Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It Is Done

It is now official, I will be in Ithaca until December or January, then I am moving back to California. This semester I will devote to trying to finish up some research for the masters degree, and taking several courses on energy technology and economics.

The decision to leave really came down to a few things. For one, every time I call Makayla I had to deal with explaining again to her that I couldn't come and pick her up right now because I was in New York. This was always something that bugged me, but when she was too young to remember me being gone it was a lot easier for me to justify to myself. Originally I had hoped to get done with the PhD in 4-5 years. That would get me being back in California sometime between her starting school, and starting first grade. When I started in Materials Science that was a reasonable goal. Most students in that field finish on that time scale. Right now it is fairly clear to me that this is impossible however. By working in a biophysics lab the possibility of that is fairly low to start with. I know several sixth to eighth year students in my lab who seem to me to me every bit as intelligent as me, and if anything more productive. Few people seem to be graduating faster than that. Since my research hasn't been amounting to much I have every reason to think I would be somewhere on that time scale. My best estimate of when I would graduate if I stayed to finish the PhD is seven years. That puts Makayla in something like third grade. A whole lot harder to justify to myself than coming back to California when she is just starting school.

An equally large problem is I found I never bought into the dream. A PhD is training to be a professor. It is relevant in large government research labs, and in conservative fields like pharmaceutical companies. All jobs that don't particularly interest me. In most corporate settings it is just a way to get respect, and even that is limited as it is common for Business people to look down on Academics in the same way Academics look down on Business people. In the energy sector I am quite confident I can leverage the education I have for just about any position I would be interested in getting.

It was likely if I was to finish the PhD I was going to make a switch in fields to energy research. I tried to enter this area twice before, the first time the professor I was going to work with on Solar Cell research got fired the semester I was supposed to start. The second time I was unable to find funding from anyone doing what I considered interesting energy research. Interesting biology research sounded like a better plan than research in a field I preferred, but that I was convinced wouldn't go anywhere. That left my reasonable options for breaking into the sector: Dropping out of school and getting a job, dropping out of school and starting a PhD again elsewhere, and finishing the PhD then getting a post doc in the field. Until recently I had expected I would do the last option. It is fairly common to switch fields directly after a PhD, and because as a post doc you are cheap labor it is easy to do. That would delay anything from happening four to six years however at a time when the field is so hot that Petroleum Engineers have been getting $100 000 starting salaries, and even math majors have been getting jobs as engineers in the field. I am fairly convinced the extra four years of experience, and getting a job while the market is hot, will get me farther than the Dr. before my name.

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