In defense of the PhD

Follow up on the Economist paper I mentioned earlier.

And then finally, there’s one last thing everyone seems not to understand: once you finish your PhD, get done with the damn post-doc contract, and become a tenure-track researcher, you’re in the best job there is. You’re doing what you love, you have most of the time a flexible schedule, you supervise master’s and/or PhD students, you go to conferences all over the world. You write papers others comment on, and at some point you might even write a book (or co-author one). How amazingly cool is that?

I couldn’t agree more. We love what we do (except those who don’t, of course…). He just forgot about the grants writing and usual paperwork, which takes 20 to 50 % of our time, but eh, he’s still doing a PhD.

The disposable academic

A long and interesting read in the Economist. A very and almost exclusively negative view of PhD and postdoc.

PhD students and contract staff known as “postdocs”, described by one student as “the ugly underbelly of academia”, do much of the research these days. There is a glut of postdocs too.

Of course they do much of the research ! This is what PhD’s are for ! How can you decide to get into research if you don’t experience it first ? With a tenure position, once you’ve taken care of grant writing, academic duties, teaching and various paperwork, your available time for research is usually deceptively low. Maybe materials science is very different from other domains, or it’s that we are very lucky in France, I don’t know, but my PhD experience was excellent. Pure research for three years, with a decent salary, and no responsibility other than carrying your own subject and writing your manuscript at the end. As for the postdoc, it was even better: already operational with the experimental techniques, no manuscript to write but papers, no responsibility again to write grants or any other paperwork, and with a great salary. A terrific time.  Not mentioning that I was in one of the best materials science group in the world.