Monday, September 13, 2010

Sad Truth About How Much Our PhDs Will Accomplish.

In the US, by the time most people get PhDs they will have been in some type of formal school for around 22-23 years and will spend many of their later years working way harder than their pay would seem to justify.  (How many people do you know with Bacholors/Masters degrees will spend years working ~50 hours a week and bring home in the ~$15-30,000 range for income?)

And yet this is what we will have to show for it.  From Gizmodo. (The site has more images so you should go check it out.)

1. "Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge":

2.  And now consider how much this circle will grow after including all the contributions you will make by the time you are rewarded a PhD:

And the really sad reality is the size of the dimple relative to the circle is probably far too generous. :)


  1. But how many people can say that what they do each day pushes at the boundaries of human knowledge? And how many people can come into work in a t-shirt and shorts at 10 AM and still be the first of their colleagues in the office? Scientists get paid in ego and flexible work schedules, not dollars.

  2. Nick, good points. Being able to push the boundary, even if not very far, is still something to be very happy with.

  3. Not to mention the honor of being an academic and an intellectual elite! Oh wait, that's not viewed as such a good thing anymore. How did that happen?

  4. Nick, I agree completely (though I'm not sure if we always push the boundaries of human knowledge or just lead it on wild-goose chases -- think about how many dissertations are later proven false). In the end, it's not about how much contribution one person makes or doesn't make with a PhD (or even over a lifetime), it's about the cumulative effect of all of us, academics and non-academics, working together over many lifetimes. (That boundary wasn't always that size.) Bit by bit, the boundary moves outward. It's wonderful to just be a part (an admittedly small part, but still a part) of it all.

  5. "or just lead it on wild-goose chases"

    This is why string theory is so helpful. :)

  6. Oh man, what a depressing post! This is not a good realization when I have yet to pass the quals and am looking to the next 8 months as being the most intense of my life, academically, to date.


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