Advice to upcoming Ph.D.s

As a comment to my previous post, Steven wrote:

Any advice for someone that thought a Ph.D. in Computer Science was a good idea in 2004 that plan to graduate in 2010?

A fair question. I currently supervise two Ph.D. students in Computer Science. Hence, I have thought about the problem.

My advice:

  1. Be prepared for the worst. No matter how good you are. I work for a non-prestigious school, and the last guy we hired—this winter—had three research grants, fifteen graduate students, 40 research articles… Few recent Ph.D. graduates can compete.
  2. Look for research jobs at unusual places. Widely advertised positions at prestigious places are only a small fraction of all jobs.
  3. Do not wait until you nearly have your Ph.D. in hand to look for jobs. Plan one or two years ahead.
  4. Random emails to professors are not useful. But a well-placed email can get you a job. Do not spam, but  email.
  5. You may have some control about when you finish your Ph.D. Try to finish just in time to get a job, not sooner, not later.
  6. An industry job is always an option. Or start your own business. Be warned that getting back to academia may not be easy.
  7. There are good non-tenure-track positions. Do not fool yourself into thinking they lead to tenure.

6 thoughts on “Advice to upcoming Ph.D.s”

  1. La situation varie beaucoup en fonction du domaine. En éducation par exemple, il n’y a pas assez de candidats pour les postes offerts. Les étudiants en science informatique qui débutent gagneraient à se renseigner sur la situation dans d’autres domaines et à viser l’interdisciplinarité. Ceux qui ont terminé ou qui termineront bientôt devraient probablement envisager l’application de leurs connaissances et habiletés dans des champs connexes et être innovateurs!

  2. As someone who defended his PhD a little over 6 months ago, I can say that if you want to do research, an academic position is not your only option. I happen to work in a place that is letting me get a very small amount of research done, but there is opportunity for further research. The catch is that is must have business value.

    Personally, I think there are many opportunities for research in industry. However, you certainly don’t have the freedom that you have in an academic position.

  3. Great advice!! I’m planning to graduate at the middle of fall, and finding the academic job market shrinking and shrinking.

  4. Thank you for the post. I’m doing some, but not all of these things, so this is very helpful. I really appreciate that your blog addresses issues like this that aren’t discussed much elsewhere. I’m definitely preparing for the worst.

    I’m considering jobs outside of academia. In my case, network security researchers appear to be in demand at US defense and intelligence contractors, i.e., companies that work for the DoD, DHS, etc. I’m a US citizen, which is helpful because many of these jobs require a security clearance. I just got a summer position in a research group at a defense-related company that strongly encourages their employees to publish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To create code blocks or other preformatted text, indent by four spaces:

    This will be displayed in a monospaced font. The first four 
    spaces will be stripped off, but all other whitespace
    will be preserved.
    Markdown is turned off in code blocks:
     [This is not a link](

To create not a block, but an inline code span, use backticks:

Here is some inline `code`.

For more help see