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I am asking myself the question "Should I do PhD or should I leave academia and go for an industrial career?"

My life-goal is being a professor. And I love to do research.

PhD is surely a bite that not everyone can chew. But I wonder who can chew it?

I never was good at tests and exams. My BSc. GPA was 2.84/4.00 but finished my MSc. with 3.50/4.00

However, currently I am working on a conference paper and I feel like even that is too much for me. It has been nearly 3 months and still, the paper draft is to be improved (not the wording but the content).

I am surely a hard-worker but not always. Sometimes, I let go of my work and absorbed in other stuff (composing, amateur radio etc). If this period is too wide, I have to spend double effort to warm-up and remember where I left.

I don't know how things work in PhD. It usually is 5-6 years. It is the one of two most-challenging milestones in academic career (the other is getting the title Assoc. Prof).
Should I completely be a "nerd" and work on my thesis systematically (something I could never make in my entire life) or working periodically but with extra effort is still sufficient?

So, here's my question: If I say "I'm considering to do PhD" and ask your advice, what would you ask me? What kind of skills/characteristics do you look for a potential academician?

I know it is way too late for me to ask this kind of question, as a person who almost finished his master's degree. But better lose the saddle than the horse.

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I love to do research. is inconsistent with I am working on a conference paper and I feel like even that is too much for me. Writing papers is an inseperable part of research! –  JeffE Jun 9 at 23:41
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@JeffE That's not quite fair. There are many people who enjoy reading publications, formulating hypotheses, performing experiments, analyzing data, but hate writing manuscripts. –  Superbest Jun 10 at 1:49
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@Superbest Those people enjoy parts of research. –  JeffE Jun 10 at 3:45
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Your question echoes mine! Thank you for asking this question. –  justhalf Jun 10 at 6:12
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@JeffE Put in other (graphical) words: explosm.net/comics/3557 –  Davidmh Jun 10 at 12:28

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

So, here's my question: If I say "I'm considering to do PhD" and ask your advice, what would you ask me? What kind of skills/characteristics do you look for a potential academician?

The first questions I would ask is: are you really interested in the subject? Can you imagine spending the next 5+ years thinking about pretty much nothing else? Why do you want to do a PhD in the first place?

However, currently I am working on a conference paper and I feel like even that is too much for me. It has been nearly 3 months and still, the paper draft is to be improved (not the wording but the content).

Now imagine the same thing but replace 3 month with 3 years.

Sometimes, I let go of my work and absorbed in other stuff.

This is also not very helpful for pursuing a PhD.

I think in most fields (that might be different for some fields of science) getting a PhD is only for people who want to do research. Apart from that it is only a waste of time and money. So the question you should ask yourself is not: Am I able to get a PhD? But rather: Do I want to get a PhD?

However, if you decided that you really want to give it a try: talk to someone from your university about it, maybe the supervisor of your thesis. Grades are not always a good indicator of the quality as a researcher.


EDIT:

My life-goal is being a professor. And I love to do research.

That answers most of the questions.

But I don't know if I'm capable of doing a Ph.D.

No one here can answer this question. You should try to talk to a professor at your university, the supervisor of your Master's Thesis, or someone who is doing research you are interested in. However, do not let your grades disencourage you, I know many students who had pretty bad grades but are great as PhD students and many excellent students who struggle with their research.

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I do want to! My life-goal is being a professor. And I love to do research. But I don't know if I'm capable of doing a Ph.D. –  cagirici Jun 9 at 22:08
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We probably will not be able to answer that, you should probably talk to a professor at your university about that. –  The Almighty Bob Jun 9 at 22:23
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@cagirici please paste 'My life-goal is being a professor. And I love to do research' in your question as they are the most relevant piece of information about you that you are giving, in regard of the question. –  Cape Code Jun 9 at 22:52
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+1 to this. The OP wants to become a professor, so he should seriously ask himself whether writing papers - which he does not seem to enjoy - is not only something he would want to do for the next three years, but for the rest of his life. It's basically the one thing any researcher will do. So I'd seriously recommend that the OP think long and hard about whether becoming a professor is really his life's dream. –  Stephan Kolassa Jun 10 at 10:37

Among the people who should pursue a PhD degree are the ones who can write:

My life-goal is being a professor. And I love to do research.

This is the number one reason to get into grad school. However, it's not clear at this point that you have an accurate idea of what it means, on a daily basis, to work in research.

Sure there are fun times fiddling with the knobs of expensive equipment, drawing equations on napkins until late in the night, traveling to exotic conference locations like Baltimore, etc. There are also these brief moments when you feel like an undergrad actually learned something from you, and those where you share inside jokes that you can tell for sure only your advisor and yourself can understand. I recall a quote from a senior researcher in my field saying "Can you believe that they pay us to do what we love?".

But there are other aspects that are less glamorous. Administrative work, data bookkeeping, actual bookkeeping, wondering what you will do with your life, filing grant applications, etc. There is the anguish about funding, the frustration of aborted projects, the time and energy wasted in dealing with department politics.

And there is teaching which can be both a joy and a pain in the neck.

My BSc. GPA was 2.84/4.00 but finished my MSc. with 3.50/4.00

I don't know what GPA is, nor how to interpret your grade, but the context tells me that you think they could be better. Passing exams and conducting research are different jobs, not being excellent at one does not mean you can't be good at the second one (a) although it often helps; b) the reverse is also true). It will make things harder for you when applying to grad school, but after that it becomes irrelevant. What matters more is what you actually learned, some people have ok grades but understood a great deal of the concepts.

I let go of my work and absorbed in other stuff

That you will have to work on. There is an infinite number of things that you can do but work on your research. Nobody will force you to do it since pretty much the only one who will suffer from your procrastination will be you. The good news (sort of) is that you are not alone...

What kind of skills/characteristics do you look for a potential academician?

There are many, and most of them overlap with what it needs to achieve a successful career in the industry. But I don't know any successful researcher who is not thorough. Being creative sure is necessary, but it's the easiest part. What will make you stand out is when you can discipline yourself into rigorously testing them.

It also help if you know how to sell your ideas. Researchers hate to admit it but a significant factor in their success relates to how well they can convey a message. (Note that bad communication is an indicator of bad science, but it gives a lot of false positive).

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GPA = "grade point average." In general, it's almost impossible to get into a grad school with an average below 3.00 (and many require averages substantially higher than that). –  aeismail Jun 10 at 12:05
    
Could the downvoter elaborate on how I can improve my answer? –  Cape Code Jul 8 at 19:15

You sound a lot like me when I was thinking about doing a PhD, albeit you aim to be a professor, and while I like the idea I'm not so fussed about the administrative side of being in a university.

If you have a tendency to concentrate on whatever is the most interesting thing in front of you, then I would very strongly advise proceeding if and only if you find a good, hands-on supervisor. Ask their previous doctoral students how often they met with them in the first few years - some supervisors will see you once a month or so, others I have heard meet their students individually or collectively several times a week.

In the UK, PhDs are usually 3 years. And the rough schedule is that for the first year you look at one or more problems, trying to understand how you might make some progress. In the second year, you make some small advance on one project and try in vain to develop the project into a more concrete thesis. In the third year you accept that your small advance was all you are going to get, and write it up. The slow pace of progress in the second year commonly causes distress or apathy.

In order to complete such a project, you either need to be personally very disciplined or be part of a team (you, your supervisor, perhaps some peers) that can keep you honest - remember that rubber-ducking is a vital part of academic work; most academics in the UK will congregate in the department kitchen once or twice a day just to talk to other academics, because often just explaining yourself gets you closer to a solution. Similarly, you need people to ask you where you've got to so that you don't just disappear off for a month because you're faced with something annoying and your symphony suddenly seems fascinating.

I struggled with this; my supervisor was hands-off, my peers were in very different fields (I was a theorist among experimentalists for a start) and I didn't really understand my own character enough to see what was happening.

One of my peers had a supervisor who used to take students through rigorous textbooks, and expect them to grasp whole chapters to be quizzed on - the sound of it terrified me, but in retrospect the foundations are well worth laying. Instead I often disappeared down dead-ends because I was unaware of entire fields of research, and just didn't have the terminology or context to find them.

So, in sum, you have some well-placed concerns, but the answer is not just whether you are capable of a PhD but whether you are in the context of your supervisor, peers and department.

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