Author Topic: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?  (Read 11515 times)

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Offline eecook

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Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« on: May 18, 2015, 01:04:46 pm »
Hi All,

Here's the problem: I would like to have a general hands-on experience in electronics, as well as being an expert designer in a narrower fiels being both productive and knowledgeable.

Background
I am a 30 year old EE with just 2 years industry experience. My work has been mostly doing PCB layout for communications and power electronics and troubleshooting designs on the lab. Lately though, I've been thinking about going back to school to getting a PhD, as it seems to me that although I can be productive in several electronic related subjects I lack some basic underlying understanting and concepts. The working environment is just so fast paced, and the working hours can be so long to get things doone, I never really have quality time to study a converter topology,  a simulation, a test setup, a transformer design, etc. And, as I said I would like to excel at some area.

Question
If I keep on working to get, say, 3 years experience and go to school I'll get out by the time I'm 35/36. Will than render me as unemployable by the electronics industry?

Thanks,

EECook

NOTE: I wanna go for the kind of PhD were I get the full hands on + theoretical experience and not just mathematical mental masturbation.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2015, 02:27:54 pm by eecook »
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Offline EEVblog

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2015, 01:24:27 pm »
Lately though, I've been thinking about going back to school to getting a PhD, as it seems to me that although I can be productive in several electronic related subjects I lack some basic underlying understanting and concepts.

What makes you think doing a PhD will gain you any basic underlying concepts you might lack?
A PhD isn't a general course that "fills in the blanks" for you, it's a specific and extremely narrow area of study and research into one aspect of one topic.

Quote
The working environment is just so fast paced, and the working hours can be so long to get things doone, I never really have quality time to study a converter topology,  a simulation, a test setup, a transformer design, etc. And, as I said I would like to excel at some area.

Why do you want to excel at one area?
I know this is a basic question but you are mentioning practical stuff here, and PhD's are generally involved very narrow academic areas.
What makes you think a PhD will gain you practical skills?
Perhaps a Masters is a better option?

Question
If I keep on working to get, say, 3 years experience and go to school I'll get out by the time I'm 35/36. Will than render me as unemployable by the electronics industry?
[/quote]

Not unemployable, but it changes the game.
Any company looking for a person for a practical position isn't going to give two hoots about a PhD, they will simply ask can you do the job or not. If your PhD wasn't in that area of interest they need, then you won't be considered, you may as well not bothered.
It is generally accepted that a PhD won't help you get a practical engineering job, and in some cases can hinder your chances.
On the other hand there are some research companies that like hiring PhD's for *insert reason here*, but they are not all that common.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2015, 01:25:55 pm »
NOTE: I wanna go for the kind of PhD were I get the full hands on + theoretical experience and not just mathematical mental masturbation.

I don't think that's what PhD's are about.
Also, it helps to state what country you are in, that can matter.
 

Offline mikeselectricstuff

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2015, 01:33:59 pm »
Sounds like an electronics degree, or some other more practical qualification might be more applicable,  though 3 years relevant experience may be more valuable to a potential employer.
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Offline Sigmoid

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2015, 01:41:14 pm »
The thing with PhDs is that employers kind of assume that a PhD will have some "specific" requirements, such as decent pay and not being used as a biodroid, and are therefore wary about hiring PhDs for biodroid tasks.

I'm not sure a PhD is what you think it is, but if academia and science itself interests you, I don't think you should be deterred - the jobs you can't get as a PhD are the jobs you probably don't want anyway.
 

Offline eecook

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2015, 02:05:08 pm »
The thing with PhDs is that employers kind of assume that a PhD will have some "specific" requirements, such as decent pay and not being used as a biodroid, and are therefore wary about hiring PhDs for biodroid tasks.

I'm not sure a PhD is what you think it is, but if academia and science itself interests you, I don't think you should be deterred - the jobs you can't get as a PhD are the jobs you probably don't want anyway.

I do like science and research, I guess you could say I like academia I also like getting my hands dirty and do actual stuff that works that can be sold as product. What I do not like, mostly are academics :p (at least the ones I've met)
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Offline eecook

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2015, 02:16:56 pm »
Lately though, I've been thinking about going back to school to getting a PhD, as it seems to me that although I can be productive in several electronic related subjects I lack some basic underlying understanting and concepts.

What makes you think doing a PhD will gain you any basic underlying concepts you might lack?
A PhD isn't a general course that "fills in the blanks" for you, it's a specific and extremely narrow area of study and research into one aspect of one topic.
Those blanks would be filled beacuse of my personality and an attitude towards learning, I would have to take clases and probably teach stuff to undergrads, which might help reengage with the blanks

Quote
Quote
The working environment is just so fast paced, and the working hours can be so long to get things doone, I never really have quality time to study a converter topology,  a simulation, a test setup, a transformer design, etc. And, as I said I would like to excel at some area.

Why do you want to excel at one area?
I know this is a basic question but you are mentioning practical stuff here, and PhD's are generally involved very narrow academic areas.
What makes you think a PhD will gain you practical skills?
Perhaps a Masters is a better option?

If I have to be honest, exceling at one area, like say power electronics, would make feel better about myself. I see some PhDs at my work place and when they discuss problems I feel a know nothing about engineering. This guys can get things done too.
On what makes me think I'll gain practical experience, some of this guys, for there PhD had to design and build a 10kW inverter to do power electronics control research.
I don't really now how a Masters work, perhaps it is a good idea. I'm gonna look deeper thanx!


Quote
Question
If I keep on working to get, say, 3 years experience and go to school I'll get out by the time I'm 35/36. Will than render me as unemployable by the electronics industry?


Not unemployable, but it changes the game.
Any company looking for a person for a practical position isn't going to give two hoots about a PhD, they will simply ask can you do the job or not. If your PhD wasn't in that area of interest they need, then you won't be considered, you may as well not bothered.
It is generally accepted that a PhD won't help you get a practical engineering job, and in some cases can hinder your chances.
On the other hand there are some research companies that like hiring PhD's for *insert reason here*, but they are not all that common.
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Offline eecook

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2015, 02:18:03 pm »
NOTE: I wanna go for the kind of PhD were I get the full hands on + theoretical experience and not just mathematical mental masturbation.

I don't think that's what PhD's are about.
Also, it helps to state what country you are in, that can matter.

I am in Argentina, but I am also Italian and I don't mind moving to any other country (Australia would be nice  ;))
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Offline eecook

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2015, 02:20:09 pm »
Sounds like an electronics degree, or some other more practical qualification might be more applicable,  though 3 years relevant experience may be more valuable to a potential employer.

I have an electronics degree, but I would like to strengthen my theoretical skills
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Offline rsjsouza

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2015, 03:34:05 pm »
Although I agree with Dave's assessment about being very specific, I disagree that you will not get practical skills by doing a PhD. I know a few folks (including by brother) that have such degree and did their thesis and work on jobs that are massively hands-on. Another example is Shahriar from The Signal Path blog.

In this particular case (power electronics), keep in mind a PhD will probably be more focused in topologies designed at chip level - that is where the innovation is (usually a requirement for PhD grants).

All that said, where you live and what types of jobs are available in your area is a massively important factor. I am not sure if South America thrives on job openings for engineering PhDs (I am originally from Brazil and PhDs were only valued in Universities and a few research centres).
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Offline zapta

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2015, 04:15:47 pm »
EECook, it's never to late to have a Ph.D. and money is not everything, that's why people still climb the Everest.

A good grad school and advanced degrees will expand your horizon and will open new doors for you. Here in Silicon Valley it's very common to see foreigners that came to the US for grad school, developed contacts with the industry and stayed to work and live.

And, at of 30, chances are you will not be the oldest in your program, you will find other re-entry students as well. I met last month with an ex manager of mine, he is 63 years old and plan to get a Ph.D.

BTW, math is knowledge, not 'mental masturbation'.  ;-)

Good luck.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2015, 04:17:40 pm by zapta »
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Offline eecook

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2015, 04:38:12 pm »
EECook, it's never to late to have a Ph.D. and money is not everything, that's why people still climb the Everest.

A good grad school and advanced degrees will expand your horizon and will open new doors for you. Here in Silicon Valley it's very common to see foreigners that came to the US for grad school, developed contacts with the industry and stayed to work and live.

And, at of 30, chances are you will not be the oldest in your program, you will find other re-entry students as well. I met last month with an ex manager of mine, he is 63 years old and plan to get a Ph.D.

BTW, math is knowledge, not 'mental masturbation'.  ;-)

Good luck.

Thanx zapta,

I like math, I'm just saying that a PhD can become just math far removed from actual engineering, that's when it becomes mental masturbation.
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Online tggzzz

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2015, 04:56:46 pm »
Speaking as someone who has recuruited graduate and PhD engineers, in the opinion of the interviewing team there is only one valid reason for doing a PhD: because you want to. Other reasons are almost invariably incorrect.

EEVBlog's reply #1 sums it up pretty well.

A PhD will require you to become expert in one narrow topic; it is unlikely that topic will be of interest to an employer, except for unusual cases where having a PhD was necessary to advance above a certain level e.g. the scientific civli service 30 years ago.

If you want to gain theoretical understanding, then goodfor you. I would suggest specific training courses might be applicable, or, if you want to change discipline (e.g. biology to EE :), seriously) then a masters conversion course.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2015, 05:02:00 pm by tggzzz »
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Offline mtdoc

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2015, 05:01:16 pm »
Regarding "mental masturbation":  One of the things I realized about 2 1/2 years into my PhD program was that I was learning more and more about less and less. I was on my way to being the world's expert on something that very few people have an interest in - even if it was adding another drop of water to the bucket of useful knowledge (about the brain in my case).  But this was not engineering which may be different in that I suspect graduate school in engineering is more applied science (rather than basic science). 

The point is that it is important to know oneself, what drives you and what you're ultimate goal is.  For me, I realized that I was more interested in broad knowledge and being a generalist  - which meant years later, when I went into medicine I chose a specialty (Family Medicine) that fits my personality better.

If you find too much math to be akin to "mental masturbation"  I would listen to that impulse and be sure that if you choose to go the PhD route it is in an area where the focus is not on the math.

I would add that the best thing I got from my graduate school education was not any specific knowledge but the ability to think more critically, understand the true nature of science and how to properly evaluate data.   There's a lot of bullshit egoism and one upsmanship that comes once you get into the competitive academic world - best to try and avoid that.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2015, 05:08:56 pm by mtdoc »
 

Online tggzzz

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2015, 05:04:48 pm »
NOTE: I wanna go for the kind of PhD were I get the full hands on + theoretical experience and not just mathematical mental masturbation.

In my experience, the appropriate maths is a necessary prerequisite for theoretical understanding. Doubly so at Phd level.
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Offline eecook

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #15 on: May 18, 2015, 05:12:57 pm »
NOTE: I wanna go for the kind of PhD were I get the full hands on + theoretical experience and not just mathematical mental masturbation.

In my experience, the appropriate maths is a necessary prerequisite for theoretical understanding. Doubly so at Phd level.

Ok, let me give you a specific example. An ex classmate who went straight up to get his PhD, spent a whole year developing a mathematical framework to control a converter using Non linear Programming. The thing works, it's a pain to implement, the math is pretty nasty, and... a PI controller does the same job and a monkey could do it. So yeah....that's mental masturbation, to pull your hair off trying to give a solution where there is no problem.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2015, 05:15:42 pm by eecook »
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Offline IanB

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #16 on: May 18, 2015, 05:42:16 pm »
I never really have quality time to study a converter topology,  a simulation, a test setup, a transformer design, etc.

Quote
I wanna go for the kind of PhD were I get the full hands on + theoretical experience and not just mathematical mental masturbation.

I see some kind of disconnect here. The deeper you get into things, the more you should find that everything comes back to mathematics. You cannot design or optimize or troubleshoot anything successfully unless you have a deep appreciation of the theory behind the operation of that thing, and the theory is expressed in mathematical language.

That said, a PhD is most often useful as a qualification for an academic career. It varies by country and by specialist area, but industrialists don't generally need a PhD to succeed in their job. Academics generally do.

What everyone needs to do is to be continually learning and developing their knowledge. Continuing Professional Development is vital to progress.

So, do a PhD to fulfill a personal goal, out of a desire to learn, because you want to.

Don't do a PhD to improve your employment prospects. Don't do a PhD with an expectation of being taught lots of new things. If you do a PhD you will be expected to learn for yourself.
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Offline IanB

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #17 on: May 18, 2015, 05:44:31 pm »
Ok, let me give you a specific example. An ex classmate who went straight up to get his PhD, spent a whole year developing a mathematical framework to control a converter using Non linear Programming. The thing works, it's a pain to implement, the math is pretty nasty, and... a PI controller does the same job and a monkey could do it. So yeah....that's mental masturbation, to pull your hair off trying to give a solution where there is no problem.

That's also bad engineering. So maybe a PhD doesn't teach you to be a good engineer?
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Offline CatalinaWOW

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2015, 05:50:54 pm »
I've got to add my vote to the "because you want to pile".

Now a little explanation and background.  I went back for a PhD after a few years in the workforce, but quit after completing the coursework and before finishing a degree.  While I valued the coursework I just didn't value the result enough to continue through the rest of the process.

The pluses for an electrical engineering or physics PhD (at least for schools in the US, I assume that this is generally true worldwide) are that you are forced into learning some fairly comprehensive and useful math and other tools, often get some very hands on and useful experience during lab work, and will have a ticket punched that is required for some types of employment.  While a portion of the math and theory may seem like "mental masturbation" I found those tools in my toolbox very useful at various times in my career, allowing me to solve problems quickly that others did not even realize were solvable and to quickly understand products and applications that otherwise would have been tougher to learn.  The value of the "punched ticket" will vary with the organization, obviously quite high at universities, and also high in various large organizations and government positions.

The minuses for the PhD include lost pay, education expenses that may or may not be compensated by increased salary upon completion, entry into the grad school slave labor pool, and entry into one of the toughest environments for political infighting there is, and strangely a possibly slower education rate.  While a degree program forces you into knowledge areas that you may not have entered otherwise, I have never learned as fast in an education environment (with the possible exception of lab projects) as I have when pursuing a new topic either at work or at home.  If you have the right mindset you will get the deeper understanding you crave faster on your own than at a university.  Libraries and the web make resources available to you that are in some ways better than even the best schools can offer.
 

Offline photon

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #19 on: May 18, 2015, 06:00:40 pm »
PhD's are a European invention. The point is to educate future scientists, where by definition a scientist is a person who adds new scientific knowledge, "new" being the operative word. Think of it as survival of the species.
 

Offline Tabs

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #20 on: May 18, 2015, 07:06:06 pm »
A PhD is a good way to enrich your understanding of a particular topic, but in terms of increasing employability, the knowledge you gain is less useful than the skills you develop. Skills such as critical/logical thinking, planning, evaluating ... etc. These are more useful because the knowledge you acquire will have a half life 2 years according to http://www.newelectronics.co.uk/electronics-blogs/engineering-knowledge-half-life-when-is-it-okay-to-not-know-the-detail/20564/. Its obsolete very quickly.

Trying to leverage a PhD in industry implies that you want to be employed by a leader or innovator in the field of you PhD. Consider which employer/industries you would be able to target with your chosen topic of study.
How many are there? and what would you need to change in your life to work there? [relocate, ...]

Compare that with all the other EE employers/industries who need their engineers to be jack of all trades. 90% of a product will use hardware that is going to be considered of the shelf. A SMPS, a controller, a CPU like embedded architecture. If you can't find it off the shelf, a standard EE will just use app notes or crib from dev boards for their chosen device. Suppliers like intel offer free services to review and check your motherboard or CPU interfaces. ST Mirco has design centers that will do the same for anything related to what ST sells (I'm about to use them to review bluetooth antenna designs, inside enclosures with existing electronics).
In the 1% of cases where standard EEs get stuck, we just hire a contractor who specialises in SMPS, ADCs , CPUs or whatever field is required (for as little as a month).

All the contractors I've come across have decades of experience in that field. A newly PhD 'd EE is no comparison.
Hiring such a contractor for 1-3 months in 1% of cases is way cheaper than employing another standard EE full time, let alone paying the extra that's usually expected of someone with PhD.
As someone who is recruiting for someone to complement my skillset, I regularly review resumes/CVs. After a few failed interviews with PhD applicants, I find myself naturally favouring someone with proven experience over a new PhD with no experience.

The 2 years of experience you already have + 3 years (min) of PhD study will probably make you less employable than someone who has 5 years of experience. This is especially true for the majority of employers who want someone general.

As a final note; consider what happens when you get employed by the leaders or innovators in your chosen topic and 2-3 years later, the industry has moved on to the next thing. How quickly will you find yourself sidelined or redundant and how hard will it be to find a new job?


 

Offline Howardlong

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #21 on: May 18, 2015, 07:06:50 pm »
A positive benefit: my sister has a PhD, she's a nearly life-long academic, but when travelling, anecdotally it seems she gets upgraded way more than the average Jo on overbooked flights, due to being "Dr Jo" on the passenger manifest. What they don't realise is that she drinks like a fish too.

Seriously speaking, if you are 30 now and only have 2 years' in industry, and the longer term goal is to work in industry, I'd get that real job now rather than spend three years or so on a PhD now.

But if you want to remain an academic, the PhD is the obvious choice.

This is just my opinion of course. As an observation/correlation, the best PhDs I've worked with don't call themselves Dr, and you only find they have one over a beer one day after work, whereas the worst to work with make sure you know about it.
 

Offline CatalinaWOW

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #22 on: May 18, 2015, 07:44:26 pm »
The half life thing is a half truth.

Specific ICs, including their machine languages/architectures will have a very short half life, perhaps only two years.  But resistor and capacitor technology changes much more slowly, and there are classes of less complex ICs that are still in use decades after their introduction.

Maths such as Fourier methods, linear algebra, diff equations and statistics have half lives measured in decades or centuries.  Same for basic concepts like power/energy/maxwells equations/diffraction/ohms law/radiation theory/optics/control theory.

In between are things like filter architectures, coding methods, high order computer languages, manufacturing methods and so on. 


The message is:  If your job is based on being the worlds leading expert on the ARM chipset used in the latest cell phone you better spend a good part of your time upgrading your skills, either to the next generation ARM or something else.  Others might not be as vulnerable, although all will benefit by updating their skill set.
 

Offline skipjackrc4

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #23 on: May 18, 2015, 08:59:40 pm »
As someone who is about finished with a Master's and will soon start on a PhD, my recommendation is to go for a Master's if you want to continue with school.  In your case, I don't think a PhD makes sense.  My PhD will be in physics, which is highly appropriate for my field (electromagnetics and plasma).  For power electronics, unless you want to be a professor, a PhD will be way overkill.

Some of the best engineers I've ever met have had PhDs, and some of the worst engineers I've ever met have had PhDs.  The PhD does not automatically make you a good engineer, but it certainly doesn't preclude you from being a good practical engineer either, despite what a lot of the degree-bashers on this forum would have you believe.
 

Online tggzzz

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Re: Will doing a PhD render me as unemployable?
« Reply #24 on: May 18, 2015, 09:45:34 pm »
Don't do a PhD to improve your employment prospects. Don't do a PhD with an expectation of being taught lots of new things. If you do a PhD you will be expected to learn for yourself.

Very true; a key point. PhDs students are expected to go into uncharted territory.
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