Phd, what next
January 29, 2009 6:08 AM   Subscribe

PhD, what next

This might sound naive for someone already completed a Phd program, but I am truly confused now.

I am a Korean and attended a top college in my home country majoring in computational science and did a lot of programming, etc.
During my senior year I got bored about the applied stuff and decided to apply to grad school in US and switch to physics.
This decision had much to do with audacity and inexperience of young people, I guess.
I did extremly well on GRE general and subject tests since I have always been a good standard test taker and this helped me to get
into a good graduate program in US at 22.

I spent 5 years working toward the doctorate. During this time some
personal and family issue distracted my attention considerably. The consequence was that though I was able to finish and graduate with a PhD, I failed to develop more transferable skills or networking etc. Upon retrospection, I felt that I simply rushed through everything. At the end I decided that I no longer wanted to continue to do research or go onto postdoc positions. I returned to my home in Korea.

Currently I am working at a private college aimed at preparing Korean teenagers academically for entering UK universities. This is the only gainful employment I can find, and Phd is absolutely redundant for this role.

I am frustrated with my current situation and want a change.

I am pondering the possibility of going back to school for another degree to sharpen more applicable skills which I learnt during my undergraduate years. One field that comes to my mind is statistics. I can do the GRE stuff quickly and my under and grad background certainly prepares me for coursework in that field.
However this option makes me anxious also.

If I were to go back to grad school I would be around 29 when I start. Is that going to be too old?
How would the admission committee view my application?

Or I might do a postdoc at a European university and skip the embarassment of second time of grad schooling. But the place that I can get into is not strong academically, so my prospect with the new
field is not that bright if I were to go there instead of doing another degree.

Any input?
posted by nootnoot1 to Education (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where do you want to work: Korea or somewhere abroad? The job market sucks most places at the moment, but it seems to suck especially hard in Korea. Also, what do you mean by "top university?" SKY? If so, you should be using any resources available to you from your university. You have some friends from high school/university in Korea? Your university's alumni association? Use them. You've already told them that you're looking for a change, right?

I personally wouldn't go back to school if I were you because: 1) it costs too much money, and if you have no particular reason to do it, you might end up in the same place you are now; 2) you need work experience. However, perhaps someone will give a particular reason to go back, or a job you ought to look for.
posted by smorange at 6:32 AM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the input.
Yes I definitely could use university resources, but that would compel me to go through the
physics postdoc track that I wish to leave.

I absolutely agree with the opinion that I need work expereince. However, I just wonder
if technical experience in Europe or US would appear to be more valuable than one in Korea. That motivated me to go abroad, and there was no personal reason behind it.
posted by nootnoot1 at 6:52 AM on January 29, 2009

>> Yes I definitely could use university resources, but that would compel me to go through the
physics postdoc track that I wish to leave.

If you're at a good university, "career services" won't assume you want a postdoc and only help you with that. They'll support you in considering other options.
posted by zeek321 at 6:56 AM on January 29, 2009

At this point, you need to focus on determining your ultimate career goal. Frankly, getting a second PhD in a field like statistics is unlikely to really change your job prospects unless you have rethought your position on joining the ranks of academia.

What do you actually want to do with your life? And what's the most direct path there?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:26 AM on January 29, 2009

Best answer: Go back to school if you want, but not for another degree.

Can you answer the following question: "What do you like to do?"

If so, try that. If not, a postdoc might help you answer it. A second PhD makes no sense. You're not too old for it, there's just no need. If you find a math or science field that you like, you can move over to it with PhD you've got + some classes.
posted by originalname37 at 7:53 AM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: Not necessarily a second PhD. Maybe just a masters degree in addition to the current Phd.
Basically I want to go back to applied stuff so I assume more academic background might be helpful.
posted by nootnoot1 at 8:29 AM on January 29, 2009

By "applied stuff" do you mean back to computer programming? Do you want to end up in private industry, academic research, teaching? If you can clarify your career goals I think you'll get better advice. Your age really isn't an issue, older grad students are becoming progressively more common rather than less. But what sort of credential you might need really depends most on the sort of work you want to end up doing.
posted by nanojath at 9:45 AM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: I eventually want to work in private industry, because there are wider selections of working locations, etc. That is why I am pondering going back to school to get MS or even
PhD in programming.
posted by nootnoot1 at 10:10 AM on January 29, 2009

I think a Ph.D. in physics says to a potential employer: (1) I am not afraid of tackling hard stuff; (2) I am reasonably analytical; (3) I can learn things on my own; and (4) I have generalizable problem solving skills. You might want to try looking for jobs in industry now that interest you, and apply with a cover letter that emphasizes the above, along with your willingness to work at an apprentice salary for 6 months or so.
posted by Killick at 11:00 AM on January 29, 2009

I agree with those saying going back to school would be a waste of time. I know people with PhDs in physics who are programmers in the tech industry and others who are analysts in finance. I even know one who's now a biology professor--taking models from physics and applying them to biological systems. Although you say you rushed through things, a PhD in physics means you have a lot of analytical and computer skills. You just have to decide what area you might like to apply them in.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:57 AM on January 29, 2009

Sounds like you are very good at school. Maybe you are most comfortable there. I don't think more school is the answer for you. I agree with the above in re: defining what it is you really want to do is going to make the difference. Obtaining another degree may not answer that question - or if it does answer it in a way you don't expect, you will have spent a lot of time and money.

I'd suggest taking your strong academic mindset, and directing it towards some in-depth research and soul searching about what you'd like to do with your days. After you have a plan, you may need another degree... or not. At least you'll have a course in mind.

Sounds like you have tremendous potential!
posted by ecorrocio at 1:01 PM on January 29, 2009

If you don't like research, why torture yourself by going back to grad school, especially when your experience shows that a PhD does not necessarily equal good job prospects? It's got nothing whatsoever to do with your age (plenty of people I know didn't even start their Masters until after they'd turned 30), but more to do with the fact that you are already very highly educated & surely what is missing are skills and work experience rather than yet another tertiary qualification?

If you want "applicable skills" then why not go to a technical or trade college instead of a university, somewhere that will organise an internship or industry placement for you? For the first few years you may feel under-employed, but a decade or two down the track, you will have a higher qualification which allows you to do more advanced work and progress up the career ladder.

Caveat: I know nothing about the field of computational science, but damn I wish I'd considered some kind of polytechnic course or vocational college earlier, rather than spending so much of my life at university. Anyway, you, actually having graduated, are in a different situation - but one that has my full sympathies!! Good luck!
posted by Weng at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2009

You sound confused:

I eventually want to work in private industry, because there are wider selections of working locations, etc. That is why I am pondering going back to school to get MS or even PhD in programming.

So you are saying here that you want to be a programmer? If that's so, the best thing you could do right now in my opinion is to study for and pass a certification exam that shows you have mastered the basic syntax and structure of a language. This would be the SCJP (Sun Certified Java Programmer) or something similar for Microsoft .NET programming or maybe even C++.

The reason I recommend this is because, yes you have proven that you are able to solve problems and think analytically. But you have not proven yourself to have any real marketable skills to the business world at large. If you can show that you can program, that you know a language, then you've got a pretty good resume under your belt.

With organized and persistent study, you should be able to pass the SCJP two months from now. Get to work.
posted by zhivota at 5:29 PM on January 29, 2009

I think some people here might be underestimating the degree to which connections and personal relationships determine the course of your life in Korea. I think the poster needs to do some networking, but I don't think that grad school is a great way to do it.

I think first you should decide which job you want, not which field, and see what you need to get there. From my (non-Korean, but I teach working professionals in Seoul) perspective, I think the best course is to lean on any connections available to you. That means your family, friends, and anyone else you have a 정 relationship with. And also to remember that the economy sucks right now, but it'll get better.
posted by smorange at 4:16 AM on January 30, 2009

Hmmm... Physics PHd, + programming skills = Wall Street Quant (you know those people who sold us down the river before the financial crisis).

Not sure if Wall Street is hiring now but... hell, I'd look into that...
posted by stratastar at 6:09 PM on January 30, 2009

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