Am I too critical of the Ph.D. track?

I believe that what I’m trying to achieve with some of my more critical posts about the Ph.D. track is to provide “a candid acknowledgement of the sacrifices and conflicts that came with the field.”

An older article in Salon has interesting quotes on this theme…

Academia is a world that is not set up to nurture a marriage or a personal life in general.


Male professors are expected to be married to their scholarship but not to their wives in the same full-on, participatory way. Women academics are asked to be polygamous and then are punished as a result.

Update: Buddhamouse think I’m too critical. Her comment can be summarized as follow: getting a Ph.D. can be fun work, and then, you can go search for work outside academia. (Oh! And “just say no to postdocs”.)

Daniel Lemire, "Am I too critical of the Ph.D. track?," in Daniel Lemire's blog, August 29, 2005.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

One thought on “Am I too critical of the Ph.D. track?”

  1. Yes, I think that you are too critical of the PhD track.

    I did my PhD studies in physics. I was lucky to have an advisor who believed that doing grad studies is one of the most fun experiences you can have in life. He was correct; and also at odds with a lot of the macho bs that goes on in academia (it has to be hard, you have to suffer, you have to be a genius, you have to work 24 hours a day, or whatever nonsense).

    I enjoyed my grad studies, but by the time I finished I had been brainwashed by the university culture to believe that only an academic career path was acceptable; anything else would be a failure. Despite the fact that I was not a topnotch physicist, I went on to do a couple of postdocs, which, for the large part, I did not enjoy. Fortunately, I eventually realized that I was not having fun, and that academia is not everything, and went to work at commercial ventures. I do not believe I would have enjoyed myself if I had gotten a tenured position, and I know for sure that I’m making a lot more money now. I am very happy that I did my PhD work, and equally happy that I chose not to remain in academia.

    Here’s my suggestion to anyone thinking a PhD is a good idea: Ask yourself, why am I going to do this? Keep in mind that it doesn’t guarantee you an academic position. Look at the statistics: how many grad students are there, and how many faculty positions open every year, just at your own university? Getting a PhD in itself, especially in a technical field (I’m biased), can be quite a lot of fun. It’s also excellent training, can give you broad experience, and sharpens your mind. If you want to do a PhD for all or some of those reasons, go for it. If you want to do a PhD because you think you will be guaranteed a tenure-track position, think again.

    BTW I happen to be a woman who has no interest in marriage or children, so I can’t speak for men or women who consider those two options to be of primary importance. Those factors never entered into my consideration when deciding on the PhD/academic track, or when deciding to leave academia.

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