Book Review | A Ph.D. is not enough

All Ph.D. students are natural learners: they learn new methods, techniques, or even language to push their research. However, most of them naturally forget to learn one thing: how to survive in academia. Even worse, some senior scientists tend to ignore such scarcity: they believe that 'good' students will save themselves, while the remainder cannot be helped. Well, it is hard to falsify the statement, but I'd like to survive myself.

Toward this goal, I read two books about the topic, which introduce the tools and the five-year experiences of a CS Ph.D., respectively: The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory, The Ph.D. Grind. With the tools and experiences as a Ph.D., the next step is to explore the unknown after you graduate. So I found this book, A Ph.D. is not enough.

In this book, the author organizes the book towards the ultimate goal, building a scientific career, by discussing advisor selection, paper writing, giving talks, job selection, job interviews, and getting funds. The book provides very detailed anonymous stories of Ph.D. graduations.

In the last chapter, the authors sum up the books into four vital phrases. And I'll talk about them with my own understanding.

Put yourself in the shoes of your audience

This advice is about reputation. When you make a speech or take a job interview, it is important to think about the conditions of your audience and their expectations of you.

For example, when you make the speech, you should never overestimate your audience. Don't jump to your complex formulas after the title slide. You need to talk about the importance of your work: why the audience should pay attention to your work? Does your work somehow help solve his problem or inspire his work?

Another example is the job interview. What the expectation is from your audiences —— the senior professors in your department? They may be pleased to know that you will be a good cooperator and will serve as a good citizen for the department roles. So it's better to introduce your work, its context, and its correlation with their's work.

To sum up, considering the fact that your reputation is partial — if not totally — decided by the science community, it is never too generous to talk about why your work is important and helpful to them.

Get your priorities straight!

You should always remember your goal: to build your own career. The young scientists always face a multi-task case. You must ask yourself the influences and priorities of each task to achieve your goal: does writing proposals as a post-doc helpful to gain the AP tenure? does working on an influential but secret project which can not be public helpful? The answers are 'No'.

A general concern is that the path is full of thorn traps. You may admire the friends who may get a lot of money after their master's program and plan to take a summer intern as an SDE to earn some money instead of working on your current project. That's the time point when you need to remind yourself.

Be thoughtful about networking opportunities

Don't be a working machine in your lab. Remember to build your reputation in the science community by producing paper and networking.

When you read inspiring papers, you can send an email to the authors to ask questions, talk about your ideas to build the relationship. When you join the conference, read the slides to target a list of scientists you want to communicate with. Then go to the conference with your questions. Meet authors after their speeches. Spend some time talking with your colleagues in the same lab or other labs during your workdays. Apply to spend a month in a local research institution and build a relationship.

The book also provides a very attractive way towards tenure: After you graduate, you can join an industrial or government lab to start your career as a scientist. Then you build your reputation there. After that, you can jump to a university. And the authors believe that it is unwise to apply for an AP position after your postdoc position: you need to build your lab, write the proposal, take teaching roles, and at the same time make some results. That sounds a little desperate — The author did talk about the shortages of working in an industrial or government lab, but compared to those working as an AP, you may forgive them.

Write a Comment