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Graduate Student or Graduate Employee?

Lately I have been thinking that "Graduate Student" is a misnomer. The correct title should be "Graduate Research Assistant" or "Graduate Engineer".  After more than a year spent in industry, I think that there really is no difference in the work done. Except that the work environment is more flexible in academia. 

 From what I have seen, I belive that a graduate student or a postdoc gets very little freedom, because the student is tied down to the specifics of the proposal written by the graduate advisor. Academia is no different from an industry in which professors are "partners" in a firm, associate professors are "junior partners" and assistant professors are "making partner" (getting tenure).

Is is therefore more honest to hire graduate research assistants directly as employees, with benefits ilke 401K, to work on a project. This recruitment should be done directly, through advertisements, instead of students walking blind into departments and figuring out what to do for their thesis project. The false coating of honesty that academia maintains should be discarded. 

This will lead to efficient research and reduction in the number of disillusioned and disappointed students. 


My experience is somewhat different.  I worked for a number of years in industry before doing my PhD.  In industry the focus is more on products that can be shipped within a short period of time (whether it is services or manufacturing).  You have to show a return on investment in the very short term to short term (i.e., from one quarter to a year at the most). 

In academia, even though you may have to deliver results in the short term, the focus is much longer term and failure to achieve goals in the short term does not always lead to the project being axed.  Also, my experience has been that a student is much more independent of their advisor  (and a postdoc is almost completely independent) than a worker in industry is of their immediate manager. 

Having said that I do agree that graduate students (particularly PhD students) should be paid an amount commensurate with what they would get in industry.  Otherwise the opportunity cost is too high to break even in the event that they don't get a position in academia.

-- Biswajit 


Caveat: I'm not sure what the situation is if you work on industrial R&D. 

Hi Biswajit,

It was interesting to get to know that personal bit about yourself.... I thought it was only me---someone who had chosen to have it delievered on both sides of the chin...


Ah ... glad to know your experience was different from mine.

For what it's worth, I worked for someone on the tenure track (and I didn't know what TT was for the first 2 years that I worked on it). No wonder that I didn't get as much freedom as I wanted.  

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