Dear Science

What's in a PhD?


I usually love your column, but you should have skipped on this one. I too have a graduate degree, and yeah, it was difficult to get. But now that I'm fully submerged in corperate hell, I can tell you that my college years were a full blown cake walk compared to what I deal with in the workforce. I chuckle now, looking back on it. How I used to whine about how little sleep I got, how 'hard' the tests were, how much I had to learn. Now in my field, I have a daily hands on continuing education that absolutely dwarfs my formal education.
Some of the PhDs I know are some of the most brilliant/interesting people I know.

Some of the PhDs I know are some of the most ignorant/arrogant/assbags I know who wouldn't last two fucking days in the real world.

You are insightful and fun to read. You don't need to go trotting out your Phd to validate yourself. If anything, it made you look like an arrogant assbag.

Sorry....Love ya!!!
I just recently finished my PhD and totally agree with this write-up. I've often worded my description of getting a PhD as "an endurance race with a couple of random hurdles, if you can last long enough, eventually they give you the doctorate."
So- the guy sounds like a jerk, we need both corporate and academic types in the world. And both corporate AND acadmics can be awesome or assbags.

One comment, from a fellow scientist: when you talk about science in general, it is a little grating how you speak from a lab perspective. For example, not all science happens "at the bench."

Think about it. Please don't act as a voice for all scientists if you are going to describe us from only your perspective.

And Golob...get off that bench sometime.
Dr. Golob,

I wish they'd had a question in the sex survey about which stranger staff member we would sleep with because you are so number one. And I am a straight male. You are so money, your skin is green.

Congrats on the degree!
Angry Banker is not allowed to be treated with any medication created by any scientist for any illness ever.

It's a hallmark of a small mind to think that they are the only ones whose job is difficult or requires intelligence.

Dude needs to grow a little imagination.
As a Theatre undegrad, I had no idea what a PhD meant. So it's nice to know. As a complete outsider of science, I'd like to thank you.
Humanities Ph.Ds works a bit differently, but functionally the same. Our steps look like this:
1. Take semester of courses.
2. Choose adviser.
3. Take another semester of courses.
4. Choose MA thesis/exam committee of three.
5. Take more courses, propose thesis.
6. Take MA exams.
7. Write thesis, revise 100 times.
8. Defend thesis.
9. Receive MA, apply for Ph.D program either in same school or elsewhere.
10.Begin Ph.D, realize thesis was trash.
11. Take semester of courses.
12. Choose adviser.
13. Take three more years of courses.
14. Choose five person exam committee.
15. Study for exams (two five hour writing exams, two three hour writing exams).
16. Take exam.
17. Defend exam.
18. If fail, go back to step 15. If pass, go to next step. Fail twice, you're out (5-6 years in, by the way).
19. Choose new dissertation adviser (can be same) and committee (usually different...exam defenses lead to hard feelings).
20. Propose topic.
21. If accepted, write dissertation prospectus. Revise 100 times.
22. Defend prospectus, if defended successfully, go on. If not, go back to set 19 or 20.
23. Write dissertation. Revise only 5 times because you've got graduate and good is good enough and by now you are 32 and have been in college for 14 years.
24. Graduate.
25. Seek employment in budget crisis. Get paid 40k a year for your efforts.
26. Feel guilty for complaining about 40k when millions starve each year.

*Time in program correlates directly with personal feelings of despair. Graduation not nearly as thrilling as you think. think and write for a living. Not so bad.
Angry Banker sounds like most of the other arrogant, talentless asshats that also work (or used to work) in banking. That is the reason why I left banking. Most bankers are not talented or smart. All the bankers I ever worked with did work hard, but they were only motivated out of greed or because they lacked talent at anything else. That is why I left banking and finance.

So Angry Banker, don't rag on the academic folks. While you and your buddies sunk the economy, scientists are working to save your ass from dying of a horrible disease. Sadly for you and the rest of us, it may save your miserable, worthless life.

Masters programs and PhD programs are vastly different. It is pretty clear you've got a masters, maybe a JD but probably not, and whatever degree you have it is probably not in a hard science either.

But thanks for sharing. :}
Scarlett is right about this. But the idea that non-science Ph.D is easy is false. Maybe hard sciences Ph.Ds are harder...I don't know enough about them to compare. But getting a Ph.D in humanities is grueling. My Ph.D is in humanities. My MA was, well, not EASY, not as easy as a BA by a longshot, but also I had time to have a life. My period in Ph.D school was totally consumed by getting a Ph.D. True, I didn't have to get up at 7am each morning, I didn't go to work on Mondays and some semesters on Friday, but I did work most weekends writing or research either for myself or my GRA assignment (all external to reading/writing for class), pull hundreds of all nighters, or later, when that wasn't possible anymore, nights that lasted until 3am. The few times I tried to exercise a life I paid for it dearly. Of course, some idiots earn Ph.Ds, in all fields. Their stubborn perserverence, ability to meet minimum standards, attachment to a powerful adviser, and ability to re-produce work already done manages to make for their total lack of quality. Those persons are the source of great hatred for the rest of us and we hope they will be exiled to Northwest Nebraska Junior Christian College or whatever. In the end, I love hard sciences. They will save me from my first couple heart attacks, build flying cars, and help the CERN reactor break the fabric of space/time and allow time travel. But remember us humble humanities folks, too!
Angry Banker is a douche. Research grad students are some of the most well-rounded, resourceful, and coolest people I know. Didn't the Stranger JUST LAST WEEK publish an article on that UW bioengineering student who got her bike back? I was filled with so much pride for my program upon reading that story.

My experience was similar to Jonathan's, though I ended up bowing out with a Master's. Unfortunately for me, I ended up with a non-ideal advisor. He was great, but we never really clicked, and I don't think I ever fell in love with the research. It's very important that you really, really love your research topic, because you have to be really, really motivated to find out everything there is to know about that topic and beyond.

I like to think I am good at research and writing, as I aced my qualifying exam. But I was bad at the actual bench work, which was a daily improvisation of skills I never got very good at.
I got my PhD in a biomedical field at the UW, and I would say that it was actually pretty easy. I worked long hours the first couple of years, but after I really felt like I had a handle on what was expected of me I toned it down and cruised. There were whole summers where I would leave the lab every day at noon with a couple of colleagues and shoot stick at the College Inn or pound cocktails at Flowers. It really is a matter of time served more than productivity. Get a couple of publications, wait out your minimum five years and collect a PhD. Simple.
Dr. Golob -
You should have just rolled past this question. The efforts and time and rigor you put into attaining your degree would be all the more impressive if you didn't act like an arrogant douche.

Your degree(s) might make you valuable, but you are not very appealing as a human. Let's take it down a notch, eh?

It's funny that Angry Banker focuses on "finance" as a legitimate pursuit. Didn't all those finance MBAs get us in a whole world of hurt? And there's only a few "academic" economists saw it coming.
"The first, and most important, task in graduate school is picking the mentor who will train you, critique you, and ultimately decide if and when you've merited a PhD."

Are you sure that you have a PhD? Because this sounds like the sort of pie-eyed idealism that I would have spouted before starting grad school. In reality, the only training that I or most of my cohort got was from fellow grad students or post-docs; and really the vast majority of "training" came from reading the primary literature. If you aren't an autodidact then you should investigate very carefully whether your intended adviser is one of the rare few who actually takes an active role in training his students. Generally these will be younger faculty members who haven't forgotten what it's like to not receive guidance from their "mentor".

"If you succeed, you write a really boring book that nobody aside from your thesis adviser and committee will read."

Who was your committee trying to impress? Only one member of my committee read a word of mine, and he wasn't even my adviser.
This is a great column. I am a social scientist (yes, a scientist, so you ass clowns who don't understand what science means, even if you are in the "sciences," can pipe down). The strange thing is, I loved my five years in Grad School at the good ol' UW, and I like what I did with my PhD--a real, old-fashioned, old-school academic job, where I do research, teach, grade papers (most MA-level students cannot write in English), and work pretty hard. Mr. Banker can, therefore, pound sand. What I do in a day has more value to society than what banker/asshat does in a year, and it's not likely that I will, through my own ignorance or ego, destroy the economy. Enjoy unemployment, Mr. Banker prick; I am still employed.
Oh, and Disenchanted Doc: The plural of your anecdote is not data. Yes, Golub has a Ph.D., or at least knows how it usually works. Not everyone who doesn't get a PhD--or who does--has as bad an experience as you did. And if it did suck that much, why didn't you just quit? A lot of folks with PhDs are bitter about the experience, but a lot are really happy. Cheer up.
Fuck. I knew angry bankers were fucks, but I didn't realize they were fucking fucks.
Banking contributes nothing to society. Even the most optimistic economist won't get further than "liquidity", which isn't worth much if the state has to underwrite it. Banking is not a constructive force. When it is not destructive, it is merely a tool. I suppose this is what Angry Banker is so angry about, deep down.

I should know. I work in banking.
Bankers are stupid.
Tom in Raleigh, oh my goodness is that anecdote/data zinger a good one. I have never heard that one about a thousand times already. And since you are so keenly interested in hearing more of my anecdotes, the reason that I didn't quit is that I already had a lot invested in finishing my degree by the time that I realized I probably shouldn't have started it in the first place. There were plenty of us like that, but maybe we should just all shut our fat gobs and 'love it or leave it'.

Listen, fartsack, Golob is free to relate his experiences just as I am free to relate mine. In my experience, both direct and indirect (pro-tip: look up words like "cohort" if you don't understand them), Golob has related the theory of getting a PhD but not really touched on how it actually happens in practice.
You've got some angry readers here. Granted, it came off as a bit elitist, but as someone who gets a hard-on for higher education, I liked seeing the banker get smacked down.

Aside from that, I loved hearing your experience, and the experiences of everyone else who has underwent graduate school. I'm in the boat of preparing to go in and I love all the data I can get!
Sorry, social scientists aren't scientists. Physical laws don't change much, humans do. What human "law" has a social scientist ever discovered? Social scientists, come over the dark side (humanities) is the only way.
I don't see why everyone has their panties in a bunch.

"Yes, sir or madam, you are correct in every area."

I see it as Mr. Golob making a little fun of himself by turning a mirror on it.
But what do I know, I never got past the first grade. (And that does explain all the short sentences.

Your First Grade Teacher
@24, so you don't see the use in studying things like drug abuse, monetary policy, or how to conduct a census? Actually, many statistical methods used in biology, medicine, and engineering were developed by psychologists, sociologists, and economists. (I'm an engineer myself, but I have much respect for social scientists.)
I don't understand how this was at all worth of such long commentary or elitist.

Maybe I should quit my PhD program, I'm too lazy to devote the effort to get upset or excited enough to think about writing a decent response to the whiny comments.

Instead, masturbatory meta-comment.