In an earlier post, I discussed the decision about attending graduate school in the sciences. I argued that graduate school is certainly not the right choice for everyone. For people of a certain mind-set, though, it is the perfect choice. And even if you have all the right attributes for graduate school, you can still be miserable if you pick the wrong advisor or graduate program, so that choice is also important. But let’s assume that you decided that graduate school was the right choice for you, you did the research, found the perfect advisor, happily toiled away long hours discovering things about the natural world that no one else in the world knew about, published lots of exciting papers about those results, finished a dissertation, and successfully completed a Ph.D. Now you have to address the question that friends and family have been asking you for years: What will you do for the rest of your life, and how will you make a living doing it? How can you make a living doing something as specialized and arcane as phylogenetics, for example?
At least once a month, I see blog posts from disgruntled current or former graduate students about “The Terrible Experience of Graduate School.” I advise a group of extremely bright undergraduates who are interested in research careers in the sciences, and they get scared to death by all these internet horror stories. The problem is, almost the only people who blog about their graduate school experience are the people who are (or were) extremely unhappy. There are certainly unhappy graduate students, but the truth is that many graduate students love the experience. But no one seems to want to write or read a blog post about the writer’s wonderful experience in graduate school. It sounds like gloating or bragging, and happy people usually are just content to be happy.