I am working in a highly technical field (quantitative finance/ statistical analysis) for a private company with a Master of Science degree in economics.

Does it make sense to get a PhD (in quantitative finance, math, statistics) if I do not want to be in academia and prefer to stay in business.

What I expect from PhD:

  1. Structure and deepen my knowledge in the relevant fields through high quality classes (where I sit and listen and learn and do homework to make sure that I have learned).
  2. Get the ability to read any scientific article in the related fields and without much pain understand 90% of it to the very last detail (and implement ideas from the article in my work).
  3. Possibly acquire certain thinking and problem solving culture (so vague... and I guess after my Master I have a fair part of it already(?))

Also important:

  1. PhD was never mentioned as a prerequisite for a promotion or a salary increase.
  2. My colleges who have PhD are not visibly advantaged by the company (do not know about the rest of the industry, but the company being a big player is representative of it).
  3. I enjoy learning new stuff on my own (not a problem to spend many nights with a math book), but hate the status of a student (little money, slave of professors and their peculiar exam requirements).

So should I go for a PhD or rather a specialized Master, or develop myself through separate university courses of my choice and professional programs + self-study?

Any pieces of advice from people used to be in my situation?

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    If you do not enjoy research, do not do a PHD. It is as simple as that. You do not do a PHD for attending courses, e.g., in many Europe countries, PHD programs do not even have courses. Your (2) reason "get the ability to read any scientific article in the related fields ... without much pain ... and implement ideas", is also unrealistic, since even reviewing a good paper on your area of expertise might take several hours to days (without actually implementing anything).
    – Alexandros
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 18:39
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    Where do you live? And would you be willing to relocate? PhD students always get lower salary than industry, but the gap and conditions in some places (and some groups) are not so bad (definitely, I am not enslaved).
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 18:43
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    Does it make sense? It can, depending on the situation. Does it make sense given your situation and expectations? Probably not. What you describe is much closer to many masters programs. PhDs are all about conducting research and creating knowledge rather than just consuming it.
    – Roger Fan
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 19:04
  • @Alexandros concerning the reading of articles I formulated it to naive, let me reformulate it "get the technical background to be able to fight your way through most of scientific article in most of quantitative finance, statistics, financial math fields (and not only those one researched during his/her PhD) within a reasonable time". Would it be a realistic expectation?
    – zesy
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 19:17
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    @Szzz I meant that a student salary is lower than an equivalent peer in industry. You will not be underpaid for having a PhD, but there may be a cost of opportunity for not having field experience (no idea if that is really the case here). If you go for it, consider applying for Scandinavia.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 19:24

4 Answers 4


Ultimately no one else can make this decision for you. At best we can give our biased (after all many of us here will have taken the PhD/academic route) opinions.

First of all doing a PhD for financial or career reasons is not, in general, a good idea. Yes we all know the story of google, but Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn't go into the PhD planning to make it big and it was their passion that produced google. A PhD is a long and sometimes painful process taken on because the individual gets a buzz from the challenge, the field and a desire to push it forward. There will be weeks if not months when nothing is working or making sense. I think it was Boot and Randall, after having developed the high-power magnetron for radar at Birmingham university and giving the allies a much needed early warning system, who attributed their success to something akin to "the one day in which all the equipment in the lab happen to work". Tongue and cheek and modesty no doubt, but it serves as a good antidote to research life - very few things, codes included, work first time! Its the burning passion that keeps you going time and time again until you get results.

Second, a PhD is not taught (Not sure where your from but the USA and some European PhD's do have a taught masters in the first year, but this is not the norm in Europe). Classes to a large extent are not an efficient use of time, they serve to give a broader overview of the field but will certainly not be anywhere near enough to get you through a PhD. If its being taught in a class its not research! And its certainly not going to be a novel idea for your thesis. At the end of the PhD you should be the world expert on the niche area of your field, there are no (or few) textbooks on the subject - because you have written them yet!

When reading papers, even the most experienced academics, are unlikely to understand everything first read, the specific technique maybe, the unique application? probably not. As a research you don’t want to waste time absorbing every little detail, just the bits relevant to your research. You simply don’t have time.

Research does teach you a certain set of skills, first is how to deal with failure and keep going - Persistence. Project management (3 year long project after all) skills and of course critical thinking and problem solving skills, particularly in the technical areas.

Now, none of what I said should be taken as trying to put you off but rather help you make an informed decision. You could possibly look at a research masters, known as an MRes? This may be the best of both worlds. Good luck with whatever you choose to do and remember you don't need PhD's or degrees to continue learning, someone above mentioned online course and these open access avenues are a great way to expand your knowledge.


PhDs programs vary depending on country and discipline. In some countries, it's possible to do a PhD while working a full-time job. That incurs a very high workload and I would only recommend doing so if you are pretty much bored by your day-job and can do it 'en passant' (and are willing to say good-bye to your private life).

As for the expectations, also difficult to answer, but I think:

  • you can become an expert in the tiny area where you specialize. How long you can keep that expertise once you are out of Academia and no longer being part of the research community is another question. As for applicability, I think in many disciplines there are intermediary steps between research and public use by professionals. It's less papers that make a difference but books that summarize research (e.g., many papers).
  • you will likely get an understanding of how science actually works in your discipline. A view behind the curtain, so to speak. I did a PhD in psychology and found it very enlightening and would not have missed it for the world.
  • you will likely be able to work with scientific literature, e.g., knowing how to quickly skim articles and extract the relevant parts. Personally, I think few people read articles like they read books, so going for 90% does not make sense to me. Papers aren't meant to learn about a subject. They are meant to communicate findings on a very specialized subject.
  • thinking and problem solving yes, also (if successful) persistence and dealing with setbacks and failures.

As for the advantage of having a PhD, what about those in higher positions, do they have PhDs? What about in other companies? I think a PhD is the entrance card to Academia, not something that should be used for promotion, but others might (and do) think differently.

Personally, I think the main advantage of doing a PhD in your situation would be to find someone in Academia you like to work with, use your practical background (something many students lack IMO), and use the opportunity to contribute something under the scrutiny of Academia (which is a "joy" of its own). But seriously, in contrast to learning on your own your thesis has to be accepted and if you get someone who is critical, it might really be beneficial. At best, do it while continue to work for your company and with their support. Just expect it to be very stressful. A PhD in itself is already a full-time job.


My gut suggestion? The PhD simply wouldn't be worth your time or energy. I applaud your interest in truly bettering yourself and making yourself the best candidate you can be, but if you've already found a great position with a good company, returning to a PhD would be a serious blow in your career. In order to complete a PhD, you'll have to leave your current job to return to full-time graduate student status, essentially take a 5 - 7 year hiatus from your current work, and then return back to the field with only a marginally higher market value.

Remember: PhDs are research degrees. Whether you use that degree to enter into academia or into a private research organization doesn't matter, provided you're interested in conducting research. Doctoral level training is, at its core, a preparation for a specific vocation. Medical school teaches one to be a physician or surgeon; law school teaches one to be a lawyer; and PhDs teach one to be a researcher (the field of study is, in this analogy, unimportant).

What I expect from PhD:

  1. Structure and deepen my knowledge in the relevant fields through high quality classes (where I sit and listen and learn and do homework to make sure that I have learned).

  2. Get the ability to read any scientific article in the related fields and without much pain understand 90% of it to the very last detail (and implement ideas from the article in my work).

  3. Possibly acquire certain thinking and problem solving culture (so vague... and I guess after my Master I have a fair part of it already(?))

Regarding expectation #1, you have to remember that the bulk of a PhD is actually not coursework; it is self-directed research. In America, you'll spend 4-5 semesters taking structured courses, followed by 3-4 years of unstructured research. You're talking about 5 years during which you're:

  1. Not advancing in your career
  2. Not accruing significant income or putting money away
  3. Not establishing yourself within your field

This leads to expectation #2. You will certainly emerge from a PhD program equipped to read scientific articles ... but that could be accomplished by taking 2 - 3 graduate-level courses at your local university. Why not see whether your current employer will pay for these specialized courses?

Regarding expectation #3 - I'm not actually sure what this means.


If you absolutely won't an academical carrier, then the price of the Phd is probably too big for you.

Yes, in this case it means 5-6 years of needless and low-paid hard work for you. If you want to research, it will be later the "golden age" of your life. Everything has its cost. I know many Phd owners thinking similarly to you, and I know also people who left the academy after MSc and they repent this in their entire life.

Working by that company isn't the only option for you.

Your market value will get higher, much higher, by your PhD - especially if you can find a job around your research area. On the nearer region I know better the wage difference between MSc and Phd is around 30-50%.

But you have your role by your current employer. This role doesn't change automatically. Your promotion depends not only on your degree, but on the possibilities which this company can give you.

Every hierarchy has its limits for you. Its limits, until them it allows you to advance. Over this limits you can't advance efficiently.

On my experience, it is a very common thing, that getting an academical degree results a workplace change in a year.

  • 1
    would you say that expectations I formulated above are adequate or have nothing to do with the reality of "PhD getting". Can one get all I expect without sacrificing 5-6 years of professional life?
    – zesy
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 18:18
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    @Szzz Your expectations are correct, but you shouldn't freeze your professional life to a single company. There is a market race, for better jobs, better employees and better customers. You, as a Phd owner, are on the side of the job market, for which the companies are racing.
    – peterh
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 18:30
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    @Szzz On my opinion, if you know from the first moment, that you absolutely won't an academical carrier, then the price of the Phd is in most cases over its value.
    – peterh
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 18:35
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    Meh. My father went back for his Ph.D. near the end of a long and productive industry career (for self-actualization reasons mostly, I think). He was able to do it on a part time basis and since he didn't need support there was nothing resembling "enslavement". And it paid off for him as his employer was able to offer clients Dr. McKee as the PI for their project and when he got out of that job the title has served to help his consulting sideline (especially in the matter of being a expert witness in court). Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 2:49
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    @dmckee - that's a nice tale, but you'll note that you mentioned that your father was at the end of his career. The costs were significantly lower for him. The market is different these days, and the costs of taking 5-7 years out of your professional development in order to be able to call yourself "Doctor", particularly when you don't conduct any actual research, are insanely high.
    – Yasha
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 14:11

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