A friend of mine considers to join a PhD program in order to go to science. I think she has a very idealized view of science and the prospects there. (I personally am somebody who left science after 10y, without big damage to my life, career or psychological health). I don't want to convince this friend not to follow this path, but I like to give her a realistic list of major problematic points, psychological stress factors, negative outcomes.

I already gave her some first-hand accounts and these were similar to questions asked here very often. The problem is that I can not quantify the likeliness of the following:

  • psychological problems during the PhD/Postdoc
  • stress due to workload
  • stress due to uncertainity
  • bad supervision (supervisor incapable or unwilling or good supervision)
  • continued unresolved conflicts in the lab
  • bad leadership
  • nepotism of group leaders towards friends/s.o. in the group (e.g. on publication)
  • scientific misconduct (unintentional), e.g. bad data handling, p-value hacking etc.
  • scientific misconduct (intentional), e.g. faking data, plagiarism
  • sabotage of others experiments
  • thesis stopped due to discontinued interest of supervisor

The point is: I don't want to hear horror stories (seen and heard enough of them, personally and here an stackexchange), but i like to have data (e.g. statistics, studies) which actually quantify the issues in a cpmprehensive way from the viewpoint of a new PhD student. Where can i find such data?

  • 1
    Are you also going to try to give her a realistic view of the sheer fun of interacting with really smart enthusiasts? That is what I'll always remember about my PhD experience. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 7:46
  • 4
    You really must have had an unusually bad experience. I think most PhD projects are much more positive. And of course, your friend should choose her project and supervisor carefully.
    – Walter
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 7:52
  • Of these i personally did not have all experiences. But I observed them in neighboring groups or at friends.
    – Sascha
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 8:12
  • To be clear: i had fun in science, i would not miss it, but I saw other people ruin their life or suffering from weird circumstances.
    – Sascha
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 8:14

1 Answer 1


There are some 2008 statistics on PhD completion at Ph. D Completion and Attrition

The ten year completion rates vary drastically by field: 62% for Chemistry but only 41% for Computer Science.

Part of the variation may be to do with the availability of attractive jobs that do not require a PhD. I personally knew at least one person who came to work for my employer as an operating systems developer after starting a Computer Science PhD and deciding it was too theoretical for his taste. He didn't need a PhD to have a successful career in his chosen field.

From reading questions here, the anecdotal evidence is that the worst pain is among those who are very strongly committed to an academic career, and therefore cannot do what the OP did, walk away "without big damage to my life, career or psychological health".

The OP, and especially the OP's friend, need to balance the problems with the joy and fun of immersion among people who share your enthusiasm for a particular field. A PhD may be the right choice for the friend, even though it was not the right choice for the OP. People are different.

  • Thanks for the link, that goes in the right direction! And science was right for me (enough publications). I never said it was a wrong choice for me, but i observed that the impact of failing or bad circumstances hat a very bad effect on the people i knew.
    – Sascha
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 8:53

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