A Ph.D. Grad on ‘The Ph.D. Grind’

Tone – Although it’s impossible to be unbiased, I try to maintain a balanced tone throughout The Ph.D. Grind. In contrast, many people who write Ph.D.-related articles, books, or comics are either:

successful professors or research scientists who pontificate stately advice, adopting the tone of “grad school is tough, but it’s a delectable intellectual journey that you should enjoy and make the most of … because I sure did!”

or bitter Ph.D. graduates/dropouts who have been traumatized by their experiences, adopting a melodramatic, disillusioned, self-loathing tone of “ahhh my world was a living hell, what did I do with my life?!?”

Stately advice can motivate some students, and bitter whining might help distressed students to commiserate, but a general audience will probably not be receptive to either extreme.

Philip J. Guo recently completed a Ph.D. program in Computer Science at Stanford, and now works for Google. He also wrote a 115-page ebook about his experience that you can read for free (or you can skip to the end and read the epilogue, which lists the most memorable things he learned, like I did.) Maybe he’ll talk you out of doing a Ph.D. and save you six years—or perhaps he’ll convince you to do it!

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3 Comments / Post A Comment

ThatJenn (#916)

That’s so true about the awful two ends of the spectrum on grad school advice. Quitting grad school *was* one of the best things I ever did for myself (it will never compare with leaving my ex-husband, but it’s still up there), but I never felt like it was a living hell. I’m not sure why it has to be one way or the other.

ElBlynx (#499)

Very interesting for several reasons:
1) Very few people go into PhD CS programs unless they want to be a professor. Unlike professions where you either get more money or at least access to higher level positions through graduate work, computer science folks usually only have their bachelor degrees.
2) This is why I am glad I chose to go into a master’s program (starting this fall) instead of straight into a PhD program so I get more proposal writing, research experience, presentation skills, and scientific writing and publishing practice. Although Dr. Guo already had his master’s degree, it sounds like he spent three years on “learning the game” instead of actually making progress on his dissertation. Although it sounds like it helped him grow professionally, it seems like he unnecessarily prolonged the PhD process because he didn’t have a clear plan.
3) Don’t name your computer programs delicious things like “Burrito” because it makes people hungry and sad when they realize you are taking about a computer program and not a tasty tortilla concoction!

meghan@twitter (#1,334)

first instinct was to check whether he wrote it in LATEX, and… yup! hello current student of economics, math, computer science, and/or statistics. do you know what latex is yet? you should! i was annoyed i discovered it so late in my college career. once you use it, you’ll understand why all your tests and hand-outs from your profs all kinda look the same, formatting-wise. it’s awesome. check it out.

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