Dear Science,

Who the fuck do you think you are? Your writing is little more than hysterical and pointless lamentations and knee-jerk anti-wealthy-investor snifflings, Mr. Golob. What makes you so special? You're just another whiny, entitled, asshole graduate student expecting a handout to sit around and intellectually masturbate all day. If you had any marketable skills or any knowledge of finance or the real world, you long ago would've been hired at a company. Instead, you're an overgrown, know-it-all child who irresponsibly uses a position of power to try to tear down the hard work of others. You're an ass, Mr. Golob.

Angry Banker

You, sir or madam, are correct in every area. But allow me to explain what this intellectual masturbation entails. Getting a PhD is a bit like going back to the 18th century—meaning, the training is an apprenticeship. 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. Graduate school starts as a series of first dates—typically three lab rotations lasting a few months—where you test the waters and find the one for you. By this point, almost a year of your life is consumed, and you're just getting started.

You next absorb just about everything in your field of study—through classes, reading scientific articles, and work at the bench. When you've walked to the very precipice of human knowledge, you're ready for your general exam. This is probably the toughest threshold for getting a PhD. You need to demonstrate this general knowledge and understanding of your chosen field, and lay out a clear plan for how you are going to venture outward from the known into the unknown—broken down into specific aims of what you'll study, with backup plans for the inevitable problems and failures.

A thesis committee of faculty members judges your plan and knowledge. Pass (and many don't), and you become a PhC, or a candidate of philosophy. Fail, and you may get a second shot to try again or an opportunity to walk away with a master's degree for your years of effort. After becoming a PhC, it's up to you to get that plan to work. You remain a graduate student until you do—or until your funding runs out. There are no guarantees.

In this way, getting a PhD is like little else in our education system. Unlike law or medical school, it is not a set of courses you have to pass. You have to try something new. The task is making a new path, not following an old one. If you succeed, you write a really boring book that nobody aside from your thesis adviser and committee will read. You have a final exam where you present and defend your results to your thesis committee. And only then are you a PhD.

Knowledgably Yours,