Random Thoughts and Unsolicited Advice on Graduate Studies in Science and Engineering

Having just finished my Ph.D. program at the University of Toronto, I figured now would be a good time to post some random snippets of my thoughts on graduate studies. Most of my opinions were formed from experiences gained during my engineering graduate program, so my advice may or may not be applicable to everyone.

Random Unsolicited Advice #1:
Why are you here in graduate school?

This is usually the first question I asked many new graduate students. I think this is an important question to answer for yourself before you take on a graduate degree.

Completing a Masters program takes on average 2 years of our youth. This is 2 years that we could have been using to get a decent job, make money, gain 2 years of work experience to look for a better job afterwards, pursuing our dreams, re-training for what we really want to do as a career, and so on. Completing a Ph.D. program takes on average a total of 5-6 years (2 years for a Masters and 3-4 years for Ph.D.), so we should really know what we want to do with our lives before diving into any graduate degree–especially a Ph.D. degree.

If your reason to be in graduate studies is something like “I don’t want to/cannot get a job, and graduate school is an easy way out for 2 years”, then I wouldn’t recommend you pursue graduate studies. BUT, if your reason is to spend some time trying to figure out if research is what you want do as a career, then maybe attempt a Masters program–but don’t dive head first into a Ph.D program.

WHY?

Graduate studies in science and engineering are highly based on research, and research is strongly based on failure. Trust me, you will fail *a lot* when you are doing research, especially research that involves experiments. A  close friend/professor in the department had a this to say about doing research, “In research, you will have on average 360 bad days, and only 5 good days when things go as planned.”

From my experience, I found that I usually got only 3 good days in a year. So perseverance is extremely important for research and hence graduate studies. I have found that those that have a certain amount of interest in their projects don’t take those failed days so badly, because they know they will eventually make some great discoveries. So it is generally good to have some interest in research and on your research topic before diving into graduate studies. Otherwise, if you don’t actually like what you are researching, those 2 years of your Masters dealing with the 360+ bad days will be a very painful time. Can you imagine spending 6 years of a Ph.D program feeling like this?

So, think long and hard about what you want out of life before diving into graduate studies, especially in the case of a Ph.D., or it might not be as smooth as you think.

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