Well, here goes the second post as promised. Not really what I had planned earlier, but hey, it is Thursday night which probably qualifies as the worst night of the week for a “PhD student” (Weekend is just a day off… yes, we PhD students in Europe do have a concept of a weekend, I am not in a position to comment about PhD students elsewhere; No getting drunk as there is still a faintest trace of a chance that you might catch your advisor on Friday! Another week has gone by and the feeling of not having made any significant progress persists; And like most PhD students elsewhere on this planet, living in a big city like Paris leaves you broke pretty much all the time).
In the dread of the afternoon, where laziness and sloth creeps in and where no amounts of coffee or snacks will let you focus on your work, PhD students start pondering other questions. Every once in a while, crashing and smashing heads on a problem long enough will lead to one inevitable question that will lead to an existential crisis. Today was one such afternoon for me. At the peak of my afternoon (in)efficiency, I remembered this cartoon that I had seen a couple of months back. It can be found on the following link and is suitably titled “The Illustrated Guide to a PhD”
Matt Might has depicted a PhD in a very funny and accurate way. As funny as it might be, the question eventually arises, “what am I doing with my Ph.D.?”. With the modern emphasis on “education” and “science”, there are so many people pursuing a Ph.D. in so many fields that it feels more or less like just another degree created to meet the rising demand for “higher qualification”. Furthermore, there are so many doctoral students, that it is practically impossible that every doctoral researcher will end up with an awesome innovative new technology that will have everyone lining up to buy the newest and shiniest of technological achievements (So much for management gurus and teachers telling us that we can leverage our doctorates to great advantage).
The time frame for a PhD has come down from 6-7 years to 3-4 years, thanks in part to industry demands and restrictions on funding. How is funding related one my ask… well, Ph.D. students being students are be paid a fraction of the pay that industry pays normal employees with similar qualifications. As they are unwilling to pay more and yet are legally required to increase hike after a certain period of time, this period of time automatically qualifies as the “date-limite” for funding of a particular doctoral researcher’s thesis! The industry doesn’t actually couldn’t care two hoots as they will create new funding for a new doctoral researcher who will have to start afresh in trying to identify the previous researcher’s errors. The industry managers for their part will be able to show a figure that is higher by a few numbers under the title of “hired researchers” or “money spent on research“.
The disastrous effect of such rash and accelerated research is that it leaves things in a chaotic state. The cramped production-line type of time schedule leaves the researchers with a paucity of time, precious time required to test the various known problems related to the one specific problem that is the object of the thesis. In light of this haphazard way of finishing up research for the sake of a sheet of paper granting you the right to attach three letters to your title, it is indeed questionable as to what is the one thing that drives young researchers to keep pushing?
Anyone care to share their thoughts on this?