Working on a PhD? Need a good laugh? Check out #FailAPhDInThreeWords

If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out #FailAPhDInThreeWords! Not only are many of the tweets hilarious, they also provide an interesting commentary on PhD’s and science. Some of the clear trends that emerge for failing a PhD include referencing God/religion, using inappropriate citations (wikipedia, twitter, etc), formatting issues (margins, fonts, typos), plagiarizing, photoshopping or going against basic tenets of science (n of 1, correlation vs causation). Below are some of my favorites!

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My PhD will last… how long??

As someone who has just completed the PhD process, I can say I really relate to this piece.  From Science Careers, a thoughtful analysis on the PhD timeline… or rather, the indefinite length of the timeline.

It’s hard for some to comprehend because most graduate and professional programs—especially master’s degrees but also medical school, law school, and business school—have a defined end date, just like colleges. Yet, in most Ph.D. programs, you graduate at some nebulous time in the future. You graduate when, in the opinion of your interest-conflicted adviser, “you’re ready.” You graduate when your adviser gets sick of you, needs the space, or has a whim. You graduate because you’ve been there 8 years, and your adviser now believes you don’t actually deserve a Ph.D., but it would look bad for him or her to admit it at this point.

You graduate because a grant is running out, or you don’t graduate because a grant isn’t running out. An experiment fails, and you stay another year. A journal accepts your paper, and you can leave a year sooner. Your lab relocates, and you’re kicked out early—or your lab relocates, and you join another lab, effectively starting over. Your graduation, in other words, like many aspects of life, is determined not by your accomplishments but by an inscrutable set of circumstances over which you have little control.

But you’re thwarted by the fact that, for a Ph.D. program, there are no graduation criteria. Yes, your department may require a certain amount of coursework, most of which you probably finished during your first few years (despite the university somehow still justifying continuing to charge you tuition). But it’s not just coursework. It’s coursework-plus-whatever, and “whatever” is subjective, hazy, arbitrary, capricious. A Ph.D. program, therefore, occurs on a theoretically infinite time scale

I can understand the rationale for many of grad school’s lamentable qualities. Long hours aren’t fun, but they’re productive. Low stipends aren’t something to celebrate, but if you say the words “finite resource” and cover my eyes when I walk past the beautiful new athletic center and the university president’s mansion, at least I know what you’re trying to convey.

But what’s the advantage of keeping graduation dates and requirements mysterious? I just don’t get it. And I don’t think it has to be that way.

The entire post is worth a read, and definitely something that resonates with all PhD students!

Why did you do a PhD? #WhyIdidaPhD #WhyImDOINGaPhD


Check out the ongoing twitter hashtag about why people did, or are doing, a PhD. Some examples below. It appears that the hashtag was started by Miriam Goldstein, a marine biologist & science communicator working in policy (@MiriamGoldste)(

Tweet @CauseScience1 and @MiriamGoldste to tell us why you did a PhD, or why you are doing a PhD.

Calling the 85% of PhD students not going into academia, COME OUT! #Science


Lina Nilsson writes a terrific article in Science this week highlighting the strange environment in graduate school for students who want to (or have to) pursue a career outside of academia. Nilsson describes the awkwardness that this creates between graduate students and their mentors, and also describes some reasons why it is awkward. I fully support Nilsson’s claim that universities, graduate programs, and graduate mentors owe better career advising to the 85% of students that will not pursue academic positions. This should always be a fundamental part of graduate education, and especially in the current academic career and research funding climate. 

Sure, advisers may not be in the best position to mentor students on such a wide variety of paths, but universities still owe it to their students, and to society, to provide meaningful help in preparing their Ph.D. graduates for the nonacademic roles they’re likely to hold. Those roles require—in addition to the deep expertise developed during a typical Ph.D. program—peripheral skills and out-of-field knowledge that traditional graduate programs do a poor job of conveying. Perhaps we even need to rethink the fundamental structure and purpose of the science Ph.D.

Nilsson then ‘outs’ herself as a PhD that will not pursue an academic career… in Science. Go Lina!

I’ll start. I am no longer in graduate school, but I am still at the university, so I do not think it is too late for me to step out and admit, loud and clear, in a place where my adviser can hear me: I will never be a tenure-track professor.

New amazing career option for scientists, become a politician… PLEASE!


Right now there are less than 10 trained scientists in Congress (sad article here). The article linked below makes a strong argument for why we need more scientists in politics, and includes one of the most bada$$ quotes about science and politics EVER (bolded below). Given that the number of science PhD’s highly exceeds the number of jobs in academia, graduate programs and mentors should highlight and encourage politics as a career path to students and postdocs (maybe even include training). If not for their own selfish interest (science policy and funding), then for the desperate need for science to be accurately represented in America and american politics.

“Scientists must become part of the political process and run for office. At a time when science bears on many of the world’s problems, we have a Congress full of lawyers who are trained not to get at the truth but to defeat their opponent at any cost — including the truth. As Otto points out, science is unavoidably political. Science is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is politics. So, science is politics.”