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- Why do I feel like I failed my qualifying exam? I think this is a very normal feeling. I guess it stems from doubting our abilities and from the fact that we talk or write to people who’ve been in the business for much longer, and that may make us feel inadequate or like a failure at points. But people in exam committees were like us at some point. I try to remember that and also that this feeling will go down as you go up the learning ladder.
- After finishing PhD, what to do? There are many things to do. Both professionally and personally. Professionally some people decide to stay in school and go into law, medicine or other fields. I know people who go into medicine, patent law, or industry. Some other have left science altogether, while most go up the learning ladder and land a post doc. It’s a matter of knowing what you want your career to be in the future. If you want to become a professor, or learn some tools before moving on, then doing a postdoc would be my recommendation. Personally … it is my feeling that many things get put down in the back seat when you’re in grad school, that after finishing you might want to start taking care of them, like family, personal relationships. I’d say set your priorities straight and go have some fun, while taking care of both your professional and personal lives.
- I hate my Postdoc – Mmmm, I don’t know how to start answering this one. I think postdoc-ing is not for everyone. I think that most of us will go though it to acquire skills that we didn’t learn in grad school, or refine them, or as a stepping stone to becoming a tenure track prof. Now, some people go into a postdoc as a temporary thing while they wait for their partner to finish (partly why I’m doing one, and a bit of everything I’ve mentioned before). I think that postdocs are meant to give you certain independence and strengths, but sometimes the choices we make come back to haunt us. There’s no real way of knowing where, when and with whom you’ll be a great science fit. You go for interviews and all, but there’s no real way of knowing how your postdoc experience will be. You can get clues from people who’ve postdoc-ed there. Some (if not most) lab will have a webpage where you can learn more about the labs and about who makes up the lab. My advice (before) you start at a certain lab and commit your time for a year or more is to contact ex members. I was living way too far to talk in person to other lab members from my new lab, but I did talked to PI’s and students who knew the lab and highly recommended it, thus when I came for the interview I tried to confirm what I had learned about the environment here. Once you’ve started working and see the ins and outs you might get discouraged, or maybe if you ventured into a completely different field (like me) you might find yourself doubting whether the choice you made was the right one (I’ve had at some points). The important thing is to remember is that a postdoc is an even more temporary position that being a grad student, and that if contracts are renewed on a yearly basis there is no reason to stay at that place if you don’t like it. If it’s too much to bear, try to end things cordially. After all, you might need letters of recommendation sooner rather than later or you might need to explain to a future employer what you didn’t like about the previous place.
- Postdoc salary Canada tax – I think that as a rule of thumb is ~25% of your take home pay. I hope to write a post about this in the coming spring, but right now I’m saving ~25% of my take home pay. Taxes are definitely higher in Canada, but the services are far better too.
- Kicked out of Master’s program, hide in application – I’m going to go out on a limb and say …. mmm, it’s probably not a good idea. Because you’ll need to provide transcripts of the place(s) you’ve been. Whatever the reason the master’s experience didn’t work, my advice would be to not hide it, but try to take a positive spin, possibly along the lines of it wasn’t the right fit, or I wanted to explore this area, then I got to learn more about this other one and that’s where I want to get my degree instead. Getting kicked out is not an easy thing, so I’d look for professional advice on how not to hide it, but give it as much of a positive spin to enhance your chances of getting into the new program you’re applying for.
- When can I use the title PhD after my defense – dude or dudette … immediately. I don’t know how things roll in your department, but immediately after my committee evaluated my performance at the lecture and then at the closed-door defense they congratulated me and referred to me as doctor. It’s your effort, it’s your time to shine. Once the committee gives you the green light to make corrections you should feel free to use it. I wouldn’t go boasting about it everywhere, but if you are applying for a job, definitely add the completion of your degree to your CV or Resumé.
- I have a PhD and my salary sucks – well sorry hon … but welcome to the club. I know, after so many years of schooling, how come I’m getting paid slightly more than a grad student, but maybe less than a seasoned lab tech. It sucks, but growing into more comfortable areas of research and teaching and such happen through time and it takes a while to start earning into the 100K. Unless you work for industry or a nice paying job with the government, in academia things tend not to pay too much until you’re a seasoned scientist yourself.
- I failed my thesis defense – Mmmmm, I’m not sure how can this happen … except if your committee is made up of creeps or if you were so nervous that the oral defense went bad or out of control. I’m not sure how to advise you on this one … other than hang on tight and look for advice from your boss, or committee members on how to make up for any deficiencies.
- Scared to get a PhD – totally normal, totally fine. Know what field of fields you like, or are good in, look for possible places to conduct research and look for advice or guidance from a counselor at your current school. It’s a long, tiring way, but many have done it, and it feels great to be done and to have a tremendous body of work that can speak for your love and committment to a discipline.
- Monthly postdoc salary – depends on whether it’s on industry, government or academia. Usually industry pays much better than the last two. If you’re applying to a lab with government funding, then funding agencies usually have tables that dictate the minimum salary for starting postdocs, and also for the years of experience they have. At my old school, the starting salary for 2006-07 was ~36K. In Canada is ~37K. These salaries are for the sciences. If you land a fellowship it might supplement or even increase your pay.
- Questions to ask after failing a PhD qualifying – Many. You can read this post about how I dealt with it. Mainly the questions to ask are (besides the obvious why) how can the situation be remedied, what happens next, what areas to tackle, which areas of the exam is the committee interested in seeing an improvement, which ones were fine. I’d say take this as with any exam or school work one fails. Ask how or what went wrong, what can you do to fix it and any pointers they have to help get you there faster. If you have more questions, feel free to email me stitchick at gmail dot com.
- Examination committee PhD tips – Many, but mainly be courteous, be polite, be respectful and be engaging. Also have a note pad to ask and write questions and answers. Stay on top of your game by being well read on the topic you’re working in. Stay focused and if you want to use humour, use if wisely and sparsely. Main thing for me would be respect. It takes you places.
- I stopped going to grad school – ok, there are some search terms that crack me up, others completely surprise me … and others baffle me. This is one of them (baffling ones). I don’t know why, but it does. I’m guessing that the searcher wanted to find other people like him/her … which I’m sure they did. I had this classmate who didn’t return to grad school after his X-mas vacay. My BF stopped going to grad school, for personal reasons and because he found out that after a year of soul-searching, the school, program and discipline were not doing it for him. Because of the search term on being kicked out of grad school and because I saw the effects of him is why I’d recommend seeing a therapist as soon as you suspect that grad school is not for you, or things are not working out, or you need direction. I’d say don’t stop going altogether until you’ve reached a decision for which you’ve done the math, weighted pros and cons and is solely based on your thoughts and beliefs, not those of others. I don’t think it’s too uncommon to stop going to grad school, the important part is to devise a plan to make up for lost time, or look for ways to end up with as much of a good standing as possible.
- The debt after your PhD – Very interesting topic. I ended up with debt after grad school because I made some foolish decisions. But my degree was funded by the NIH, thus if you’re doing a PhD in the sciences your degree may be paid for by a funding agency or private fellowships. This is by far how things work for science in the US. My BF was in the arts and humanities, and for them sometimes there’s not enough funding, or no funding period (something which I think is completely foolish because the knowledge derived about behaviours, history, politics, etc, is as important as discovering new cancer therapeutic agents, really). Some schools offer a moderate stipend for their students in the “non-science” disciplines. Now, that said, some stipends (and the area in which you do your PhD) might not be enough to cover all the life expenses even when you try to be frugal. It can be done, but it will require some juggling. Ideally, your debt after doing the PhD will be minimal, but if you get sick and your student insurance sucks …. things will get difficult. Also, if you’re carrying student loans from undergrad, those might be deferred until graduation (but I’m no authority on this, so don’t take my advice as an absolute truth, go and ask the finance people at your particular school).
- Worst PhD mentor – wow, this one really tickled me. Now, I’m not saying there are no bad (or terrible mentors). As a former student, I know what it is to stand there, in a class full of people and have a great professor (communication-wise) who’s an ogre in real life with his lab (I saw a few of those in my day). I also saw people who sucked at teaching, but whose research was fantastic. That being said, there’s not absolute formula that guarantees that you’ll fall in love with your grad school mentor, or that the experience will be all lovely all the time. If things get hard to deal with, look for help with your department or faculty. Look for mediators, and if all else fails you might need to switch labs. I know friends who switched mentors after a while because it was a true hell to work for them. It can be done, it happens. It’s usually not the norm, but there are no fail-safe methods that ensure that all members of a department are angels.
- Grad school hell – I don’t know how this one came to be …. I can only say that it does feel like that when data is not being acquired fast enough, or when a project looks like will fail no matter how much time and effort you put into it. It might be because the school sucks, or because of the previous point. All I can say is that even with bad days, weeks or months, in the end, having that degree is all that matters. You’re time in hell will be over eventually. It’s a rough ride, but the fruits and rewards are great.