I'm very conflicted regarding applying to (American) PhD programs vs. not doing so and finding a job in industry to have more money.

The thought of doing a PhD makes me feel financially irresponsible; yet, I have concrete research interests and would be doing a PhD for the right reasons. I've also been told that my application would be strong for some good schools, so I feel I'd waste a valuable opportunity.

How do you decide to do a PhD, knowing that it's the "poor" route to take for the next 4 to 6 years of your life? It feels like a reckless move, but at the same time, a dream worth pursuing, and that nothing in industry could possibly come close to digging deeper into my research projects that I've started on.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:52
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    don't think that you are "losing money" : it's like the old joke : a dad tells his son he was stupid to save 5$ running behind the bus when he could have saved 60$ running behind a taxi... the money you don't earn can be anywhere between 0 and millions, depending on what you could have done, but what matters is what you do with the time you have, and it seems from the few words you wrote that doing this PhD is what you want to do ! Do it! Reseach is very important. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 10:03
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    Sorry to have to break you this, but if you are so obsessed with money then you are already a slave no matter what you try to do with the days left on this spinning ball.. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 20:15
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    I think, the question boils down to the very reason why you are living; is the very reason you still alive and not hung yourself the money, or the joy of living, doing the things that you enjoy. Of course, one can argue that the reason why we earn money is to do things that we enjoy, but at that point, you have to ask, what is the most enjoyable thing for me ? is it the ones that you can buy with your money, or the things you can experience while doing research ?
    – Our
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 16:01
  • Don't forget the old saying "time is money". Your time is also valuable, in the same way as money. After you've spent 10+ years in industry doing work that is less challenging and intellectually fulfilling, you will never get that time back again. (I'm currently in my late 30s, having spent 10+ years in industry, and considering doing a PhD).
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 14:40

28 Answers 28


When you go to the industry, how do you silence the voice that tells you you could be spending your time advancing the knowledge of humanity, rather than devising new ways to make people look at an internet ad, or helping big stock exchange companies aimlessly move money from account A to account B, without any net gain for the world?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 19:20

In many STEM disciplines it is financially irresponsible. To not understand that would be deceiving yourself. Don't do a Ph.D for money. Have other reasons to make it worthwhile.

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    I'd say there's a big gap between "won't earn you the maximum possible amount of money" and "financially irresponsible". If you are willing and able to live within your means at a lower income, what's irresponsible about that? Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 0:08
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    Well yes, it's not awful. You can live. But what I mean is, if you're thinking about it as a financial decision, it's not a good idea. You should be choosing to do a Ph.D not due to any financial motivations. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 1:13
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 19:05
  • 2
    Depends on area of research. If you are in a hot area in Computer Science, for example, you can make a lot of money. More than someone with a MS.
    – mikeazo
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 14:45
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    If you want to make only good financial decisions. Don't get children, work 80 hours a week in stead of 40. Live a miserable life. Etc.
    – user63119
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 9:17

I don’t think that getting a Ph.D., especially in a “STEM” field, is irresponsible. You get a stipend, you leave without added debt, and you can find decent employment after.

But it is the case that if you’d want to maximize earnings, getting a Ph.D. is not generally a good strategy. The reason people get a Ph.D. is usually because they want to have a research career, not because they want to make as much money as possible. And that’s what you tell yourself if you need to justify getting a Ph.D.

It wasn’t hard for me to justify to myself — I don’t generally make decisions only around what will make me the most money, and I didn’t in the case of going to grad school.

  • 3
    "you leave without debt" that depends on how much debt you started with. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 9:40
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    @SSimon many PhD students have debt from their undergraduate degree. That is the debt they started their PhD with. Most of them still have that debt when they finish their PhD. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 12:31
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    @AnonymousPhysicist wow so sad, why this kids dont come ower to study in Europe? they would have free education... I mean I know some who are doing medical schools here, but still.
    – SSimon
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 11:09
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    @AnonymousPhysicist in STEM??? are you sure?
    – SSimon
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 5:09
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I was talking about PhD, that somehow they have big loans. I dont care about undergraduates, they can learn second language it is not difficult
    – SSimon
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 5:09

How to silence the voice...

PhD is a an investment with a very long term maturity. I.e. you may not see the benefits of you having got a PhD until you are 40-50. But there are huge financial benefits to it that may make it financially responsible to get a PhD early on in your life. Here are some:

  1. With a PhD you will be employable as long as you want to. You will always be able to find a decent paying teaching job even if you are over retirement age, whether at a local community college or somewhere overseas. Without a PhD, your risk of finding yourself unemployed in your later years is much higher.

  2. A PhD gives you a lot of transferable skills. You will be able to switch jobs easier and switch careers, should your main specialization become obsolete decades into the future.

  3. PhD does increase your salary. While you lose a bunch of big paychecks early in your career, your PhD/skills do not devalue like money. 30 years into the future $500,000 may be equal to $50,000 of today's dollars. Your research skills will be every bit as valuable.

  4. You will become generally smarter. You will read a lot more books, papers, analyze more data, and learn to solve harder problems. Life is long. An uptick in intelligence can save you a fortune over a ~50 year period.

  5. This is my favorite. It will change your values. You will become a different person with a different set of needs. World's problems will seem more personal to you, while your own problems will seem common and trivial in the grand scheme of things. It seems too abstract and questionable, but financial implications are real. You will buy less expensive and luxury things, as they will give you less joy, and entertain yourself more intellectually, which costs less. E.g. choose to take some time to read a few books on your to-read list, rather than going shopping for a new expensive phone or car.

  • 12
    +1 for number 5. I'm not actually sure this effect holds universally -- there may well be a selection bias where the "different people with a different set of needs" are those who preferred to do a PhD in the first place, i.e., their inclination to be different is the cause rather than the effect of the PhD. But I hope it's true: would be nice to think that a PhD can change the core of who a person is.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 7:31
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    +1 but I don’t think your point 4 is correct. In fact, it’s a common misconception. Not only will a PhD not make you smarter, it will make you learn a specific way of thinking and working. A very good one, mind you, but a specific one. You’ll lack other approaches to problem-solving that are more learnable in industry. Consequently, employers consistently find that while PhDs are very resilient and, in some ways, resourceful, they lack certain other desirable intellectual traits that industry experience teaches better. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 9:22
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    1. People going into academia later (near or post a typical retirement age) are generally not tenure track. Adjunct salaries are often not "decent paying". 3. Compound interest. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 14:46
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    Point 1 is not correct. You may be able to find some classes to teach as an adjunct, but the pay is lousy. If you want to continue teaching past retirement age, you need tenure.
    – landweber
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 0:27
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    This surely depends on the PhD. I've seen friends and relatives with prestigious PhDs struggle for years to find good positions. And then there's this: theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/28/… Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:07

I had very similar thoughts as I was starting a mathematics PhD 5+ years ago, so I'll tell you a little about my experience.

1) During graduate school I was fortunate to earn a decent stipend. With this and fairly modest living, I was lucky enough to finish without debt. I realize this isn't possible for everyone, but it is definitely possible for some. (It also helped that my institution was in a midwest city--rent was cheap.)

2) I now work at a small liberal arts college doing exactly what I want to do. The amount of freedom I have is tremendous, and I can't imagine a job that would be a better fit for me.

3) It was definitely challenging to watch my friends "grow up" faster than me. While I was still in school and eating pasta/rice/ramen for most meals, they were buying houses and new cars. But now I make comparable money to them, I have a job I like more, I get to set my own schedule, and I have the summers "off." Definitely worth it, in my opinion.

  • 2
    I like point 3, it is so true. You see other people earn big money and you know you could do better than them. If you don't like this prospective, consider not doing a PhD.
    – usr1234567
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 10:19

This article shows that a PhD in Engineering makes only ~7% more than a Master's in Engineering in total lifetime earnings.

If your PhD is related Machine Learning/Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision, etc. (unfortunately mine is not), it is worth a lot. A PhD student from CMU once told me that data scientists graduating from his group earn $200K to $300K in their first jobs (including RSU, sign-in bonus etc).

  • 4
    I followed the link, and I see that a PhD in engineering earns 7% more than a master in engineering in a work life. How does this data suggest that it is not a good idea to do a PhD?
    – user80722
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 6:20
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    @Pakk: because to do a PhD, you spend 3+ years after the master's degree at salaries far below market rate (roughly, 50-75% below market rate). The 7% increase in starting salary doesn't offset the 3+ years of lost salary. Furthermore, the proper comparison isn't PhD vs. master's, but rather PhD vs. master's plus 3+ years of real-world work experience. 3+ years of work experience will generally lead to salary increases larger than 7%. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 8:54
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    @abeboparebop I didn't check the numbers myself, but the figure claimed by Pakk is "in a work life", which means the total sum earned, rather than the starting salary. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 11:42
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    @TobiasKildetoft: looks like you're exactly right. I retract my earlier comment. (I am surprised at the numbers! I'll note that there's another possible bias in that the type of person who does a PhD is not the same as those who choose to only complete a master's, so it's not clear whether getting the PhD actually caused the increased lifetime earnings.) Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 11:54
  • 2
    Why are we assuming masters? Some universities offer PhDs to bachelors. I think comparing that will widen the earning gap further, maybe 15%?
    – jiggunjer
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 7:09

I decided to do a PhD by looking inside myself and asking "What is the ultimate purpose of your life in the short time that you have on this planet?". This is obviously specific to me and may not help you. I think doing a PhD is a subjective decision that you need to decide about it based on your personal desires, goals and preferences. As a result, I believe in this context, "poor" or "reckless" are also subjective and can depend on your personal perspective because, for me and many people that I know personally, doing a PhD is hard for many reasons but is not considered poor or reckless as we enjoy working toward the goal that we have.

How to silence the voice ...

To be honest, I believe that this voice you mentioned is always with me whenever I need to make an important decision. After receiving my M.Sc. degree, I went to industry and took a job that paid well and I enjoyed doing but, the voice told me incessantly that I was just fulfilling someone else's dream. After starting to pursue a degree, the voice came back saying "You are giving up a comfortable life for 4 years of hard work to gain what?" (curse words removed! :)). Therefore, the voice that you are referring to will probably never stop. This is not a bad thing by itself as I believe it can be utilized to make a more informed decision. I understand you that making this decision is hard, but remember that after making a decision, it is important to adhere to it and know that sometimes it is not a bad idea to ignore the voice for a while.

Side note: Jazz music and a pair of good headphones help me a lot silencing the voice!


You need to realize that you just need to stay alive long enough to die. I mean that in the cheeriest way possible. Your real currency is time. How do you want to spend that? Academia? Fine. Industry? Fine. Just spend it on something you think is valuable enough to account for your life.

Money is so over rated, it is sad that we measure the value of a human being by it. How will you be remembered by your children, your friends or history? I know you may think that you have to sock away money for your children's college fund or something but the people that are telling you that are those that profit from your money sitting in their possession.

Doing a PhD because it improves your job prospects is totally the wrong reason to do it. You should be doing it because you love the work and want to contribute to it. As already covered by other answers it doesn't really make economic sense apart from a few fields.

On the point of how much time it takes, there are more ways to accomplish this such as moving to another country that has a more streamlined approach to PhDs. You could also do the work part time and work part time if you think you are being irresponsible by not earning a wage.


I did a PhD in theoretical physics. This is usually the royal way to never have the problem of getting rich.

I did it because I loved science and it was a great adventure. I met a population which I would not have had the chance to meet otherwise.

It was a fantastic time.

I then realized that I would not be a good scientist. It is not that I would be bad (I loved to teach for instance) but going to high tech industry helped me to choose the optimal way: enough science to keep me entertained all the time, and a different environment/goals. And money too.

The fact that I had a PhD was important: I was lucky enough to meet people who understood that if someone went through a PhD in physics, they have at least some perseverance. I got two fantastic jobs because of that.

So when you say "knowing that it's the "poor" route to take for the next 4 to 6 years of your life", I say "knowing that this is a 4-6 years investment, and a really, really fun one".

EDIT: I was not poor either. I got all sorts of grants, worked at CERN (where the salaries were excellent) - and the environment I worked in was not particularly interested in money so it ended up not being my main concern anyway.


The question cannot be answered because it is based on a false premise: that is, that there is a recurring "voice that tells you you're being financially irresponsible by spending 4 to 6 years doing a PhD".

In my decades in academia (STEM) I've hardly ever seen or heard any serious scientist having this supposed "voice". On the contrary, most scientists with a job I've met are happy with their work, and deem industry as something that is not suitable for their purposes and aspirations.


I would argue that there's more to making the decision between master's and Ph.D. programs than concerns about fiscal responsibility. Fiscal responsibility is wonderful—and a skill you'll need to master as a graduate student and beyond. Equally important, though, is determining if you want to be in a research role, or if you are satisfied with doing a job in industry for a number of years (or possibly the rest of your career).

If what you really want to do is research, then you're likely going to be unhappy after a while in industry, even if you're making good money.


...a dream worth pursuing, and that nothing in industry could possibly come close to digging deeper into my research projects that I've started on.

You already answered your own question.

One thing to add is what type of work you want to do now and in the future. Having a PhD would not guarantee you development/research projects while working in the industry, but it would help you a lot. And if you are interested in working development/research projects (either industry or academia), maybe that is more life fulfilling than than maximising your salary in a job that you dont like.


You should try and actually compute the costs, including the non-monetary ones. The non-monetary benefits include: the ability to make your own schedule much of the time, getting to the level where you can do independent research, time to learn things that may not be of immediate benefit to your employer, five years of waking up when you want (most days), etc.

I found those benefits invaluable. The ability to do independent research for example will stay with you for the rest of your life. I'd argue even that you can't possibly know the benefits of this skill without actually having experienced it. Computing raw PhD vs BSc/Msc salaries will not give you the truth.

A PhD degree is five years of focusing your entire energy on yourself. Do it!

  • 1
    You're saying those benefits are while you're studying is that right?
    – rogerdpack
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 19:06
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    @rogerdpack They may last beyond the PhD.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 8:45

Irresponsible is as harsh word. If you pay your own way you are responsible.

Financially responsible is how you manage your money. There are athletes that made millions and died broke.

Start saving 4-6 years late means you need to save aggressively but just manage it.

I would rather brown bag to a job I like rather than a $20 lunch for a job I took for the money.

  • What does "brown bag" mean as a verb? Searching online I find that it means (as a noun) a lunchtime seminar.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 8:47

If at the end of your life, when you are laying in bed, waiting for death, someone asks you if you had a happy life, then which answer would satisfy you more: that you had a lot of money and could buy whatever you wanted to, or that your research has been a valuable contribution to mankind?

The answer to that question is the answer to your question here. If you choose the other, you will regret it for the rest of your life.


Your main concern is being "financially irresponsible" but that is meaningless without specifying some objective that would not be satisfied by a PhD salary.

You make it sound like life's ultimate purpose is to earn as much money as possible. Wouldn't financial responsibility then mandate that you progress via prostitution and organized crime to a career in politics?

So without spelling out which financial responsibilities would not be met by entering a PhD program, you cannot expect useful answers.

A grandfather of mine was an industrial sewing machine mechanic working in construction. He received a promotion to some department head position and handed it back several weeks later, including the considerable pay raise, because the change did not match his interests and leanings and enjoyable skill set. He had a family and house to support. Was that financially irresponsible? Not in my book. It was financially inconvenient, definitely.

But leading a life that you can feel good about is a responsibility that sometimes clashes with earning as much money as possible, and while having more money rather than less when everything else is equal may be good, everything else is not always equal.


I'm very conflicted regarding applying to (American) PhD programs vs. not doing so and finding a job in industry to have more money.

Your parenthetical points to an answer no one put forward yet, though it seems you were at least subconsciously aware of it from the start. You could apply to PhD programmes in countries where the route to the degree is much faster than in the US. Not only is it faster, but in the UK, you typically start doing research right away, whereas in the US you first do a bunch of coursework, pass some tests, and only then start doing research.

Personally, I've tried both and while I didn't save time that way, I did learn which one I found more to my liking. In addition, there's something to be said for life experience above and beyond money and education. Living in a foreign country (even an English-speaking one) is an interesting way to garner some experience that you wouldn't get sticking around your home country.

Amy Chua: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It's a sign of bravery.”

  • So I guess a follow-up question is: rather than silencing the voice you mentioned, you should ask, what accent is it speaking to you with? Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 19:38

I am not going to use statistics but I am going to give you feedback from my personal experience: it made a lot of financial sense to me. I am earning way more than I would, not only, I can very easily get a new job (much easier than if I did not have a PH.D.) which also means many more choices, and you get a lot more respect on your job from day one. I think, if you have the qualities to do it, it would be (financially) irresponsible not to do it.

  • Often it does not work out. If you do not earn the degree, you will be payed like a Bachlor or Master, depending on your actual degree. If you have you degree, you are treated as if you did not have any working experience. So you loose three to five years. This might change in the long run.
    – usr1234567
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 10:22
  • @usr1234567 As I said, if you have the qualities to do it, as I assume the OP has
    – user
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 20:18

First, I suggest that you don't try to silence voices. Yours is a valid concern, even if there are ways to address this concern. In addition to other fine answers, I suggest you take time to discuss this with friends, preferably older ones who can share experiences of having taken each of the two "roads".

Another way to deal with this situation is try to be a little more light-hearted about it. In that context I very much recommend you read:

Life's big decision: A PhD or the lottery?

by Ronald Azuma (who's a PhD himself).


You Don't

That voice is an important voice. It is one you need to hold onto and remember when future students ask you about getting a PhD. It's the one you remember when one of your students is essentially being asked to give the university a short-term, interest-free loan to the university while they wait for reimbursement for a conference trip. It's the voice you think of when you read the debates about paid vs. unpaid undergraduate researchers, and how affluence unlocks academia as a career surprisingly early.

What you do is you think about your values. Money has an obvious, concrete, and tangible value. It turns into cars, and rent checks, nice meals and flat screen TVs. The benefits of academia are genuinely there - there's more intellectual freedom, and the chance to do a lot of unstructured work that is (less) driven by immediate business or financial needs. And that has value.

You sit down, and you ask yourself how much value. You never silence the voice reminding you there is an alternative - the cost:benefit analysis of academia requires that voice. And you revisit that voice on occasion, asking if the choice you have made still serves your interests.

TL;DR: You don't silence it, you embrace it, and you subject it to periodic analysis.


Where is the voice that tells you that a PhD is financially irresponsible coming from?

If this is the voice of self-doubt, you will need to come to terms with the sacrifices involved in following your dreams. All plans have tradeoffs.

If this voice has been foisted on you by other people, then you should spend some time figuring out how you really feel. If your goal was to come to stack exchange displace the old advice with new advice, you'll find that the voice of the crowd, no matter how loud, never inspires confidence the way your own voice can.


Getting a PhD requires a lot of perseverance. Let me share an anecdote about my son. He wanted to be an actor in musical theatre. We were at a meeting at the school he eventually decided to attend and a mother asked the program director what her child should take so the child had something to fall back on if acting didn't work out. The director's answer said a lot: your child should probably find a different career, because you have to have an all-in commitment to theatre or you won't make it. You have to ask yourself if getting a PhD means more to you than just about anything else. Otherwise, you may not stick it out. I went to grad school with others who maybe were more gifted than I but who dropped by the wayside. I probably wanted it more, a lot more. I suggest you have to ask yourself some hard questions before deciding your course of action. Leave financial success out of it. I haven't become rich as a liberal arts college professor, but I have had a satisfying life. What is it you really want to do? We can't answer that question for you.


The reason for doing a PhD should be to hunt for the deep rooted satisfaction and happiness of actually getting really, really good at something. Money is arbitrary and something most of us don't have much control over in life. You can't decide where rich people will put their money. It will always be out of your control.

But the happiness of getting really good at something... No one can take that away from you.


It depends on how financially disciplined you are. If you tend to inflate your lifestyle to match your income, then you will be equally financially irresponsible no matter what path you take. However, if you are good at saving/investing then the financial consequences could be huge. At one extreme, if you are investing 66% of your income, you should be able to retire after 10 years. In this case, delaying retirement by 6 years seems like a large price to pay. You could always do a PhD after you retire if you still find the drive to do so. I wish I had understood this before doing my PhD.

  • Investing 66% of the income? That means eating the whole life ramen noodles? Some people have very different views of a good life...
    – usr1234567
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 5:22
  • @usr1234567 It depends. Median US family income is 53K. Assuming that OP is fairly well educated, and has a well educated spouse, it is not unreasonable to assume that they could both make 80K, for a total of 160K. Investing 66% would result in 60K coming home, for an ``above average'' lifestyle. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 11:41

You also took the University. Being a university student pays less than starting a job immediately (red line in the chart below), right?

But in the long term University graduates (blue line in the chart) earn more. Same goes for PhD students (green line)chart of income

  • 12
    That chart is woefully inaccurate, confused and misleading. It’s true that studying pays off financially in the long run. But this is much less true nowadays for a PhD (or even outright false, in some disciplines). Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 9:17
  • 2
    Damn, I should stop my PhD, based on the graph I will die sooner. Also the area under those graphs looks the same so getting PhD is pointless ;)
    – tom
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 17:38
  • @Tom I don't think it means PhDs die sooner, it just means they earn enough to retire sooner.
    – Michael C
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 19:12
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    An MS Paint plot! There's something almost endearing about such a blast-from-the-past!
    – Nat
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 4:44
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    ...that chart is really broken - if for no other reason than the blue line should begin before the green line. But it should also be noted that life happens in those times. If you have a child in the area where the blue line is above the green line, "someday things will be better" might not matter.
    – Fomite
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 20:13

I think I understand what you are thinking. It can feel "financially irresponsible" to spend 4-6 years studying for a PhD, because when you are a PhD student, you are earning a relatively low salary (say 30 K USD a year); while your classmates who decided to work in industry may be earning a much larger salary (say 100 K USD a year).

I recommend that you do your research so that you understand your employment prospects after you get your PhD. While your question is primarily about PhDs, I would say more broadly that graduate degrees are not created equal. For example, if you graduate with a law degree from a poorly ranked law school, it may be difficult for you to find a well-paying job. Quoting from the article Law Graduate Gets Her Day in Court, Suing Law School:

She now has student debt of $170,000, with loan interest around 8 percent. Her law degree was not a ticket to a stable, well-paying career, but an expensive detour before she went on to work in a series of part-time positions, mostly temporary jobs reviewing documents for law firms.

After you have done your research, you can then make an informed decision about whether to do the PhD.

Finally, even if you choose to do graduate studies in a lucrative field, you could still end up unemployed due to circumstances beyond your control. For example, the article Burdened With Debt, Law School Graduates Struggle in Job Market tells the story of an unemployed graduate of Columbia Law School. We can't escape the fact that "time and chance happen to us all", but as long as you make the best decision that you can given what you knew at the time, you can choose to live without regrets.


If a magic fairy came to you and offered your three times as much for flipping burgers than what you can make with either a MSc or a PhD would you do it?

I feel there is more to life than money. In fact I don't think we work for money but for the things we can buy with the money we make. I'd be an unhappy gentleman if I had a pile of gold but no books.


In America the financial situation is even worse in comparison to Europe. The problem: You would have to pay insurances mostly yourself and only get a 30% less salary in comparison to e.g. Germany.

Nevertheless, I can tell you out of my experience that 90% of the PhDs are so frustrated at the end of their limited contracts that they just swap over to industry. Research is not really what most people hope for. In most cases you anyway have to work on projects given by a cooperation partner/boss. Then you hope to get a Nature paper with what you obtained from the project lottery or start working on a small side project (and lose time because you have to follow the main project still).

If you are lucky enough to place a potential Nature paper, maybe your boss asks you to hold some results back for political reasons (someone else working longer in that lab shall publish his shit results maybe earlier and the impact of his paper shall not suffer because of an overlap, or there are contradictions because they faked data), or that someone else shall become the first author because he is higher, and everything was just a waste of time.

On the other hand it can be an amazing experience, because some Labs just work. Unfortunately, you sooner or later have to take another PostDoc and you may enter a Lab which is not like your first one. Also keep in mind, that you periodically change your environment and you are usually all alone in 3 year intervals. I know some scientists which lost also their relationships or divorced.

Welcome to bullshit science!

Addition: Don't start a PhD somewhere where you have to work 4-6 years. Try to find an opportunity for max 3 years.

  • People get divorced over industry jobs, too. Over-hours, frequent traveling, stressed by the job. It depends on the people, less on industry or academia.
    – usr1234567
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 10:25
  • 1
    True, but not all jobs force you to lose all your friends in 2/3 year intervals.
    – user75308
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 11:22
  • @dgrat Not sure how it works in Germany, but that's not necessarily the case in the U.S. At the university I attended, most of the professors are tenured and have been at that particular university for a decade or longer, some for many decades. Also, like other employers, schools do offer insurance plans for full-time graduate students. Additionally, staying on one's parents insurance is usually an option up to age 26 for students in the U.S.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 6:27
  • Regarding insurances, I think the problem for Europeans is starting when they make a PostDoc in the States. Then you have to get an insurance which might be problematic if you are not totally healthy. Otherwise you get rejected or have to pay a lot. The other way round is super comfortable. Americans easily get one of the "Pflichtversicherungen" :)
    – user75308
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 8:43

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