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How to foresee career fate
送交者: PeterChen 2012年12月15日06:24:22 于 [教育学术] 发送悄悄话

Most our Chinese PhD students do not realized that our career fates in US are often determined by the day we have our PhD advisors. Typically, an average Chinese PhD candidate in a US university who has earned at least a bachelor degree in China is intelligent enough to become a CEO of company, a wall-street trader, or a professor in a US top university. However, most of us will not end up at our desirable jobs. In fact, many top university PhD graduates cannot find their desirable jobs in US, while many of us who hold PhD degrees from median universities become professors, industrial leaders, CEOs, etc. In this top level of professional trainings, it is our PhD advisors, rather than our universities, that determine our career futures. Off course, for PhD candidates as smart as Einstein, they will accomplish their career goals no matter who are their advisors.

 

There are many ways to predict one’s career future. First of all, one can foresee his/her career fate by the job statistics of one’s PhD advisor’s former PhD graduates. For a senior professor who has produced more than 10 PhD graduates, the job statistics is quite accurate. If 75% of the former PhD graduates are currently professors in research universities, then an average current student in the group will most likely end up as a professor in a research university in the future too. Similarly, if 75% of the former PhD graduates cannot find jobs, then an average current student in the group will most likely become unemployed on the day of his/her graduation. Note that for chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, etc, one can find a list of one’s former group members at genealogy webpages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_genealogy.

 

Additionally, if one’s PhD advisor is a junior professor who has not yet produced enough PhD graduates to offer a good statistics, then risk and opportunity co-exist. Sometimes, an excellent student can help shaping the advisor’s career profile in this situation. Typically, it is very difficult to establish one’s advisor’s career and determine one’s own career simultaneously. In this case, the ranking of one’s university may play a more important role in one’s job hunting.

 

On the other hand, if one’s PhD advisor is a very senior professor who is near the end of his/her career, one has to pay a close attention to the job statistics of recent PhD graduates in the past 5 years. Very often, such a senior professor is in a rapidly decaying (old) field and does not have the energy and knowledge to move to a new field (why bother if one is going to retire in 5 years?). Then, his/her current students will be most likely to face more difficulties in finding desirable jobs than group’s statistics would suggest. There are exceptions, though --- some true researchers always enjoy new ideas and new fields. However, such senior professors are few and far between.        

 

One actually should use the above mentioned job statistics with caution because it might not be applicable to you. As a Chinese PhD graduate, it is typically more difficulty to find a desirable job, such as a faculty position, than one’s American lab-mates. Typically, to offset our culture and language disadvantages, Chinese need to put about three times more effort to achieve the same career goals. For example, if it takes about 4 papers for an average America PhD graduate to find a faculty job, an average Chinese PhD graduate may have to produce more than 10 papers of the same quality to find a similar faculty position. Therefore, one should pay more attention to the statistics of former Chinese PhD graduates, which is more suitable for one’s case.

 

If one cannot find all data for the statistics of one’s advisor’ former PhD graduates, one can check a couple of other indicators, namely, advisor’s publication records and grant records. Publication record can be easily found at ``Web of Science’’. One should pay a close attention to the publication in the last five years, which are roughly equivalent to the publication period of a student with his/her advisor.  If a PhD advisor publishes only about 3 papers with each of his/her typical PhD student and the number of papers for a successful job seeker on the job market is 10, it will be very difficult for the PhD candidate to fulfill his/her job goal with such an advisor. 

 

Note that one’s career development depends crucially on one’s advisor’s academic status, reputation and societal connection. A minimal requirement for an advisor to be a qualified one is that he/she should regularly have external research grants in his/her career, except for people in some disciplines such as social sciences and arts where research grants might be rare.  This is not an issue for PhD candidates who are supported by research assistantships (RT). However, if you are, or are going to be, supported by teaching assistantships (TA), you have to watch out pitfalls. Many advisors might never have any external grant, which means their academic statuses are very low in their fields. Typically, by playing local politics, these advisors are able to admit PhD students either as their cannon fodders or as their career savers (Be aware that people who are inactive in research usually have more time to play politics). It is quite easy to do an ``Award Search’’ in public domains to find out an advisor’s grant situation. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Health Institute (NIH) are among the most respected funding agencies. There are some other useful indications of academic status: committees of professional organizations and conferences, editorial boards of international journals, and panels of federal funding agencies. In fact, NIH study section members are in public domain. Typically, a PhD candidate’s career is on a dead-end track if his/her advisor’s academic status is very low.  To avert this fate, one should either switch to a qualified advisor or change a school as soon as possible.

 

Finally, a good advisor is typically willing to spend time on his/her students, cares about his/her students’ career development, responses to students’ needs and first of all, has a superb job record for his/her former PhD graduates. However, what contributes to a good advisor is a complicated and subjective issue. A good PhD advisor for one student might not be a good one for another person.  The last word is that there is no point to spend about five years to pursue a PhD degree if it does not lead you to a decent career.   


The above discussions are personal opinions and might not be useful or suitable to many people.Thank you for your reading.

 

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