83

This question follow's JeffE's comment here:

In most industries, a PhD has negative value.

I am curious about what potential negatives there may be with having a PhD, particularly in industries. For example, my PhD has applications for image sensors, and the potential of working in that field is appealing—would having a PhD be a potential barrier? Would it be a case of how explicit the practicalities of the PhD can be made? Would this make any difference?

  • 13
    „Why didn't you get a job earlier?” – gerrit Jul 15 '13 at 10:57
  • 5
    I'm trying to imagine what HR might ask an applicant with a fresh PhD, 3–4 years older than another one without. In fact it's a literal quote from a conversation I had with a co-student during my Master's who said („I don't want a PhD, I need a job”). Space technology. – gerrit Jul 15 '13 at 11:04
  • 14
    I think the main issue is that if a job only requires Master, and if they hire a PhD, they have to pay more for the extra degree. Why would a company hire a PhD then when a Master can do the same job for less.... – Nick S Jul 15 '13 at 16:20
  • 4
    @NickS they don't have to pay more ... in the UK at least. – NimChimpsky Jul 16 '13 at 7:10
  • 10
    It seems strange to me when people say companies won't hire PhDs because they would need to be paid too much. If there is such a large supply and so little demand, how could a PhD command a high salary? If anything, a PhD is so used to living on meagre stipends, that I suspect companies could easily hire them for much less than someone with only a bachelor's degree! – Casteels Oct 26 '13 at 11:37

15 Answers 15

105

Though a Ph.D is not necessarily a disadvantage, depending on the field and the nature of the Ph.D, it may also not be as competitive as the equivalent number of years in industry.

Think from a perspective of a hiring dev team leader who needs a good systems engineer yesterday to help integrate some obscure API from a vendor into their product. You're choosing between a pile of resumes.

On one, you have a candidate who has 3 years as a junior engineer in a company that worked on image sensors, 2 years of work as a systems developer II, and one year as a lead developer on a computer vision project. He's delivered seven projects in total and has worked in a highly cross-functional team of hardware and software engineers, salespeople, and on-site support staff. The products he worked on brought the company revenue of $86.3 million dollars over seven years.

On another, you have a candidate who has done 6 years in a Ph.D and 1 year worth of internships in total. He's worked on a computer vision project and has contributed a novel algorithm to solving "Line tracing under low UV light conditions" (I made that up, I have no idea if that's a real problem in computer vision), and has written six publications. He also has taught a course on 3rd year systems programming and has TAed robotics three times.

While they are both good candidates, chances are that unless you need someone who does "line tracing under UV light", the first candidate might be more attractive. Less training, less having to work with that person to integrate them into a product-based flow, proven record of delivering product and making sales, etc...

I personally feel that the "disadvantage" of a Ph.D is more about lost opportunity cost than an actual disadvantage. In many cases, the culture of academia vs. industry are different enough that it's like switching fields even if the technologies are similar. Basically, someone with 7 years actual work experience has enough to basically go from a new grad hire to a project team lead, whereas someone with 7 years of Ph.D is proven to deliver in an academic setting but not in a for-profit product-based one. However, at the same time, there are many industries that want to have Ph.Ds on their staff as well because they are long-term, deep thinkers who are rigorous and detailed.

  • 7
    +1 purely for the first sentence (though the rest is good too, I just can't +1 twice) – tobyodavies Jul 17 '13 at 23:49
  • 29
    "opportunity cost" This. – dmckee Jul 18 '13 at 13:29
  • 9
    It's more than just this. Many people have negative stereotypes about PhDs (aloof, deep thinkers - in a bad way, not practical, not able to work in teams ect.) For many in HR you have to convince them that you don't fit these stereotypes. Think about the characters in the big bang theory. That is how we are perceived by many MBAs and even professional technical people. – WetlabStudent Jan 19 '14 at 3:18
  • 1
    In the first place why is the 1 internship PhD person applying for the same job as the person with 6 years of work experience? If they are both applying for an entry level position, I think the latter is overqualified. – BCLC Aug 12 '15 at 19:12
36

In my field (bioinformatics, systems/computational biology) if you don't have a PhD you practically don't exist on the map, but yet it's a very research oriented field.

I can imagine a couple of issues where a PhD might have a negative effect on the attractiveness of a candidate, while none of the below are prove-able facts, they are directly based on my experience (myself, people I know, etc.)

  • Overspecialization: In many industries being overspecialized might hurt more than it helps. You might get stuck on obscure case scenarios, or obsess about rigor before anything else. Likewise doing research might have an effect on having a more abstract, rather than practical, way of thinking. Most of us don't really "deliver" a product.

  • Jadedness: Those 4-6 years spent doing research is likely to have caused some self-doubt, questioning yourself. In my experience most people that go corporate after uni live in a state of blissful ignorance, compared to their classmates who've gone on to pursue PhD studies. (yes, I might have exaggerated it a bit but the point is still valid I believe)

  • Attitude: While this might not be the general truth, in my experience people in the academic world is much more laid-back than corporate world. While most of my old classmates are expected to be at their desk at 7 or 8 sharp, and expected to leave latest by 5 to avoid working overtime, I can practically show up and leave whenever I feel like. What my boss cares about is whether or not the project progresses as we have decided. A potential employer might be wary of such "bad habits".

As I said, not a factual answer but I hope it provides some insight, anyways.

  • 1
    "In my experience most people that go corporate after uni live in a state of blissful ignorance, compared to their classmates who've gone on to pursue PhD studies." I'm intrigued by this, but I'm not sure what you mean by it exactly. Can you elaborate? – Faheem Mitha Oct 25 '13 at 18:27
  • 11
    I suspect what posdef meant is: the more you know, the less you realize you know. The more time you spend in academia, the more you see your own intellectual limitations—largely because you're surrounded by progressively more high-achieving colleagues who "made the cut" (top high school students who get into good colleges become top undergrads who get into good PhD programs become top PhDs who become professors at top universities become top professors who get tenure become top tenured professors who win the Nobel Prize/Fields Medal/Turing Award/Superbowl/Whatever). It's a narrow funnel. – Dnuorg Spu Jan 18 '14 at 20:02
  • On Jadedness/More likely to realize your limitations: No, these are just personal psychological traits that are common in many fields. – whitneyland Sep 22 '14 at 19:13
  • 2
    "most people that go corporate after uni live in a state of blissful ignorance, compared to their classmates who've gone on to pursue PhD studies" no exageration, it really is like that for many people. – user7116 Nov 17 '14 at 8:37
  • 1
    @xebtl good point, thnx for pointing out.. As a quick side note; it's getting harder and harder to define fields with a couple of words. :) – posdef Feb 13 '15 at 14:14
26

An important issue associated with having a PhD is that many "traditional" routes into industry are effectively closed off.

For instance, a chemical engineer with a bachelor's or master's degree could take a position in just about any corporate division of a major company—they could work in production, sales, research, or just about any other field, with corporate training providing the requisite skills needed to do the job. By contrast, someone who holds a PhD will simply not be considered for these positions, as they are too specialized, and too far above the requirements for such a position. Any hire into such a position would probably not offer a sufficient "return on investment" to be worthwhile.

It would also be difficult to cross-train for "standard" management positions, as while a PhD does offer some supervisory experience, it's more useful for research-based organizations than industrial positions.

  • 7
    It's worth mentioning that such hiring decisions—i.e., not to hire a PhD to a masters-level job—are made at the very outset of the job search, during the resume review phase, likely even before reading a cover letter. As such, there is often very little opportunity to argue that you are indeed appropriate for such a position. – eykanal Jul 15 '13 at 12:06
  • 1
    what is this based on,any evidence ? – NimChimpsky Jul 15 '13 at 13:41
  • 2
    Outside of R&D positions, where PhD's are normally concentrated in industry, the PhD is considered to have too much specialized training. I see this all the time in advertisements—research positions expect MS or PhD, other positions usually call for a BS or MS, but not a PhD. – aeismail Jul 15 '13 at 16:25
  • 3
    positions call for BS or MS, but that doesn't mean a PhD is excluded ... its just a bonus. The BS or MS are min requirements. – NimChimpsky Jul 16 '13 at 7:04
  • @NimChimpsky: It's not really a "bonus"; it's more like an albatross around your neck. The skills of a PhD scientist are very different, and most companies assume the fit will be poor. – aeismail Jul 16 '13 at 9:23
17

It has been a positive for my CV. It gets me interviews that I wouldn't normally have got in a variety of organisations and positions. I have a PhD in computer science - my CV/PhD has got me interviews at banks/biotechs/multinational retailers (I screwed up some of the interviews but that's another problem :-))

I have never had a problem being overqualified - most employers would rather this than the opposite I imagine.

PhD has applications for image sensors

I think it will be viewed as a major positive by any private company working in this or related fields. A PhD shows you know a particular field very well and also have a number of transferable skills - self motivated, working independently and in a team, management, teaching/tutoring, communication (public speaking and journal articles).

  • That is also an interesting point, I have been a full time teacher while studying - a wonderful juggling act, I could probably get that as a reference from both my university and workplace. – user7130 Jul 15 '13 at 19:16
13

From my personal experience of questions asked in interviews for non-academic jobs, presumably the assumption is that someone with a PhD did this as a cushy option rather than going out in the "real world" of competition, responsibility, long hours, tight deadlines, office politics etc.

Academics are also seen as removed from financial considerations, with their head in the clouds, ignorant of real world issues, pondering on the philosophical rather than the practical (rightly or wrongly - this can be the perception).

An actual I was once asked was, "Can you handle the pressure of a commercial job?"

Another obvious answer is that your PhD does not represent commercial experience. While you have some additional research experience, if your job is not to do research, then this is not seen as much of an asset. Rather you are viewed as behind in your age group by 3-4 years in experience but will probably want the same salary (if not higher).

  • 3
    +1 tight deadlines. I personally have seen ABD/PhD keep fiddling with a problem when they just need to decide on something reasonable, finish it, and move on (software engineering). – mkennedy Jul 15 '13 at 16:13
  • Hmmm this is good food for thought about how I could structure my CV, as I have been working full time while completing my PhD. – user7130 Jul 15 '13 at 19:14
  • 32
    rather than going out in the real world of competition, responsibility, long hours, tight deadlines, office politics — ...because, after all, academia is completely free of competition, responsibility, long hours, deadlines, and office politics. – JeffE Jul 16 '13 at 0:44
  • The deadline thing can be succinctly expressed as "making the perfect the enemy of the good". It's one of my vices if I don't sit on it, and you can get some slack about it in at least come parts of academia. – dmckee Jul 18 '13 at 13:32
  • 1
    @JeffE and sarcasm, too! – Marc Claesen Aug 7 '15 at 17:16
9

A PhD degree tells that you can work independently on your own, that you are able to critically decide whether a particular method in a textbook is good or not. PhD holders are needed in industry though in small amount. Industry needs them as PhD holders have been trained to bring innovations and make a field advance. Whether the PhD research field was narrow or not, the skills that you developed while tackling your PhD work will help in many different fields. For example I hold a PhD in a field other than dealing with computer science and yet during my PhD studies I had to choose between a plethora of programming languages available and I learned Object-oriented programming and code re-use. The skills that I have thus mastered in software engineering can be applied to any field that I will work in the future where computer programming is involved.

As one answer pointed out, during the PhD studies you have doubts about your own capabilities. It happens as you may be tackling a problem that has been here for a long time and your analyses over several months are revealing that you are nowhere close to make any new discovery. You may be the best of your batch in your Bachelor degree or be the best of your MSc batch but that is no guarantee that you will be successful in doing a PhD degree. I have seen many intelligent friends putting an end to their PhD studies as after a year or two they see that they cannot handle the stress of not being able to produce any tangible output. PhD studies are not about scoring good grades at exams. You do not have to know equations by heart; You are not sitting for a 3-hour written test to answer questions that are based on your textbooks. No, you are on your own with some support from your supervisor. Your supervisor is here to offer advice but it is up to you to decide what you want to do and convince the funders and other partners of your ideas. You are the one choosing the textbooks and other publications to read. Reading 200 books on the subject rather than say just two is never a guarantee that the PhD studies will be successful; What is required is to think beyond these textbook equations and come up with new ones, with new analysis techniques or with new algorithms that are universally applicable. When you are learning an equation, you are learning it very deeply and then you realise that how much you didn't know about that same equation when you were a Bachelor degree holder or an MSc degree holder. At lower levels, you are only taught what you need to know in order to solve some specific problems.

Doing a PhD degree means that you are excellent at managing your time. You have advanced courses to read, you have some teaching and administrative work to do, and you have to handle your research work with confidence. So you find yourself waking up at night and start doing some analyses by hand or on the computer as you think that you are on the verge of finding some good results which have escaped you for months. You work the whole night and if in the morning you see that you are not getting anywhere, you still have the courage to wake up and go to your office at the University. It is only someone who has done a PhD degree who knows the hard work and patience that is required. So this is why PhD holders will always get the attention of a recruiter who himself/herself is one.

Someone with an MSc degree is limited in his/her own thinking. Every PhD student who has taught MSc students knows this. While an MSc student can perhaps think of one or two methods of tackling a problem, a PhD student or a PhD holder knows many more methods and knows also which method may be the best depending on the situation at hand. This is why in industry, the top posts among researchers are filled by PhD holders. This is because people with the best brains, and who know a whole range of techniques and methods are needed to innovate. This is also why in some countries PhD students are required to read advanced courses since they have to know more than what MSc degree holders do. Among these courses, there may be pedagogy-related courses. But pedagogy courses are only here to improve communication skills and understanding of the audience. Isn't this true? So such a PhD holder with pedagogical skills has learned how to deal with people around him/her of various intellectual levels.

There is the idea that PhD holders do not have business skills. Well, it depends on what you are doing at work. There are lots of successful smaller companies in engineering created by PhD holders. Even during the PhD studies, the PhD student is aware of the funding that he/she has and so he/she finds tools and equipment and software that the budget will allow. Similarly in industry, a PhD holder will use the least resources to get the job done as he/she is very much familiar with costs of equipment and software in his/her field. Would a company not want this PhD holder who already know how to manage the money? A PhD project normally lasts for five years or longer in some cases; This shows that the PhD holder can manage a project spanning over a long period of time.

Business skills can also refer to interaction with other people regarding the scientific research. Many PhD students have to establish cooperation in academia or in industry either at the national level or at the international level. The supervisor may help in this but finally it is the PhD student who decides with whom to work. So the PhD student has to be aware of how much information to divulge to the new partners and how mutual benefit can be achieved. So this demands business skills. Would an employer not want such a person around him/her who knows how to collaborate and negotiate with others? Thus the PhD holder has gained business skills not through books but through real-life experience.

A PhD holder is also someone who can defend his/her ideas successfully in writing or orally. Publishing in very good journals is tough and defending the PhD thesis at the viva can last for hours. Being successful at the viva shows that you are mentally very stable, and are able to withstand pressure and all kinds of irritable questions one after the other for a long time.

A PhD holder after so many years of hard work has already built his/her own toolbox. Just as a carpenter who has to sharpen once in a while the tools that he/she uses daily, so does the PhD holder the same. A PhD holder cannot sit idle; He/she has faced lots of obstacles when for example deriving new equations during the PhD studies, and in his/her free time after getting the PhD degree, he/she will come back to these equations and think again about those obstacles in order to find ways not to meet them in his/her future career. This is what I am doing in parallel with my job.

Yes indeed PhD holders always tend to look for the best solution(s) to a given problem. This is not an indication that he/she will take time to do the job in industry. No, the PhD holder has developed his/her own toolbox as I said before and will be very efficient at finding the best solution(s) in a reasonable amount of time since he/she knows which method works and which does not. It is true though that PhD holders will tend to be accurate and reluctant to use faster algorithms that are not robust. Whom do you trust: A PhD degree who will make the right calculations though perhaps taking a bit longer or the one without the PhD degree making the calculations really fast and present the results to you using fancy colours?

When starting the PhD studies, a PhD student will have to sort of see everything around him/her with new eyes. Anyone who has read The Loss of the Creature from The message in the Bottle: How Queer Man is, How Language is, and What One Has to Do with the Other by Percy Walker will get the point. The PhD student at the beginning of the studies has to unscrew his/her brain and put it aside in order to get rid of any preconceived ideas and replace with an empty brain that is ready to let the PhD holder see beyond the tip of his/her nose so as to make independent progress in a field.

Remember that a PhD holder is a systematic person who does not run from a difficult problem. If the research that he/she had been doing in the PhD studies was not difficult, then the PhD project would not have existed in the first place. Most PhD projects are open. This implies that the PhD student is given a field to work but outputs and outcomes of the work are yet to be known. It is up to the PhD student to think about the strategy to adopt and which path to follow after consultation with the supervisor. After a few years of hard work, the outcomes and results obtained may be very different from what were expected in the beginning of the project. When the research is taking a different direction, sources of funding may change. It is up to the PhD student and to the supervisor to motivate for the change so as to convince the funders of their new research direction that could bring better insights about the original problem. In contrast during a normal MSc thesis project of about six months duration, the project is well structured by the supervisor so that the MSc student is able to finish the work in a timely manner. The MSc holder is working along a well-structured path and is most of the times sure to succeed in the thesis work. But such is not the case for the PhD student. There is no guarantee of success in the PhD studies. So we see that a PhD holder is someone who is very mature and who can embrace failures and successes equally.

A PhD holder is someone modest enough to know that the path of learning has just begun. To get a PhD degree is to have been able to reach the top of the mountain, and realise that there is still much to see and learn. It is thus obvious that persons with MSc degrees who haven't been at the top of the mountain do not recognise how much PhD holders know. So the best prospects of securing a job in industry is to make sure that your future boss also has a PhD degree.

To answer the question about potential pitfalls of having a PhD, I would say none. A PhD holder knows where he/she stands in life and he/she knows what it takes to succeed. He/she is not afraid of failures and of setbacks as he/she has been used to them a lot during the PhD studies. The only mistake is to work in industry under a boss who is not a PhD degree holder; The boss will not recognise the strength and value as well as will not understand the mindset of the PhD holder. Where the boss can only see one or two problems in a given situation, a PhD holder will see many. Communication between the PhD holder and such a boss will hence suffer.

Work experience cannot replace educational qualification. At a job interview with an interviewer holding a PhD degree, you will be asked if you know or do not know something. You will be asked about future changes that you consider might take place in your field of expertise. You will share valuable experiences and talk about limitations of existing tools, algorithms and software. It is only those interviewers with less educational qualifications who will lay emphasis on previous job experience.

And always remember that today most PhD works are applied research; This means that PhD projects are created in order to solve problems that industry face. If industry would have had the necessary skills to solve all their problems, then PhD projects would only be started by Universities alone and the projects would all be dealing with fundamental research. But this is not the case. Doing a PhD degree these days means that the PhD student is gaining much industrial experience as he/she is acting like a bridge between academia and industry and he/she is reinforcing the link between the two. He/she is pinpointing out the obsolete methods that industry is clinging to and is helping industry adopting more reliable methods as a result of the PhD work. What is important is that the PhD work is original. This word "original" has changed meaning over time. Centuries ago, it meant to have a PhD work that builds upon some original concepts which are firmly rooted in place whereas nowadays "original" implies that your PhD work is not someone's else work.

Doing a Ph.D. degree is not for the faint-hearted; You need nerves of steel and you really learn how to manage the vast amount of information that you gather in your research. The successful Ph.D. student is the one who can recover the knowledge already out there and make improvements for the betterment of the society. Doing a Ph.D. degree requires great sacrifice and commitment. This is why it is appropriate for a Ph.D. holder to work with people who also have earned one. But I agree that the level of Ph.D. degrees do vary around the world; A Ph.D. degree spanning over a five-year period with advanced courses to read and with teaching activities should be the norm.

  • 1
    TL;DR: PhDs are better than everyone else at everything. At least that's how this answer reads ... – Marc Claesen Aug 8 '15 at 19:33
  • 1
    PhDs are ubermensch and "an MSc degree is limited in his/her own thinking" – Reed Dec 5 '16 at 12:21
8

What are the potential pitfalls of having a PhD?

It depends. I believe the closer your PhD research is to applied research, the better your industry job opportunities would be.

Those PhDs who have been doing basic (pure) research tend to have problem with industry job hunting because their skills/knowledge are not immediately usable in industry. It is simply not cost effective for industry companies to hire them. They need to be re-trained to get them to do real practical jobs. Don’t forget one thing, private companies are for profit.

On the other hand, those who have been doing applied research could have readily available skills/knowledge for the employers to use. They naturally have industry jobs lined up for them.

We can see two examples right here. User16371 has a PhD in pure math. He has trouble in finding private industry jobs. NimChimpsky probably has done applied research, he has many job interviews. Whether he will get a real industry job soon is another matter.

As in your case, I think you’ll have a good shot if your research is more toward real application. I am absolutely no expert in image sensors. But, I can imagine that if CT scan manufacturers can use your skills/knowledge, you should be able to find a good job in matter of months. Here, a good job means high salary – a barometer to measure how good an industry job is.

8

Ph.D. is a mismatched degree for industry. A typical industry employer wants to find smart, witty people with (1) sufficiently high level of specialized skills who would be (2) productive in the existing company environment, and (3) would be able to balance the initiative based on what they know vs. following instructions when a project needs to be pushed in a specific direction and completed by a given deadline.

Out of these, the Ph.D. label only provides the evidence that you are smart, addressing (although still only partially) the requirement (1). Mid- and upper-level technical positions, especially in research departments, would require Ph.D., so there is a qualification issue of door-opening (or rather not opening if you do't have the degree). In many situations, though, the narrow specialization of the "Line tracing under low UV light conditions" is irrelevant for most practical purposes, and the employer would rather want to see a person who can tackle a wider range of light conditions and frequency spectra.

The Ph.D., however, fails to deliver on all other counts. On the second aspect that I brought up, doctorate programs do not teach people and business skills, and most programs even won't touch say computer skills if you are a biologist or may be even a mathematician. It is up to you as a grad student to self-teach project management, version control and all other team-work, productivity-increasing stuff. On the third aspect, the overqualified Ph.D.s may have a tendency to roam towards their own interests, and provide beautiful solutions for narrow problems, as that's what they are used to be doing in academia. Sometimes, though, you just have to shut up and format the Excel report. A decent solution that is delivered on time is MUCH better than a perfect solution delivered two months too late. Academicians are not taught to make these judgement calls of timeliness vs. depth (although the pressure to submit this now before the competitors do is often present in many lines of research) or cost vs. what the client expects (and grad students usually have no idea regarding how to budget a study; most professors also take the zero time cost of their grad students for granted, but that's not how the real world operates).

8

IMHO I believe the answer to this question is “it depends.” In industry, the answer will always be around demonstrating what value you can bring to the table, and accordingly, why a customer should pay a premium for that. I would highly recommend talking to professionals in the field(s) that you want to eventually leverage your PhD into, and get their opinions on the value of their PhD’s to help you understand how you can flourish in your chosen specialty.

Let me caveat this however by saying the following: I do not have a PhD, but I find the endeavour personally and, depending on how well you can translate your PhD into economic value, professionally, very worthwhile.

Now, I am an Engineering and Project manager in the oil and gas industry, and have nearly 12 years’ experience in the production and management of engineering for projects greater than $US 1Bn. My largest project was over $US 40Bn, and I have worked with, and been served by, many engineers, scientists, and other technologists of many disciplines.

I have encountered many people with PhD’s in that time, most of whom were good people to work with. Almost to an individual, no one ever cared to emphasise their PhD, and in many cases, most chose to suppress it in favour of demonstrating the value delivered on previous projects and engagements that mattered to my needs as a manager or client. Most of the professionals with PhDs who we were paying real money for were not actually delivering any services or products that was connected to their PhDs. However, they were specialists in their fields, and their PhDs were almost always related to their chosen specialty. So if you had studied a PhD in geology or civil engineering (very common), then it would make sense for you to leverage your PhD into a geotechnical engineering firm where you would often be marketed to your client as, eventually, a Principal Geotechnical engineer or similar. This is a specialised role, with a narrow scope (same applies for any discipline), and if you are actually good at your job, you will be high in demand around town. Clients, whilst not necessarily paying an above-market rate for you, will likely insist that they “want you” as part of the delivery team because you are known to be credible at what you do. The PhD itself will have very little to do with that, but you will be rewarded if you are able to translate what you learnt from the PhD into delivering a service your clients will pay real money for. I have had these kinds of people work for me before, and I would seek them out again, but they never emphasised their PhD to me. In fact, I’ve worked with people who were exceptional at what they did, very highly regarded not just in my country but in others around the world, who didn’t have a skerrick of post-graduate education.

If you were to study a PhD (in Psychology say) and tried to leverage that into a non-related field (like management consulting), then the question of value will be even more poignant for you. In this instance, you would likely be relying on the “general” skills that a PhD would afford you (not that they are trivial by any means), and again, you would need to demonstrate to a buyer of your skills that your PhD provides greater value than someone else who may have more direct industry/ field related experience. Firms and industries where these generalised PhD-related skills might be valued (e.g. some investment banks, blue chip corporate strategy companies) are open to candidates with PhD’s but again, you would be required to demonstrate how your PhD translates into products and services your customers want to buy, and even pay a premium for.

I can appreciate the dilemma of someone contemplating the study of a PhD as it is, indeed, difficult to truly understand what kind of value you can demonstrate to a buyer at the end of it. Brian Rushton’s narrative is a fine account of the individual kinds of skill that a PhD can develop, but in industry, I would treat such skills as a given. Moreover, Brian’s description over emphasises the individual skill component, and is notably silent on other critical individual, team, and other “corporate” attributes that are necessary for success in industry. Brian mentions time management: again, this is something that I would expect a graduate engineer to be well on top of by their first or second year in work, so why, as either your manager or your client, should I expect this to be a differentiator for you? Especially given that you’ve invested some three or more years of your life developing this skill! Likewise, Brian also mentions being able to see many possible solutions. Creativity is a valuable thing, but in my industry, this must be executed with discipline, and applied with the necessary soft (emotional intelligence) skills to translate ideas into solutions that can be implemented successfully within a corporate risk and financial framework. I have often come across so-called “experts”, some with PhDs, who waste a lot of peoples’ time and money with ideas that are insensitive to the corporate, political, project and commercial realities surrounding them, and this often harms their reputations. Understandably, their ideas are not implemented, and these kinds of insensitive people are not hired again. Finally, the other skills that Brian mentions (project and cost management, business skills) are fine but these are carried out on a small scale. My question is: clients will pay for demonstrable experience, so how are you going to convince your future employer or client that they should pay good money to entrust you with a project or business that may exceed your PhD undertakings by a factor of thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands, or millions?

So my question is: why should I, either as your manager or your client, be prepared to pay a premium for your skills from a PhD when they can be honed by someone else working “at the coal face” in a demonstrable way over the same amount of time as your PhD? This question will vary depending on your industry. In my industry, real value comes not with the PhD, but your demonstrated experience in delivering valuable services and products, over a sustained time, to real customers. In other, very highly specialised industries, the PhD may serve as an entry point, after which your work performance will likely prevail.

I’ve really emphasised the “economic” aspect of the PhD in my response, and I tender it not to discourage you, but to help you to think very deeply about why you wish to do one before you decide to take the plunge. If you do decide to do one, then I wish you to do so with your eyes open, and, most importantly, sincerely wish you the very best of success with it, both personally and professionally.

  • Apologies I have misquoted Brian Rushton - apologies to you. I should have referred instead to User 11206. The formatting on my smart phone showed Brian Rushton as the poster. – CQ6000 Sep 30 '14 at 11:51
  • You can edit your answer to correct that error by pushing "edit" button. By the way, this is a good answer. I already upvoted it. – scaaahu Sep 30 '14 at 12:12
  • Thanks scaaahu. I've made the edits which are pending peer review. – CQ6000 Oct 1 '14 at 11:29
4

I have a PhD in pure mathematics, and the only employers that were interested in me were Epic Healthcare (desperate for anyone they can get a hold of with the affordable care act changes) and universities offering postdocs. Other positions, such as a Boy Scouts position I applied to, told me I was overqualified or misqualified. I programmed video games as a teenager; a lot of companies were willing to interview me based on that alone, but I would be forced to start from the bottom and work my way up, which isn't bad, but you're asking whether a PhD is worth it, and in such a situation, it would certainly not be worth it.

On the other hand, my time studying for my PhD seriously improved my writing skills and analytical thinking skills, and I think that that would help me as a programmer to learn quickly and get promoted. But there's no point in a math PhD for any job besides teaching or a focused job at a national lab/NSA.

  • 1
    I can sympathize and understand where you are coming from, but you are very, very mistaken with your last comment about no point to a math PhD for a job outside of teaching or national lab/NSA. Math PhDs are looked upon very favorably in some corners of Wall Street, but you will have to compete with others, including other types of PhDs to get the jobs. – Chan-Ho Suh May 7 '15 at 1:04
  • "But there's no point in a math PhD for any job besides teaching or a focused job at a national lab/NSA", I don't think this is necessarily true. There are several industry jobs that require maths PhD-admittedly, there will be more jobs for applied mathematicians compared to pure mathematicians. – John_dydx Sep 18 '15 at 7:32
3

One of the potential pitfalls of having a PhD (or indeed any exceptional qualification) is that many managers, being insecure in their positions, will not hire someone whom they perceive may be capable of under-mining their authority and usurping their own position. For a well-managed post-PhD career, unless you are a star in your field and with wise, benevolent guides, it is important to understand about people and power in organisations. I strongly recommend reading a serious academic book on the subject such as, for example, Organisational Behavior by "Huck and Buck". Such a book will provide a more objective overview of social reality than a collection of personal anecdotal musings. That is not to say that the latter are without value as food for thought and context-specific indicators.

2

PhDs, although highly educated, are not suitable for most of the commercial and non-research related jobs. Not because they can't do those jobs, but those jobs can also be done by someone else without a Phd.

Furthermore, if the management have no Phd themselves, they wouldn't believe in the importance of the Phd title.

2

From a non PhD perspective, in some fields PhDs are percieved as theorethical entities, far removed from the gross practicalities of thereal world, who sit in cushy ivory towers and try to answer essential and fundamental questions like the ubiquitous : "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

2

Irwin's answer is good, but there is also the pitfall:

Getting Ph.D. is an education for research(/academia). Industry needs them as R&D specialists. Your Ph.D. is useless for any company not requiring that special knowledge you have. Ph.D. only shows devotion to that special knowledge. It signals for them that you may be unmotivated to do their monotonic day-to-day business.

Thus it depends on the Ph.D. you have. If it is not business/operations research/industrial engineering/etc. generalistic, there is a high change that your Ph.D. is worth only for a few companies in R&D (but for those companies, your knowledge can be vital).

2

It's probably a unique problem and not related to the industries in which you're referring but:

In my field (clinicians - PAs, NPs, their international equivalents), a master's degree is considered the terminal degree one needs. While a few PhD programs exist, graduates from them generally get the eye roll. This is one of the potential pitfalls of having a PhD.

The title afforded by the degree (Dr.) puts the holder in a position at odds with the jargon of the industry. Using your title identifies you (in the minds of patients and other providers) as a physician (MD/DO), when in reality you are a clinician. This creates numerous issues of misrepresentation, litigation, etc.

It is a similar problem created by clinicians who pursue doctorates in public health, health administration, etc. While they've rightly earned their title, it can create (sometimes deadly) consequences.

It's a similar problem to that which arises with MD/PhD holders. The MD/PhD holder is generally more PhD than MD in terms of their capabilities as a healthcare provider. If you want to practice medicine, holding a PhD is not the way to do it.

If you don't need the degree to do the job, then you don't need the degree for the job. That's the line of thinking.

  • I've attempted to add MUCH more context to the answer. Thank you for drawing this to my attention. – user20586 Dec 6 '16 at 8:03
  • Thanks for clarifying. I think it's not that those in your particular field don't "need" a PhD - in most fields, practitioners don't "need" a PhD. A PhD is generally meant for those hoping to find academic or research positions, or sometimes certain leadership positions, in whatever field they happen to be in. – ff524 Dec 6 '16 at 8:11
  • (But still, interesting to note the ambiguity that can arise from having a PhD in a clinical setting, so +1 from me.) – ff524 Dec 6 '16 at 8:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy