PhD for STEM/Engineering?

by phdscam

Phdscam received a set of questions, which we believe is shared among many wanna-be-PhDs. The questions and answers are as follows.


I am an engineering student (materials science and engineering) who wishes to do a PhD because most of the “interesting” jobs, like research, require you to have a PhD. Not to mention that I enjoy research. Since it’s a STEM PhD program, I am not worried about going into debt. I am aware that it’s not going to give me much more money after graduation, but that’s fine, since I care more about job satisfaction than money as long as I  have enough of it. I am not seeking professorship either; I just want to go into industry. Engineering PhDs seem to be more employable than pure sciences PhDs in industry as well.
What do you think? Do you think that getting a PhD is still a bad idea in my case? I think it’s fine for me, but I am open to hearing different ideas.

Our response:

First, PhD takes extremely long time, sometimes 6+ years of prime time of your life. You become a virtual hostage for the degree as your professor doesn’t want lose a cheap trained labor. If you are going to do PhD, make sure to check what were the actual finish times of previous PhDs.

It depends on exactly what topic you do PhD on. Industry tends to hire whatever exact skill they need. This puts anyone at significant disadvantage since you only can claim expertise in a very narrow field. Most end up trying to show ‘they are smart enough to do the job’ they are applying. So, you have serious competition (other PhDs are equally smart).
If you are in the united states, industry pushes people to breaking point (10 to 12 hrs/day) with barely 2 weeks vacation/yr. You will be dealing with managers and clients who will make you pretty miserable. Very few jobs give you flexibility to do your interesting research. With a master’s degree you can get these miserable jobs as well . Advantage is, in six years you go way up in the ladder hopefully and maybe even switch career.

Industrial job satisfaction is a mirage, while in academia, jobs don’t exist.

So even for STEM, a generic advice can be given: “don’t do it”.

If you are thinking of employing your superior mathematical ability to problem solving will give you satisfaction, well, solve (it will actually be satisfying in the end) the problem of your career: it is a very big challenge even for smart people like you and time is of essence.

Only when you ‘retire’, ie, you aren’t on someone’s payroll, you can do whatever research you want. Even in best case scenario, how long do you think you need to retire?

Statistically (one of our article has that link) speaking PhD has zero advantage when it comes to money (I would hazard a guess, satisfaction with life, as well).