I'm about to start a PhD in Europe. I'm seeing the PhD as a "normal job" that I'll do for a few years, because I'm interested in the job and I find it stimulating and interesting, and I want to do research in this field. I'm 100% committed to finishing the PhD and do as best as I can to produce good and consistent research, but I must admit that I'm not doing this with the goal of climbing the academic ladder later in mind, quite the opposite.

From what I can gather, getting a permanent academic position involves moving a lot and having a lot of uncertainty until you finally land a position (if ever). I seriously doubt I will want such an uncertain life beyond my PhD, I've accepted to move for it because of the reasons above and because I'm young, but in fact I intend to go back to my home country afterwards, whether or not I find an academic position there. What I'll do, I'll see later.

I have not discussed this with my future advisor, but I don't think I've deceived him either, we did not talk at all about my future plans for after the PhD. On the other hand, I fear that he might just have assumed it - who does a PhD without wanting to be a researcher?

Should I talk about this to my advisor?

On the one hand, my future beyond the PhD is mine to decide, and if he wanted to know about my future plans, he would have asked. Also, it seems too late now to bring this up, there's not much either of us can do about it and I fear it would just spoil our relationship before the PhD even starts.

On the other hand, I feel that I'm almost being dishonest by omission. If the default goal for a PhD student is to pursue an academic career, by omitting my unconventional plans I'm (unintentionally) deceiving my advisor into believing I fit into the default. What should I do?

  • @GoodDeeds thanks, I don't think it does. Our motivations are quite different: the OP in that question has fallen out of love with their field and that's the reason they want to leave, also, they seem to have a specific goal in mind for afterwards. My situation is different, I love the field and would plan to pursue it if I could do it on my terms (that is, where I want to), but I know that will likely not be possible. – user2723984 Sep 16 '20 at 12:09
  • This question probably won't come up til much later in your PhD, so I wouldn't worry about it right now. And an experienced supervisor will appreciate that not everyone wants or is able to go down the research route. They shouldn't hold that against you. – astronat Sep 16 '20 at 12:12
  • A good supervisor should not hold this against you. Also, if they are good, they will probably accept/expect that you don't and can't have a clear idea about your future now. Everything may change since now you have not even started the phd. – user111388 Sep 16 '20 at 12:22
  • I did the same as you. Did a phd out of love for the field but didn't want an academic life because it seems like hell to me. Worked in industry for two years. Went back to an academic teaching position in my country (with unlimited contract). – user111388 Sep 16 '20 at 12:41

This is pure opinion, of course, but I don't see anything wrong with getting a doctorate purely for the love of the field and a desire to know more. There are plenty of people in doctoral programs to fill the needs of academia in the future and some will be disappointed in their inability to find a suitable position. You don't need to apologize for anything.

But you may be a bit naive about the future and your ability to make a living. If you really aren't concerned about that, then there shouldn't be any problem, but understand that you may not find any position in which your new knowledge can be leveraged. But, there are other opportunities outside academia and industry if you have the financial resources to manage it.

Whether you talk about this with your advisor or not is a personal decision, and should be based on your understanding of how they might react. No one here can predict that better than yourself.

But you really aren't deceiving anyone. As you say, your future is yours to manage.

Back in the day, previous century, actually, we didn't worry about what came "after" since the economy was good and there was a lot of interest, both in academia and elsewhere in our skills (math, in my case). We were just able to assume that jobs would be there. But all of that ended when we successfully landed on the moon. So it was a shock to graduate into a terrible economy for folks with doctorates. But now the situation is very different. There is an abundance, not a lack, of skilled people, so the future is much less "certain" now than it seemed to be in the 1970's. Make sure you have plans, and back-up plans as well.

  • What exactly do you mean the OP is naive about? – user111388 Sep 16 '20 at 12:23
  • The ability to make a living afterwards, @user111388. Let me add a few words to the post. – Buffy Sep 16 '20 at 12:27
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    Thank you for the reassuring answer, I'm aware that it might be difficult for me to find a position in the future. Even though my field does give me transversal skills that are useful in many places (and is a general "I'm smart and know how to learn" card), it doesn't give me any specific skillset useful in industry, and after the PhD I'll be competing with people of the same age as me with 4 additional years of specific work experience. I'm not sure aboud how I could have specific backup plans 4 years in advance, but I have ideas that seem feasible, though I agree they might be naive. – user2723984 Sep 16 '20 at 12:37
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    is the moon landing related causally to the changes you mention --- I believe what is intended is that during the 1960s there was, at least in the U.S., a huge demand for mathematics and science Ph.D.'s (for several reasons, such as defense spending and space race). However, those who graduated near the end of the 1960s or the very early 1970s found an entirely different job situation, and there was an unexpected sharp decrease in this demand that caught everyone by surprise. Presently there is also great difficulty for graduates, but it is not unexpected in the way it was back then. – Dave L Renfro Sep 16 '20 at 12:46
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    Thanks, @DaveLRenfro – GoodDeeds Sep 16 '20 at 13:16

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