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Why a PhD?

phd081508sMy students frequently ask me “do you have to do research over the break?” No. I WANT to do research over the break.

There’s a fundamental problem with students in the sciences. They don’t care about anything but grades and “getting a good job.” They don’t get exposed to research and simply have no idea what it means. It’s upsetting. Each of them seems to think they will simply go to medical school and become a doctor. Health care is sensationalized by the media, while the real life savers are in the background doing research. Doing real science.

There was a discussion on the ASM page of LinkedIn that I stumbled upon. The thread was about “the future of the Ph.D.” That’s when I saw this mind blower: “While it’s true there are some jobs that require the degree, there are a lot more that will consider you overqualified if you get it. If you want a secure career look elsewhere.”

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? This is incredibly aggravating. You get a Ph.D because you absolutely love science. Not for fame, or money (there is none in science), not for some “secure career.” You do it because you can’t live without the thrill of the discovery. You have to love the chase, to be enthralled with the unknown. You have to know that with each thing you find out, there are a million more intricacies behind it.

It’s hard to believe that most people are heading into their adult lives seeking degrees for some sort of pay increase or stability. Look at what science has given us. We take it all for granted.

Food for thought: The US military receives roughly $680 billion per year. The NIH only receives $30 billion annually. How is this sustainable?

“The reason you do it, is because you can’t do without it.”

  1. December 5, 2012 at 02:41

    I can understand your point—an education is something that no one can take away from you. Furthermore, many of us who have tried grad school, really don’t know its value until what you have learned is no longer fresh and viable.

    • December 5, 2012 at 21:24

      This is a good point. I have to agree that plans change, things happen and those who enter graduate school may come out not doing science. However, I still think there’s a lack of exposure to research, and thus students don’t ever consider it as a career and those who do want a PhD may want it for the wrong reasons.

  2. Just a thought
    December 5, 2012 at 10:34

    But doesn’t a sizeable amount of the military’s budget go into science and technology R&D?

    • December 5, 2012 at 21:31

      Wikipedia says $79 billion goes to “Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.” Roughly 11%? Unfortunately, the number of grant applications and new scientists outpaces the rate at which funding increases. This year, for NIH, something like 7% of all grants will be accepted.

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