Many of the positive incentives don’t exist in industry though, an “up and out” culture is rarer in industry. When it works in academia your supervisor is positively invested in your growth, in general in industry your supervisor doesn’t care about your growth. If they need someone with new skills and you learn them fine but they can also fire you and hire someone with those skills (even though this is probably a net negative for them due to retraining on job specific stuff, it’s still seen as a net positive by management)
There is less abuse though. Full stop. Sorry you’re in this situation.
… and when that’s less true, you see the same dynamic. Most of the bad stories I’ve heard involve H1-B holders who couldn’t leave, locations where there wasn’t much other tech employment, or specialized skills which were only in demand by a handful of local employers (e.g. being a veteran COBOL employer in SV will not give you an edge for most of the open jobs). Academia is just unique in having enshrined that dynamic for almost everyone: the job market is brutal and an abusive or careless advisor’s support for finishing and finding jobs has a huge impact.
I’m not an academic but have spent a fair amount of time being the only person in the room who isn’t a grad student or have a PhD and there’s been a lot of commentary that science would be healthier for having more staff scientist positions in larger groups, both to reduce the degree that many careers depend on one person’s decisions and simply to recognize that there’s a huge mismatch between the number of people needed on many projects and tenure track positions available. Everyone I know who left for industry is happier but that’s skewed by most of them having had the skills to go into data science & ML and thus significant income multipliers.
Your points are valid though.
> science would be healthier for having more staff scientist positions in larger groups
I think this is a good idea but not for these reasons. Big labs frequently do have research scientist type roles but those roles are harder to fund so it is sort of a "rich get richer" deal. As I understand it, just cast your eyes around in a university and ask "who pays for that." Professors are paid for by the students they teach and the grant money they bring in. A research scientist might not have either so why would the university commit to paying for them perpetually and how would they afford that?
They could commit to funding some number of research scientists at the expense of some well paid administrators (gasp) but I think this only adds a constant factor of slack to the system, and those research scientist jobs would quickly become as competitive and cut throat to get as TT prof jobs, perhaps more so because many TT profs really don't want to teach or do service work so if you gave them a role that was just research but with the job permanence and freedom of a TT position they would kill for it.
PhD students in the sciences rarely pay for the professors; instead, students are often funded by the professors' grants. Research scientists could be funded the same way with a few (easy) changes.
1. Research grants are too small. The modular budget for an R01, the workhorse grant of biomedicine, just about covers a PI + staff scientist salary, with very little money left over for the actual research. Make it a bit bigger--it hasn't been inflation-adjusted since 2004(?). This might cost a bit, but we spend something like a penny per tax dollar on all research, even though it has a HUGE multiplier effect.
2. Expand the funding mechanisms. Students and postdocs are attractive not just because they're cheap, but because you might not need to pay them at all: there are myriad funding opportunities in addition to a project grant, ranging from individual fellowships to department/program-wide training grants. In contrast, there's ONE mechanism for funding staff scientists, the R50, only one of the NIH's institutes participates, and it fund ~28 people/year. Divert some money from training grants to this, which could be cost-neutral (grad students are surprisingly expensive when the grant pays their tuition).
I think this would have several beneficial effects: better science, but also a saner job market, which in turn would have knock-on benefits on trainees' success and morale (there is pretty clear data on this) as well as DEI.
Well, there is a lot of industry we collectively turn a blind eye to.
Meat packing facility jobs is a hot topic right now due to stories about COVID conditions. The workers in the facilities are treated like the human equivalent of the livestock they process. But the employer is often the "only game in town" for those workers. Even if it's not impossible for them to leave they may be practically stuck and this is reflected in their treatment.
Your larger point is true though and it would be great for there to be equity and dignity for all people of all professions!
However "industry" has not been thoroughly qualified and it has been used throughout the comments in a very general way.. Plus, I'm sure Tyson Foods employs some PhDs among its 141,000 workers :)
Let me break down the issues a bit on the education side, first. Almost always by year 4+ most PhD students are fatigued and starting to get very weary. I was definitely one of them, and at times I did feel like my supervisor wasn't helping my career development or giving me enough mentoring. He is a wonderful, kind, and creative person and he spent 1-2 hours per week with me, but for whatever reason I still felt this way.
I eventually decided I felt that way because he didn't make his expectations for me finishing and tailoring those expectations to my career goals clear up front, and very few advisors do so. The first thing I did when I became a professor was write up an expectations document, and when students want to join my lab I walk them through it, and even then we do a trial run if they still want to. I think this helps a lot. Each semester I review career goals, progress to graduation, etc. with a student, and we include things like publication targets, internships, etc., depending on career goals. I think of my PhD students as my apprentices, and it is my job to get them to be strong scientists and to help them achieve their career goals, as long as they put the work in. Once I became a professor I was much more understanding and sympathetic to my own advisor. Until you have the job, you don't really understand the challenges.
All that said, I've seen very bad advisors who exploit students, fail to mentor them well, make them stay far longer than needed (ambitious new faculty), neglect to push them hard enough to actually achieve their career ambitions (tenured faculty past their prime), and various sorts of emotional abuse.
Industry is no picnic, though. Depending on the job, you may have little autonomy (you don't get to decide what you do, unlike academia), be abused in terms of work hours (many start ups), subjected to micromanagement, and verbal abuse definitely does exist.
Take a look at "Ask A Manager" and you will hear many many tales of abuse and drama in industry: https://www.askamanager.org/
One additional thing I want to mention is, that the job of the supervisor is not only to guide the student to the PhD (i.e. the mentor role), but also to ensure that the student actually has done sufficient work to earn the PhD (the role of a gatekeeper). Which can lead to the situation, that the student thinks they should be graduating now, but the supervisor is still asking for more work. Now there are some supervisors that are abusing the gatekeeper role. Furthermore even for supervisors that are not consciously abusing the role there is also a conflict of interest, because it is in the supervisors interest to keep successful students as long as possible. So this is difficult to manage.
I think of my PhD students as my primary "product" I am creating as a professor. Not to say I don't think that teaching is valuable, but I'm by far proudest of my PhD students who graduate and go on to have fantastic careers. That said, I'm proud, but also sad, and worried because once they become good they leave. I let them depart once they have met our agreed upon goals, which are pretty much the bare minimum for being competitive for research-oriented jobs in industry (not "just a coder," but designing and doing independent research).
A relative of mine got his PhD with a prof who was kind of famous for such a document, and all of his students continued that tradition in their own labs. Of course you know the drill. Part of it is to influence your students, but the other part is to influence yourself.
Currently experiencing this weariness and my output isn't great. Covid restrictions + WFH are making it worse I feel but ultimately it's my responsibility to do well. Any tips for not looking like a hopeless case to your supervisor at this stage?
After we went to remote work, my students have been making weekly presentations to me, which serves to update me on their work and helps them become better communicators of their research.
They recap what I suggested, they give a status update on what I asked them to do and whatever else they did, they compare the results of their experiments to past experiments (baselines), and they propose next steps and I make suggestions with regard to what I think makes sense.
In my field, machine learning, we often stitch multiple papers together, so each project is aimed at being a paper in the dissertation. For my lab, we come up with the idealized main contributions for a paper, and then work toward those goals. We may not meet them, but it provides structure and their informal presentations to me facilitate organized discussion and analysis of results.
I come at this from a different field (the biomedical sciences), wherein it is rare to find clearly-articulated career goals from the PhD students, and even harder to find supervisors who care. This problem is made worse when supervisors often rely on their students' naivete to keep their labs staffed.
The students can be forgiven for this naivete: they often start their degrees with the assumption that, if they work hard, a tenure-track or similar position will be available to them at the other end. Of course, reality is that they may fail to achieve that goal no matter how hard they work, simply because they have the wrong project/wrong mentorship/poor funding/etc. The supervisors, on the other hand, are often quite happy for their students to remain naive, as the incentives of students and supervisors are often misaligned.
The solution is probably twofold:
First, it should be essential for prospective students to come in with a very clear idea of their career goals (e.g. "I want a tenure-track faculty position in a leading research university" or "I want a dedicated teaching position at the community college level").
Second, said prospective students should be given clear, objective advice, along the lines of your expectations document, on what it takes to achieve those goals. This advice should help guide students in choosing a lab that will help them achieve these career goals, and ideally should come from a neutral third-party. One can't expect supervisors to be unbiased in this regard.
What professors at research universities do:
1. Mentor PhD students (and often also MS and BS students)
2. Write papers and edit student papers
3. Write grant proposals
4. Deal with a lot of administrative issues
5. University service committees - some are on multiple some are on none (admissions, COVID response, undergraduate program, graduate program, etc.)
6. Review papers from others
7. Teach one or more courses
8. Develop new courses (takes 1-2 days to make a good lecture)
9. Update lecture materials (I spend probably 2 hours per lecture for courses I've already taught)
11. Conference/Workshop organization
12. MANY miscellaneous duties
13. Budget management
14. Prepare talks
15. Serving on MS/PhD proposal/defense committees for students not in your lab
16. Staying on top of the scientific literature
17. Making homework assignments (some can delegate to TAs)
18. Grading (some can delegate)
19. Write letters of recommendation (I write around 10-15 per year)
Of course you can get this load down by learning to say "No" in some cases. But a professor during their first couple years when they start the job can easily expect to put in 60-80 hours per week. It gets a lot easier after that.
1st year: we had a 1 hour meeting every week
2nd year we had a 1 hour meeting every 2 weeks
3rd year (1t hslf) we had a 1 hour meeting every 2 weeks
3d year 2nd half onwards we had a 1 hour meeting if I emailed them and asked them for it
If I needed more time I could always knock on their door. And oftentimes we went to have lunch for informal meetings.
Now, i always felt my supervisors were absolutely amazing. But i quickly understood that to complete my PhD, i needed to scratch with my own hands and that my sups were there only to guide me.
All in all my experience was great. Nevertheless after finishing and doing 4 years as a postdoctoral i decided the "publish or perish" mentality was not for me, and moved to industry.
Also they are your advisors, not teachers. At PhD level, you are supposed to make a meaningful contribution to the discipline on your own.
Mentoring by more senior folks in the lab certainly helps everyone (https://www.pnas.org/content/116/42/20910), but it's barely measured or rewarded for PIs and not at all for postdocs. Changing this would be an easy fix though--ask for a reference from a junior colleague when hiring.
More generally, there's a huge disconnect and sudden between the skills needed to get a faculty job (i.e., publishing a high profile papers as an individual contributor) and the skills needed to do well at it (e.g., management). Everyone is all antsy to shorten postdocs, but I'd actually be in favor of making the career path more gradual with so people get some mentored management experience.
1) 1 journal paper as the first author, so that they learn how that process (often is a review or perspective paper on their field, which goes in their dissertation)
2) 2 first author papers in top-tier machine learning venues (goes in dissertation)
3) 1 first author paper in a top-tier or second tier venue (goes in dissertation)
4) 1 collaborative paper with another PhD student (have to learn how to collaborate)
By the end, they have at a minimum around 4 first author papers and 1 additional paper. They can then turn these into their dissertation and these are signals to employers that they are competent scientists. If a student tells me they want to be a faculty member, we increase the numbers a bit (need at least 10 first-author papers to be competitive).
I also require that they be organized when we have our one-on-ones in terms of their experimental output.
That's pretty much it. It may sound like a lot, but I try to put training wheels on for the first couple projects and make them as tractable as possible because I fleshed out the project and found some low-hanging fruit, before I start trying to make them be more independent and drive the process.
In my stints around Denmark and Japan (Computational Chemistry) you basically need ~1 top-tier or ~3 mediocre papers during your 3-year PhD.
In the US, PhD students in Computer Science and similar fields usually require 5-7 years to finish. They typically do not have MS degrees, unlike in Europe, where the expected graduation time is 3-4 years and they must have MS degrees.
You would be surprised how often there is a lot of low-hanging fruit. I'm good at asking "easy" questions that nobody knows the answer to, so a student just has to put in the work to get the answer. Many advisors don't give as much initial hand holding as I do.
So far my PhD students have taken 3-6 years to finish. Those that have graduated so far have finished with 3 papers (3 years), 9 papers (3 years), and 12 papers (5.5 years). The senior ones still in my lab (year 4 or 5) are on track to have around 3 first author papers in top-venues and about 9 papers total each. Their first author papers are in CVPR, ICCV, ACL, ECCV, BMVC, NAACL, ICLR, AAAI, etc.
My spouse and several friends have PhDs and I do not, so my exposure is secondhand, but when I hear that circle of friends/friends-of-friends complaining about poor advisors, I often hear details about the grad student’s behaviors and expectations that make me think that situation wouldn’t turn into a raging success in industry either, but would result in “My manager isn’t promoting me, therefore they are a bad manager.”
On the other side of things, I've seen extremely abusive colleagues, with recurring problems with grad students (and faculty). All sorts of abuse, from just outright aggression, including physical aggression, to coercion into academic fraud, you name it. In a couple of cases things have gotten attention but most of the time nothing happens, or the student just eventually exits the program without a degree because they've had enough.
I agree with others that the primary difference is that it seems like in the nonacademic world people have more flexibility to move elsewhere. There's a lot of fuzzy overlap between the academic and nonacademic world, but at the moment even in the best circumstances academics is rife with corruption and problems, depending on what field you're in. When you erect a pyramid scheme and come to institutionally depend on it, you're bound to run into problems.
I've got a PhD, as does my spouse. I think this gives too much credit to the advisors. Some of them make you push a lot harder than others. Some actively derail your life.
Sometimes each person has a totally different experience with a advisor than others because the advisor treats people differently.
When I was in grad school, one of the rockstar professors had a clear bias towards a particular gender and ethnicity. He had a formal complaint filed against him that sucked up a lot of the students time, but basically resulted in his life getting easier (they said he would be relived from all teaching duties for a year).
My advisor was a perfect fit for my research interests. He was an amazing teacher. But he was basically anti-social and never had any desire to do any of the networking stuff other professors did for their students. The networking stuff is really important for your career if you want to stay in academia.
Some advisors would almost drag their students to conferences and introduce them to other researchers, professors, etc. My advisor just shrugged his shoulders and had no interest.
>I often hear details about the grad student’s behaviors and expectations that make me think that situation wouldn’t turn into a raging success in industry either, but would result in “My manager isn’t promoting me, therefore they are a bad manager.”
I think the difference is that in industry you can more easily change jobs and switch to a manager that is aligned with your personality. In Academia, there's typically only 1 or 2 advisors who are a fit. The only choice is to switch schools, which is a lot more difficult than changing jobs.
I’m also at least 10 years older than any other student in the lab, and I can see how someone in their 20s who hasn’t had a lot of jobs/bosses might have certain expectations about an advisor and be highly disappointed or even feel wronged.
Academic supervisors are not your personal friends. They have no interest in observing your emotions, because they have a millions other things to take care of. Negative comments about you is very likely based on their subjective assessment of you. And the reason they don't talk about those to you and give you advise, is probably that you have a history of failing to accept negative assessments. Your have "needs" to finish your degree and progress to your next career stage doesn't mean you are qualified for advancing, nor you are entitled of help from your supervisors who may not be satisfied with your work or talent.
I think it is also part of fault on the cultural. Teachers / advisors just can't directly tell you how bad you are. This creates generation of students are only used to positive comments and can't take negative comments.
Another point to add: because of the political environment and MeToo movement and such, it becomes more dangerous for academic supervisors to develop personal relationship with their graduate students. Especially those graduate students who need emotional support, can appear to be way more dangerous to get involved with than other students. And nerdy professors' confidence of appropriately handling relationship with those students could be zero. So the potential risk of taking private meetings to talk with you through things is just way too high to overlook.
This is probably the only falsifiable part I could find from your comment as the rest seems to pertain to unfalsifiable speculation about "kids these days" -- so with that said, I'll say that academic supervisors and especially business managers /do/ have a very specific interest in observing your emotions if they're remotely competent.
Human personnel burnout and underperformance risk is extraordinarily expensive. One approach to risk management is to simply delegate it to the subordinate, and if anything goes wrong, fire that subordinate. Unfortunately, this approach doesn't work very well in practice. For one, the agency to actually address the root culprit of burnout and/or underperformance usually lies disproportionately with leadership. It has to, otherwise, hierarchical human organizations could never logistically scale.
But what that means is that you're flat out wrong. Not only do business managers have a vested interest in managing the emotions of their subordinates, but it's ostensibly one of their strongest interests because it's one of their most dangerous risks. You realize this when you begin to accrue experience either being bitten by this first hand, or watching your peers become bitten by this. And you know the old saying. Once bitten, twice shy.
For academic advisors the situation is different because graduate students come and go naturally.
If you find yourself meeting with a single student anywhere but the office, discussing things that aren’t related to work, for any significant amount of time, then you need to at least carefully examine the situation. Save that for your friends and family.
Good managers know that developing personal relationships with your team members is not how you lead a team.
It was a bit unusual but it seemed to work, I mean he was one of the most popular professors and you felt like you could approach him about anything.
Although to be fair, I suppose that wasn't a single student, and they probably spent most of the meal discussing Physics and their goals at University.
The issue in my mind comes when you are having INDIVIDUAL meetings in social contexts, with either employees or students. The first question to ask yourself is, "could this be construed as a date". The second question is, "if I wouldn't have this meeting with someone in my romantic attraction group, because it wouldn't be appropriate, then am I unfairly disadvantaging my students who are in that group"
Second, the expectation of coddling is a very very recent phenomenon. Graduate students are usually expected to be functioning adults, not teenagers. Absorbing negativity and handling them by yourself is usually expected to functioning adults.
Third, academic supervisors are very likely to be people good at things, not good at handling people stuff. The major reason they are supervisors of their labs is they are good at things they do, not they are good at taking care of people.
I think the expectation of (and complaints about!) coddling are actually historically very well trodden. There's a great reddit thread about this  which details historic complaints from the Greco-Roman era all the way to the present.
I promise you, we completely understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us. It is made painfully clear every day that the working world is built for white men who have buried their emotions.
There’s also a big difference between taking care of a persons emotions and giving them the space to have emotions. You can’t expect employees to be machines, and the further from “straight white guy” you are, the more work you have to do in every aspect of your life. But you have less energy to prop up those emotional walls and bury yourself in work.
It all depends what you’re optimizing for at the team level; pure speed and efficiency or quality of output. Are you able to measure their contributions, or are you just measuring things that are easy to quantify? What assumptions get backed into that? If you have so much work that it can’t be done in 40 hours a week, either hire more people or shift schedule. I do this all the time to protect my teams from the PHBs who would want them to do crunch time every week otherwise.
This generation is just fed up enough with the whole situation and has enough leverage to set some boundaries.
Ironically (or perhaps just sadly) that is exactly what you did to "straight white men"- you put expectations on how they live their lives, deal with stress, and how much stress they have in general.
I'm not as quick as OP to start throwing the word "abusive" around, but I have witnessed a number of unhealthy student-advisor relationships. Sometimes it's because the advisor is facing a busy period in their own career and doesn't have time for the student, sometimes it's just personalities clashing.
I think you are missing the point if your belief is that the majority of students who don't succeed in graduate school just aren't driven enough. Even a motivated student needs assistance to focus that motivation on something productive.
I think we are in agreement about the role of an advisor, but I sense that maybe we disagree about how active a role the advisor can be expected to take.
(forgive me below for exaggerating a bit to make a point -- I recognize we are literally arguing semantics :) )
When I hear "the student pushes and the advisor guides", it sounds to me like the advisor plays a passive, almost automatic role, like a mirror or like bumper rails in a bowling alley. Just by virtue of having received a PhD, one automatically becomes qualified to advise, and doing so requires so little effort that it is ridiculous to describe them as "good" or "bad" at it. Whether the student succeeds or fails is up to the student alone, and in the latter case, the advisor doesn't really mind, since there are dozens of fresh applicants waiting to fill the spot.
On the other hand, an advisor who is "invested" in the success of their students plays a more active role, like a coach. They see collaboration with and among students as essential to their own success, or at least as essential to their duty as a professor. They bring students into their own research, sharing their own knowledge (without spoon-feeding), successes, and failures. They put effort into building positive interpersonal relationships with students, perhaps through frequent group meetings and social events. Despite their busy schedule, they make an effort to give their students the impression that they are always available to chat.
With a few notable exceptions, most advisors I've observed make an effort to invest themselves in their students. They know what "good" advising looks like, but sometimes their career aspirations or administrative duties pull them away, leaving students neglected. In these situations, I think the structure of academia is more to blame than either the student or the professor.
The people who make it through PhD are either 1) lucky enough to find mentors/collaborators who are willing to play an active role in their PhD experience or 2) so motivated by external factors such as the need for a work visa that they are willing to push through a bad situation even if it takes 7-8 years to finish a 5-year program.
I now see where my use of “guide” could have been read to be passive (like your bathroom vanity mirror or a gutter-blocker in bowling) where I intended for it to be periodically actively influential (while still being absent hour-to-hour of the work). Your last sentence of your GGP comment was much closer to my intended meaning.
Minor comment but in the university I work for you can't be a primary supervisor until you've seen a student through to completion as secondary advisor. I'm not sure how widespread this requirement is though.
My previous academic advisor would take out his aggressions and frustrations on his students. One specific instance, he began yelling at the lab because there were footprints on the couch - (I had taken a nap last night after finishing work, whoops). “Whose responsibility is this?!” Obviously I didn’t come forward. It took half a second to brush the dust off the raggedy couch after he left. He expected some student to step forward and get reamed in front of the lab? I was in the military and I’ve never seen such a clear example of leadership incompetence or pure aggression. At least drill instructors had a reason to yell at you nonstop. Folks like this capture the aggression and ignore the point. DIs would always give you proper direction, they never reamed you for their relief alone (even if it seems that way).
I have a decent amount of experience with tough leaders: “One can only expect perfection if you practice it yourself”. Blaming your followers is the mark of an incredibly, incredibly poor leader.
Bad managers are bad. They take out their anger and incompetence on you. And the second you start complaining all the folks like you give the side eye and hem and haw and hmmm and hurrr. No matter how clear the anecdote or straightforward the abuse, there is always some way the student should have taken it in stride. That’s not what leadership looks like.
You’re bullshitting to confirm your biases about students. Thinking they expect to be coddled is just a bias formed through idiocy and if I had to guess, too many “oversensitive college students” stories.
I think we can agree that there are abusive advisors, and immature/unmotivated students in academia. Can abusive professors get away with more than they otherwise could due to the culture of academia? Yeah, I’d probably agree with that. But that doesn’t mean academia is full of such people, or that every student who complains of abuse is actually experiencing objective abuse.
But in academia it can be true, and when it is true, there is nothing that can be done. To a further extent than industrial roles. Granted some jobs have the same problems, and I’ve felt much more powerless within corporate structures than any military one.
Determining objective abuses is for determining objective guilt - not for nudging the system. You can’t possibly believe that all claims of abuse are the imagined fictions of so many students in some sort of shared state of madness. Perhaps some, but that many? It’s ridiculous.
In general though, industry is a lot more competitive. You can just move on and get another job, and likely get paid more. Rather than the typical 2 body problem of academia, where one person is taking a job knowing it's just because the other person needs a job. (Yes, I've seen this happen where you hire someone's spouse so that you can get them to join. It's almost certainly not legal, but it happens in academia. I've never seen this happen in industry though.)
In industry there is also a little less gate-keeping. You've already got the job and there aren't really any more hoops to jump through to get paid. Sometimes getting a promotion is about as likely and easy as academia due to those above you in the management chain though.
"Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low." - Wallace Stanley Sayre
A relationship between a supervisor and his direct reports, both in academia and industry, is impacted by the power that the supervisor can exert. The relationship between a supervisor and his PhD students is not the same as a manager and his direct reports in industry because:
- The students are invested and committed into their PhDs for several years. It is much harder to change path or mentor compared to just change jobs. The energy and resources that the student needs to invest to apply a change are significantly higher, often involving moving to a different city.
- The reward of a job is, for the most part, the monthly paycheck. A PhD is a long-term investment that must be completed in order to have value. An employee that quits a job after one year is not an issue, and it is considered "experience", but quitting a PhD half way through can be perceived as a failure.
- Professors in academia have almost unlimited decision power in how they manage their budget and their reports. It can almost feels like an absolute monarchy.
- This may be anecdotal, but I feel like the role of professor in academia can attract people with larger egos and smaller empathy, especially in scientific subjects.
All of these points, combined with a bad supervisor, are fantastic fuel for anxiety and unhappiness. There is no worse thing that, after so much work, feeling that you have no control over your situation and you have no margin to improve it, without significant additional sacrifices.
There is no worse thing that, after so much work, feeling that you have no control over your situation and you have no margin to improve it, without significant additional sacrifices.
This crystallizes how I feel, and how many of my peers feel. We're all going to escape with our degrees, but many of the problems that arose because of the points you mentioned are completely unnecessary -- we can drive science forward and train the next generation of researchers without subjecting them to this.
On the student lock to the PhD it may also be because students get scholarships. In my case my government gave be a scholarship to do the PhD. And at some point during the degree I pondered whether to continue, but I couldn't have stopped because I then would have to return the money I spent, which of course I didn't have. My supervisors were great. But one can imagine the pressure of having shitty supervisors on top of that.
I... don’t see how one could make this statement and actually believe it. Food and housing are an expense. Healthcare is an expense. A PhD is an arduous and deeply personal journey to push the limits of your field and your own intellectual capabilities. If you see it as an “expense” then I believe you are doing it wrong.
>- The reward of a job is, for the most part, the monthly paycheck. A PhD is a long-term investment that must be completed in order to have value. An employee that quits a job after one year is not an issue, and it is considered "experience", but quitting a PhD half way through can be perceived as a failure.
Several people already mentioned "you can just quit your job". I think this is with a limited view of software developers. Yes, if you are a software developer the job market is such that you can easily quit. The situation might be completely different in some other fields, and loosing the job can be a much more existential threat.
>- Professors in academia have almost unlimited decision power in how they manage their budget and their reports. It can almost feels like an absolute monarchy.
I don't know the situation in the US, but I can tell you that in the countries I know about this is simply not the case. The amount of bureaucracy that you have to jump through to spend money as a professor (often money that you brought into the university through grants) is mindboggling. I know junior staff in industry who have more power to make buying decisions than professors. I know at one university every purchase over $50000 had to be signed off by the dean of the faculty (this was maybe 500-1000 staff and 30 000 students) over $150000 it had to go to the president. For anything bought by a professor, even low dollar amounts, it had to be signed off by the head of department. Hiring (PhD students, or even interns) needs to be approved by HR ...
>All of these points, combined with a bad supervisor, are fantastic fuel for anxiety and unhappiness. There is no worse thing that, after so much work, feeling that you have no control over your situation and you have no margin to improve it, without significant additional sacrifices.
While bad supervisors are definitely a thing, generally the PhD is a situation which can be fantastic fuel for anxiety and unhappiness. You work on something that you are responsible for, which is not guaranteed to work and coming to the end of your time, you might realise you don't have enough to show. In many way it can be very similar to starting a business, there can be incredible highs, but also incredible lows.
You're right about the bureaucracy, which can be crazy in the US and Canada too. However, it really only extends to spending money; there's much less oversight when it comes to running the lab (e.g., working hours, productivity expectations, conduct, etc). You might think that firing has as much oversight as hiring, but postdocs are often structured as short, renewable contracts and you can just....not renew them.
I actually didn't get any hassle as a PhD student, possibly since I was a mature student and wouldn't take any shit, I didn't need to get into any fights but I was willing to and I guess that comes out as confidence.
As a postdoc I experienced several attempts at bullying, all worked out in my favour as I was sensible enough to join the union on my first day at work. I'd say that 90-95% of tenured academics are reasonable and often pleasant people, but high-achievement does also tend to attract a proportion of arseholes, and it's pretty random as to whether you come in to contact with them. How you handle it is up to you of course, I always fight back. The union is your friend.
I find that startups are much more mellow places to work, finding an aggressive and unpleasant manager seems to be really quite exceptional; businesses tend to have "processes" in place in a way that academia just doesn't. An aggressive manager is quickly identified as a bad manager and then an ex-manager, they can't just claim "I'm really clever so suck it up" in the same way as in academe.
I don't regret being a postdoc at all, I met a load of interesting people and worked on a lot of interesting projects. But it's not the whole of the world. I'd recommend exploration of the rest.
That's part of general "people skills". Many of us in STEM have a shortage of them, to be honest, and thus it's a "solution" that's not always easy to come by.
I’m currently getting a PhD in my late 30s and the contrast is pretty funny sometimes... I keep asking my advisor if he regrets accepting me as a student lol
- if you can make the computers go beep boop in industry, then you can much more readily leave and take your skills elsewhere, and you won't have to put up with the abuse. you don't usually have to stick it out to finish a project or degree.
- your manager's success is probably tied to your success a little better, and you're more likely collaborating on the same deliverables. also, your manager probably hasn't been in place for nearly as long, as industry is much more dynamic in terms of staffing.
- you're less likely to encounter top down abuse. you're more likely to encounter team cultures where the entire team casually engages in mild hazing, as a sort of frat-ish way to build camaraderie, particularly at the smallest firms. you can usually avoid being part of such a culture, if you push back gently but firmly and bring a positive attitude of earnest appreciation of the people around you instead, and you will probably be valued for that — however, this will be work, and may drain you emotionally as you do it.
As for the context, I am French, over 40, Master in France, PhD in Denmark and working in Germany. My work is chemical engineering at large, oil & gas, crop science, pharmaceutical but also food and flagrances. I am working with 50/50% men and women. My wife is working in oil & gas.
I haven't witnessed a single time abuse like there are in IT in the last 20 years. And I have been working, living and studying from California to Japan.
In fact I am still chocked to see all these codes of conduct to contribute to open source projects or attend conferences in computer related stuff.
How can it be that you need such things?
So yes, PhD is hard work. Yes you have moments where you lose faith. But life is like that too. Life is unfair and hard, but suffering abuse is something which never came back from all my friends doing PhDs in engineering in the EU. Both men and women.
To the point that I sometimes wonder if the word abuse has a different meaning for me as a non native speaker as for people from North America.
In industry your boss has some incentive to keep you productive and happy, but co-employees can be incredibly mean as there is often competition among employees especially if times are tough. Everyone wants to keep feeding their family and will tear you down in sneaky ways if it helps them. There are a lot of ambitious people as well who will try to climb over you and undermine you and use you. When you interview for a job, pay as much attention to the nature of who you'll be working with as to your potential boss's nature. That can happen with grad students also, but given the specialization in PhD's it's rare that students are actually directly competing with each other, although in a sense you are competing with all grad students for research impact.
I don’t really know the dynamics of academia, but my impression is that there are a lot more people who want PhD’s and tenured professorships than there are openings for those roles, so knowing nothing else I would expect the work environment to be worse compared to software engineering.
Not that I've seen. I experienced a lot of "abuse" like OP mentioned in the last few years at my last job, and it was a common complaint from my peers at other companies around the country. It sounds to me like you're really lucky.
By the same token, I try to take excellent care of my teammates and coworkers who report to me. The primary way I do this is by reporting to them as well.
So I always interpret such anecdotes very sceptically unless it's a particularly egregious account, unless I've witnessed it directly, or unless I know that I can trust them.
My experience is perceptions of abuse and abuse are very different. What passes for abuse in software engineering would be a dream job in e.g. retail, education, construction, or many other segments of the economy.
Jerks and nice people are everywhere, but the underlying baseline is set by power dynamics.
One thing I've noticed is that there is no systematic mechanism for supervising a professor and helping them develop as a manager. So the management skills of a professor are luck of the draw, and tend to be formed by their own PhD experience, and maybe things like coming from a business family, etc. To make it harder, managing grad students is weird because of the amount of independence that they're supposed to develop.
I haven't typically seen this manifest itself as abuse, but just ineptness. There have been times when the thought floating around in my head was: "You need to get some project management training." In contrast, when I became a manager in industry, my employer sent me for a bunch of training that was quite useful, and my own supervisor was observing my behavior as a manager. Also, industry in our better moments communicates norms about things like harassment and inclusion which, if you follow them, will serve you pretty well as a manager.
In fact I've told professors the following: "Your university probably has a career development program in the business school with courses such as basic supervision and project management. If not, check out your local trade school. You should sign up yourself and all of your students for one or two of those courses.
My friend of course eventually let other profs and the department head know, but nobody was willing to actually do anything, so she limped along like this for years with other profs quietly helping on the side. She eventually graduated with her PhD, so by the stats the system worked, but it was miserable.
For all tech's flaws, nobody expects you to put up with a miserable asshole boss for 6 years just to be allowed to stay in the industry. And unlike my academic pals, whose options at any point were generally ~0 and would sometimes spike up to 2-3, there are just an ocean of tech jobs. I'm about to start hiring again and competition is fierce.
Simplest case: you switch jobs. Harder case: you sue your employer.
This is not the case in academia, where things are basically transactional: either you pull through the whole thing and get out with a PhD, or you basically wasted n years of your life. Yeah you can sue people around, but I've hardly seen people lose their job even on serious issues (eg: a professor saying racial slurs during a lesson, recorded via microsoft teams. some generic apology by the university dean headmaster and it ended there, no real/actual consequences. she's still there teaching, afaik).
A lot of smart people smell this during their 'thesis-in-the-lab-with-the-prof-and-the-phd-candidates' and politely decline the invite to apply for a phd-candidate position.
Not sure this answers your questions, just wanted to add my 2¢.
In industry, you need to produce. A manager is measured by how much he/she produces, which means how much his/her team produces. So, you could have an asshole manager, but push it too hard and you'll cause too much churn (people leaving your team), which then greatly reduces your productivity until it hits zero. If you're an asshole on top of not making the team produce, you'll be very quickly out of a job.
Probably more common is that managers are polite but incompetent. You might have ones who do as little as possible and stay out of people's way, or those that try to micromanage everything. Either way, not providing a lot of value, but as it's about par for many companies, they'll keep their jobs. And then sometimes you get managers who really are great and you love working for them and they help everyone on the team grow and become super-productive. And you might even follow them around as they switch companies just so you can continue to work for them.
Oh, sorry, so I will add that this depends on the company culture, so there might be companies where the culture is just abusive, and everyone at the company is just an asshole. People will show up, decide they don't like it and leave right away, leaving only the assholes to all enjoy each other's company.
In the academic world, tenured professors are rarely fired for bad behavior. Their primary incentive is to create grad students who cite their work. (“Expand on the path they’ve laid”). This means they can tune out or abuse anyone not part of their citation factory with relatively little cost. As long as there is a ready supply of new students each year they are fine.
In the professional world the incentives are from the market. If you can’t generate revenue or funding you die. Leaders of small companies can be abusive to get things done. As the companies scale, abusive leaders find it harder to attract talent and bad managers tend to get weeded out by the market for talent. (Jobs and Musk are exceptions) As companies turn into monopolies focused on scale there are less external pressures and toxic behavior can return as turf wars trump market pressures.
That's not true, the primary incentive is to generate new articles, which allow you to get more grants, which allow you to hire more grad students who generate even more articles.
And the primary incentive of the grad student is to write as many articles as well, because good articles are what will allow them to advance in the academy. So really, motivations of supervisors and grad students generally align, and abusive PIs basically sabotage themselves.
Sure, the overall goal is to publish as many papers as possible, but their topic more often than not is solely determined by the advisor. Those papers may not end up helping the student to get a job upon graduation, unless their topic is one of the more exciting ones and the universities are actively hiring new faculty to pursue such things further. Tenured advisors are often not concerned about this issue since they already have their job.
It is also likely that the papers are backed by the current funding received by the advisor. It is exceedingly difficult for a former student who has become a new faculty member to get funding for similar projects because they would literally have to compete with their advisor for it. Some of the more cordial professors that I've seen would actually co-write future grants with their former students, so that everyone could benefit. But oftentimes I've seen professor impose a ceiling on a student's career aspirations, so they would be eliminated from competing for the funding in the long run. Regrettably, this often happens to bright ambitious students, who have made a mistake of revealing their ability to function independently early on.
Further annoyances in industry:
- Teams can suck you dry, you begin to lose your identity and get mediocre (since that is the safest and most valued option).
- Managers take the credit for your work.
- Managers can be entirely unrealistic, often demanding things that are not possible from a CS point of view.
- Too many meetings and "communication" to serve those who thrive on that sort of thing (i.e. the talkers).
As others said, in this job market you can move to another company without issues, which is the greatest advantage.
As for managers being entirely unrealistic and demanding things that you as a developer consider to be computationally impossible, I think it's important to push back. This is what meetings should help to do. Surface the problems early rather than struggle with the problems long and quiet and then fail to solve them anyway.
What pisses me most in the academe is when supervisors behave as if they worked hard for your salary. Sure, writing ambitious promises (to be delivered by students) to a grant giving body is difficult. But that is peanuts compared to how money is generated in a company. And guess who gets recognition from the labor of students.
Working with early-stage PhD students and helping supervise them has convinced me that the job supervisors have is legitimately hard. Sure, the supervisor wouldn't have anything to show for their efforts without students to do the grunt work, but understanding what the frontier of research is, and figuring out how to push that frontier in achievable ways that are relevant to the rest of the community, is extremely difficult. Most supervisors I know work insane hours to keep their labs running.
My issues arise with the personal mistreatment I've received from my supervisor -- none of what makes his job hard requires making abusive comments directly to me or other profs about my personality and work, nor does it require refusing to work with me for >12 months on the paper describing a project so we can get the work published.
The vast majority of my work will go completely uncredited (both inside and outside of academia) unless someone inside academia that I might want to work with happened to see my mentors talk. If I leave academia, I have no 'proof of work' for anything outside my paper and thesis (no one will read it). I can't claim authorship on very important 500K+ grants that I practically wrote and won myself, but others take credit for it. Those don't go on my CV/resume, and if they did then people looking could look up the grant and see I am not in fact listed as an author or contact. I've come to realize that this is a huge problem.
It's entirely expected to list accomplishments and responsibilities on your CV/resume. If you brought in $X, say so. If a prospective employer is skeptical they can call your references.
Edit: Many (most?) grants don't technically list any authors anyway, just recipients.
I had the displeasure of choosing an abusive supervisor. And I left him, started fresh with a different supervisor, and everything worked out nicely. That is possible, although people don't talk much about that. During my studies, I heard about some very abusive supervisors from colleagues, and also heard about good supervisors as well. In one of my exchanges, i worked with an awesome supervisor. She was brilliant, respectful, always helping, and invited us to many outside activities like hiking and other stuff.
My first job outside academia had an environment that was more toxic than with my abusive supervisor. Not only the boss had some "weird" behavior, but also the coworkers were complicit and accepted that as "standard boss behavior". Now I work at a different company, with an awesome environment.
I know people happy in academia, and I know people happy to have left it. I also know people unhappy in industry :/
The fact that Ph.D. students tend to be much younger than their bosses probably also has something to do with it; experienced employees are more likely to realize "this is not normal", and leave.
Sometimes one can change groups, but that is often politically and financially tricky.
It would be hard to switch if you have a year's work invested in some research that's not published yet, in that case much of that effort "wouldn't count", so switching once you're a year in or so loses progress, but if you're 5/6ths ready, then that's different. Also, what's 5/6ths ready at your institution probably is completely sufficient at a bit less prestigious institution - not optimal, but it's important to know that there is a reasonable exit, a Plan B that allows you to leave abuse.
As for transferring, other than a lab moving, I've never heard of someone switching just to defend. Most programs have "residency" requirements of a few years (ours is two years after a master's and at least 2/3s of the coursework, for example).
Because of this, my company has gone to pretty incredible lengths to ensure managers who abuse employees are identified and removed. It's cheaper to remove abusive bosses than it is to constantly hire new developers.
Academia has none of those problems. It's hard to fire an abuser with tenure. PhD students are not hard to replace (it's hard to get into academia!). No one is financially obligated to prevent this kind of abuse. Ethically, morally, yes definitely. But not financially.
One of them was a CTO but most of them were high on the developer ladder and at most middle management. Most of the abusive folks Ive had experience with skewed toward the lower middle of the spectrum between Janitor->CxO.
From outright verbal abuse in meetings to quietly trying to sabotage my projects and in a few cases outright trying to get me fired for standing up to them (and failing each time I might add). I would later learn that one of these guys, my boss at the time, directly blocked me from a promotion that would have surely altered the course of my life at the time. Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?
I think the modern term to describe these people in tech is "Brilliant Assholes" though they are seldom "brilliant". They have some skills usually but more or less they're just bullies by nature and taking advantage of a situation where they can get away with it.
I can say from my own experience, there is usually at least one person like this in every shop. You're likely to run into one of these if you work in software development.
One person (studying biology) reported they were staying late every day, working seven days a week, and got cursed out by their supervisor for not coming in on christmas day.
Another person (studying maths) reported they could only do about 3-4 hours of productive maths a day, leaving them with loads of free time, and they still had enough contributions for their thesis in their second year.
Needless to say, for the first guy almost any job in industry would be an improvement in working conditions. For the second? Not so much (although he is now happily working in industry)
> e.g., being grossly neglectful of the student's professional development
In my industry, while employers will provide some professional development, you'll have a better time if you don't depend on it.
Oh, they're generous in a sense - they pay for the training, and pay you to attend it as well - but it'll only develop the skills you need for your current job, and at the same rate your peers are developing theirs.
And you need to develop the skills for your next job, not your current job.
The difference, though, is that the supervisor might publish four papers a year where he was the primary supervisor of the work, while the student might have a single first-author paper that he spent three years on. That paper is critical for the student to graduate and progress with his career, but for the supervisor, that one paper doesn't matter nearly as much, especially after hitting tenure. Both in my lab and others, I've seen projects stall for months or years because the supervisor is unwilling or unable to devote the time to revising a paper and preparing it for journal submission.
Academia: abuse was literally everywhere and it was a daily thing. Even some lab "assistants" whose career highlights were cleaning the lab and moving some objects around routinely bullied students (or at least tried to). Overall a very awkward and unsatisfying experience. Also this wasn't an isolated thing, it was happening at several departments of the same faculty.
Industry: I only experienced similar stuff in my first software development job, which was at a small startup. And the only guy who behaved like this was one of the engineering managers. As a developer -at least in my area- once you are considered mid level most companies treat you with serious respect.
Consider if you had the very best of human beings as your supervisor, who has 30 students. If they did absolutely nothing but give an hour a week to each student they wouldn't even have time for a shit break in a normal working week. So you are quite literally not even vaguely on the priority list for that person, unless you are exceptionally brilliant and going to help bring in some $$$ to the group and hang around. Then this prof sits in this environment with a power structure to match the reality, taking essentially blind credit for others work for decades. It breeds a specific thought pattern in the prof and group that corrupts. So in this sense, no industry is not the same. Unless you go into an industry with the exact same dynamic.
I worked in a theoretical group with only about four or five other students with at least one or two postdocs. The dynamic was excellent, prof had an open door and would have the time. At that point the prof really is contributing intellectually, and also knows to what extent they have contributed to the work. So their belief in their own contribution as a leader is grounded in reality, typically they will also constantly see the student outgrow their own understanding by the end of the PhD every single time. That is a healthy environment for the profs development as well as the students.
Ultimately in a big group you are prof level resource limited, and this includes career important things like networks of good contacts and collaborators. How does a prof prioritize 30 students working on the choice projects, learning the new methods from the best postdocs, and working with the best collaborators? The biggest strongest chick at the start constantly gets the food. Doesn't matter that its then an increasing returns effect, and if you just gave the same level of opportunity to the others in the group everyone would be just as strong. The lab needs flux of workers not new leaders at bigger scale. The equivalent in industry would be a startup where everyone is trying to be CEO. That might work with like four or five people who know each other well and are equally competent and take it in turns but not going to fly in any other scale.
This isn't to say that the industry is perfect compared to academia; in fact, the conventional focus on the bottom line at the expense of long-term R&D at the average firms is a well-trodden trope. But tech is still an expanding universe, and so the leverage of voting with your feet remains quite strong for individual contributors. Far stronger than in academia according to much of my network.
I encourage you to reach out to data scientists and research engineers who have made the transition. If you don't have a LinkedIn, I recommend making one, adding whoever you can and talking to whoever you can that might have gone down a similar path to you. The academia to industry path is not a one-way door, and indeed, there's a lot of research science inside the industry that appears to be more well run than much of pure academia. You're smart enough to have gotten into a PhD program in the first place -- that enough will make you a very attractive candidate for a wide range of roles inside the industry that can be really fulfilling. It's virtually costless to start exploring.
Good luck. I'm sorry you have to go through this unnecessarily common experience, but on the plus side, it's better to figure it out now than later.
They like recent college graduates, because they don’t know what a healthy work environment looks like.
That being said negative comments still happen and I certainly don't think Academia is all bad. Academics work on stuff they are interested in. They get to go to conferences, make friends across the world and have a much more free lifestyle. These are privileges that should not be discounted.
Workers can be unhappy too, despite generally decent management. Burn out is a thing and you might want to read the threads on agile/scrum that often appear on this forum before deciding. On hacker news it's often said the half life of an engineer is only five years.
In the 13 years I have subsequently spent in industry, I've been at large companies, small established companies, and startups. One thing I've seen a few times is that people who successfully finished a PhD and end up in technical management have a tendency to be ineffective, tyrannical managers. Kind of a "passing on the abuse" situation, sadly.
> Among my late-stage PhD friends, it feels like 80% are unhappy
The industry is much better, not because it's inherently less abusive and there are still a lot of abusive employers, but because people can easily leave without too much sunk cost and go find non-abusive workplaces.
IMO, this is all due to the conditions of the labor market. Any position that a lot of people want to do and doesn't require a lot of skill or experience will be a bad time. If you get into such a position, expect to be paid little, worked long hours, replaced on somebody's whim, and various types of abuse will be common. On the other hand, positions that aren't that sexy and require skill and experience tend to pay well and treat people well.
Once you understand that, a lot of things become clear. You can predict the sub-areas of the industry that are likely to be worse work environments - game development, startups, etc. Boring line of business development is a much more pleasant environment.
Yeah ... but only if you don't mind doing boring work in a boring team.
I mean, now that I have a family I can see the plus sides of that, too. But idealy my pleasant work environment is interesting and still not toxic.
When I was in grad school, I had more than one tenured professor tell me they would have never been able to survive if they had to do what we had to do to get a tenure track job. One of the tenured professors was a terrible human being and actively mocked the conditions her students were in and how nice she had it when they were a student and on the tenure track.
I left academia and have no regrets. I was on an H1-B and was trapped in that situation for a while, but even then I was getting paid decently and not the other way around, where I got $1100/month to do the work a tenured professor wouldn't do even though they were paid a lot more.
1. I don't think we can generalize to the whole of academia, based on a singular experience with one particular supervisor. It might just happened that your particular supervisor is like that. But there are a lot better supervisors out there and a lot worse supervisors. Same thing in industry.
2. About the supervisor "helping the student with career" - this is exception rather than the case, I think. In particular, when I had a supervisor, he said that, in his view, to successfully finish PhD means learning to be independent and do things on your own. And I agreed with him. This is not school anymore and at some time you have to get out of the nest and start doing things independently, without people assigned to watch over you.
If you are in a place where everything's growing (more funding, more revenue), all your peers will get promoted with you, and you won't have to compete (or behave in a zero-sum way) to do it. Cultures develop "politics" in different ways, but I think the unifying theme is zero-sum behavior.
The average age of tenure has gone up over the last 30 years, which suggests fewer early-career opportunities and more competition. But there are tech companies that double their employee count every year, which has a very different feel.
In my view industry is often also toxic, just in very different and more variable ways. For example, fetishizing overtime or the volume of work to do, weird management: "never hire fit looking developers because fitness means they don't spend enough personal time on computers", "always give the worst employees the best references because they'll weigh down competitors", "let's talk about how terrible abortion is over lunch", etc.
Toxic culture and bad management occur in the private sector, but it runs a larger and less consistent gamut than what I've witnessed in academia.
Guy was pretty hated by students. Someone tried breaking into his office one year. Part of me respects that he was trying to keep standards high, when there are so many bleeding hearts now. Still think it was a power trip.
I wonder if an HN poll, or tallying the current comments, might be better than nothing or if the result would be misleading and biased (HN is obviously not a general population sample) to the point where it's more harmful than useful.
Some situations I have known:
- A student who talked to many of their committee members as much as or more than to their advisor, and generally took their advisor's views on their research as suggestions to be weighed against their own and their committee members' views. In this case I actually think there could have been a reasonable complaint that some of their committee members paid more attention to the student's research than that of their own students. (A distinguishing factor here may be that the student was writing and receiving their own grants and fellowships, and was publishing papers and presenting at conferences on their own, however.)
- A student who disagreed with their advisor on a number of work, approach, neglect, and other questions, and switched to having another committee member as their advisor shortly before defending. (This student was supported by their old advisor's grants or by TAships, I believe.)
- A student where their committee disagreed with their advisor on dissertation readiness and pushed the advisor to allow a defense. (This student was entirely supported by their advisor's grants, and continued to work with their advisor after graduating. The advisor did not see the disagreements as attacks, but as an expected part of academic collaboration.)
- A student who outright had a nominal advisor (for departmental politics reasons) who had little role at all in their work, and who worked almost entirely with a committee member.
While I have never worked in industry, I assume that if your supervisor tells you to do something, you can't simply disagree and have this be the right choice, and you similarly can't decide to ignore your supervisor and do something else, or change supervisors on your own accord. In academia with advisors, the situation is different. Depending on funding situations, an advisor may actually have very little formal authority over a student at all.
Friends in math and political science certainly had experiences like the ones you described, but they would be fairly unusual in a wet-lab field, where students (and postdocs) are largely expected to work on an advisor’s grant. This is especially true when the experiments are expensive: a committee member would need to be generous indeed to put up tens of thousands of dollars for (say) an fMRI study.
Lab sciences tend to have accepted "the way things" go: your advisors got through some abuse too, so they think it's natural. I think some additional fuel comes from that you have to have an advisor to get into grad school. I'm from a field where the order is reversed (we have two years before finalizing our advisor, and changing is less of an hassle) and such abuse is much rarer. It might also have to do with my field's obsession with freely flowing information: people can just avoid advisors who are documented to be problematic.
As some kind of glue to bind this together, I offer you the plight of HB1 workers. They are tied to their jobs similarly to the way PhD students are tied to their advisors. Yes they could change their jobs, but it's a big hassle and leaves you at the risk of having to leave the country/dropping out of the program. And we also see tons of abuse directed specifically toward these workers, even when others have it good.
So my point is as long as you haven't forcibly bound yourself to a job, you're less likely to receive that kind of abuse. And in the worst case (if you encounter one of many, many shitty bosses), you can just leave for greener pastures.
1. Breadth of work experience. People that have worked different jobs in different industries have more perspective and are less likely to be assholes. A career in academia tends to discourage breadth of work experience. The counterpoint are people that have transferred into academia from industry and these people tend to be wonderful to work with.
2. People that are leading research programs are focused on impressing people outside the department in order to acquire research funding and improve their group or school's reputation. They care much less (if at all) about what anyone internal to the department thinks unless that person is above them or critical to their success. This applies to academic programs as well as programs in industry (see point 3).
3. Research programs in industry tend to be shorter-lived than programs in academia, hence people working in industry need to be more flexible and have a broader network of goodwill than academics. Research is not a zero-sum game and if you can help someone with minimal effort that may result in unforeseen rewards many years later.
Almost all of the people I have worked with in both academia and industry I would work with again. I don't think there is a difference in ratio of assholes to non-assholes across academics and industry. The main difference seems to be that people working in academia seem to feel trapped, which certainly intensifies the experience unfortunately.
That said, managers embarrassing and ignoring employees could be described as widespread. Not necessarily high in distribution nor intensity, but common enough that engineer culture usually is lukewarm at best regarding pointy hair bosses, sales people, project managers and so on.
Then, Hanlon’s razor to the rescue, that’s mostly out of ignorance than malice.
- woman grad student removed because of pregnancy.
- senior woman in management harassed because posing a threat to male subordinates
- pregnant H1B engineer harassed
a few cases witnessed on the basis of gender.
So the presumption that it is permissible to wield power in this way — that one is entitled to do so without consequence — is pervasive in the society, a function less of the particular setting.
What can be done? People try to find bosses/departments/companies/universities with better protections. People (students, amazon workers, meat packers) sometimes organize and unionize.
You can always find instances of Students/workers/scientists/sharecroppers who resisted. Some more effectively than others.
Does it have to be this way? Are there alternatives to ways that schools and corporations and nonprofits are structured? I hope you can bring some innovative perspectives as you move to the next stage in your career.
A lot of important people also lend themselves to bullying either because they are not aware of their importance or because they have some psychological affinity to exploitation.
But it's definitely less in a competitive job market where you leave one company and find another one same week at a different company.
But I had friends who were in tougher spots. In grad school a friend of mine in the physics department was basically a slave of his advisor, needing to do IT admin work for his advisor that was unrelated to his field of study and constantly doing errands for him. There is a big difference between fields like physics where you are living off of your advisor's grants and math where you are not tied to your advisor financially at all.
In the workplace, I had a friend who had kind of a frumpy annoying manager who didn't appreciate him. But the level of professionalism was much higher than academia.
When people are unfireable and can't change jobs, people who hate each other are forced to work together for decades.
Not entirely different from marriages when divorce is illegal/unthinkable.
Which is one reason I think "employment at will" is a very important concept.
I want to say .. this is not a guarantee that you will be abused. There are many many excellent people (junior, senior, all around). You just need to protect yourself. If you spot abuse, speak up and be prepared to quit. Life is too short.
Also, as you get older all people chill out ... dont live in their head/live out their insecurities.
Not all people though...
In my major's department of perhaps 30, there were at best 5 who were willing and enthusiastic teachers. The rest (it was evident) saw their teaching duties as an unfair chore heaped upon their higher aspirations. (Their scorn for the actual educators was palpable.) Besides the chosen few, the best teachers - as always and everywhere I suspect - were my fellow students.
Whatever colleges are, or ever were (the 'Halls of Ivy' were but a dream), they are composed of the same sorts of human beings that are found everywhere in life. Try not to become like the man behind the curtain.
The reason isn’t specifically to do with academia - it’s because you’ve entered what’s effectively a state of modern indentured servitude.
Your career (and future) is directly dependent on the person you report to, which naturally leads to them abusing that because they’re human and therefore fundamentally horrid.
The same happens all the time with conditional visas like the H1B. Sure, you could push back, but it’ll mean your life as you know it is over, so you won’t.
I wish I had something nicer to say about this, but sadly I don’t, because humans.
It’s why I work for myself now (which I realise is not an option for many). I’ve too many stories of my own about being abused by employers.
Not usually verbal or emotional abuse because of HR and "hostile work environment." Abuse of effort and credit can happen, but there are ways to deal with it if it is coworkers or managers.
There is more abuse of effort and credit in academia definitely. Undergrads and grad students do the most menial work while PI's and tenured profs get the glory and indirect hire/fire of visiting profs, associates profs, postdocs, and other staff.
Department heads are the royalty who don't have to work day-to-day as much but have to deal with politics of the institution, make sure everyone is publishing prestigiously enough, and raising money.
In the industry, being someone's line manager and looking after their wellbeing and professional development is often considered a job in itself, and people in that career track get selected, rewarded and promoted on the basis of being a good manager.
In academia, lab leaders are leaders because of their academic qualities, and whether they are good managers is completely secondary. They probably receive very little to no training and aren't evaluated on their management skills. Understandably, they focus on growing as researches, not as managers.
That is why so many supervisors in academia are very bad managers.
I also think that people forget to ask for help. I certainly never did.
Some faculty are terrible managers too don’t forget that. A good manager is hard to find in general.
Unfortunately not everyone is as lucky to be able to up and quit when these things happen.
* Visa holders are often susceptible to this kind of abuse. Low wages, can't job hop, etc.
* Those who are bound by health care. Being healthy isn't a privilege everyone enjoys.
* Those without safety nets. Not just people who grew up poor that have no place to turn if things get bad. This could be you if you live paycheck to paycheck. If you have to choose between being homeless and an abusive work place, most are going to take the abuse.
For every person that you hear mention that their workplace is great and wonderful, there is somebody else in the workforce who is suffering.
That's one data point... and work is frustrating for reasons other than abusive managers/supervisors.
One theory for the difference here is that, if you're good at your job, management loves you. You make your manager look good. Conversely, in academia, if you're very smart, you may end up embarrassing your supervisor by scooping them. I imagine incumbent academics are terrified of smart kids coming along and solving "their problem" that they've been working on for years.
I wonder if part of this process forces out anyone not willing to put up with the environment earlier on. At least in a program where this is the eventual circumstance?
In business it'd largely depend on the environment fostered at the outfit. But if you're allergic to that kind of behaviour you'll have a much easier time (as you assume) seeking different employ. As long as you do something multiple companies will employ you for.
Today with what I experienced, I believe that we're still some kind of animal, and the predator in us reacts to weakness. Situations usually start small, the perpetrator tests the territory, and the victim usually doesn't say anything or is too surprised to set a boundary. At one point it will go to the next step and further escalation goes from there.
In the industry so far I have seen managers claiming all credits for the successes of their underlings (Old style manager) as well as very supportive, enabling, and supportive managers.
So I suppose it depends on which supervisor you end up with.
If you’re going into industry from academia, I’d suggest doing some deep homework on how to work with different corporate cultures. Be aware of the toxic behaviors people display and have documented. Learn email etiquette. Be prepared to make every conversation an email either to just yourself or (for it to really stick) to everyone in the conversation.
Especially when they know you are in a jam, such as recessions or family issues.
Dilbert is a comic strip and a documentary. I suggest students read more Dilbert so they are less shocked when they get a real job. Humans are very human. Vulcans would go nuts on Earth.
Micro managers etc tend to get pushed out of tech jobs fast.
Huh, which is the exact same problems the foundations of the entire higher educational system in the US has rotted out from.
First, in an industry job, you can almost always quit or transfer, when in academia, your success is tied very tightly to your advisor. There are stories from the old days of people whose advisors died in the late years of their thesis work, causing them to have to abandon their degree or start over.
Second, professors are never trained to be managers, nor are they hired for their management skill. In most departments, the role of chair is mocked and despised, to the point that its often a rotating position - nobody wants to be the boss. Most companies invest significant time in training and coaching their managers.
Third, there is almost no consequence in academia for your students failing. If it’s widespread, you might not get enough work done to continue getting grants, but usually even abused grad students turn out a few papers. It’s not like there’s a customer satisfaction survey or annual performance evaluation for faculty, at least not one that incorporates grad student happiness. Where I work, if your employees are significantly unhappy, you’re not going to be a manager for long.
Finally, I’ve heard an argument that academics is based on a libertarian concept of freedom of thought and action, which is why professors have tenure. For a long time, this translated to there being no rules, even around things like profs dating students - if it’s consensual, who are we to get in the way? Outside of academics, we have agreed that it’s not a good idea to date your employees ...
Man, neglect is far too common. In one company, I only got promotion after I told I was resigning. My manager didn’t care about professional development, he even made false promises multiple times.
Thats why it happens.
Frankly I have seen it’s mostly students who abuse the system. There are a lot of goof-offs who are paid by taxpayers and just want to party, have fun and get a degree. This is just my own observation.
Why should a supervisor neglect a student if student is doing an OK job? What’s the motivation here?
I am not saying either side is always at fault. Rather, the person in power should not automatically be blamed.
Pretty complex, and I don't think I can even do the full issue justice, but from my observations it comes down to:
1. Egos - some advisors get their nose out of joint when students start to surpass them in knowledge or ability on a certain topic (this hasn't been my issue, but I've witnessed it).
2. Boredom with a project - YUP - my advisor regularly gets 'bored' by a project because it isn't producing the data he wanted (he likes to create stories instead of seeing what story the data tells) or because it isn't moving fast enough for his desires.
3. Personality clashes/issues with management - this has been an enormous issue for most of the students in my lab, save for a couple of male students over the past two decades. When issues are brought to my advisor's attention, he will say the right things, apologize, and then amend his behaviour by wholly ignoring and avoiding the student for weeks or months on end. This is to the tune of cancelling in-person meetings, invalidating their opinions during lab meetings, avoiding them when they approach his office, etc. etc.
4. Cheap labour - students in their upper years, particularly those who are productive and successful - are great work horses. Why would you want to let go of a cheap and productive employee just when they start to churn out lots of great data for you? Casually ignoring or constantly expecting more before they can defend is a slimy way of using a student to generate more data (and therefore more revenue) for your lab.
I can't comment on comp sci situations, but in life sciences, particularly those requiring wet lab bench work, point #4 is a _very_ common issue in PhD years 5+.
Abuse in industry is SHOCKINGLY common, and tolerated, as long as those bad actors can make contributions to a project. Thankfully, many companies are starting to become less and less tolerant of these types of people, and I make it clear when I interview that I have no time or tolerance for workplace bullies or brilliant jerks. I've left jobs because of bullying, and will continue to, because I refuse to be disrespected.
I'm please to see that so many have had relatively positive grad school experiences. I am genuinely shocked, in fact. In my program (a life science program), the number of students who have less-than-stellar relationships, many of which verge on an abuse of the power dynamic, is astronomical. But, as pointed out by user @jpm_sd, the life sciences, in particular wet lab researchers, seem to find themselves frequently in this situation.
I could bore you with endless details of what that "abuse of power" looks like, since many have claimed OP is throwing around the term 'abuse' too freely, but from what I have learned about mental health, particularly during the last year, I would say that the following falls into the category of extreme disrespect verging on abuse (and I wish to validate that OP may have experienced this him/herself):
- advisor expecting students to be available for a meeting at any time of day (including calling at 23:00hrs to discuss report/grant/whatever) - advisor playing mind games via a divide-and-conquer strategy with other lab members, including gossiping and spreading 'hear say' stories - advisor with history of misogyny reported to HR, which you are only made aware of when you yourself end up in HR's office - advisor who doles out his responsibilities to graduate students and parades them as "learning opportunities", despite students being overworked and desperate to stay on top of their own research (see list by user @chriskanan - I have done all items save for # 5, 8 and 15 during my grad school tenure) - advisor who demands manuscripts prior to allowing students to write up and defend, but then never reads said manuscripts, sits on them for months to years, and then hands them over to incoming students as a 'easy first publication' upon joining the lab (à la "the student couldn't finish this before they left, so you get to finish it and get your first pub!")
And these are just a few of the many ways in which I have felt used or "abused" by my grad advisor - it is not an exhaustive list.
I have no idea how this happens, certainly I allowed some of these things to go on without addressing them early enough, but as anyone who knows that delicate advisor/student power dynamic, it is not always in your career's interest to take up these issues when you know it will come back to bite you in the form of retaliation.
My department is WELL aware of the toxicity of my advisor, and they have supported me (and other students) extensively... yet they too seem incapable of removing this academic bulldog from the department - and he doesn't even have tenure (not for lack of ability, it's a stipulation of the research institute we're in). Astoundingly, many of the newer professors regularly advise students against joining, but this is often shrugged off as "differences of personality" - certainly, I was warned, and yet here I am.
I hope that with what I have read and learned of industry via networking, I will find myself well-poised to handle what comes my way. It seems that for all the negative experiences I've had the misfortune of having, it has provided the professional growth needed to delicately but firmly address this type of behaviour in the future.
OP: I wish you the best. I am also #PhDone and hope you find some catharsis in this. Head down, chin up, you'll be out soon.
1. Academia is a feudal system.
To get in, you need a glowing letter from 'Someone Important We Know' from 'Big Name University'. Sure there are some admits with letters from less important people/schools, but if we are being honest, we know that is a big minority (I think this also accounts for the lack of diversity in science, but that is a different topic). To advance in your career (get a postdoc/faculty job), guess what is also the most important thing? 'Glowing Letters From Important People We Know'.
The next most important thing is 'Big Paper From Journal We Know (Cell/Nature/Science (CNS))'. The dirty secret of biomedical science is that getting 'big' papers very often depends on who you work for. Anectdata, but I've seen many garbage papers in CNS, where I can't believe it is in this journal, only to see ohhh it is because 'Big Name Lab at Stanford/Harvard/JHU' with a track record submitted it... I see. Glam journals like glam authors, if you don't believe that you are unusually optimistic or uninformed.
2. There is little or no opportunity to get validate-able credit for any of your work.
The only way you get document-able credit for work is your (maybe 1 or 2) publications and any fellowship/small token grant you managed to get (there are very few). I mentioned this in a comment below, but I have spent months of my life creating data and figures for grant applications (that were won or not), and I practically get 0 credit or recognition for that work. My name is not on the grant, despite me doing virtually ALL of the work for it (ideas and experiments) because I am phd candidate and cannot actually receive the funding from an NIH R01.
The vast majority of my work will go completely un-credited (both inside and outside of academia) unless someone inside academia that I might want to work with happened to see my mentors talk where they gave me a shout-out on a slide.
If I leave academia, I have no 'proof of work' for anything outside my paper and thesis (no one will read it). I can't claim authorship on the very important $500K+ grants that I practically wrote and won myself. Those don't go on my CV/resume, and if they did then people looking could look up the grant and see I am not in fact listed as an author or contact.
So in the end, what is a student or post doc in a bad situation going to do? You can leave after 3/4 years as a PhD student with no savings, and very few marketable skills, and start over in another lab or try to find a non-academic job that values half a phd? It is worse for postdocs, who have 'invested' 10+ years and either have to suck it up to get that letter, or leave with nothing (also no savings).
I think a lot of it boils down to the feudal system of letters+publications = value
I've had probably a dozen line managers and a couple of dozen superiors I've had to deal with on a very regular basis over the course of my career (a smidge over 20 years).
Of them only one, who happened to be a line manager, was habitually abusive. Two others were periodically abusive, but in general not (say once or twice per month), and perhaps three more had very occasional snarly moments/blow-ups.
I've worked at, or contracted for, around a dozen companies. Perhaps four of them had a management culture I'd describe as toxic: two explicitly so, two in more underhanded and mendacious ways. Overall if I had to choose between those two evils I'd probably pick the former, although both basically suck. Of the four companies in question in only three of the cases was there any discernible impact on my own happiness and wellbeing. No company has been perfect and all have at times manifested some amount of dysfunction in management and process - I think that's just normal no matter where you work.
Almost everywhere I've worked where there are more than about 30 people some element of politics comes into play. Some people play politics more than others, but it's always there. It's also a natural consequence of getting a group of people working together who all have different ambitions, beliefs and values, interests, and motivations. Not everybody pulls in exactly the same direction all of the time.
Also, if you are ambitious you will always reach a point where you are "held back" for whatever reason. Often that's because there are only so many more senior jobs to go round, and the company only has so much money to pay wages, although you might hear all kinds of other reasons given. If that's a problem (and sometimes it will be, if you're ambitious) my advice to you would be to find a new job. I've made the mistake of staying at the odd place too long before, but don't do this because - depending on your temperament - you may find it hard to avoid becoming bitter and disillusioned. If that happens it will hamper your search for new employment.
Industry pay is probably better than academia but you have to understand that to some extent dysfunctionality and asshole behaviour are part of life. You can (and should) get out of bad situations and move yourself into better situations, but you can never guarantee you won't have to deal with a bad situation again.
Industry is absolutely not homogeneous and a lot of it comes down to who your manager is, and your own preferences and biases. E.g., if you're a "just get stuff done" kind of person you may find working for a giant megacorp kind of aggravating. OTOH if you like things to be orderly you may find the more cowboy/everybody muck in and turn their hand to anything ambience of a smaller growing company (not even necessarily a start-up) to be not entirely to your liking. And of course there's a whole spectrum in between.
Some people say that you'll have more control over creating a great place to work if you start your own company. That's true to some extent. However, when there's a downturn, pandemic, or your business simply doesn't get enough traction to keep going in its current form, you'll find you have to start making hard decisions. That doesn't necessarily make you a bad person, but it will mean you'll make decisions that affect other peoples' lives in ways they understandably won't like.
There are no guarantees about the future: the past 12 months should have taught all of us that.
With all of that being said, and whatever you decide, I wish you the best, and urge you to always be seeking work that delivers some amount of joy/satisfaction (it'll never be perfect though!).
Whereas anything that someone has in academia has been hard won after years of paper wrangling, and you need to show something for it immediately.
That means you're stretched thin as a supervisor, because you need to not only wrangle your paperwork, but supervise students who all have to be showing positive contributions at every step.
When someone isn't, it's generally easier to torture them to death than it is for them to find their legs and right the ship, or realize this is a bad fit for them and leave.
After a while, that's the default, and not the exception.
It took 20 months before the professor was finally placed on leave.
As an academic your best career choice is to work your way up in one organization. As an engineer the expected strategy is to hop jobs every 2-4 years.
In (American) business, barring some unions, there is no concept of tenure and it is understood you will be fired the moment you screw up or you will quit once the abuse surpasses your level of tolerance.
Either way, as a worker, expect to be abused by management and peers. As an entrepreneur expect to be abused by creditors, vendors and investors.
The only way to avoid the abuse is to be born wealthy and not work.