PhD Grind

Ever wonder what it’s like to go through a PhD?  Well, Philip Guo has written an amazing 122-page account of his experience doing a PhD in computer science at Stanford.

Despite the story being about his personal experience, his PhD experience resonates (according to other comments on the internet) with many other technical and scientific fields.  My experience was eerily similar to his as we’re in very similar fields (computer engineering vs. computer science).  It’s quite funny how despite the wide variety of different things that PhDs around the world go through, there still are some commonalities.

I highly recommend you read it.  Here’s a teaser:

If you are not going to become a professor, then why even bother pursuing a Ph.D.? This frequently-asked question is important because most Ph.D. graduates aren’t able to get the same jobs as their university mentors and role models — tenure-track professors. There simply aren’t enough available faculty positions, so most Ph.D. students are directly training for a job that they will never get. (Imagine how disconcerting it would be if medical or law school graduates couldn’t get jobs as doctors or lawyers, respectively.)

So why would anyone spend six or more years doing a Ph.D. when they aren’t going to become professors? Everyone has diff erent motivations, but one possible answer is that a Ph.D. program provides a safe environment for certain types of people to push themselves far beyond their mental limits and then emerge stronger as a result. For example, my six years of Ph.D. training have made me wiser, savvier, grittier, and more steely, focused, creative, eloquent, perceptive, and professionally effective than I was as a fresh college graduate. (Two obvious caveats: Not every Ph.D. student received these bene fits — many grew jaded and burned-out from their struggles. Also, lots of people cultivate these positive traits without going through a Ph.D. program.) Here is an imperfect analogy: Why would anyone spend years training to excel in a sport such as the Ironman Triathlon — a grueling race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run — when they aren’t going to become professional athletes? In short, this experience pushes people far beyond their physical limits and enables them to emerge stronger as a result. In some ways, doing a Ph.D. is the intellectual equivalent of intense athletic training.