New job, same blog

Posted in General by Pierre Jacob on 4 October 2012


After this long and idle summer, here’s a little update of my research life™.

After having completed my PhD (Xi’an and Robin kindly blogged about it there and there) in France, I am now a Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS), in the Department of Statistics and Applied Probability. I’m going to work mostly with Ajay Jasra on Sequential Monte Carlo theory and methodology. NUS seems like the perfect place to work long hours: there’s space, whiteboards, printers, air conditioning, food courts and even a gym. There’s also a bunch of very prestigious statisticians here but I still don’t know how much interaction I can expect with them. I still plan to blog here about conference, papers, software, etc.

It seems like a good time to give my final impressions about getting a PhD in France, before I forget. All in all, I can’t complain about my personal case: it was a wonderful time for me, mostly thanks to Xi’an.

However my case is pretty rare, and many other PhD students I’ve met often were feeling stressed about their job and sometimes thought about quitting (or did it). The main reasons seemed to be:

  1. the late discovery that the topic of the PhD is stupid / not fruitful / outdated;
  2. the development of personal hostility between the student and his/her advisor;
  3. the student realizes that he/she wants to have an easier life than what universities have to offer, either in terms of salary of in terms of working hours/holidays.

It seems to me that points 1. and 2. are hard to predict and to avoid for undergrad students applying for PhD. The only thing to do is to get in touch with former PhD students of the targeted PhD advisor, if any. Also make sure that you’re applying for a place that hosts various talented and benevolent researchers, so that if your advisor turns out to be a dick difficult to deal with, you can rely on other people. Point 3. is avoidable by grabbing a minimum amount of information about academic careers, which are always kind of similar regardless of the field of research. Indeed I was once astonished to hear from a desperate PhD student that he thought getting a PhD was supposed to be easy. Why not investigating a bit before committing to a +3 years job?

To be fair I think France is a pretty good place to do a PhD, because people have a lot of liberty in their research and not a lot of counterproductive pressure (compared to the US for instance). After the PhD, academic positions in France are not very attractive with a lot of teaching and not a lot of money (at least there’s still not a lot of pressure but that’s currently changing for the worse), which is why a lot of young French academics move abroad after the PhD… like me!

Next time I’ll blog about statistics, for a change!

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