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Background: I am pursuing PhD in a Canadian University in mechanical engineering.

My PhD work is computational and I work in collaboration with experimental groups. I am in my 4th year and I have published two journal papers till now. The funding in my group acquired by my PI is always in collaboration with some experimental professor in our department.

These experimental professors have direct contact with big industries and other large universities. It always feels as if my group is piggybacking on the influence/success of the experimental groups.

Now my advisor has good standing in computational mechanics research community, but I don't think she has the influence to acquire funding without the help of the experimental groups. All the past members of my group were Chinese and they have got academic positions in China and few are pursuing postdoc. I think many wanted to stay in Canada and enter into industry but couldn't due to poor contacts of my advisor. While the graduates of the experimental group go into both academia and industry due to their advisor's closer contacts.

Goal: I want to be in academia but I am also open for research scientist position in Industry.

Issue: However, I have a feeling that considering my research group has poor funding record, it means I will always have poor future prospects post graduation.

Question: Is this analysis true?

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This is hard to judge without knowing a lot more about why there is a lack of funding. It might be a local problem, in which case you might be fine. But if the funders generally don't value this field or even this line of inquiry within it then you could wind up in trouble. In that case, you need to be prepared to be flexible in the lines of inquiry that you commit to.

There is an especially sad case at the moment. The woman Katalin Karikó who did the fundamental research (mRNA) that led to the development of two of the current COVID-19 vaccines, was, if I understand it correctly, denied promotion to full professor at the University of Pennsylvania since she was unable to attract sufficient funding for her research. Finding no future there, she left for industry. Moreover, her research shows promise for attacking cancer generally, which is a pretty big deal.

This was extremely short sighted on the part of Penn, of course, but at top universities funding can be a critical issue. And, of course, it is also proof that even the funders of research don't understand the nature of research and the impossibility of a guaranteed outcome. There can be a certain risk aversion that is counterproductive, though funds are limited.


I suspect that Penn is kicking itself at the moment as it doesn't share in the recent mRNA patents. Perhaps that is a suitable comeuppance.

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There is probably a decent correlation, yes. And it shows a lack of shrewdness not to have noted this (let alone ALL the other issues with tentative funding, aside from job prospects.)

However, you are 4 years into this thing. Get the piled higher and deeper. Move on, make new choices. Watch your six.

Read the Robert Frost poem. (It's not about just picking the "right" path, but that you don't get to explore every path. Life is too short!) Keep your eyes forward on the next forks. Work hard. Do your best, with what is in front of you, not in the past.

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Does working in a research group with poor funding means poor future prospects post graduation?

All the past members of my group were Chinese and they have got academic positions in China and few are pursuing postdoc. I think many wanted to stay in Canada and enter into industry but couldn't due to poor contacts of my advisor.

I think the second statement says a lot more about prospects than the first. Sure, there is probably some second level correlation between lab funding levels and all the things that help you get a job later, but it's a lot more direct information if other people graduating from the lab are having trouble finding the positions they want/positions like the ones you want. (of course a caveat may be that these people actually got positions they did want, and just had different goals than you; this may be hard to know for sure)

That doesn't mean all is lost, far from it, but it seems like it might be a good idea to build some of your own connections that will help lead you to jobs in the future. This is a good plan for everyone, of course, but you may need to rely on it more than someone whose PI/lab already has these connections built in. It may be that your experimental colleagues are a good bridge to other labs in an experimental field that could also use your computational skills, as well as in industry.

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