In a comment to my previous blog post at biocareers, someone asked me for advice to help them decide if going to grad school is a good idea. That is indeed a great question. Like the commenter, I myself and many others like us have stayed up at nights worrying if we were making the right choice.
There are many articles out there that share the sentiment of how getting a PhD is a waste of time these days (I will review these in future posts). While going to grad school may seem like you are dedicating your whole life to academia, that really isn’t the case. For this post, I will list the reasons why grad school is not a bad idea, and in fact prepares you for life more than you think it would.
1. Presentation skills.
As a grad student, you have many opportunities to present your data. In fact, presentation skills may even be called a prerequisite for getting a PhD; after all, you must present to pass your prelim/qualifying exam and during your dissertation defense. Presentation skills are very important for many career paths. On your path to a PhD, you will present your data in front of large and small audiences, to those who are experts in your field and those who only have the general knowledge and know nothing of your research topic. You will hone your skills in both public speaking, as well as in organizing data in a clear, precise, and easy to understand way.
2. Leadership skills.
Chances are, as a grad student, you will hold a teaching position and/or mentor undergraduates in your lab. (If your graduate program doesn’t require teaching, or if you don’t have undergrads to mentor, make these opportunities for yourself). The sense of power over your minions is awesome (just kidding). But seriously, having the responsibility of planning lessons/assignments, and managing other people’s projects and schedules really do provide a lot of opportunity to hone your leadership skills.
3. Team work.
In addition leadership skills, the other major thing recruiters often look for is team work experience. In addition to what I mentioned above, there’s always the opportunity to volunteer in your graduate program, run for positions in graduate student focused clubs, or do what I did and start your own clubs and project teams on the side. It’s fun, you are making a difference, and it really brightens up your routine as a grad student and might make your mentor think you are awesome (Might depend on the mentor, but mine thought it was great that I held a lot of positions and seemed to have an important role in the grad student community. Some mentors might think you are wasting precious research time, if that’s the case, just keep your outside activities to yourself since they really don’t take up much time.)
Those 3 letters after your name and your specialized knowledge could really help you in certain circumstances.
There are many opportunities on campus. Not just in your research program, the medical school, but also the business school and law school have many programs and speaker events you could benefit from. And if your interest is in startups, there’s no better place than a campus to recruit willing workers and find opportunities for funding.
6. Building connections.
Successful CEOs, politicians, important people of all sorts visit university campuses. The more famous your school, the more chances that amazing people will be invited to speak there. Not to mention the huge number of alums you might claim a connection to through your school. Where it might be almost impossible to approach such amazing people on your own outside of school, as a student you are magically given the power to ask for advice and share fresh ideas with these people, even if they are just stopping on campus for a few hours. Be brave and keep your eyes open for such opportunities.
Each of the reasons listed above could warrant a blog post on its own (and I’m likely to elaborate on each in the future). For now, I wish I’ve given some of you a bit more hope in what doesn’t need to be a dark and confining grad school experience if you don’t let it be.