Should I finish my PhD? I'm concerned that there are career downsides to completing it as I will likely want to move forward in another field. (snowflakes inside)
posted by carolinaherrera to education (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm halfway through a PhD in social science (studying technology and innovation) and I'm realizing that I really don't like my field. I'm fascinated by the recent revolution in genomics, bioinformatics, synthetic and systems biology, and am considering going into that field (possibly via medicine or bioengineering) afterwards.
My concern is that finishing this PhD would actually be bad for me, if it precludes me from getting a PhD in something more appropriate, if it brands me as a particular type of scholar (that I don't want to be), and so forth. I'm wondering if it might be better for me to drop out and start over elsewhere. I don't want to let sunk costs influence my thinking.
I like the idea of being a public intellectual. I like the idea of innovating (actually doing it, not studying it) and making something important that makes a difference. I love science, innovation, making things, building inventions, public speaking, design, influencing people, writing, hobnobbing, social enterprise, changing the world.
Here are some of the challenges I'm facing:
- I'm really sick of social science. I don't want to write about other people doing things, I want to do things myself! I've branched out into more quantitative social science (machine learning, etc.) in an effort to learn more transferable skills and be able to have something to offer.
- My department is at a very prestigious university within the UK, but really has little currency in its field. You have to do a postdoc to go anywhere, and social science postdocs are few and far between. There's no culture in the department; students are not happy. They don't get good jobs. People set their own topics (instead of following in their advisor's tradition) and they often don't have an intellectual "home", especially in American academia.
- My advisor is a great guy (He's very student-centric, he lets me have a very flexible schedule, he's kind and a great networker who knows everyone), but he's not really a great *advisor* in the sense of paving the way for me intellectually. I don't want to be him when I grow up. Also, he has a lot of trouble with politics in the university. He's difficult for the administration to work with. He also doesn't do quantitative work, and can't supervise a more quant thesis. He wants me to just do any old thesis he can supervise, and do the other stuff on my own time.
- I am trying to skew my PhD towards a more quantitative angle (machine learning, statistics), in order to have more transferable skills and to be more marketable. But since I'm in a social science department, any work I do will get less professional credibility (i.e., no funding for STEM subjects, difficulty getting hired in non-social science departments, etc.)
- I don't have a topic I'm passionate about. I haven't learned very much here about theory (and nothing I've learned has captured my attention). I really don't know what I'm doing here.
- I stumbled into this PhD for frankly kind of silly reasons. I wanted to stay in the UK. I liked the idea of a PhD from a prestigious place. I liked the idea of a three-year PhD. I got a fellowship and was flattered. That said, I've been unhappy in this PhD since I got here. I feel like I should have left earlier. I distracted myself with consulting, travel, and other projects. Now I really have to buckle down and produce and I don't have any idea what I want to do.
- Taking a leave would be disruptive and is quite difficult in my department. I could probably get 6 months to a year, though, if I really asked for it.
What are the drawbacks of finishing up quickly with whatever and then figure out what I want to do. What doors does that close? Can I not do a bioengineering PhD/research after? Can I never do a Fulbright? Would it be harder to find a job in a totally different field than if I drop out now and start retraining for something else? Will I not be able to get grants because I didn't get a US PhD?
Also, have you been me? What would you do?
Other details: Female, American, dual US/EU citizenship, family, boyfriend, and other ties in the US. I love travel, and place a lot of my identity in having a career about which I am passionate.
Let me know if I left out any details.
Thanks so much!