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Graduate school in science, math, and engineering discussion - Page 2

post #16 of 30
I have a PhD in chemistry, will post some thoughts tomorrow. My recent general advice to people thinking about grad school in the sciences is to think long and hard about it, the process is not particularly pleasant and you don't get those years back. It's not a place to "find yourself," it's a place to do something you already know you love. You can find exactly what in your field you love, but you'd better be damn sure that you're already a diehard before you start or you'll flame out and have wasted some important years.


Quote:
Originally Posted by zjpj83 View Post
And, at the end of the day, people will care what you publish, not the professor you work with.

Ehhh........depends what field you're in and what you want to do. Many people in chemistry get industry jobs with very minimal publication records simply because of who they know and who they worked for. Publications help, but the reputation of your lab is a pretty enormous consideration.
post #17 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joenobody0 View Post
I'm going to assume you're talking about UG or Masters level people. There's a world of difference between those people and top top PhD students. Imagine the weirdest math dude you've ever met. That guy might have been average-weird here. The people that I'm talking about would be more likely to commit suicide (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Floer) than work on Wallstreet (I went into industry FWIW).

Sorry for the confusion. I don't know any PhD math students personally, but the people I know are semi-normal. I have to agree with you that they have no social skills though.
post #18 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by ramuman View Post
A lot of big names are assholes because their lives revolve around the arrogance they build based on making the cover of Nature or Science. You just need a personality mesh with your advisor. If it's an advisor that's just starting out or one that's established...no worries. Just make sure they fulfill their fundamental duty for those 4 or 5 years...being your mentor.

My advisor worked for Richard Smalley (won the Nobel for discovering buckeyballs), and he was apparently a real pain in the ass to work for. One of those guys that would drop by the lab at 9pm on Saturday and ask what everyone was planning on working on that night, and seriously expect them to have more stuff planned.


I overall got along well with my advisor, but he had a bit of a passive-aggressive management style. He didn't like setting concrete metrics, always wanted to try to get people to do more. That was fine, but he would wait way too long to ever tell someone they weren't doing enough/weren't being effective, and needed to change something. I like having more overt goals laid out for me, and it took us a while to get on the same page. Worked out well in the end, but we had some tense meetings at times.
post #19 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gibonius View Post
I have a PhD in chemistry, will post some thoughts tomorrow. My recent general advice to people thinking about grad school in the sciences is to think long and hard about it, the process is not particularly pleasant and you don't get those years back. It's not a place to "find yourself," it's a place to do something you already know you love. You can find exactly what in your field you love, but you'd better be damn sure that you're already a diehard before you start or you'll flame out and have wasted some important years.




Ehhh........depends what field you're in and what you want to do. Many people in chemistry get industry jobs with very minimal publication records simply because of who they know and who they worked for. Publications help, but the reputation of your lab is a pretty enormous consideration.

Academically, lab/advisor/publications matter a lot. In industry, I think school reputation matters a lot.
post #20 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gibonius View Post
I have a PhD in chemistry, will post some thoughts tomorrow. My recent general advice to people thinking about grad school in the sciences is to think long and hard about it, the process is not particularly pleasant and you don't get those years back. It's not a place to "find yourself," it's a place to do something you already know you love. You can find exactly what in your field you love, but you'd better be damn sure that you're already a diehard before you start or you'll flame out and have wasted some important years.

This is super important. If a student has never done anything in a lab as an undergrad, why would he or she want to spend intense (50-80 hour in labs, depending on your field) time doing research for 4-5 years? The types of minds attracted to research try to get involved in undergrad labs when they're freshmen/sophomores, juniors at the latest. A PhD in hard science is definitely not a good "fall back" option.
post #21 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gibonius View Post
My advisor worked for Richard Smalley (won the Nobel for discovering buckeyballs), and he was apparently a real pain in the ass to work for. One of those guys that would drop by the lab at 9pm on Saturday and ask what everyone was planning on working on that night, and seriously expect them to have more stuff planned. I overall got along well with my advisor, but he had a bit of a passive-aggressive management style. He didn't like setting concrete metrics, always wanted to try to get people to do more. That was fine, but he would wait way too long to ever tell someone they weren't doing enough/weren't being effective, and needed to change something. I like having more overt goals laid out for me, and it took us a while to get on the same page. Worked out well in the end, but we had some tense meetings at times.
If your advisor was Jim Heath...you need to PM me for a story about the guy Some Nobel Laureates were/are pricks - but very very few people can get that lucky and be that smart. If you start grad school without an open mind and are just an arrogant douchebag that wants to impress the scientific community, odds are you'll fail by a lot of metrics. Far more often than not, the folks I've met that accomplished something truly significant in research were class acts. They might've been a bit cocky or a bit smug internally, but humble on balance. There are outliers, but I wouldn't try to map my life out based on outliers. Typical example: George Whitesides: Awesome. Outlier example: Chad Mirkin: Douche.
post #22 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by ramuman View Post
Far more often than not, the folks I've met that accomplished something truly significant in research were class acts. They might've been a bit cocky or a bit smug internally, but humble on balance. There are outliers, but I wouldn't try to map my life out based on outliers.

I met a Nobel Laureate a while back. Extremely pleasant guy. I think part of what leads to a distinguished researcher being humble is the realization that without [ a sometimes significant amount] of luck, the research expenditure would have failed. I think at one point he said "We knew what we wanted it to do, we knew what had worked in the past, and so we just kind of mixed things together. Then we got something, and it worked! And we found a way to easily replicate the synthesis!"
post #23 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by ramuman View Post
If your advisor was Jim Heath...you need to PM me for a story about the guy

Some Nobel Laureates were/are pricks - but very very few people can get that lucky and be that smart. If you start grad school without an open mind and are just an arrogant douchebag that wants to impress the scientific community, odds are you'll fail by a lot of metrics.

Far more often than not, the folks I've met that accomplished something truly significant in research were class acts. They might've been a bit cocky or a bit smug internally, but humble on balance. There are outliers, but I wouldn't try to map my life out based on outliers.

Typical example: George Whitesides: Awesome.
Outlier example: Chad Mirkin: Douche.

A great example of the Nobel Laureates who aren't dicks was Eric Cornell. He came by when I was an undergraduate and talked with our department about Bose Einstein Condensation. The best thing that I remember (besides him being a nice guy) was his constant insistence that to move forward in physics "we need to have a gut level understanding of quantum mechanics." This is probably part of what led me to choosing condensed matter (that, and it seems nobody will let you pursue a specialty in mathematical physics) as the general area of physics I'm pursuing.

As a current PhD student, I have to contradict the OP and say that I have absolutely no free time. Between TAing, classes, and research, I barely get to see my family. They support me in this however, and for good reason. Prior to entering grad school this past fall I spent two years working for a software R&D firm. The problems were okay, and I was given latitude, but because I wasn't working in an area I really cared about, my work kept slipping. In the end I was laid off because of it. Now I make less money and work almost as bad hours, but I don't feel as soul dead.

I love the work I'm doing. My department is supportive of me working cross-discipline with the Math department, and I get to explore a connection between the two that really sits at the heart of what I think I've always wanted to do.

All of that said, the two things I think I've learned that I can add to this are: Have a support network. Having people you can depend upon, who can love you, and who you can work for makes things easier. Also, if you're not doing research you want to do, you'll find out really quickly.
post #24 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joenobody0 View Post
At one point, I was a student in a top 3 pure math PhD program. I hated it. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.

Maybe it was the pure math part, only kidding.
post #25 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gibonius View Post
Ehhh........depends what field you're in and what you want to do. Many people in chemistry get industry jobs with very minimal publication records simply because of who they know and who they worked for. Publications help, but the reputation of your lab is a pretty enormous consideration.

I don't doubt it. I guess I'm thinking from the perspective of staying in academia.
post #26 of 30
It depends on what you want to do. The hard sciences absolutely require a PhD. Engineering, not so much, especially in the cutting-edge fields, because most of the interesting work is being done in industry. We even have a slight bias against PhD. candidates when we recruit.

My sister's a neurobiologist, and was very lucky to find a good and sympathetic advisor in grad school, who was also well-respected and had good connections. He basically set up her post-grad career with intros, and they're still good friends to this day. Her work is good and deserves it, but he helped bring it to the people who could fund it.

--Andre
post #27 of 30
Don't do it.
post #28 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by deadly7 View Post
I met a Nobel Laureate a while back. Extremely pleasant guy. I think part of what leads to a distinguished researcher being humble is the realization that without [ a sometimes significant amount] of luck, the research expenditure would have failed. I think at one point he said "We knew what we wanted it to do, we knew what had worked in the past, and so we just kind of mixed things together. Then we got something, and it worked! And we found a way to easily replicate the synthesis!"

Even the humble/grounded/etc ones could still be a pain in the ass to work for, and some of the arrogant as hell ones could be great to work for. It's hard to tell until you've gotten a look at the working conditions, talked to the grad students and gotten a feel for the lab.



Quote:
Originally Posted by ramuman View Post
If your advisor was Jim Heath...you need to PM me for a story about the guy
Nope, somebody else (rather not say on the open forum). My advisor actually built/helped design the machine they eventually discovered C60 on. He left around when Heath was arriving, if I'm reading the timelines correctly.
post #29 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joenobody0 View Post
Sure, but it's hard for me to adequately capture the experience. I'll start with my cohort group: the vast majority could hold no job besides "mathematician." Think about what that means. They had 0 social skills (chewing with your mouth open, picking your nose and eating it, pulling your hair out pathologically, I've seen them all), I suspect most bathed about once a month (no shit), and they had major superiority complex (# of papers published + Erdos number = math dick size). Moving on from them are... the professors. Imagine what those people will be like in 20 years. That's 99% of the professors I had to interact with. The worst part of the experience was the pursuit of skills that nobody in the world cares about. Topology of 4 dimensional manifolds is not exactly a growth industry.

how did you get to the point of doing a math phd without understanding it would be like this? did you go to state school undergrad? also what you're describing does not match my experience of top level mathematicians at all ... (other than superiority complex) ... sounds more like the wannabes who affect quirkiness.
post #30 of 30
Thread Starter 
A couple of other thoughts came to mind: Try to plan out what you want to do after your degree as soon as possible. For example, if you're going into academia, you'll need publications. Despite the fact that I'm very near the end of my Ph.D., I have very few and would have no chance to enter academia in a quality department. I'm fine with that because I knew I wouldn't go in that direction early on and focused on other things. Don't be afraid to make a commitment regarding the future of your time and grad school and going with it. You're the best judge of what you want to do. As one example, a friend of mine decided one day that she couldn't deal with research. She finished off her M.S., applied to law school, worked as a yoga instructor for a semester in the interim, and went off to law school. I have no doubt she'll be successful in what she ends up doing.
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