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I'm a fourth year Ph.D candidate in Experimental Psychology who earned an MA also in Experimental Psychology as I matriculated into my Ph.D program. I am posting here because I've come to the hard realization that I enjoyed the concept of being a scientist moreso than I enjoy doing the work that comes with it. The reason I do not enjoy it is because it essentially boils down to doing things first and then only knowing how things are later. I was always a student who had extreme levels of anxiety when taking classes and needed a fair amount of peer support to even make it through them a lot of the time. I only credit making it through my first year of electives during my Ph.D thanks to the pandemic circumstances in 2020-2021 and all of the exams essentially becoming open note and open book, which meant I had to be resourceful rather than knowledgeable.

For example, I'm currently a visiting full time instructor at a SLAC and I have not enjoyed the position so far. I also think I'm not doing well, but I ultimately won't know that until I see my reviews and meet with the chair. I bring that example up because I'm completely oblivious as to whether concerns are in my head vs. whether they are real all the time. I'm constantly finding myself asking for reassurances or I feel like I'm waiting on someone to give me the go ahead for doing more than the bare minimum because I'm afraid of what I'm doing falling outside the scope of what someone wants (this has happened to me a lot of the time back when I was doing coursework and I would get marked down for that).

In undergrad, my parents hired a life coach for all years so I could just get through undergrad. My gap year, someone worked with me on my graduate school applications so I could get into MA programs (I had no shot of Ph.D at the time). When I was in my MA program my second year, I worked with that same person for my Ph.D applications. I am also working with them yet again for my post Ph.D job applications now. While I'm glad I have external support, I realize that all of it came at the cost of me developing the ability to complete my work independently. I also never worked on multiple research projects outside of class at the same time either and only did one at a time because I waited on my MA advisor to say something if that was a problem or not. Even when I had the chance to do other projects last academic year, they were and still are on the table.

This all brings me to my main point. What are some post Ph.D jobs I could do that have a clear structure and defined performance outcomes? I would do a research assistant or research scientist role, but I've been told I'd be overqualified for such a position. I have a Schedule A hiring letter since I fall under my state's criterion as a disabled worker, but I'm not sure if that will help (or if that detail matters to you all, if it doesn't than ignore it).

Edit: To be clear, when I say "worked on" applications I'm referring to copy editing in this case. This is not meant to imply they did it for me, I still had to bring my own ideas to the table. I also still had to follow the outline they gave me and do my own "homework."

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  • We don't usually field questions of this type, at least to my understanding. Some questions about how to hunt for a job or prepare for getting out of academia have been kept in the past. But typically not open-ended lists of jobs.
    – user176372
    Dec 6, 2023 at 15:16
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    I don’t see how you are overqualified for a research scientist position. That is pretty much what the PhD qualifies you for.
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 6, 2023 at 15:36
  • You might see that some research scientist jobs say MA required vs .PhD. But that would not mean you are overqualified, especially if you are not currently done with your PhD.
    – Dawn
    Dec 6, 2023 at 16:30
  • @Dawn I already have my MA, which my current Ph.D program accepted in full. I'm only concerned about overqualification still simply because I have that MA and my Ph.D on top of that.
    – zzmondo1
    Dec 6, 2023 at 16:51
  • @JonCuster I'm seeing that most of those positions require a bachelor's or a Master's though. I've also had feedback from other colleagues that I should do a postdoc, but after what I've developed I don't think that's sustainable for me at all.
    – zzmondo1
    Dec 6, 2023 at 20:35

2 Answers 2

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The reason I do not enjoy it is because it essentially boils down to doing things first and then only knowing how things are later.

I don't understand, this is sort of just how science works. We do the experiment and then do the data analysis, we don't do the analysis first and then the experiment, this is pretty much true for any empirical work outside of economic forecasting, right?

Anyways... If you want to get a good job using your degree, you need to know how to work independently on things, and if you're not doing that now, it's a skill you simply must develop.

That's the bigger issue I see: motivation. Or to put it a different way, hunger. Being a PHD in a research position (academic or otherwise) is in some sense about wanting to improve your field via the work that we do, especially as an empirical scientist. You have to wake up every single day, with the attitude that you're excited to be in the field you're in and doing what you're doing: you need to be hungry, you need to "really" really want it.

I also never worked on multiple research projects outside of class at the same time either and only did one at a time because I waited on my MA advisor to say something if that was a problem or not.

This is part of what I mean. I'm not saying that we shouldn't rely on our advisors or that should overburden ourselves, but part of being an empirical scientist is about taking the initiative for your own work. It's about learning to not have your hand held by your advisor.

Ask yourself: why did you want to get a PHD in the first place? What was your motivation for doing so? Was it because you loved experimental psych and literally couldn't see yourself doing anything else at all? I'm not trying to be mean in saying any of this, I guess I'm just trying to understand where this is coming from, is it imposter syndrome or something similar?

The reason I'm saying all of this, is because I do not believe that looking for other jobs (that you get to use your degree for anyways) with clearer structure or very well defined outcomes will help you here. Even if you went to the industry as an analyst if some kinda, they'll still demand some degree of independence and initiative, that isn't something unique to academic PHD positions, that'll be true pretty much anywhere you go where your PHD will matter.

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  • I wanted to get a Ph.D because I think research is extremely critical and important. I personally couldn't see myself using my Bachelor's in Psychology to become a clinician later or anything like that since I realize that what clinicians do to practice comes from research first. I didn't mention this in my post but I think the main thing is that I didn't realize what the "day to day" of what I was getting into was truly like. If I knew that, then I would've tried to find work as a research assistant or associate with just my Master's degree since I'm handed the tasks I need to do.
    – zzmondo1
    Dec 6, 2023 at 16:15
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    I don't actually agree with most of this. Motivation/excitement is not really needed most of the time, just a willingness to put in the hours and do the work. I do think that clearly defined jobs where the OP is a junior member of a research team would be good.
    – Dawn
    Dec 6, 2023 at 16:27
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    "You have to wake up every single day, with the attitude that you're excited to be in the field you're in and doing what you're doing" Agreed with Dawn: this is very much overstating it. Dec 6, 2023 at 16:39
  • @Dawn I can actually kind of see where Jared's coming from. I put in the hours and do the work but I eventually learn that it was the bare minimum of what I had to do and I left things on the table that I had zero clue were left there. Only difference between then and now is that I realize what I've left on the table the entire time and have a reason for doing so (e.g., advisor wants me to work on other research projects with him).
    – zzmondo1
    Dec 6, 2023 at 17:00
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Congratulations! You are a lot more self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses than most people. I would suggest you write them down along with what you now know you like, and do not like to do.

There are (relatively inexpensive) online assessments that can help you relate your likes to different types of jobs. You can then compare the corresponding list with your credentials.

I’m not sure if you said you want to remain in academia but your degree can actually be used in industry, consulting, etc spending upon your area of study.

Good luck

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