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PhD? Was it worth it for you?

  1. Jan 3, 2012 #1

    I have a dilemma, hopefully some of you can help. And yes I did research a lot about this on google but I think a new discussion is more helpful.

    Where did you get your PhD in? Was it worth it? What are the options outside academia?

    I have an opportunity to get a PhD position in organic photovoltaics. The salary is great, the group also. From research point of you it's excellent. And I also have experience working in the field since I have been working for 2 years now in an another university. I am currently finishing my master's degree.
    What I am wondering though are career prospects after PhD. And I am not entirely sure I want to stay in academia. I do like the field of organic electronics though.

    Thanks a lot
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 3, 2012 #2
    Computational astrophysics.

    Hell yes.

    This board has many of them. It's a tricky question because often you'll be working on something that didn't exist when you start your Ph.D., which is cool.
  4. Jan 4, 2012 #3
    Thank you twofish-quant :smile:

    When you just started a PhD where you aware of your possibilities after finishing it outside academia?
    Also since you did a lot of programming your experience might be easily transferred elsewhere, is that correct? I mean even outside the realm of physics.
  5. Jan 4, 2012 #4
    I knew that there wasn't much of a chance that I was going to get an academic job. As far as what I ended up doing, interesting story here..... In August 1991, I was one of the first people to download and compile would be known as the world wide web, and my first reaction was "this looks like it could be interesting."

    By the time I got out in 1998, it was in the middle of the dot-com boom, and the bit of time that I spent teaching myself web programming before there were books on web programming turned out to be useful.

    But it didn't matter, since I got the Ph.D. for family reasons. My father wasn't able to finish his Ph.d., so as the eldest son, I was sort of being groomed to get a Ph.D. before I was born. For that matter, in talking with my uncle it became obvious that I was expected to get a Ph.d. before my father was born.

    Yes. Personally what worked for me was to just play with whatever seemed interesting to me, and not worry too much about whether there was an obvious job waiting. However, it happens that the things that I'm interested in just happened to be money-makers.
  6. Jan 4, 2012 #5
    Thanks, you really have a story to tell! Very interesting
  7. Jan 4, 2012 #6
    So what do you do for a living now? I'm guessing something in finance. A lot of my computational chemist colleagues ended up in finance.
  8. Jan 6, 2012 #7
    No, not for me. I attempted a Phd but am not smart enough to do it. It ended up being a financial disaster for me. But if you are smart enough to do it it may land you a good job.
  9. Jan 6, 2012 #8
    Thanks ModusPwnd :smile:

    In what area did you work if I may ask? Were you in a self-funded position?
  10. Jan 6, 2012 #9
    I did a phd in particle physics. I finished about 18 months ago, and its too soon to tell if it will be worth it. Since I graduated, I've been working as a bartender and applying for jobs in engineering and technical fields.

    If I eventually land a job where I can use some of my hard-won training, then I would say yes. If I gradually forget everything I learned while continuing to work in the service industry, then I would say no.
  11. Jan 6, 2012 #10
    Eugh, that's a hard situation to be in. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be. What technical areas are you applying for jobs in?
  12. Jan 6, 2012 #11

    No, I wasn't self funded. Not at first. I worked in a solid state / condensed matter lab. But I couldn't pass the qual and had to fund myself to finish my masters, which was not a financially wise decision. Now I have undergrad and grad debt with no career. :( With how much I make in the restaurant I can't afford my student loans, so I take two community college classes to keep my loans in deferment.

    Of course my experience isn't typical, but its something to keep in mind. Going to university can be very bad choice for some.
  13. Jan 6, 2012 #12


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    I did a PhD in observational/computational astrophysics (although the PhD just says 'physics', and that has been very useful). I did a shot postdoc at a NASA center, but decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my life just doing research, so I'm teaching college and just landed a tenure-track position, starting next year. I'm pretty sure that's what I want to do (teach and do research - it's a liberal arts school) so I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. The PhD in physics instead of astronomy or astrophysics let me apply to a wider range of colleges for faculty positions.
  14. Jan 6, 2012 #13
    I did a Ph.D. in computer science, and promptly turned my back on academia and headed into industry.

    The Ph.D. has never been anything but a benefit to me, but aside from the financial aspects, it would have been worth it on a purely personal level. I hesitate to use cliches like "mind expanding"... but that's exactly what it was.
  15. Jan 6, 2012 #14
    I'm applying for anything and everything in my geographical area, but numerical programming seems the most likely area to eventually take me. Unfortunately, my phd was mostly pen and paper work so I'm trying to develop more programming skills on the side. Sadly, I'm now getting the "why have you been working as a bartender for the last year?" questions in job interviews.
  16. Jan 6, 2012 #15


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    I did a PhD in medical physics. I followed this with a post-doc (which I chose over an immediate residency option) and then a residency and now work as a medical physicist and have an adjunct appointment with a university. For me the PhD was definately worth it.

    The medical physics PhD included a lot of profession-specific training and I consider it both a professional degree as well as an academic one. There were a lot of options available to me in this field when I finished including purely clinical positions, academic positions, and industrial positions.

    I didn't chose the industrial path, but I know several people who have. These peope have gone into:
    - research and development positions
    - "engineering" positions which in these larger technical companies often means high tech troubleshooting
    - teaching positions (teaching customers how hardware/software works, delivering seminars at conferences)
    - technical sales
    - project managment

    Not all of these positions "required" a PhD of course, so in that sense, you might argue that the PhD is not worth it. But my own observations, for whatever they are worth, tend to suggest that PhDs advance quickly in such settings. I don't know if this is a bottleneck effect of PhDs being smarter than the average bear, or if it has more to do with the depth of the academic training - probably a combination of both.
  17. Jan 6, 2012 #16
    I am only curious, but what about teaching or something along those lines? I would have thought that to be a standard resort.

    My interests are also in pen and paper work.
  18. Jan 6, 2012 #17
    Do liberal arts schools pay you to research as well? How was the hiring process different from hiring for research universities, in your experience?
  19. Jan 6, 2012 #18
    Right now, highschool aren't hiring much in the US (in fact, they've been firing). Maybe as property taxes recover, this trend will reverse.

    I've looked into adjuncting, but its not really a solution to a job (pay seems to be about 2k for a 4 credit class). I've applied for some lecturer positions, but haven't had much luck. And I don't know if it makes sense to take the pay cut from bartending for a single year position without very good career prospects. Tenure track type positions at liberal arts colleges are fairly competitive in their own right- they seem to prefer postdoc and industry experience to fresh phds.
  20. Jan 6, 2012 #19
    Why don't you get a postdoc stint for a few years? Surely it beats working at a restaurant.
  21. Jan 6, 2012 #20
    A combination of reasons- the strongest one is a geographical constraint. If you aren't willing to move across the world, your postdoc options can be really limited (or non-existent). The next strongest is probably pay- I'd take home significantly less than half of what I make bartending as a postdoc. I'm at the stage in my life where I need to start paying off school loans and trying to get myself to a more sound economic footing- I'm hoping to start a family in the next few years. Three years spent bartending and expanding my programming skill set seems like it will put a lot more money in my pocket and leave me in a better place in the job market than doing a postdoc (which would just be 3 more years of pen-and-paper physics
    +whatever I do on the side). I simply can't devote 3+ more years to a "student/trainee" phase if the actual career prospects are so tenuous.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2012
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