Why did I do a Ph.D.?
Well, I didn't do it to avoid getting a job, that's for sure. This article would have you believe that getting a Ph.D. is a waste of time because the market is flooded with Ph.D.s. This is at least true; the market is having trouble coping with the multitude of people obtaining doctorates. This article would also have you believe that a Ph.D. is not worth obtaining, because the money does not scale with the education level.
My answer to that is if you went to get a Ph.D. for the money, you went for the wrong reasons, and this is one of many of the wrong reasons to get a Ph.D. In my field of chemistry, Ph.D.s overtake M.S. candidates in terms of overall money earned only after a good number of years of work. Also, academia is hardly the only route for hard science Ph.D.s; industry and government work make up a hearty part of the employment pool. This isn't necessarily true for Ph.D.s in other areas, especially humanities.
No, I did a Ph.D. because I was proverbially dead in the water if I didn't. A B.S. in chemistry can only get you so far, and it will get you a quality control job where you are possibly working night shifts and have a variable work schedule. One example of a B.S.-level job is running HPLCs over and over again and not being able to change the conditions. That would bore me to tears. I did my Ph.D. for intellectual freedom. This degree shows employers that I am able to think independently and plan experiments accordingly.
It should be noted that I also had a fantastic Ph.D. experience. I was very proactive. As soon as I got into schools, starting December 2004, I contacted potential advisors immediately and expressed interest. I got into my top choice of school, and I got the PI I wanted. Since then, I didn't look back. I was extremely lucky to be on a project that worked and was basically set up to publish papers, but I wouldn't say it was all luck. I capitalized on a good situation. As such, unlike many Ph.D. students who are finished, I am not burnt out, nor am I tired of bench work or fed up with it all. Actually, I would say that I thrive on it.
In short, my Ph.D. was not an option for what I want to do; nor is it an ending. It's a beginning that gave me an extensive knowledge base that I plan to put towards my career.
Why am I doing a postdoc?
Because the market is flooded with Ph.D.s, there is essentially nothing to set me apart from all the other "kids." I am still kicking around the idea of a tenure-track (TT) profession, for which a postdoc is essential, but I am not putting to rest the idea of an industrial position. My Ph.D. advisor and another trusted professor urged me towards doing a postdoc to broaden my horizons, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this would be to my advantage. I feel like even though I have a Ph.D., I have a lot more to learn, especially about being on the TT. My postdoc is just familiar enough so that I can capitalize on my base knowledge, but different enough that I feel I can really break into a different part of the field.
I have heard that there are many researchers who have trouble getting postdocs. Strangely, it was not hard for me to get a postdoc, nor was it hard for my labmates to get postdocs. Everyone who has wanted one has gotten one, and many of them have been with very well-known researchers. I looked around and went for two, one being a very prestigious program run through the National Research Council. The other, of course, was at the University of Toronto. My advisor assured me that I had a fantastic shot at both, and she was right, because I was offered both. I chose the U of T because I felt that it offered more freedom, and though it was a huge pay cut, it costs much less to live in Toronto than in Washington, DC. Also, like I have mentioned, it's not about money for me. I felt it it was more in line with what I might want to do with my life.
I hardly blame the people who are disgruntled or unhappy with their postdocs, however. A fantastic discourse on both sides of the fence can be found in the comments of this post by Dr. Becca. Pro-postdoc arguments focus on it being a good experience if you are unfettered by financial woes, not tied down with a family, and want to check out/live in a new place. That's a LOT of contingencies, but luckily, I fall in this camp. However, I realize that the profession can also be fraught with frustrating advisors, nonideal fits, and low pay/interference from real life. These are very real considerations; my Ph.D. advisor used to say that this is a hard time in anyone's life (referring to 20s/early-mid 30s) because this is when life starts happening. I would say that women more than men are inclined to settle down and start a family, and it is very hard to juggle that and an academic profession.
Even if you do your homework beforehand (I am infamous for homework-doing), you are not guaranteed a good postdoc experience, and that's a bit nerve-wracking. My reasoning in this leap of faith was that I can live on the salary and save some money because I am frugal, I have neither dependents nor a significant other right now, I am in good health, and this will further my career. So I suppose the question is really, in my case, why NOT do a postdoc? And why not do it in Canada? I'll drink the Kool-Aid, but that's because I am in a unique situation where it's more of an energy drink than a poison.
When I post next, I'll be in my new home in Toronto. Canada, I stand on guard for thee!