When a tenured professor admitted in a panel discussion that she had felt like a fraud as a graduate student, Abigail knew exactly what she meant. The professor told the group that she had worried that she’d been let into her graduate program on a fluke and that someday she’d make an error that would blow her cover. She had always believed her peers in graduate school were much smarter despite knowing that she had the best grades of the bunch. “She said that she realised much later that this was completely ridiculous thinking and that obviously she was smart enough,” says Abigail, a Ph.D. student in cell biology. “What she said really spoke to me.”
Dalya Soond couldn’t quite picture herself in the buttoned-down world of industry research. But her 3-year Ph.D. program at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, U.K., was funded in part by an industrial partner, and the terms included a 3-month private-sector internship–also known as a work placement. Two years into her research on a mouse-model study of a gene pathway’s role in the immune system, she joined UCB Celltech. She wasn’t sure how she would fit into corporate culture or how well she would manage to juggle a new project with her ongoing Ph.D. research. “I was a little bit hesitant,” she says.
Wondering what to do when you finally finish your Ph.D.? You’re not alone. One source suggests that a mere 20% of British Ph.D. students have a clear idea of what to do next. The Higher Education Statistics Agency has been trying to shed light on the places U.K. post-graduates end up by surveying them the January after they graduate. In September, the Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) published a report analyzing trends from 2004 to 2006.
Mohammed Homman is in no hurry to defend his dissertation. It’s not because the Karolinska Institute doctoral candidate needs more time to write or perform a few more experiments. Nor is it because he needs to be home most days by 5 p.m. to help his wife, Maria Homman, who heads her own research and development lab at Akzo Nobel, care for their two daughters. Homman is taking his time to finish his degree because he’s busy wooing investors, hiring researchers–some of them with their own doctorates–and establishing business partnerships. Finishing his degree just isn’t his highest priority right now.