Here are some things that are well-established:
- Being a PhD student is a (albeit, temporary) career-path with the poorest education-level/income ratio in the United States. It has been estimated that Post-Doc salary is comparable to junior librarian., and PhD salary is comparable to a waiter.
Note: Average salary of a waiter entry level positions start at $21,158 per year while most experienced workers make up to $39,585 per year. A junior librarian makes less than $50,000/yr.
The opportunity cost is also stark compared to people who are similarly educated in STEM but left for industry early, with a popular estimate of around 1 million USD by the end of the PhD (5-6 years) (which might not include time-value of money, investments, and retirement savings).
Despite academia as a whole being a multi-billion/trillion dollar industry, the administration refuses to raise the stipend for PhD student, leading it to stagnate on average 25,000-30,000 USD/yr for the last three decades if not more.
It is pretty clear to me that most (but not all) PhD programs are path to an enlightened poverty, with STEM PhD faring better than Humanities PhD, and industry-demanded STEM PhD faring better than say biology or pure math.
However, I wonder if this opportunity cost has gotten even even worse over the past few decades due to some factors such as,
- rising competitive (on the global scale),
- job/housing insecurity,
- a sizable aging but not retiring faculty,
- skill-based labor market heavily favored over degree-based,
- rising cost of living in almost every part of the globe.
Take a current example, due to Covid19 many industry stocks (say airline) are at their lowest point, however, most PhD students do not have the money to invest hence will not likely to reap the benefit. Another example is in software engineering: it is pretty well established salary was good about a decade ago but now the supply is high enough for the wage to fall, most PhD students also miss this "golden" period. Almost all major tech companies (such as Stackexchange, minus IBM, Microsoft, Apple) are founded/launched by people around 2000s, we can firmly say that period is over. Yet another is encroachment of industrial research on academic topics. Google, Twitter, Facebook and various other large tech conglomerates dominates all major AI references in 2020, which makes research on a PhD stipend look pointless
I sometimes take a look at these so-called industry-academia collaboration and wonder out-loud if this isn't just some scheme that seeks to exploit underpaid and highly motivated graduate students.
Objectively speaking, has the opportunity cost gotten higher over the years? If (or not) so why?