Sunday, December 19, 2010

"PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. "

The Economist: "The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time" (via Instapundit):

PhD graduates do at least earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. A study in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management by Bernard Casey shows that British men with a bachelor’s degree earn 14% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to. The earnings premium for a PhD is 26%. But the premium for a master’s degree, which can be accomplished in as little as one year, is almost as high, at 23%. In some subjects the premium for a PhD vanishes entirely. PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education.


As I have written before, a PHD is a sacrifice that may not be worth the effort. If you just like to know information, great. But it certainly not the path to riches and may not even lead to a good job or a better job than those with a master's degree.

19 Comments:

Blogger br549 said...

My daughter told me she's not doing it for the money. Good thing, eh?

7:11 AM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger Helen said...

br549,

Yes, it's a good thing until it's not anymore. I hope that she is doing well in her program and enjoying it.

7:19 AM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger Stormbringer said...

A therapist that I was seeing about ten years ago had his Master's. I asked him if he was working for his PhD, he said he did not want it. They would want research, publications and the like, and he wanted to deal more with the patients instead.

About the time I was leaving that city, he took a job with a state mental health hospital and liked his new job. So, yes, the full doctorate is not all it's cracked up to be for some people.

9:11 AM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger GawainsGhost said...

It's interesting that the original meaning of the word "doctor" was teacher. So the only real reason to pursue a doctrate would be to teach.

While required for a position at a university or college, a PhD is actually an impediment at the public school level. It means you're over qualified.

At the university level, publish or perish is a real thing. Most "doctors," strangely enough, are not hired to be teachers but researchers. And those that are usually have most of their research done by graduate students, then take credit for it.

The modern academy is a scam. That said, I value education. However, the best education is self-education. All you'll learn at a university is falsehoods, failed theories and flawed models. And all you'll do is someone else's work, for which you won't get paid or receive credit for.

9:25 AM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger Ern said...

I'm surprised that a PhD in computer science (I assume that that's what the British call 'computing') doesn't pay better than a master's degree. I have yet to find a chief scientist for a major Silicon Valley firm who doesn't have a PhD. That's not to say that a master's degree in computer science doesn't pay very well, but I do think that a PhD pays better (at least in Silicon Valley). I can also think of many instances in which members of Stanford's computer science or electrical engineering faculties made many millions of dollars as board members, founders, or chief scientists to Silicon Valley companies.

9:42 AM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger fred said...

On the PhD: guy I knew dropped out of PhD program at elite school and instead of degree in computers became a millionaire in short few years working for Microsoft. But that reflects that field.

PhD in fact usually required if you are at 4 year college and expect tenure...and yes, publishing helps but unless you are amazingly great publisher you will need terminal degree.
Sure. You do not get the terminal degree for money but then most PhD's go into university teaching, and it is needed. And true enough: fewer tenure slots now than once were.
And yes: a certain fakery here as in all fields. Example: Doctor of Laws is fake way of saying got Masters in law.

11:12 AM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Ern..."I have yet to find a chief scientist for a major Silicon Valley firm who doesn't have a PhD"...OTOH, you won't find many venture capitalists who *do* have PhDs, although quite a few have masters degrees in engineering.

Also, many product managers and marketing executives have engineering degrees of one sort or another, but rarely PhDs.

11:34 AM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

In my estimation from grad school, a majority of people seeking PhD's do not need them and should not get them. Unfortunately, a lot of my
did it out of the fear of facing the "real world" by getting a job. Inertia is among the poorest motivations for anything, least of all a life-changing process of pursuing a doctorate.

If you want to go far in an "educated" field (i.e. something beyond basic office/business skills), an advanced degree is a no-brainer. But the rat race for faculty jobs and tenure is as cutthroat and grueling as partner track or running for President.

I am a BS/MS engineer, and unless someone is dead set on academic life or professional research, I advise against a PhD in almost all cases.

I almost never even discuss the financial aspects - the life enjoyment factor has a much greater impact on a student's overall satisfaction.

12:51 PM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

"I'm surprised that a PhD in computer science (I assume that that's what the British call 'computing') doesn't pay better than a master's degree."

I'm not - I don't mean to denigrate people with doctorates at all, but the PhD itself has poor predictive ability. All a PhD says is that someone (a) can plan and execute a medium-term research project and (b) had enough persistence to do it, or did not have any other more interesting/lucrative options to take them away from it. Now if you've done it right, you can demonstrate a lot more than that, but the degree itself only shows those two items.

"I have yet to find a chief scientist for a major Silicon Valley firm who doesn't have a PhD."

Fitness for a C-level position is sort of irrelevant to the discussion of overall financial impact. Most engineers will not have to worry about whether or not they'll be eligible for a Chief Scientist job based on their resume. That a really smart person with a doctorate can go further than same without one is a different question than does a average student better his position by getting an MBA instead of a PhD.

Also, chief scientist is usually a chair-of-research position, investing in the company's long-term IP portfolio. It is normally quite different from a chief technology officer, who is charged with making executive decisions about technology the company is going to use internally or sell to customers. I know of a good number of CTOs who do not have PhDs.

"That's not to say that a master's degree in computer science doesn't pay very well, but I do think that a PhD pays better (at least in Silicon Valley)."

It does depend on field - in software or circuits, PhDs are superfluous. But in materials science (semiconductors) and biomed, you can't really do good work without the background you get doing a doctorate, you're not even in the same career with just a master's...so there's a selection bias depending on the field you are considering.

I know many Silicon Valley companies who look with mild or strong suspicion at PhDs as people
who by virtue of their choice to get the doctorate has selected themselves against the social and business skills that are useful in the private sector. Not saying I agree, just telling you what they say.

I liken PhDs to marriage - you should only do it if you're absolutely sure, and I've met a handful of people I trust who have expressed regret they did it.

1:08 PM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger Ern said...

Ern..."I have yet to find a chief scientist for a major Silicon Valley firm who doesn't have a PhD"...OTOH, you won't find many venture capitalists who *do* have PhDs, although quite a few have masters degrees in engineering.

It may depend on what your definition of 'many' is. I was thinking about Forest Baskett of New Enterprise Associates as I was typing my previous post. Ravi Viswanathan, also a general partner at NEA, has a PhD. Yogen Dalal of Mayfield Partners has a PhD, as does Wen Hsieh of Kleiner Perkins. It's not a lot of people, but it's a substantial percentage of the people who are general partners at NEA, managing directors at Mayfield, or partners at Kleiner Perkins. I'm limiting myself to partners concerned with IT here, since that's what we're discussing. My (educated) guess is that the percentage of PhDs is higher when it comes to biotech, but it wouldn't be fair to include those in this discussion.

4:16 PM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger MarkD said...

It's true in some fields and not so much in others, and what's true today won't be true five years from now.

My son had the poor timing to start his Bachelors in Computer Science in 1998. IBM offered every graduating senior a job that year. By the time he graduated in 2002, he was lucky to get a part time position. A lot of his peers stayed for masters because they couldn't even do that.

You go to work every day. It's easier if you are doing something you like. If academic credentials are necessary for that, you've got your answer. Otherwise, you have a decision to make based on imperfect information. Some will get it right, for them, and others will not. Welcome to life.

7:29 PM, December 19, 2010  
Blogger DADvocate said...

This has been true for a long time. Around thirty years ago a friend of mine earned a M.S. in nuclear engineering. I asked him if he was going for a Phd. He said no way, he'd make more money with his M.S.

10:18 AM, December 20, 2010  
Blogger Larry J said...

I've long heard about the peril of "educating yourself out of a job" in the computer science world where I work (BS in Math and two masters degrees). I considered going for a doctorate but decided against it. The best use of a doctorate is teaching at a college and the number of available positions is far less than the supply of PhDs. Besides, it didn't make a lot of sense putting in all of that time and money to qualify for a lower paying job than what I already have.

Someone mentioned Harvard Business School (HBS) and it reminded me of something Ben Rich wrote in his excellent book, Skunk Works (the Lockheed facility where they build remarkable aircraft like the SR-71 and F-117A in a hurry). Rich was working for the legendary Kelly Johnson and was offered an opportunity to go to HBS to earn an advanced degree. Johnson tried to discourage him but Rich went anyway. When he returned, he presented Johnson a sign that read, "2/3 HBS = BS".

10:24 AM, December 20, 2010  
Blogger J. Bowen said...

It's amazing that people understand so little about economic behavior.

The fact that you believe that because the financial return of a PhD isn't significantly, or at all, larger than the financial return for a master's degree means that a PhD is not worth it doesn't mean anything all to the people who are getting them. Each individual who is pursuing one is doing so for his or her won reason. There are more rewards in life than just monetary rewards.

11:09 AM, December 20, 2010  
Blogger Larry J said...

The fact that you believe that because the financial return of a PhD isn't significantly, or at all, larger than the financial return for a master's degree means that a PhD is not worth it doesn't mean anything all to the people who are getting them. Each individual who is pursuing one is doing so for his or her won reason. There are more rewards in life than just monetary rewards.

That's fine so long as they don't come crying to me about their student loan debt. Just as I have no sympathy for someone who ran up a lot of debt and bought more house than they can afford, I don't see the need to subsidize their search for "rewards."

2:30 PM, December 20, 2010  
Blogger Locomotive Breath said...

This seems to differ. Also, the real problem for engineers is age discrimination.

http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/28/silicon-valley’s-dark-secret-it’s-all-about-age/

6:58 AM, December 21, 2010  
Blogger jimbino said...

Studying for a PhD is not about "knowing information" but about training your mind.

Math, for example, has no information content whatsoever. Neither do Philosophy and Physics.

Languages and History do.

3:47 PM, December 22, 2010  
Blogger Michael said...

During the internet bubble of the 90s, Stanford could not keep PhD students in the computer science program. They were all hired away. A few years later and the frenzy was gone. I was an engineer at Douglas Aircraft in 1959. I was a programmer although there was no such job title. EVery engineer I knew was getting out, either to law school of medical school (as I did) or getting an MBA. It is very cyclical and therefore job security is still kind of iffy. It's still better than "Communications," as I have been explaining to my daughter.

1:59 PM, December 24, 2010  
Blogger DaveD said...

Anyone doing a PhD for money rather than to discover something is missing the point and although intelligence helps slog can do it.

4:40 AM, December 26, 2010  

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