Are you thinking about applying to a PhD program? Are you already a doctoral student? PhD is a huge investment of time and money. So make sure you spend 15 minutes of your time reading this blog devoted to PhD program success and survival tips. I'm confident that these tips can save up to 10 years of your life, up to $1,000,000 of your money, and, most importantly, your physical and emotional health.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flexible and Rewarding Career

Our college used to run an ad aimed at attracting applicants to their PhD programs. The ad argued that having a PhD is a road to a "flexible and rewarding career).

I'm not going to touch on the "rewarding" part of the ad here. But I will talk a bit about the so-called flexibility.

Flexibility is definitely not a part of a professor's career. In many fields, there are only a couple of dozen openings in the entire United States. Needless to say, you don't have much to choose from in terms of location. Moreover, not all of those openings may be a good fit with what you do in terms of teaching and research. So, in any given year, you are lucky to see a few job ads that seem to align with what you want to do and where you want to live. Given the level of competition for those openings, there may be like 1-2-3 hundred applicants for every position. The applicants pool consists of new PhD graduates, faculty members who got denied tenure and numerous adjuncts. So most people are happy to land a permanent, tenure-track position ANYWHERE, even if it means moving from let's say California to North Dakota.

Now, if you do land a permanent position, you cannot hope for regular and substantial pay raises throughout your tenure. Pay raises at universities may only compensate for inflation, but are not likely to give you any boost to your financial situation. If you stay in one place for too long, new hires are likely to make more money than you, after 10-15 years with the school. Situations like that are very common.

So the only way to improve your financial situation is to change jobs every few years. Again, given the small number of jobs available, getting a new job usually means relocating thousands miles away.

My adviser, a very accomplished professor, lived in 14 different states and 2 different countries throughout his career. Because of his nomadic lifestyle, he didn't have a chance to start a family until he was like 50. The only reason he kept wondering around like a gypsy was pay!

Unless by flexibility they mean that you have to become flexible like a gypsy, you shouldn't buy into that flexibility crap they advertise.


  1. Additionally, "flexibility" in work hours/schedule basically translates in having to work ALL the time to keep up with the rate of expected production (publications, service, teaching), even if you can occasionally work from home.

  2. Looking back on my PhD time (left with MS), I had been valuing the flexibility: I could walk in to the campus coffee shop, work from there, move to the library, then my office, etc. But the flexibility was location only. Those were 10 hour days.

  3. Flexibility is definitely not characteristic of academia. You have to go wherever the jobs are at. This is definitely true. I would say and medical doctor has definitely more flexibility than a PhD graduate. And you can do research with an MD degree. Totally agree with this article.

  4. My research has proved to me that you can not build your career with lazy attitude. You have to make efforts to have best career opportunities. You need to avail resume writing service by some experts so that interviewer may not refuse you only after watching a bad resume.