Alternative Careers and the Potential For Student-Advisor Conflict

Actually, that should be student-PI conflict, since we are really talking about faculty in their capacities as lab managers. In response to a recent post about the wider recognition of the STEM PhD glut, jtotheizzoe comments:

What many of these articles and blog posts are missing is that we PhD students are acutely aware of this problem, but are not being given opportunities to OBTAIN this more widely applicable knowledge. To be more precise, my fellow biology PhD students and I want to take business, programming, management classes, we want to work with media and tech incubators, and we so badly want to gain the skills that will be useful in other fields . . . yet when we open course schedules and ask our advisors we are either discouraged, unable or forbidden from doing so.

Personally, in my graduate school program, the idea that a PhD wouldn’t go onto a post-doc wasn’t even really broached–it was assumed. A few years later, when I was a post-doc and then research professor in a different and well-recognized program, that program was much more open to alternative careers, although that differed from PI to PI. There was still the concern that if you were more concerned with ‘just’ getting the PhD and not really needing the high-profile publications (and lots of them), then your productivity would suffer (and so too would the PI). There is a conflict–or the misperception of one–between what is better for the student versus what is good for the PI.

As far as I can tell, this was one of the more ‘enlightened’ departments. Admittedly, there are arguments against ‘broader’ training. Given a limited amount of time, you could be better off throwing yourself into research. After all, if this is really going to be your only time spent in academia, then you should embrace it that much more. Of course, that argument, which I’ve heard from PIs, does align with the PI’s interest (which doesn’t necessarily make it wrong).

That being said, in light of the difficult funding environment, this conflict will only become greater.

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