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Offline kriggy

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choosing PhD topic
« on: January 03, 2016, 04:54:26 PM »
Im not sure if it belongs into eduation or not so feel free to move it if you think so.

Well, im finishing my masters and want to get PhD. My "German pathway" is not going well for various reasons so I have now two options:
a) stay at my uni, and continue working on what I am doing now - heterocyclic compounds. Pros: I already know the chemistry (some of it) and have some experience with those compounds. Cons: Well, im not sure if I want to synthesise biological active compounds in academia.
b) stay at my uni, and do something else - my PI told me he wants to do some total synthesis of codeine. Pros: learning lots of new reactions, its morphine-like compound so its kinda cool. Cons: Im not sure if I am patient enough to work on something like that, I tend to lose focus when working long on same thign. Also its already done by someone else and Im not sure if its worth even doing.
c) go to other uni, and apply for PhD there. Im going to contact a professor developing methods for stereoselective synthesis and has free spot in a lab.
pros: more prestigious university, closer to home, very interesting work that someone might even use cons: totaly new field where I dont have any experience or knowledge whatsoever and also changing PI for third time.

Those are basicaly my options. Im not trying to make you decide it for me but I would like to hear your experiences. Did any one you completely change the area of chemistry they work in? How did it go?

Offline Irlanur

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2016, 03:00:59 AM »
Since I am at a similiar position in the "career" I can't give you experienced advise, but can tell you what I think about choosing a PI:

I would never ever choose a PI without knowing how he treats his PhDs and Postdocs. Of course the best thing is if you already worked with him/her and the group. If you want to go to a PI you don't know personally yet, at least talk to the PhD's in an "honest" environment. I know some PhDs which basically got from super motivated to cynical and fed up in a few years. On the other hand, good PI's can turn half-motivated people to enthusiastic ones.

Offline Dan

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2016, 05:03:52 AM »
a) stay at my uni, and continue working on what I am doing now - heterocyclic compounds. Pros: I already know the chemistry (some of it) and have some experience with those compounds. Cons: Well, im not sure if I want to synthesise biological active compounds in academia.

Sounds to me like you'd be better off trying something new.

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b) stay at my uni, and do something else - my PI told me he wants to do some total synthesis of codeine. Pros: learning lots of new reactions, its morphine-like compound so its kinda cool. Cons: Im not sure if I am patient enough to work on something like that, I tend to lose focus when working long on same thign. Also its already done by someone else and Im not sure if its worth even doing.

The last sentence is very discouraging. I can understand synthesising codeine to showcase some new methodology, but I'm not convinced it is a useful exercise otherwise.

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c) go to other uni, and apply for PhD there. Im going to contact a professor developing methods for stereoselective synthesis and has free spot in a lab.
pros: more prestigious university, closer to home, very interesting work that someone might even use cons: totaly new field where I dont have any experience or knowledge whatsoever and also changing PI for third time.

I would do this. Learn new chemistry and work on hot topics. Hot topics make it easier to get papers in top journals, which is very important for career progression in academia.

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Did any one you completely change the area of chemistry they work in? How did it go?

I did a PhD in chiral pool synthesis and carbohydrates. Very classical chemistry, I enjoyed it a lot. Then I decided to mix it up and did 4 years in asymmetric catalysis and C-H functionalisation as a postdoc. I find methodology less exciting than synthesis if I'm honest, but I learned a hell of a lot and did well in terms of publications. A change was great for me - you don't want to be stuck doing the same chemistry for too long.
My research: Google Scholar and Researchgate

Offline Enthalpy

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2016, 08:15:49 AM »
I'd suggest to grasp knowledge as broad and varied as you can, because a career is not linear. Companies move, change their activity, merge, disappear, at a timescale of 10 years at most, and you will change your occupation several times in your 40 years career.

Learn foreign languages too. At the university if possible, because later it can be quite expensive.

Offline eskil

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2016, 12:06:01 AM »
First of all, why do you want to do a PhD? If you want to spend your precious lifetime chasing impact factors and being broke then by all means go for it.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2016, 12:17:35 AM by eskil »

Offline kriggy

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2016, 01:23:11 AM »
Because it gives me an option to stay at academia. I like teacing so its obvious choice for me.

PS: im sorry for my previous post, was replying to something on different discussion board it somehow it ended here.

Offline eskil

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2016, 01:43:58 AM »
OK, fair enough, if you like teaching and don't care about income too much then it may be a good choice. But academia is very different from what it was only 10 years ago. Budgets are tight and in order to keep your job and be able to teach you will need to spend your time and energy on a whole bunch of nonsense. Give it a shot, if you don't like it then quit ASAP.

Offline Irlanur

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2016, 02:26:52 AM »
Quote
First of all, why do you want to do a PhD? If you want to spend your precious lifetime chasing impact factors and being broke then by all means go for it.

We know your point by now. Can you preach somewhere else now? because it gets extremely boring. Yes, some of us want to sell our souls, live in misery and slavery, not earning any money bla, bla, bla.

Offline eskil

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2016, 02:40:00 AM »
Ouch, I must have hit a nerve right there. Sorry, but I have the right to free speech just like you.  Relax. :P

Offline DrCMS

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2016, 03:58:59 AM »
@eskil it is a bit annoying to hear you offering advice about doing a PhD when you have already told us you do not have one.  I do have one and I work in industry (not Pharma) and I make OK money ~ double the average wage in the UK.  I know the jobs I have had would not have been options without my PhD.

Offline pm133

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2016, 03:12:48 AM »
There are a few comments on this thread which have made me sit up.

Firstly as regards the "prestigious" university, in my opinion only, this is irrelevant.
It's also relatively unimportant who your supervisor is in terms of getting a big name PI on your CV.
At least both SHOULD be. If the supervisor is a big name it may well be that you don't actually have direct access to him but instead have to deal with his postdocs. That might or might not suit you.

In my opinion you should decide what you want to do first and then find a PI you can work with.
That last bit is absolutely vital.
I know PIs who are in the lab every day chasing people up for progress. This would be unnacceptable for me personally but others may need this.
I know PIs who don't see their students more than once every few months. This is how I expect to work but this lack of contact can crush many people.
Alternatively I have heard more horror stories than I have space to type into here of PIs who insist on 10 papers before they'll allow you to graduate, PI's who demand 12-16 hour working days 6 or 7 days a week including evenings. Quite honestly, this type of PI is only interested in their own career and has no interest whatsoever in your welfare or your life. Frankly if I was in a position to do so, these PIs would be sacked for abusing their staff and there should absolutely be zero tolerance of this disgusting practice.

In short it's a difficult process which can be resolved with a candid interview process. Don't just meekly sit there and be interviewed. Interview the PI as well. How much contact do they provide. What do they expect from their students. How many papers do they consider acceptable before graduating (anything more than 4 or 5 at the top end and you have a problem before you even start). What is the average duration of a PhD student (if it's 5 years and you have funding for 3 then you are in trouble potentially). What is the maximum duration the PI would allow before seriously pressuign you to write up (no more than 6 months after funding runs out). What hours do his students typically work (any evenings and weekends and this should raise alarm bells straight away). How much contact time does he provide.

That's off the top of my head.
Do not make decision based on just the university or the reputation of the PI.
That is the road to burn out before the age of 28 and career disaster.
The PhD should be the best few years of your life.
Make them count.
Good luck.

Offline pm133

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2016, 03:21:18 AM »
First of all, why do you want to do a PhD? If you want to spend your precious lifetime chasing impact factors and being broke then by all means go for it.

It's a reasonable question if that was the motivation for people to do one.

I am doing a PhD with no interest in an academic career whatsoever. I may go into industry or I may run my own business. The PhD has absolutely helped me to do either.
The PhD equips you with a set of generic skills that has an inherent value which industry clearly recognises.
The proof of that is in the sheer volume of job adverts asking for a PhD OR 5 years equivalent work experience.
Who would you rather hire? The person straight out of a Masters degree or the person straight out of a PhD who has demonstrated the ability to work independently and quickly on things they have no experience in? The person who needs hand held for 5 years while you instruct him on how to do everything? Or the person who knows how to find things out from scratch, come up with their own ideas and time manage to get things done?
I think that says it all really. It's a no brainer for industry and it's a no brainer for me.

Offline pm133

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2016, 03:27:52 AM »
And while I'm on the subject, whilst there are academics who do waste (in my opinion) their careers obsessing over impact factors, this is not the whole story by any means.

There are plenty of academics taking genuine risks to try research which is genuinely innovative rather than simply making another compound simply because it's not been made before.
Without the risk takers in ALL sectors we'd have no industry.
It's maybe worth taking a step back to ensure you understand who you are criticising.
You might realise your opinion is at best over simplistic and at worst downright disrespectful.

Offline kriggy

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2016, 05:29:19 AM »
pm13: thanks for your reply. Few comments:
the fact that the other university Im considering is more prestigious doesnt realy mean that much to me. Of course, the resarch in the group I am applying for looks very intersting otherwise I wouldnt apply. I was basicaly doing only heterocyclic chemistry so far so I think it might be time to learn something new. The fact that its only school in Czech that is in top500 in Shanghai ranking is interesting but doesnt realy mean much.

I was talking to the PI and we are going to set up a meeting so I can ask him more about the research, his expectations etc..

Offline pm133

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Re: choosing PhD topic
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2016, 11:02:05 AM »
You're welcome. Would be good to know how you get on.

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