Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

Should you encourage your M.Sc. students to go for a Ph.D.?

Should you encourage your M.Sc. students to go for a Ph.D.? If you want to get more grant money, publish more papers and be generally viewed as a more “important” researcher, than you should definitively push all your talented M.Sc. students to go for a Ph.D.

Yet, Yuhong does differently:

I never encourage my master students to get Ph.D., though some have the talent. I know that a Ph.D. does not gain a lot more happiness in one’s life. I even find that normal people enjoy better life than researchers. So why impose research to my students?

Myself? I remember the first time a student came in my office to inquire about an academic career. She was a bright first-year student. The type that went to the best high school, got the best grades, had probably been involved in several extracurricular activities, in short, the perfect student. She was the best student in my class. Maybe she is reading this and will recognize herself. She also wanted to have a family. My answer to her? Make a choice: either a family or an academic career. She left my office pretty disappointed. I could never figure out whether she was disappointed at me or at life.

Is it true you can’t be a great scientist and also a family person? Of course not. Some people become astronauts, get a Ph.D., and get a gold medal at the Olympics. Such people exists. However, is it a reasonable plan? For a young lady, I don’t think so. I don’t think you can have 2-3 kids, raise them well, feed them well, spend quality time with them, and at the same time, pursue a solid academic career. There are counterexamples, but…

What we need to do is to:

  • Stop sending more and more people to the Ph.D. track. Make sure those who get on the Ph.D. track have fair expectations; make sure they are not betting their lifes on what this Ph.D. can bring to them.
  • When reviewing a colleague, clearly separate work done with students from work done by the researcher. It is easy: just check the names on the papers.
  • We should value academic simplicity: fewer papers, fewer students, less money, more quality of life, and happier professors.

Further reading: The 2003-2004 Taulbee survey shows that the number of new Ph.D. in Computer Science is sharply on the rise (17% from the year before) whereas the number of undergraduates is about to take a significant drop since the number of new students has significantly gone down (60%).