length of grad. student careers

Kathleen Ann Sindt kas4e at galen.med.Virginia.EDU
Thu Aug 1 12:23:21 EST 1996

Sarah Boomer  writes:

> the issues of doing more experiments here at the end to eek out another 2
> papers (I will likely graduate with 3-4, decent Virology journals) and
> telling a more thorough, "good science" story - but my relationship with
> my boss has pretty much been well-founded on the premise that we can talk
> openly about gripes.

That's good.  You may have been there a bit longer, but 3-4
papers in a good showing.  And because you say you have a good
relationship with your boss, you should get a good

> The fact is, though, I am going to take seven years doing molecular
> biology of retrovirus evolution and I don't really know how that will be
> perceived.  I have dragged my feet this last year because the job market
> has not been good - in either the teaching realm or the post-doc search
> (although I have been advised to look at smaller bacterial fields if I
> want to develop small college research - and so I have been met with lack
> of funding and lack of network, having spent the last seven years in AIDS

Aids research background isn't going to fly at a small college
that requires you do some research.  I'd like to teach
microbiology at a small college that does senior research
projects and I am choosing a bacterial post-doc because of
that.  If you have little to no teaching experience - forget
the teaching job right away.  Find a post-doc where it's clear
you want to gain some teaching experience.

> research).  My confidence right now is zip and I have been tired and sick
> for months with the stress of having no clue where I may wind up.

Boy - have I been there!!!  And the stress doesn't let up until
the thesis is done and defended - and I'm not there yet!  I
willsay that getting a post-doc and knowing what I am gonna do
next has really helped my stress level.

> I cannot help but think that this long (and still lengthening PhD career)
> is not serving a purpose but to dig me in deeper.  Our dept. has been

Have you had a committee meeting recently?  Does your boss
think you are close to done?  Sounds like you are ready to get

> The fact still seems to me, though, that projects can be ill-defined and
> things can happen despite everything looking perfect through the masters

I think it's pretty common for projects to be poorly defined -
at all levels of research.  MY personal opinion is that if
"they" want to start getting people done quicker - it's gonna
take some effort to forced both students and advisors to better
define projects early on.

> Is seven years under such circumstances a horrific, disgraceful thing?  Am

NO!  (And I am the one who said I heard crap about being in for
6 years from people.)   

I would really push to get out before the 7 year mark hits.
You have several papers to show for your time, that will help.
And it's the 8 and 9 year people that really have problems.

> What is the average time - particularly in a field like molecular/virology
> and are other dept's dealing with these kind of problems?

All our biomedical fields here are at right about 6 years.
Sure, they have problems with the few who won't graduate....

Our department has recently established a rule - 6 year mark
and you get NO funding after that.  I imagine there might be
a few ways to get an exception....

They have been trying to decrease the length of time people
stay.  They moved our comp time up.  You now must finish the
comp requirement by AUgust 30th - the beginning of your third
year.  They also cut that requirement a bit.  They increased
the options you have for coursework slightly.

> How do other dept's perceive issues like weeding the garden (masters
> doorprizes), equalizing committees?

It's rare to get a master's here and few people have that
opportunity.  They have been cracking down a bit on grades and
we have had an increase in number leave after their first year
because they "didn't make the grades"

> What do you all do when the project crashes and burns and the student has
> been a productive, decent, and loving person for 3-4 years?

That REALLY varies.  There was one guy here who basically
started over - new lab at 5 years.  There's another one who's
just been here forever (I think this fall starts nine).  A
friend of mine has his project bomb at 3 years, the advisor
helped him design an "easy" project - and he made it out in a
little under 6.  Sometimes a committee, advisor, and student
can get together and make the project salvagable to graduate -
not all projects are great and make huge progress.
Kathie Sindt
kas4e at virginia.edu

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