A question for the peanut gallery –
I’m starting to get a trickle of the interested-in-grad-school student emails. So far the few I’ve gotten have been great. So, I’m revising my prospective students page after noticing a few things in year one. The first was a lack of some students realizing that I wanted to know their interests beyond ‘marine ecology’. I wanted a research question – any question, no matter how broad – as having a question does not guarantee it’s what you’re going to follow in your graduate career. It was just to see how students think and what I might expect from them. Now I’ve made that a wee bit more explicit, and the division between potential masters and PhD students on the page. This is all ok
OK – honesty aside, as who knows if one of the potential mentors I interviewed with is reading this, but, one of my potentially most embarrassing moments as a prospective PhD student was my first meeting with her. I had just taken a cross country flight or two, and then went to dinner with them. The first thing they asked me was, “What are you interested in?” And, indeed, I answered, after far too long of a pause, “Marine ecology.” Long pause. Then, they were kind enough to gently say, “OK, what about marine ecology?…” After I screwed my head back on a bit straighter, we had a lovely conversation about ideas, work, etc., and I passed out as soon as my head hit my pillow that night. So, you know, everyone flounders a bit. Particularly when extremely jet-lagged and getting an adrenaline rush of peering into the future.
OK, so, my question – One thing I’ve been pondering, though, is putting a piece on the page as a heads-up about the prospects of a PhD or masters student. In particular in reading Jacquelyn’s recent piece and the excellent discussion therein, and thinking about the answers to my question, “Why this degree?” to prospectives last year, I’ve realized that most students just haven’t thought about it, or have unrealistic expectations. My question is, what should we be telling them? This page – the prospective students information – is perhaps the venue they will scan most closely, and hence one of the best places to give students some knowledge about what this degree can do for them and what long-term challenges will be once they enter the employment market. I’m trying to be brief, and provide a few helpful, if sobering, links to start further reading. So – do you think this is a good idea? And if so, does the tone veer too far one way or another? I’ve tried to be gentle, if cautionary.
Or, maybe I won’t put this up at all…
— Here’s the new section
Why a graduate degree?
Why are you interested in a graduate degree? If you have no research experience aside from working as a lab tech, a masters degree might be what you’re looking for. Or it’s excellent as there are a wide variety of career options that are open to you with a masters. Do some homework – ask yourself how this degree will help you achieve your professional goals. For a PhD, I know the default answer is always “So I can be a university professor.” That’s great, and I look forward to working together to help you achieve that goal. Do some reading, though, and make sure you know what you’re jumping into (and be sure to read the comment thread at that link). The job market for academics is never great. This is not to discourage you, but take a breath before diving in and think about long-term goals. Know also that a PhD is amazing training for a wide variety of careers as well. So, think about your long-term goals and why a PhD is the right road for you. You may also be interested in checking out this book.