About me:

About to start final year ChemE

Top of class/grades

Have completed 6 month co-ops in pharma and biopharma

Liked the work but think that I would much prefer development or research type work

I need to make a decision over the next month to either: Take a graduate program/job in pharma or biopharma Do a PhD (I have been talking to my professor who has agreed to take me on or else give me a reference for another college)

Take the graduate program and do a PhD simultaneously (difficult option but I know people who have done this)

I am really attracted to the idea of doing a PhD in a biopharma/biotech related space. I do not know if I am interested in academia afterwards or if I would prefer to work in industry. That said, I do not know much about the roles available to PhDs in industry.

I have heard that a PhD can give you more 'work freedom' and also a higher chance of working in cutting edge areas. Also the idea of working in a startup or starting my own company at some point is something I am interested in.

My problem is that I do not have the tools to decide what is the right decision for me. I would apprecaite any input or experience anyone has with this, or alternatively any advice on how I can make the right decision.

Thanks in advance. If I am missing key information here, apologies. I will add it in if it comes up in a comment.

  • 1
    My advice is to seek advice from those who know you and your situation best: friends, family members and teachers. Unfortunately a bunch of strangers on the internet can't decide what's best for you. Sep 3, 2018 at 21:28
  • Thanks, I understand that you're not going to make the decision for me. Maybe what I meant to say was - can you point me in the direction of where I could make this decision? Talking with my lecturers/work colleagues will help me to see the benefits of either side, but it is me that will need to make a final decision. I currently do not know how to make a decision like this. Sep 3, 2018 at 21:37
  • Hi welcome to SE Academia. I suggest you improve focus on your specific question (highlight it, add a question mark, etc) to increase chances you get helpful input. As it is it looks too broad and might get closed as such. Good luck!
    – Scientist
    Sep 3, 2018 at 22:06

3 Answers 3


Does your uni have guidance councilors? Probably you can easily get an appointment. Maybe they will be glib about it, but it can be helpful data.

At least two aspects: What job can you get that you could not get now? And is it worth while spending at least 4 years, maybe more, getting the degree to get that job? If you want to be an academic then PhD is probably indicated. If you want to be in industry then consider going no farther than the master's degree. Or stopping at the bachelor's.

Carefully scope out what it will cost you to get the PhD. Not just your university fees. But to live for that time. Scope out what scholarships you can get. NOTE! You must apply for most such scholarships. You do NOT get automatically considered for the bulk of them. Ask the support staff in your uni and the uni you are considering going to what scholarships exist and how to apply. Find out what it costs to live in the city you are considering. Find out if the uni will give you work while you are a grad student. Or if you can maybe get contract work in the industry relevant to your study subject.

Send out a few resumes to potential employers. Maybe the offered starting salary will turn your head. And at worst, you may get some interviews that will be good practice. And polishing your resume is good practice also. Tune it to the potential employer.

The difference between what you could earn in 4 years, and the payments you would need to make, will be substantial. And you will then be 4 years ahead for the rest of your job life.

Many academic areas have some equivalent of "Physics Today" which is the one for my area. Such magazines give stuff that is along the lines of "proff so-and-so has just finished big-name-project blah-de-blah, isn't it pretty?" And they have a ton of adverts for various things somewhat related to the subject.

But importantly, once per year they have lists of PhD students who recently graduated, and where they went. So, what you should do is have a look at where grads from a school you are interested in eventually went. And if those destinations seem good to you, great, go ahead. If they bore you or worse, look elsewhere. One of my cohort in PhD went to work at the Science Center, and now spends his time teaching high school students about static electricity. After a PhD in particle physics. Sigh.

You may need to ask the librarian at your university what the correct magazine is to check, and how to find it. And you may be able to get lots of back issues on-line, free or nearly free.


Check out the jobs that you'll be enabling (and disabling) by getting a PhD. Getting a job is after all the ultimate aim of the PhD. It's imperative to know what options are available, both academic and non-academic, before you start.

Don't rely on hearsay like "PhDs give you more work freedom". Research it yourself. I suggest using a similar method to this answer I wrote for another question, applied to your field / target country. You're particularly interested in:

  • What jobs become available if you have a PhD? Do you find them attractive?
  • What jobs are already available to you, without a PhD? Do you find them attractive?
  • What is the salary like for either category?

You want to calculate whether it's worth doing a PhD so you can do jobs in the first category, versus not doing a PhD and going into the workforce at once. Be sure to factor in the time taken and the fact that if you go into the workforce at once you're likely to earn a substantially higher salary over that period. Remember also that if you get a PhD, you're probably overqualifying yourself out of the jobs in the second category. I personally like doing calculations like this one, your mileage might differ.

One more thing: you write that you think you'll like research work more. Don't just think, verify it! Do a research project, undergraduate level is fine and a short one is also fine. If you find you like it then by all means get the PhD, but if you find it to be a huge culture shock and discover you actually don't want to do research - you wouldn't be the first - then run while you're still able. There really is no reason not to do this. If you find you like research, your supervisor will also be able to write you a recommendation letter for your applications.

  • Are you suggesting I should type 'PhD ChemE/Biotech' into job search portals and see if I think I'd like them. I will do this, however many jobs will be looking for someone with a 'PhD skillset' but will not mention a PhD in the job description. Also, I have done an undergraduate research project and enjoyed it. From this experience I learned that I am much more interested in 'applied/practical research' rather than research on the more academic side of the spectrum. Sep 3, 2018 at 21:57
  • @NoviceCoder11 "many jobs will be looking for someone with a 'PhD skillset' but will not mention a PhD in the job description" are you sure or is this hearsay? In any case you can always use keywords like "research pharmacy" which should find what you want also.
    – Allure
    Sep 3, 2018 at 22:04
  • It is hearsay! Thank you. The job itself is surely only one aspect. I will surely (as far as I know) have to look into 'hearsay' such as increased rate of career advancement, increased career freedom and flexibility, increased rate of increase in salary, increased chance of owning a technical startup? Sep 3, 2018 at 22:09
  • Also can you suggest a good job portal? I do not care if it is local to me, I just want to see examples of jobs available to PhDs in ChemE/Biotech/Biopharma Sep 3, 2018 at 22:15
  • @NoviceCoder11 If you can find details about those, absolutely. My experience is that if a company needs someone with a PhD skillset they will say so in the job description. Rate of career advancement / rate of increase in salary depends on performance, career freedom is definitely present though since PhDs tend to be more independent and need less guidance. As for technical startups, those depend on whether you can come up with the "idea". I can't suggest a job portal since these are necessarily local; search using Google.
    – Allure
    Sep 3, 2018 at 22:16

I would lean towards doing the Ph.D. GIVEN THE INDUSTRY. If this were oil and gas (upstream), it would be a different decision and you might be a lot better off going straight to work. But the biopharm industry tends to be very academic. And Ph.D. is like a union card.

Try to pick a school/prof with a reputation for fast degrees, good reputation and some contact to industry. Ideally in an area with some biotech or pharma industry. You don't want to get too caught into the pure academia exploitation trap.

Really, I would recommend the joint job/degree program most. You can hack it. And having a real job gives you a different feeling of self respect than being a grad student. But the regular Ph.D. program is fine too, given you know where you are headed.

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