I’ve just been reading in ‘Physics World’ magazine (IOP publishing, physicsworld.com) of one of the less well-known side effects of the delay on the Large Hadron Collider: many PhD students, who hoped by now to have that final bit of data to conclude their PhD theses, are stuck. A PhD is a research degree – and lack of results, due to whatever reason, is a major stumbling block to getting it.
One student at CERN is quoted as saying "It breaks my heart that I’ll have spent four years doing a PhD with no data". And so it should. In fact, I would question the integrity of those academics who have taken on PhD students for experimental work with the LHC well before the LHC’s supposed switch on date. The risk of no data was surely a big one, and it is not one that should be borne by a student probably living close to the ‘breadline’.
Another student is more upbeat "Luckily, there is not an immediate threat of running out of funding, just the threat of being a graduate student for a decade".
Those of you who are students need no reminding of this fact, but those of who are yet to become one should keep it in mind – surviving financially as a student is difficult. (Those at CERN probably have an even harder time than most – Switzerland isn’t exactly known for its cheap cost of living.)
When I was a PhD student I had an ‘easy’ time of it – I had a reasonable scholarship that meant I didn’t have to scrape around for money – but after three years of that, on top a three year undergraduate degree, a ‘proper’ job that earned more than peanuts looked very, very appealling. (NB Six years from school to end of PhD is very short now – probably most people in NZ will be looking at more like eight. That’s a lot of surviving to do on monkey-rations).
Those of you thinking about a PhD beware – some academics take the view that a PhD student is slave-labour. Get yourself a project that is going to work for you, rather than your supervisor. (Of course, with a well thought-out project, it should work for both of you.)
That said, a PhD is a great thing to do, and I think the statistics bear out the fact that in the long run you will be better off financially, so don’t let this put you off from doing one. Just do the right project.