!” Where else would this kind of behavior be tolerated by anyone let alone from someone in charge?

Imagine a random person coming up to you on the street and screaming in your face like that. You would never allow it. Yet, it happens so often in academia that some consider it normal. If you’re sitting there thinking that this is a very extreme example, you’re wrong. While I was in graduate school, two professors killed themselves after being charged with harassing students. A third professor abused a student for years while the University’s lawyers protected him until he was finally convicted. This happens at even the most prestigious institutions.

Listen, you deserve to be excited about your career, not afraid of what might happen if you don’t do exactly what your PI says. You deserve a safe and supportive place to work. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to find a place like this in academia.

Are You Another Disposable Academic? 

Lifelong academics are now disposable. It’s the hard truth. The system is too broken and outdated to fix. If you’re a postdoc, get out of academia right now. Wrap up whatever you’re doing as soon as possible and start networking and applying to industry jobs today. If you’re worried about your PI finding out and treating you poorly, then conduct your job search privately. If you don’t have a network and don’t know how to do a proper job search, get on this list. If your PI is already treating you poorly and you’re worried he or she will try to kick you out of the lab (or country), then talk to a counselor at your University or contact us privately here and we will help you.

If you’re a PhD student, work hard to pass your comprehensive exam and do whatever else you need to do at your University to get to the point where you either have (or technically have) your Masters degree. Once you reach this point, you have leverage. Now you can start fighting to get out with your PhD. From this point on, spend the majority of your time building your network and preparing to transition into industry. Don’t fall into the trap of obsessing over publications. Authoring papers does not matter in industry.

Once you have passed your exams, review your department’s student handbook and figure out exactly what you have to do to graduate. Then sit down with your PI and committee and write out timeline and hold them to it. Take detailed notes during every meeting with your PI and every meeting with your thesis committee and then email your notes openly to the other parties. This is the best way to keep a transparent record of your progress, their suggestions, and your current timeline. Taking notes and sending email  might sound over the top but you’ll be glad you did when the going gets tough. And it will get tough. Every week we have dozens of PhDs who contact us with stories of how their PIs and committee members will not let them graduate and will not give them a detailed plan for graduating. If you get confused, lost, stuck or feel alone at any time, contact us here and we will help.

Move Your Career Forward 

If you want to move your career ahead, you have to have a vision for your future and you have to face reality at the same time. The key is to set specific goals for your career while also looking very closely at the problems you’re up against. Don’t ignore the obstacles in front of you. Acknowledge them and make a plan to overcome them.

You don’t have to do this on your own. You are not alone. There are people out there like you who want to leave academia just as urgently. There are people out there who have been exactly where you are now and have left academia and transitioned into a non-academic career that has fulfilled them completely and given them a better life. This is possible for you too. Anything is possible with the right network and the right training. Stop waiting. Make a decision to leave academia and get the industry position of your choice in 2015.

To learn more about transitioning into a non-academic career, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, join the Cheeky Scientist Association. 

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Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.
  • http://rybicki.wordpress.com/ Ed Rybicki

    So true! But a view from the other side: academics are expected to manage often quite significant finances, complicated projects, and multiple academic and service personnel, without EVER being trained in financial, project or human resource management. Oh, and we’re expected to teach without actually being trained for that either.

  • Em

    There are plenty of great, and important, points here, and I agree that academia is broken – but it is very much skewed towards experiment-based sciences, and also presumes that other industries are not in the same situation. Also, academia is (and should remain) and elite industry – those who expect to do well must be the best of the best.

    There are several things that really ought to be acknowledged before anyone tries to do a PhD:

    1) We do not live in a perfect world – things go wrong in lots of different industries, lots of the time, and things seem to be getting worse in many areas – the only way to improve this is to take responsibility and work for change. This work is not something we should do because it will pay well, or because we think we will get social and cultural benefits – we should do it because we love it, and it is important to us. If we get paid to do this, all the better. Academia is a notoriously imperfect industry, and always has been (many famous researchers and philosophers were rejected by institutions in their time, many were poor, many left). ACADEMIA IS NOT THE PLACE TO SEEK PERSONAL GRATIFICATION however much it ought to be. PhD students should, in the current climate (especially given the truth of much of the above) only seek to complete a PhD because it will fulfil them intellectually, because they want to get paid something (anything) to think (even if that something is woefully insulting, in many cases) – for its own sake. The number of people I meet who are doing a PhD because they think it will bring respect and prestige; to transcend class; because they don’t know what else they’d rather do, or because they think it is a path straight to success is ridiculously high. All these people have expectations far beyond what is realistic in academia at the moment – and a huge proportion of the 60%++ who don’t stay in academia, or can’t get jobs, are from this group. If you aren’t doing a PhD for the right reasons (honestly, for the love of it), then quit now.

    2) This brings me to my second point: if we all agree that grad students, (and those who have graduated to post-docs, or the reality of long-term unemployment) should be treated better, then we should stay in the system and help fix it. Not complain about how terrible it is, and then leave.

    3) I don’t know of any industry where people aren’t getting royally screwed. The example above of higher pay for a librarian is totally irrelevant, because none of the librarians I know can get any kind of full-time permanent job. Neither can the high-school teachers, PR consultants, or even lawyers. Forget policy writers, scientists, factory workers, chefs, administrators, records officers, ESL examiners, captioners, journalists, etc. etc. etc. The only industries I am aware of with wall-to-wall endless, (semi) permanent work seem to be nursing, primary teaching or otherwise mining/mineral/oil related – and even then jobs can end abruptly when demand or govt. funding drops. Virtually nobody I know has “tenure” – doctors are all locums in emergency rooms, nurses often work for private clinics on contracts, and those who don’t are rarely offered any kind of promotion, instead working above their grade on the same pay (and fired if they complain). People who went into IT/tech as a growth industry are also all on short-term contracts – who isn’t being exploited, bullied, and underpaid these days? Again, we should fight for change, not give up – I don’t understand how it is always news that academia is treating everyone poorly and making a bajillion dollars out of it, as if this is some incredible revelation. Look around you – this is the world we live in! As above – it’s not perfect.

    4) Which brings me to another point: Are academics and PhD students REALLY telling people that leaving academia is the worst idea, or are they being realistic about how bad it is everywhere else? Again, the situation as it stands isn’t good enough, and it should be better – but academia still offers opportunities for high-achieving candidates. Maybe not in the US, to be fair, but if you are in the top 20% or so of candidates, there is a post-doc for you – and I would wager that at least half of the lower 50% of candidates never really wanted to be in academia, they just wanted prestige and thought they’d get an easy ride. The 100K+ PhD’s on offer are massively oversupplying the market with low grade graduates, to the point where there is a stark difference between the higher performers and the lower half of candidates. This indicates to me that (especially with “lower tier” and “higher tier” institutional divisions, as in the UK and elsewhere) many of these candidates were never really contenders for academic jobs, which really skews the data. It appears as if there are many times more candidates than there are positions – but I question how many of these candidates have the skills and ability to compete in what SHOULD be an elite institution. The very best candidates are competing with a much smaller pool of potential employees – the “tenured” roles are realistically only ever for those with the potential to produce high-ranking research, as they always have been! The difference is that there are now dozens of graduates without this potential for every outstanding graduate. It used to be a smaller pool of much higher quality overall (thus the prestige in the first place!).

    5) Which brings me to my final point: Universities SHOULD BE elite institutions. Those who teach in them should be the very best in their field. Although people of every background should absolutely have access to a university education, it should still be something reserved for those with the academic ability – not the money, and not the vague desire to get a piece of paper because everyone else has one. While it is unnecessarily difficult for many of the best and brightest to succeed in the system due to entrenched inequality and inflexible bureaucracy, it is also unreasonable to expect tenure if you are not one of the best and brightest. If you are an average student who wants that kind of job – forget it. A PhD SHOULD be for the most intellectually gifted, and if people expect to be rewarded as such, then they need to be that good. Unfortunately, as the calibre of candidates has dropped and the pool of candidates has expanded (due to the oversupply indicated above), institutions have reduced the benefits offered to academics, because the jobs are in high demand – further, as Universities turn into businesses, many of the “lower” tier want to offer cheap services, produce cheap research – they become low-grade institutions who won’t offer tenure, and will exploit a casual workforce desperate for anything, because they have wrongly invested all their hopes and dreams in a system which is – yes – broken – but also suddenly so high demand that the institutions don’t have to come to the party and fix the endemic problems.

    So, I think my input into this would be that the figures above don’t necessarily indicate that people should get out of academia because it is unable to offer them what they want – it is that people should have realistic expectations of a deeply flawed – but also, potentially, deeply rewarding – career path. Don’t do a PhD if you think it will bring respect, or make you rich, or make you successful – do law or medicine instead (and if you can’t get in, how can you possibly be good enough to do a PhD?!). Don’t do it because you can’t find a job and think this will make you more employable. Don’t do it because you like your undergrad tutor and your friends are also staying on. Don’t do it because you just barely have the requisite grades to get funding and think “well, why not?”. Don’t do it because your parents think its a respectable option… Only do it if you are one of the best in your field at your current level; love that field; can’t imagine anything else you would enjoy as much; and are willing to work yourself into the ground for a few years to produce the best PhD you can do – and will be proud of that, alone, regardless of your job prospects. And always have a backup plan, experience in another industry, or skills beyond the University – don’t hang all your hopes and dreams on academia – it’s not as hard to making it in Hollywood, but it’s not that much more accessible. You’ve got to be great at a range of different things, network at a very high level, work hard for years, and take opportunities as they come – even risky ones like moving a long way away for a job, finding the best supervisor regardless of where they are, or doing fieldwork in an unfamiliar country – and be good enough, also, that you write and present well, that you teach well, that you can be a leader in your field, can administrate at a high level…

    In short, academia is not for average students – it should be for the best of the best, and had it been reserved for such candidates, many of the problems (and stats) above would not be an issue. Certainly, many good candidates can find the system inhospitable, but far more of the mediocre candidates experience these issues, and it has a lot to do with their mediocrity, and the new money-making mentality of the higher education sector, than some pending collapse of academia itself. There are good jobs for high-level English speaking candidates in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, The Netherlands, throughout the UK, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, etc. etc. I don’t think Yale, Harvard, Stanford, The New School, Berkeley, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, etc., are about to start awarding cruddy PhDs, or stop hiring tenured professors. In fact, I don’t think the top 20% of Universities world wide will stop getting permanent staff in, because this is how they will maintain high standards. The rest seem to be in a race to the bottom – along with their low-grade candidates, and this seems to be where many of the posts like the above are coming from (rightly so, but still not representative of the whole sector).

    I expect that over time, standards will reassert themselves, those in the “top tier” universities will move amongst those institutions producing research at a high level, and the rest (not unlike the Canadian system) will come to be little more than tech-colleges, awarding sub-par degrees to sub-par students who just need a bit of paper, and like the idea of being Dr. so-and-so.

    Of course, then the bigger issue is that it will be harder and harder for students from underprivileged backgrounds to break into these elite institutions – but, again, this is why people shouldn’t be leaving academia – they should stay and fight, if they are of a high enough calibre – they should make the hard choices to leave their loved ones and be ambitious in seeking the best research opportunities, wherever they are, and – like any elite career path – they should be the best in their field, and do it for love – and a far larger proportion of such candidates can expect reasonable rewards for their efforts.

    • leapingfrog

      I don’t think fighting at your own expense is viable for most people in the UK. I think new job markets will come and it’ll become ever more important to seek out relevant skills for these, old staff members most likely don’t have the drive for this anyhow… same lecture notes for 10 years come to mind…

      Priority one should be keeping the wolves from the door, not acquiring large debt or getting into battles over corrupt academic systems…

      It would be smarter in my opinion to move away from academia, it’s no longer worthy of the title and government should clamp down on these places registering themselves as charities when they are clearly exploitative with money making schemes benefiting the few…

      People don’t have to be elite or the best of the best to create something amazing and share that with the world… In someways you’re caught up with this idea of elite brainy people, which indicates a kind of ego complex issue 🙂

      • Derp

        I agree that people shouldn’t pour their own money into saving academia – if you’re good enough, you don’t need to acquire debt – you’ll get a scholarship instead.

        Moving away from academia, rather than reforming it from the inside, simply allows those who already exploit public money to exploit it further. If there is no one left with any moral or intellectual prerogative to argue for better, then obviously things will just get worse. Abandoning academia to the wolves is not only shortsighted, it is cowardly.

        We have an institution which, for hundreds of years, was geared towards improving conditions for all humans – how is this NOT the forum for innovation and creativity? Further, what sort of long-term world changing impact takes place without the contribution of those who are above average? The logic doesn’t follow… And where is this hypothetical universe you speak of, where people will get paid better and have better conditions with more chance to produce serious changes in the world? I can’t think of many…

  • Jason Behrmann, PhD

    Memory from graduate school: I graduated from my Master’s in biochemistry and started my PhD in biomedical sciences. The first 6 months were tough. My salary was entirely dependant on being awarded scholarships; for several months, I waited for the competition results concerning my scholarship applications to know if I would have any revenue. I lived off “wishful thinking”: I hoped that I would not have any “surprise expenses” because with my meagre savings I had just enough money to keep a roof over my head.

    One day, my fridge broke down and I could not afford to fix it. I lived off single servings of canned food since I had no way to store food for more than a day. I lived in constant worry of not being able to pay my rent. Then, a stroke of luck: my PhD supervisor–a stellar person, indeed–offered me a short-term job as a research assistant that provided a stable source of income until my scholarships kicked in. I felt immense joy when I finally bought a second-hand fridge and was able to once again have milk on hand for my morning coffee. I learned a lot from this experience; namely, how to persevere and be resourceful.

    Graduate school can be difficult for many reasons; however, fighting to overcome such adversity will provide some of the greatest lessons in life. I was able to rise above my hardship because I had a great PhD supervisor that helped me when I was down-and-out and I was fortunate to work in a department that motivated me to excel. From my experience, I know that many graduate students are not so fortunate and struggle with lacklustre supervisors and depressing work environments. If this is your situation, it is likely best that you follow the advice of the above article and find stable employment outside the ivory tower.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

      Thanks for sharing your story Jason. This was very inspiring to me and many others I’m sure. You’re right on so many counts. A bad mentor can be the difference between a great and awful experience in graduate school or academia in general. But, in the end, it’s our decisions that will determine our success, including the decision to stay in or leave academia.

  • https://www.castpoints.com/ Jeff Fitzmyers

    I have a MS. The whole system is ponderous and going to be replaced with not “learn by doing”, but “learn WHILE doing”. Everything will have an Return On Investment associated with it so it will be easy to compare the effectiveness of “teachers”. It will also be a lot more fun because it will be a lot less political (divine right of kings believe system).

  • Alex Hoobie Schott

    I’m looking for the support to your claim that <1% of PhDs go on to tenured professorships. The article you link (and the articles it links) don't show anything of the sort. The older study, "PhDs – ten Years Later" shows 54+ percent of respondents with tenure, another 7+ percent on the tenure track. The other data in the linked article are about jobs at the time of graduation, and it doesn't suggest anything near so low as 1 percent tenure track employment. The closest thing to support I can find is a stat in an article linked from the one you cite that 1-in-6 PhDs find tenure track employment in the biological sciences – a precipitous drop since the 70s, to be sure, but still far above the <1% you claim. Can you please elaborate?

    • jennypostdoc

      Less than 10% of “stellar” post docs get their own research labs:

      And it is getting worse every year!

      • Liz

        I think the stats are somewhat misleading. It is harder and harder to get an RO1 or any other type of federal grant to the the budget cuts. Even tenured faculty currently don’t have grants. This does not tell you if someone has gotten a tenure-track position.
        I am tenured at a university with a large MS program. I love my job ,most of the time.
        I have had grants some large, some small. I should be writing one right now.
        I also worked in Biotech after my post-doc.
        I tell my students. If you think that the only path to happiness is a job at one of the top 25 Research 1 Universities then you will be very very unhappy.
        Getting a PhD is not for everyone but it can be a great experience.
        1. Look carefully before you accept on offer in a PhD program.
        Where are the recent graduates? How long does it take to get the degree? What will my funding be like? Talk to former students? Don’t think – oh they want me- Make sure that program or that lab is worthy of YOU.
        2. Don’t discount jobs in industry or other types of positions. I worked in industry and then went back to academia. I have friends who work in lots of different places, banks, government agencies, NSF, NIH, USDA, DOE. They are happy.
        3. Getting a PhD is not a bad idea but having a narrow idea of what you will do with it is bad.
        Drinking the Koolaid that only jobs in the Ivy’s, the UCs and a few other places are “worth”it will make you miserable.

        I have served on four assistant professor search committees.
        1. The largest pool had 140 applicants, the smallest 40 applicants.
        2. Our top candidates had offers other places.
        3. It was not the people with the most papers who got interviewed but those who had the biggest role in those papers.
        So 25 papers is great- but not if you are never first author.
        4. We offered jobs to people with @10 papers, more than half of those are first author with a mix of papers from both post-doc and PhD work.
        5. Successul candidats had gotten their own money somewhere- either small grants or fellowships- this shows grantsmanship.
        6. They had a research program that distinguished them from their PIs but was also feasible.
        7. In phone interviews we asked about planned first grants- what would they be, what agencies would they apply to.
        8. Some teaching experience.

        If all of that sounds impossible then look into other types of jobs.
        My former MS students in industry all make much much more money than I do.

      • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

        You’re right Jenny.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel
  • Christopher Lavery

    See also: “Something Deeply Wrong With Chemistry”


  • http://multiplecomparisons.blogspot.com/ Chris Filo Gorgolewski

    The one thing the authors of this text did not learn in their academic training is how to properly declare a conflict of interest 😉

  • David

    Get degrees that pay and you won’t have these issues. I got my Bachelor’s with no debt and had my employer pay for my Master’s. Scammers make money because they play on people’s stupidity.

  • FVB

    Great summary, touches on many of the reasons I walked away from my top-ranked Chemistry program last year to do forensics. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful adviser but the job market is still terrible and will be for the foreseeable future.

  • C.A.

    I am trying not to cry as I read this. I am a doctoral candidate and I am supposed to defend next month. I feel like a pathetic loser. I feel worthless. I was treated worse than dog crap, belittled by professors and PIs, and basically made to feel miserable during my time at this big university in the southwest united states. I am too ashamed to get help. I am destitute, lost my funding, I cannot even get a TAship due to university politics and changes made within my department and I am a 5th year student. I am even considering jumping into K-12 teaching because I don’t feel I’m good enough for an industry job. My health is suffering, I have gained a lot of weight, and I battle anxiety attacks from time to time. I am also very depressed.
    How did I let myself get to this point? Where did I go wrong? Where is the motivated me that had big hopes and dreams of finding a great job? Now, I feel like the exact opposite. Just a gigantic loser who thinks about how much more internal suffering I have to endure. I really hate my life and I regret doing this PhD. I wish I could go back in time and slap myself hard across the face.

  • algol
  • Samira Jamshidi

    Dear Dr.Hankel,

    Thanks a lot for your advises.I do agree with your idea about BROKEN ACADEMIC SYSTEM.

    When you say ACADEMIA, does it include “research jobs at high level research centers” like French CNRS or German MAX PLANK and so on ?
    Because these types of research centers ,unlike 99% of universities , are funded mainly by a superior council which does not allocate money to them just for publication and they cannot define research project for the sake of publication merely.However, CNRS or MAX PLANK are rare and we cannot generalize their situation to the rest of research centers around the world.

  • Samira Jamshidi

    Dear Dr.Hankel,

    When you say ACADEMIA, does it include “research jobs at high level research centers” like French CNRS or German MAX PLANK and so on ?
    Because these types of research centers ,unlike 99% of universities , are funded mainly by a superior council which does not allocate money to them just for publication and they cannot define research project for the sake of publication merely.However, CNRS or MAX PLANK are rare and we cannot generalize their situation to the rest of research centers around the world.

  • Samira Jamshidi

    Dear Dr.Hankel,

    When you say ACADEMIA, does it include “research jobs at high level research centers” like French CNRS or German MAX PLANK and so on ?
    Because these types of research centers ,unlike 99% of universities , are funded mainly by a superior council which does not allocate money to them just for publication and they cannot define research project for the sake of publication merely.However, CNRS or MAX PLANK are rare and we cannot generalize their situation to the rest of research centers around the world.

  • Nina

    I had awful experience myself. PhD with an easy going boss who didn’t give a Second thought about my projects and made it nearly impossible for me to get a postdoc by postponing my papers over two years(!) finally out but it cost me lots of nagging and patience. Then I happened to work for a psycho, who not only didn’t know how to treat people but I often wonder how such person got to the PI position, she didn’t have any knowledge whatsoever even the common sense was non-existing. I met some wonderful people on my way I also met lots of snakes and these were often these successful ones. If you are yourself, trying to be good, positive and working your way yourself then there is no cake for you. On top of everything I have been mistreated by men. By some of my bosses, by other men in the labs. How many times I heard discriminating or sexual comments. In any other environment it would be categorised to harassment. I’m still there but I lost my lover heart and trust in science. Being witness to numbers of awful experiments that were published, fake made up stories, it is scary to even think of this all.

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