Input on choice of job path appreciated

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SilverElephant
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Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by SilverElephant »

I'm currently struggling with finding my path job-wise. Even though my mother left me a little investment account when she passed away three years ago, I'm still far away from FI, even though I'm thankful for the small head start.

For six months after my degree I worked at an institute and did internet research on a technical topic. In the interview I specified that I wanted to tinker around in a lab, this was promised and, as said, it ended up being a desk job; the professor was apparently completely uninterested in anything anyone did, it was all about getting big flashy projects because the topic is currently hyped politically. I could not see any point to what I was doing, so I quit after six months because I started getting extremely depressed, there were some fights with my dad who was completely opposed to my leaving this "safe, very interesting path".

I'm currently at a temp job at a small company through a friend who works there, they were looking for someone to rollout and customize their new online shop, since I messed around a lot with web programing and computers during my teenage years, I took the job. The people are very nice, the coding is fun, I get to mess around with computers, help out with the french customer service and the boss takes on a lot of my suggestions for shop functionality and design. My boss also challenges people to tabletop soccer all the time. It's fun to get the custom functionality to work and I'm making use of a lot of my skills, plus I'm getting some insight into how a small business works (they are basically an online shop for astronomy and outdoor supplies).

An option I have is to go back to where I wrote my diploma thesis and continue the topic for a PhD. My old professor told me to get back to him after mid-september because he'd try to get financing. This is what most people are telling me I should do, but apart from wondering whether I'd have the long-term motivation to put in the necessary hours, I'm mostly scared it'll take me along a path I wouldn't enjoy or couldn't do, i.e. back to a "technical" path, ending up overqualified with a PhD and only industry jobs in that general field left for me, with all the project management and stress and bullshit paper jobs we all hate so much.

I'm wondering whether going down the web programing path wouldn't be the better option, but scared because there's so many people doing it and I have no real assessment of my skill other than that I spent my childhood messing around with computers, networks, and PHP/HTML/etc. There would be the option to go freelance, much favored because it gives me freedom to distribute my time and take on projects at my leisure. On the other hand, I have never done anything like acquiring clients and have no idea how to go about it.

A third option that my dear girlfriend suggested would be to go into high school math/physics teaching. I was a tutor in university and liked it, but high school is very different. As math/physics teachers are a scarcity, this path would likely be open to me in a few years, even if I do a PhD.

My dad is still on my case to pursue the common path of PhD + career at German industrial company, "as fit for someone of your education and intellect". In his eyes I'm ruining my CV by straying off the direct path and devaluing my degree.

Just like many people here the loss of freedom of time from working 40h/week is much harder on me than apparently on most other people. This has been accentuated by the fact that my father, who was the always-on-the-job, jet-around-the-world type during his career, believes this is the only way to have a job, and was always telling me how hard the battle in the workplace is and how you have to fight hard to keep your job.

I'm stuck with not knowing what I should go into and very, very low motivation, bordering on depression, to do what everyone thinks I should be doing, i.e. get . On the other hand, I don't know whether any other path could succeed. Money is not an immediate issue because I've always lived with very little despite having more. So the only drive for more money comes from wanting to reach FI.

jacob
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by jacob »

Very hard to answer because job satisfaction depends a lot more on the job-environment, the people, and the work-method than job-description.

In that regard, if you do do a PhD, the quality of your supervisor is going to be the most important factor. It matters less what you do than who you do it with. Does the potential prof see you as someone to develop into a researcher (ideal) or cheap technical labor (you're wasting your time for a diploma here). Will the professor be teaching you or using you to further their own career? Will you be working on your project or their project (of course, in the latter case the prof will try to sell it to you as being your project too). If something significant comes out of your work, who will present it? You or your professor? Who will be the first author?

The best way to figure this out is to look at the prof's previous students. If they have none [yet], you're taking a huge chance. Look at how many papers they have subsequently published (first author papers get a lot more weight)---that should be easy (0-1, bad, 2-3, hmm, 4+ good). Look at the number of conferences attended---that's harder. Do their postdocs tend to hang around (good) or leave asap (very bad). If an older professor, how many former graduates are now profs themselves?

That said ... on a more general note, it just might be that you're happier doing what you do now. Society, in particular the boomer generation, places a huge emphasis on "career" and derives a great deal of their self-image from what level they've managed to climb to on the pyramid.---Their self-validation from how hard they work. Gen-X is cynical about the whole deal and Millenials don't tend to think in careers and jobs but more in projects.

In particular, there's a lot of academic snobbery in the sense of those who don't go that way somehow didn't cut it. That's BS and that notion is quickly dispelled once you're sufficiently removed from the Ivory Walls.

Onto specifics,

The case for the PhD is ... well .. it's a PhD. If you're lucky, you'll turn into a researcher---which is a very useful skill to have. If you're unlucky, you'll have wasted four years being a glorified technician. Four years you could have spent getting really good at other things. Definitely not think of it as a job but as a mission. Don't do it unless you're already living and breathing that field thinking that some narrow research interest is the most fascinating in the world. Research is not a 9-5 job you can leave at work.

The case for the industrial approach is that you could end up in a company doing the same you're doing now and even in a similar environment but being paid four times better simply because you're working closer to the money stream.
The case against is that you have to put in time and effort to reach these positions.

The case for freelancing is that if you're enthusiastic and good and willing to build a company, you could end up running it. If you like or at least don't mind managing people and dealing with clients. You could do what you do now and once you're drowning in work you can hire people to deal with the less challenging stuff.
The case against is that you have to scramble to get clients. You may be able to set your schedule at will but if you don't have enough income/clients, that doesn't matter at all.

The case for HS teaching is that you liked tutoring. Mind you that HS students are even less interested in math than undergraduate math students, so if you find that frustrating... of course in both places, once in a while you can make significant impact on someone's life.

Dragline
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by Dragline »

Jacob gives some good advice -- the best data you can get is likely to come from the people who have recently walked down the paths you are considering.

I don't have much to add about the particular avenues, but bear in mind that whatever you choose right now is not set in stone -- its only a commitment for now, and as long as you are not going into debt over it (that's the big one), it should be relatively easy to change course if and when you want to. Of course, some times we all get caught up in the idea that we are required by some moral law to "finish what we started", which just isn't true. There is the possibility that the path you may ultimately follow may be one that has not revealed itself yet. "Good enough for now" is often the best we can do.

What I'm getting at in the broader sense is better encapsulated in this presentation at 1:36:50-145 if you have a few minutes to listen to it, especially at 1:40 where it talks about changing course and learning life as you go, but hopefully not making the same obvious mistakes that others have made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdPXIY_wdNw

SilverElephant
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by SilverElephant »

Thank you Jacob and dragline for the comments so far.

Jacob -- you might know this, but the majority of PhDs in Germany (Dr.) are not actually obtained by people who want to be university researchers, but who end up going into the industry, using the PhD as work experience and seniority. It's generally said that a "career" is easier with a PhD and that you start with higher pay and more responsibility (sometimes already in management). So: no, the institute I could do the PhD at doesn't have postdocs that stayed. I know of two who switched to partner universities and two who went on to become consultants straight after their PhD. What that says about the institute and the professor... I guess it's not 100% clear.

I know some people who get into a PhD program because they want three more years of student life, which of course depends on the professor and institute you end up with. I'm 100% behind you that happiness in the workplace is at least 50% dependent not on the actual work, but on the people you're with (including the boss).

But... no, I'm not living and breathing for the topic I'd go into, and I know I'd have to see it as a mission. That's why I said in my original post that I'm not certain I'd have the necessary motivation. I guess I would be tempted to see it as a 9-5 occupation, but then I have never been satisfied doing just one thing.

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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by jacob »

In that case, compare 1 PhD and 0 years of job experience to 0 PhD and 4 years of job experience. If you're a superstar, you'd likely be further ahead in the latter case, already having been promoted into management or at least a senior staff position faster than it would take to finish a PhD.

The purpose of a PhD in industry is two-fold. It's a combination of credentials (oh, he's a doctor, so he probably knows what he's talking about; we need someone with a PhD on the board to increase credibility with our investors) and the ability to do research (go figure this one out, you're on your own).

SilverElephant
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by SilverElephant »

I should probably add here that my goal is not a career or a highly successful job in the industry, even though - I just noticed - my postings may make it seem that way. What's going on is I'm trying to figure out a path, using the options and possibilities (ostensibly) available to me, that will allow me a certain level of security on the path to FI, that is, having a worthwhile job - not necessarily fun, but which doesn't depress me - with a certain outlook and the prospect of a few "stable" and productive years.

At this point I'm seriously doubting I'll ever achieve that.

P.S.: Interesting point: a lot of my dad's focus in his arguments is my "very good diploma" (i.e. good grade) something I've never considered an achievement, mainly because I know how it was obtained; nothing to do with being a great physicist, sure there is some deeper understanding of nature and physics but it's entirely possible to pick "easier" topics and memorize stuff by heart. Your argument, Jacob, of problems that have been solved as a measure of some sort of success, seems to have some advantages.

jacob
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by jacob »

I prefer an opportunistic and diversified approach, so outlooks don't work for me. Historically, my success rate of predicting where I'll be 5 years from now has been close to zero. To ensure some income stability under those preferences, I have always tried to have at least two irons in the fire at the same time. This means side-businesses, projects that can turn useful, simultaneous education (not watching TV), and picking projects that can be useful in other fields. It's the web of goals approach described on the wiki and in the book.

The other stable approach is the traditional careerist path where you work hard towards a specific goal. It's kinda like my approach except all arrows and efforts point in the same direction.

What doesn't work [in terms of stability] is having no arrows, so to speak, doing the minimum; sending out resumes and waiting for someone to call.

SilverElephant
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by SilverElephant »

I realized that only pointing arrows in one direction is a risky strategy subconsciously some time ago, in part it was simply because I enjoy doing and knowing things in different areas. This site simply had a lot of ideas laid out more neatly. In contrast, my dad - and his generation - have always been of the opinion that specialization is the best way and that it's necessary to earn more than the people you buy the services from, i.e. plumbers and people who redo your roof.

Oh, and I understood the critical statement about doing nothing at all. It'd probably be smarter to just "try some things out". In a way I did that by taking on the temp job mentioned above. Somehow I'm still stuck in the mindset - a very German thing - that trying things out is a sign of weakness; i.e. that one should "pick something and stick by it". Tryouts are not looked upon favorably because they apparently make you seem unable to reach a decision - go figure. So I'm stuck in a "better do nothing than something wrong" mindset - but working to break out.

KevinW
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by KevinW »

Have you thought about how long you plan on working? The optimal choice for a 5-year career is different from a 40 year career. On a 5 year horizon you can probably just deal with annoying working conditions and/or your skills beocming obsolete since you will retire before those things sink you. On longer time scales it is usually worth investing some time/money up front on learning evergreen skills and maneuvering into more interesting and comfortable working conditions.

Tyler9000
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by Tyler9000 »

I feel for you SilverElephant.

My only advice is to note that you've mentioned depression three times so far. It might be worth it to step back from the career thoughts for a while and make sure you have a good grasp on what is really driving your emotions. Perhaps counseling would be helpful to sort things out. Making a big decision is even more difficult when depression is clouding your judgement.

JamesR
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by JamesR »

Freelancing can be a lot easier than you expect. Make a profile on odesk, set a low hourly rate, do a couple of the tests, and see if you start getting any bites.

BeyondtheWrap
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by BeyondtheWrap »

Though I'm not doing it myself, I'm a fan of the teaching idea. If you can get it and you can stand it, summer vacations mean you basically get to be retired at least part of the year.

SilverElephant
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by SilverElephant »

@KevinW: That will all depend on how much I end up earning, i.e. how fast I accumulate. If and when I reach FI I can see myself staying part-time in something. This has two components: one; I am security-oriented and in the beginning I'll probably be somewhat scared to unplug, two; having a job in Germany means health/unemployment/retirement insurance are all paid for.

@JamesR: I'm certain it's quite easy in the US but Germany has a constant discussion on how high the entry barrier for freelancers is in Germany; mainly bureaucratically. The US is much more tolerant towards people who stand up and try stuff out, in Germany failure is not viewed positively but as incompetence.

@Tyler9000: I don't know where this depressed attitude is coming from. It always bubbles up together with the feeling that I'm stuck in something against my will forever. This is connected to the question of how long my working career will be, if I was confident it was only 5 years or so, it wouldn't really matter, but from the pure math of it I very much doubt that is possible in Germany.

JamesR
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by JamesR »

@SilverElephant: Well you don't need to limit yourself to Germany to freelance. Freelancing is easily global work. The downside can be that you're competing against people from third world countries if you're not careful, but that's not as big of an issue if you sell yourself based on your mastery of english/german & level of education, etc.

pete
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by pete »

Will you like becoming a high school teacher in math & physics? Gee, hard to tell until you actually try it. Can you register as a substitute teacher limiting yourself to physics and upper math?
If you want to tinker all day, then you should consider becoming a college professor. Businesses generally can't afford tinkerers; in this day and age they must be results & goals driven
If you go into computer science, multi-authored papers generally list the authors in alphabetical order. Hence, there is no first author.
You seem to be afraid to commit. Looking for the perfect job is a waste of time because no such thing exists. Cal Newport (a blogger on success) says that as you go deeper and more intensely into a work path it will become more enjoyable and meaningful. The more adept you become, the more you can redesign your job description. However, you are never going to become financially independent if you limit yourself to 9 to 5.

JohnnyH
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by JohnnyH »

Teaching is looking better and better to me... Not likely to be outsourced, and one of the last items to be cut (Won't somebody please think of the children!), raises like clockwork, 3 months off, tons of holidays, 8-3 workday, overtime opportunities, nice variety of work. Get setup in a nice rural religious community and you won't even get sassed!;)

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Stahlmann
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by Stahlmann »

A professor of mathematics noticed that his kitchen sink at his home leaked. He called a plumber. The plumber came the next day and sealed a few screws, and everything was working as before.

The professor was delighted. However, when the plumber gave him the bill a minute later, he was shocked.

"This is one-third of my monthly salary!" he yelled.

Well, all the same he paid it and then the plumber said to him, "I understand your position as a professor. Why don't you come to our company and apply for a plumber position? You will earn three times as much as a professor. But remember, when you apply, tell them that you completed only seven elementary classes. They don't like educated people."

So it happened. The professor got a job as a plumber and his life significantly improved. He just had to seal a screw or two occasionally, and his salary went up significantly.

One day, the board of the plumbing company decided that every plumber had to go to evening classes to complete the eighth grade. So, our professor had to go there too. It just happened that the first class was math. The evening teacher, to check students' knowledge, asked for a formula for the area of a circle. The person asked was the professor. He jumped to the board, and then he realized that he had forgotten the formula. He started to reason it, and he filled the white board with integrals, differentials, and other advanced formulas to conclude the result he forgot. As a result, he got "minus pi times r square."

He didn't like the minus, so he started all over again. He got the minus again. No matter how many times he tried, he always got a minus. He was frustrated. He gave the class a frightened look and saw all the plumbers whisper: "Switch the limits of the integral!!"
I read this story in junior HS. Hmmm.
The joke is that EE supplies low-semi-full skilled workers to WE (at least on meme level of discussion).

I don't know if this changed with recent surge of nationalism.
Anyone care to share current status of unonisation of "handy mans" in DACH?
Yea, sure the intetion is to come to the part and give services behind the back of the unions (what kind of life for socialist :lol:).

I know that in case of white collars WE . On the other hand more and more investments are made in EE.

But how to quantify this... and profit on this. Good thing to ponder on.

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Jean
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by Jean »

@stahlmann
I Can answer for ch, but it's similar for d and a.
There are virtually no union in switzerland, but plumber and similar job require actual skill. Most people start working in their craft at age 15 and have at least 10 years of expérience when they start working independently in their mid twenties. If you have no Real skill, people will notice.

But
You Can be hired as a non skilled laborer for 22 per hour in construction. Lowest wages are in agriculture. We befriended a polish girl who was happily working in a nearby farm for 13 per jour. She manages to save enough for Several years in Lublin in about 8 month in switzerland. I now work casually for 20 per hour repairing fences on an alp.
But you need to learn german or french.

zocab
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by zocab »

Jean wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 12:36 am
@stahlmann
I Can answer for ch, but it's similar for d and a.
There are virtually no union in switzerland, but plumber and similar job require actual skill. Most people start working in their craft at age 15 and have at least 10 years of expérience when they start working independently in their mid twenties. If you have no Real skill, people will notice.
That's not quite what I see (in the german-speaking part). Yes - those kinds of jobs do require practical experience, and yes people start their apprenticeships aged 15. Those apprenticeships generally take 3-4 years, and result in a federally recognised certification. But without one of those certifications, you're likely to not be taken seriously - both at companies and independently. At this point you become a normal employee, mostly.

For some skills you can't even legally work without certification, e.g. electrical installations (which e.g. a plumber can do, but only with the required training/certification). This is very tightly regulated - hanging up a light is OK without a permit, but not much more. There appear to be similar restrictions around plumbing (possibly only around fresh water, not 100% sure).

But indeed those restrictions are quite specific - for other jobs it is OK to not be certified e.g. unskilled construction jobs, restaurants, etc. (But they will also be lower paid.)

Next - while unions aren't highly visible, they do exist (although they tend to be quite quiet and collaborative - except for the regular complaints about lack of salary increases that end up in the news ;) ) - although they're mostly relevant if you are working for a company (not so much for independents from what I understand). There are so-called "collective employment agreements" - which often start out as agreements with companies and unions, but can be declared "generally applicable" by the government, thus encompassing even non-signatory employers. These agreements are in force for a lot these types of jobs (construction, electrical installation, etc.)

And that CHF 22 per hour for construction quote in this thread comes directly from one of those collective labour agreements - but even that is on the low end (non-skilled person), for a specific type of job (other ones might have higher pay, age dependent minimums, etc.). What I'm not sure about is: it looks like you might have to pay union dues - example CHF 25 per month for someone working in scaffolding erection - and it seems like those dues apply as soon as you work in one of the roles covered by such a collective labour agreement.

As someone who works in an industry without mandatory collective labour agreement (and I don't think people at my company have any interest in signing one - but that's because we as employees tend to have a lot of bargaining power and salaries to match), my knowledge is a bit hazy - but certainly, the above is what most of the people that I know see.

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Jean
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Re: Input on choice of job path appreciated

Post by Jean »

zocab wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 11:29 am
That's not quite what I see (in the german-speaking part). Yes - those kinds of jobs do require practical experience, and yes people start their apprenticeships aged 15. Those apprenticeships generally take 3-4 years, and result in a federally recognised certification. But without one of those certifications, you're likely to not be taken seriously - both at companies and independently. At this point you become a normal employee, mostly.
That's what i meant, so I'm curious about what you understood from my post.

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