October 20, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

In polling, most scientists would go to grad school again & here’s why or why not

I am doing some polling on whether people who have finished graduate school would go again, why or why not, and what their current position is at this time. I found the responses to be surprising and interesting.

Grad school pollAlmost two-thirds of respondents indicated they would do grad school again if given a do-over. Despite all the challenges we face in science, I found this positive response to be heartening.

About 8 percent of people were on the fence, while 30% of respondents would not do graduate school again. Honestly, I thought going into this poll that this number would be higher because there are a lot of grumpy people (and rightfully so I think) out there in the world of science with M.S. or Ph.D.s.

So far 180 people have responded to this poll, which was designed to only allow one vote per IP address.

To dig into the thinking behind these response some more, I also included additional polls asking why people would or would not go to graduate school again if given the hypothetical do-over.

Why go to grad school?Focusing first on those relatively enthused about graduate school, I presented some possible reasons why they would be motivated to do grad school again and asked people to indicate their top reason. In the results shown at right you can see the overwhelming top choice was that they love science, which yielded about 57% of responses. In second place was “I just enjoyed grad school.”

So if take the results of these two polls together, we find most post-graduate scientists would do it again and mostly because they love science. How cool is that?

For this poll, 117 people have responded.

Why not go to grad schoolOf course not everything is peaches and cream in the world of science, and there are a lot of challenges and problems. I hoped to get some specific insight into what had troubled the 30% of folks who would not do graduate school again so I did a third poll asking for the reasons why.

The results, at left from 66 respondents, point to some specific issues of concern. At the top of the list was the fact that there are few job prospects in academia. The reality today is that by every measure they are fewer faculty positions available. Just look at the back of Nature and you’ll see how few job ads there are. Nine-ten years ago when I was job hunting, that section was thick. Few job prospects in industry was also listed as a concern (third).

Perhaps not surprisingly, coming in second as a reason not to do grad school again was the difficult grant situation in science right now. I would say people are more discouraged now about the possibility of getting grants than at any time during my career.poll position

Some people felt that graduate school takes too long, which it kinda does.

As much as it is concern that 7.6% of people would not do graduate school again because of conflicts with mentor(s), I actually had thought in advance that this number might be higher.

Who answered this poll?

It seems the largest group were postdocs, followed by assistant, associate, and full professors. Then industry senior scientists and science communicators as well as some other occupations. Almost 7% of people had either left science entirely or were unemployed.

How would I have answered the polls? I would definitely go to grad school again and the reason would be a split decision between love of science, enjoying grad school, and wanting to make a difference. I would have a hard time choosing between those three. I realize, however, that during my career that luck has also played a role and without it that I may give different answers.

Overall, I found this polling heartening, but it also pointed to serious problems as well. In addition, I wonder if the current terrible grant and employment climate continues say for a few more years, will the results change for the worse?

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