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I am in the second year of a research degree, and with one more year I could finish my PhD. However, I got a very good job offer at a leading company in the field, which would mean I'd have to finish my degree now (which would then be an MPhil) and start working.

I am hard pressed to make a decision, but I find it very hard to judge: what are the benefits of finishing a PhD over taking a job at a good company? Often people do a PhD to get into such a company, but what if that is not the case? Also, I feel that at this point, a job would be more challenging than a third year of a PhD, which would just be a continuation of the same thing I've been doing for two years now.

On the other hand, people tell me it would be silly to quit now that I am so close, because "a PhD is worth so much more." I would very much like some extra input on this: is a PhD 'worth more' in the end? And what are other things that I'd have to take into account to make an informed decision?

I'm only 23 years old, so I could even do a PhD later, but I'd have to start from the beginning again. Would it be an advantage or a disadvantage to have worked for a couple of years, when applying for a PhD again later?

  • Did that job opportunity come to you or you went out to look for it? – scaaahu Jun 12 '13 at 11:05
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    It just came to me: it was my supervisor who mentioned it at some point, and I applied, not really expecting them to take me. And two rounds of interviews later, it suddenly is a serious option. – Yellow Jun 12 '13 at 11:08
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    Some universities will let you take a leave for a year or two and let you continue from where you left off if you choose to return (in your case, depending on how the job goes). If your university & advisor allow this, maybe this can be a way for you to have your cake and eat it too? – Lev Reyzin Jun 12 '13 at 15:33
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    You're assuming a false dichotomy here. Most likely you can finish your PhD and take the job at the company. If they think you're good enough to employ now, they'll still think you're good enough to employ in a year's time. As, most likely, will many other companies. – Jack Aidley Jun 13 '13 at 10:11
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I would say that it depends a LOT on the field you work in.

I can tell you my personal experience in my field: programming (although it was with the Masters degree, not with a PhD).

I started working during college, and by the time I finished it, I already had a bit of experience, and was able to get good jobs, although this kept me from finishing the Masters. So far, I had no issues at any interviews with this, I got some certifications and made some specialization courses in my free time, I learned what I wanted, and this helped me a lot.

I also have a few years of experience ahead of my former colleagues that didn't do what I did and finished their studies, but I don't regret my decision.

On the other hand, some of my colleagues managed to get great internships after finishing their studies at very big, picky companies, where I could potentially go in a year or so, but not as an intern (and a good job).

There are a few things you need to ask yourself:

  • Are you doing the PhD to get a job similar to what you have been offered, or to get a much better job in a few more years, and how big is that difference between what you have been offered now, and what you can find after the PhD ?
  • How important is the experience in your field of work ? In more theoretical fields, your PhD can greatly outweigh the experience you can get.
  • Do you think that money will ever be an issue (since doing the PhD probably doesn't pay), and unfortunately you have to think of this as well.
  • If you don't do the PhD now - how likely are you to resume it in let's say 5 years.
  • How well is the university rated in your country ? (check http://www.arwu.org/ )

Also, you can go ask your professor at the university and see what he has to say, he probably saw both scenarios (people who quit to get jobs, and people who didn't) - and he/she will probably have some advice for you.

This is as much as anyone can say, after all, it's your life, and your decisions.

PS: I'm 25, so not much older than you :)

  • Of course it's my life and my decision, but I'm very happy with useful input and first-hand experiences like this, so thanks. :) And you answer made me realise the importance of asking myself the question what my motivations are for getting a PhD in the first place. I'm currently contemplating this. ;) – Yellow Jun 12 '13 at 16:12
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Well, firstly, congratulations on the job offer - you must have seriously impressed them to be offered a position before the completion of the PhD.

So, we come to the crux of the issue, the main thing is (and you have no doubt heard this before), but the decision is up to you, and by that, I mean totally up to you. But, to be a bit more helpful let's look at the information you provided.

You are young and in later years, should you choose to pursue the PhD, it could be likely that you will be able to have some credits towards a future PhD (this would depend on the college). If I understand you correctly, you'll be able to get a MPhil? that will help with the first point (credits towards a PhD) and certainly is recognition of the study you have done so far.

So a couple of key questions you have to ask yourself are:

  • Which of the job or the PhD will lead you to your goals quicker and in a more enriching way?

  • How much would working at this company mean to you?

  • and related to the question above, will that opportunity resurface upon completion of your PhD?

Another option, once again depending on the policies of your university is to defer the final year of your PhD or complete it part time, while you work (which is what I am doing).

    -
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    Those are some very good questions I am going to ponder over for a while, thank you for the suggestions! Also the part-time option is something I'm seriously considering, with obvious advantage to do two things at once, but disadvantage of a near 60 hour working week for 2 years. – Yellow Jun 12 '13 at 11:17
  • 60 hour working weeks are not too bad, been doing it for 6 years (and had a natural disaster, hospital stay, 3 relocations in that time) - it helps build the organisational and time management skills valued by industry and academia alike. – user7130 Jun 12 '13 at 11:22
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    60 hours work weeks can work, if you choose to sacrifice other things like hobbies, friends, volunteerwork, time spent with spouse/children, etc. And only of course if you really like what you do, at least to some extent. – Paul Hiemstra Jun 13 '13 at 8:55
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    @Jelle, you could also talk with your new employer about spending part of the company time on the PhD. If they are in favor of you getting your PhD, they could invest, say, one day a week in this. I know of people in the Netherlands who have done their PhD sponsored by a company, working 50/50 on their PhD and on consultancy work. Of course, completing the PhD would take a bit longer than the nominal 4 years, e.g. 6 years. – Paul Hiemstra Jun 13 '13 at 8:58
  • @PaulHiemstra actually, I still have time for hobbies (art, history, music), volunteer work, family and friends despite doing a 60-80 hour work/study week. It just takes a bit of getting used to. – user7130 Jun 13 '13 at 9:26
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Is your goal to go into industry after finishing your PhD? If the answer is "yes" and the current job is perfect, my advice will usually be to go. If you goal is to go into academia and to become a professor, the job is a distraction and you should pass on it and finish the PhD.

Of course, things vary by field but my general advice, which I believe is true in most (but not all) fields, is that you need a PhD if you want to be a professor but that it is not critical for doing most other jobs. And because PhDs take up time that you could be sending getting work experience and promotions, it may even be harmful for these other pursuits.

Potential students make the wrong comparison when they judge whether or not a PhD is helpful to their career goals. It is common for people to compare themselves without a PhD now to themselves with a PhD now. Obviously, the PhD will provide a leg up.

But that's not the accurate comparison because there are opportunity costs to doing a doctorate. The true comparison is between (a) yourself with 4-6 years of experience in industry and no PhD and (b) you with 4-6 years work in a PhD program, no industry experience, and a PhD. In most fields, (a) is better, or at least not usually worse, than (b).

Doing a PhD includes a lot of effort that goes into navigating and succeeding in an academic environment. If you are going to be a professor, this is important training. If you are not, you are likely better off doing the things you want to end up doing somewhere more appropriate.

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The question is basically, Academia or industry?

I don't think doing both is a good idea at this moment.

Given that you are 23 years old, you probably never have a real industry job before. You will have to devote yourself to the new job if you accept the offer. You probably have to work 50+ hours a week in the first year. It's very hard to do both at the same time if not impossible.

You need to ask yourself a question. What was your reason to study for PhD in the first place? Were you interested in research? Or you wanted to have a PhD in order to have a better industry job?

If your ultimate goal was to have a good industry job, then you just got one. Grab it.

If you wanted to do research, being a retiree from industry, I can tell you that you are not going to have much freedom to do the research you want to do. You'll have to do whatever your employer wants you to do. You'll become a money maker.

So, we are back to the basic question. What was your career plan? If you did not know the answer when you started the PhD program, now is the time to make that decision. If you still don't know the answer after pondering over for a while, then you need to think about Lev Reyzin's suggestion, that is, take leave of absence from Academia. This is not a true good idea, just a temporary solution. It delays your decision. Your attitude will be like going there to test water. Chances are, you'll not devote yourself to your new job. I am not too sure you'll succeed the industry job that way.

My suggestion for you, figure out where you want to be 10 years from now. If the answer is Academia, continue your PhD. If it's industry, take the offer. You don’t need to have PhD to be a successful business person after all.

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I am in my last year of a PhD program but decided to take up job now. To be clear and frank about my view towards a doctoral degree, I never enrolled in the PhD program to have Dr. in front of my name. I enrolled as I liked the project would I will be working on and the skills I would be learning from it. Also this would be my main opportunity gain new skills and test my research interest and skills.

I always wanted to work in industry, I worked before my MSc one year in industry. Now I got the opportunity to start working with the current market rate pay with my current work experience. I don't have any regrets if I can't complete my PhD while working at the new job. I can say as most of PhD students in this situation are thinking what others going to say, guilt of living in middle. But I can say that something new to start, something should end. If you think the opportunity is great then go for it. You're the one who will live with your decision, don't worry what others are going to say. If you become successfully in future with your current decision then same people who ridiculed you, will come to you and will ask your help.

I am lucky as my supervisor is realistic and his opinion is that it will be up to me whether I get PhD or not, as working your normal job and completing remaining PhD stuff is tough task to do. So he gave me full freedom to choose as its my life and my career and I will decide which direction it will go.

I am considering taking up job before finishing PhD not just because of job offer. I have a family situation where I need to have job soon and I think this is right choice for me and my family. At the end of journey if I get PhD its all well and good but only if the knowledge skill learned will stay with me always.

Regarding PhD will help you in industry to get job, its too tricky. It depends upon your PhD research area. as not all industry want to have PhD students. and with my interview experiences I realized very few companies prefer PhD students more then someone with a BSc or MSc. Companies are worried about PhD students as how the student after 3 years of research work will fit in industrial world? If not, then company will loose all investment on PhD students when he resigns job as he unable to adjust to the industrial world.

My opinion is Focus on what your rational brain decides and also listen to what your heart wants. When both are same, then go for it.

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