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So You Want To Get a PhD

What’s the graduate student stereotype?

So, you want to get a PhD, but you have some preconceived ideas and questions…

What do you think about when you hear the word ‘grad student?’

  1. a crying student surrounded by piles of books and coffee-stained papers?
  2. a broke, blood-shot-eyed, smelly 20-something?
  3. an unkempt, disheveled student cowering under a towering bearded Jack Nicholson-like figure shouting ‘publish or perish’?

Let’s face it- there are are a lot of stereotypes of grad students floating around these days. Consider taking a look at our Myths about the Average Graduate Student post. We are here to address them and chat about grad school and grad life.

So, what is grad school?

There are two types of graduate school –the first leads to a master’s degree (1-2 years) and is the most common, while the second leads to doctoral degree (3-6+ years). Generally in the States, you pay for your Master’s and the school pays for your doctorate. We recommend that if you are pursuing a doctorate degree, make sure that the program you attend pays your tuition (not all of them do!).

Do you really want to get a PhD?

As you think about whether you want to get a PhD remember that there are other options. Before you apply to get a PhD, it’s important to think about the following things:

  1. Do you really want to get a PhD?
  2. Is your goal with higher education to get a promotion?
  3. Are you looking to get a new job that requires at least a Master’s?
  4. Is your goal to do research and contribute to the pool of knowledge?
  5. Do you want to pursue a PhD to prove something?
  6. Are you okay paying for the tuition of a Master’s program?
  7. Do you want to enter academia?
  8. Do you want to learn something new?

There isn’t necessarily a right answer to any of the above points, but it’s important to think about your motivations. Launching into graduate school is a serious time commitment. You’ll hate yourself going in unsure of whether it’s the right thing for you to do at that point in your life. Maybe you want to get a PhD or a Master’s or an MBA at this point in time and you won’t want to later. That’s fine. Just make sure that your goals and motivations align with who you want to be and what you want to do. Obviously, you don’t have to know what you want to do right after grad school, but it’s important to have an idea of the things you are willing to do.

That PhD life, it doesn’t always have to lead to professorship.

At its core, a PhD is an opportunity to dive deep into an independent research project. In the sciences, a graduate student has a supervisor, called a principle investigator (PI), who overlooks his/her work. You can think of this figure as a (hopefully) benevolent ruler; the lab boss. The relationship with your PI will be one of the most important professional relationships of your academic life. Seriously. We’ll talk about how to choose a PI in a future blog post and podcast.

Getting a PhD traditionally led to becoming a professor in the future, but people are increasingly exploring other non-academic career paths. So, if you want to get a PhD and don’t want to continue in academia, you don’t have to! The PhD is very versatile! Because the foundation of a PhD is independent research, it will really challenge and shape one’s problem-solving skills. Being able to break a project into testable parts and  to interpret results are really valuable skills in any career.

Let us help you on your quest towards a PhD! Since we’re three PhD students in the biological sciences ourselves, we’ll give you first hand accounts and advice about the wonders, and potential terrors, of grad school. It’s going to be a difficult road, but along the way we will reach scientific enlightenment, read cool research papers, and find self-fulfillment…maybe. We will cover subjects such as applying to grad school, applying to fellowships, choosing a mentor, developing a thesis project, and more!

So, if you want to get a PhD, join us as we stumble through life and try to navigate the world of academic science!


And as always, you can reach out to us @phdxlife on Twitter if you have specific questions!

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