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So I am inquiring general tips from experienced individuals of academia and industry. I am a recent graduate from a top university with B.S. in math. I had goals of doing PhD in stats, but recently changed mind. I have a bit of family pressure to get a job and work to build income. I am from lower middle class, and am 30 years old. I've worked at a leading hospital and my boss encourages me to do a PhD.

However, it seems better to work full time at a company which will pay for the masters or some of it. My strategy is that at 33-35 years old, I would be working full time and working on a masters instead. Thus at this age I could have work experience, income, and a graduate degree.

It seems like an unwise choice to pursue a PhD and graduate at age 35-36 without work experience and having to start earning income.

My interests are to work in industry, and research centers. I do not believe PhDs would guarantee job security, higher wages, or happier careers. A masters would suffice. I argue that a PhD is not necessary.

Is my logic sensible? On a personal note, I am quite disenchanted/burned out with higher education.

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Background: I have a math Ph.D. and am working as a statistician in industry.

I'll try to address both the general question you ask and your specific situation.


M.Sc. vs. Ph.D. in stats in general

This quote of yours is key:

I do not believe PhDs would guarantee job security, higher wages, or happier careers.

And you are right about this. A Ph.D. won't guarantee any of these.

If you do a Ph.D., you will end up with a different qualification than with "only" an M.Sc. In doing a Ph.D., you will be spending multiple years thinking up new methods or algorithms. You will become an expert on an (admittedly small) topic, which you will know more about than your advisor. In contrast, in doing an M.Sc., you will learn a lot of different techniques and apply them, but you won't develop new ones. (Some M.Sc. students do just that - exceptions exist.)

What does that mean for your job prospects? If you are looking for a job as a "consulting statistician", "data analyst" or similar, an M.Sc. will usually be enough. Employers may balk at hiring a Ph.D. for such positions for multiple reasons:

  • Ph.D.s usually ask for higher salaries
  • Ph.D.s are older, possibly less flexible (families) than entry-level M.Sc.s
  • Ph.D.s may feel underchallenged and try to leave for more interesting work elsewhere
  • Ph.D.s may be specialized in one field - but an M.Sc.'s knowledge of multiple methods is more recent

So with a Ph.D., you would be applying for more "conceptual" positions, where you don't only apply your knowledge, but actively create new statistical methods to solve problems.

There are more jobs out there that require applying known methods than creating new ones.

You may be lucky and find a job opening that requires a Ph.D., or (even better) one that matches your Ph.D. research interest. (I wouldn't count on this last possibility - research is so specialized these days that it is rare to find a position in industry that closely matches what you did in your Ph.D. career.) If so, your Ph.D. pays off. If not, you may be in for a long search, or you may need to work for lower wages, and still need to convince an employers that he is better off hiring you than a new M.Sc. graduate - at the same wage. If this happens to you, you will definitely feel like the Ph.D. was a waste of time.

Overall, I would only recommend doing a Ph.D. if you are passionate about it, if you genuinely want to devote three to five years of your life to research. Don't do a Ph.D. for the career value if you plan on leaving academia. It likely will be a step backwards in terms of lifetime earnings or your career progression. (Around me, I see no correlation between having a Ph.D. and job security or higher wages - I can't judge the happiness of my colleagues' careers.)


Your specific situation

I have a bit of family pressure to get a job and work to build income. ...

It seems like an unwise choice to pursue a PhD and graduate at age 35-36 without work experience and having to start earning income.

...

... On a personal note, I am quite disenchanted/burned out with higher education.

I see a lot of skepticism about doing a Ph.D., and much focus on your alternatives. I don't see anything indicating you would love to do research for research's sake. (Please don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying you are lazy. I am pointing out what your priorities seem to be, based on your question.) Compare this to my recommendation above.

It does not seem to me that doing a Ph.D. would be a wise move for you.

Nevertheless, we can't usefully help you a lot with your decision. I'd recommend you talk to people who know you and your specific situation.

This and this earlier answer of mine my be helpful.

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Be honest to yourself. Are the arguments against truly yours or are you echoing your family? If they are yours, you have your answer.

If you are echoing your family, do your homework on job security, salary, etc. There are salary surveys. PhD does bring you a higher salary and very different job. Job security should be higher with PhD since you are hired for your uniqueness - hence you are irreplaceable, or least it is much more difficult to replace you.

With Master in stats you help others make sense out of data with the existing toolset. Most of your project will be successful. They will be relatively low risk too. If you prefer to feel mastery of the subject, go for MS.

With PhD in stats you invent new tools. Your day to day life is uncharted waters. The risk is higher, and you never feel you have mastery. There will be lots of unknown, dead-ends, and fails. There will be occasional successes, which will make it all worthwhile.

Lastly, I have a feeling that age is the unspoken factor. You have a 30+ career ahead of you. Few years don't matter much. Choose what fits you better, because it will be 30 long, miserable years ahead otherwise.

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