As we look at what is happening in the employment situation
for recent graduates we are hard pressed to advise people
not highly enthusiastic in their work,
not thrilled with the discovery world of science,
not very pleased with working in their research group with
their current adviser
to slog it out to earn their Ph.D. in whatever technical field. They
ask is it better to leave with an MS.
Most agree the pleasure in working in science needs to be
balanced with knowing ourselves, our values and goals, and
our current situation.
Several people have approached me asking for help to make
career decisions. After an informal process to explore their
cultural influences (individualistic vs. group identity) and preferences,
without revealing personal details, here are some thought
processes to help them ask good, meaningful questions and
The choice(s) we make are more emotionally driven than logically
arrived at. Here is what one fellow and I have discussed.
Undecided: My adviser set up a meeting to review my recent
experimental data tomorrow. He has been busy and we have
not met for three months. So, I asked if we could also talk about
my career goals and graduation expectations at that time.
Was that too much to ask? Should I have set up another time?
Suggestion: It is always good to have a meeting where
everyone has a vested interest in holding sharing information.
Don’t change it now.
It is good to have:
-an agenda, and make it balanced (his issues and your
-a time limit (60 minutes, including enough time to cover your
-a brief one page summary of each major topic-
*a proposal for what you need to do to finish your MS (write up
your results, write papers, give presentations, finish experiments
up to an agreed upon date),
*submit your academic degree paperwork on time with his signature (do
you have a draft already?)
*ask for his support in helping you find your next position (contacts,
“good letters of reference) and
*support for however number of months you will be “in school” with
You need to be an advocate for your family’s case.
Please think about saying specifically what you wish to cover on
your agenda right at the beginning before going into the details.
Undecided: Thanks for your advice, as it was very helpful.
I felt well-prepared, as I had an outline with all of the points that I
wanted to cover and highlights of each. The data/lab part review
went fine, as expected.
When we discussed my career part, I basically laid out my
concerns about the job market and my marketability as an MS
vs. PhDvs. PhD with post-doc and then talked about my interest
in industry over academia.
His response was basically that I would be doing useless bench
work in industry with an MS and that I should consider a PhD/
post-doc, if I wanted to get anywhere in my career. However, he
has little to no experience with industry.
He said that in order to finish within the next 1 1/2 - 2 years, I would
need to work 12+ hour days in the lab, then write all night at home
and not take any weekends or holidays off. He said that my life
should be “hell” and that I should be willing to compromise
relationships or do whatever needed to get my degree.
I am nearly positive that I really need to leave with my MS, as soon
as I can get a job offer and finish up the necessary lab work.
Staying on that that long, only to be forced into a post-doc, what I
do not wish to do, sounds awful. Yes, I may take a pay cut with
an MS and have “wasted” several years deciding what to do, but I
think that a more “normal” job (not a lead researcher job) will fit
what I want out of my lifestyle.