Should I continue my PhD? Advice needed

  • #1
56
5
Hello. I'm currently beginning my 2nd semester of a dual Msc/PhD in Physics in the top university of my home country, but lately I've been struggling with self-doubt and uncertainty about the job prospects and whether research is actually for me.

To give you some background. Since I was in high school wanted to do my undergraduate studies in high energy physics, but since the option wasn't available in my city and I didn't have the money to move to another place (student loans don't exist in my country) I enrolled in engineering physics at my state university. Being one of the top 5 students, I was invited to due a joint Bsc/MEng degree abroad in France, so I accepted since I was excited to try new things and get the chance to live in Europe for two years. I sucessfully completed my Master's courses abroad, came back to finish my Bsc, and graduated with the highest possible honors while publishing 3 scientific papers on the run. Therefore, doing a PhD in Physics seemed like the natural continuation of my career, and everyone was expecting me to go and become a renowned scientist in my discipline one day.

While I got accepted to several joint Msc/PhD programs abroad (I discarded the US since I didn't have the money to pay for the GRE examinations at the time), due to some delays from my university I wasn't able to apply for funding, thus to avoid delays I enrolled in one of the top programs in my country.

However, over time I got more and more afraid of the potential job prospects of a career in Physics, after witnessing the vast amount talented PhD students and the lack of tenure positions (especially after the science budget took some cuts). I have met many PhD graduates who are still struggling to find a job in their late 30's, and even in an extreme case one who's literally homeless even after doing two post-docs abroad. Moreover, PhD graduates who go into the industry, at least in physics, have little to no advantage over those who have a Master's degree or a PhD in Engineering.

I do love Physics and do enjoy research, and I like to challenge myself with new ideas and engage in intellectual discussions with people here. Moreover, compared to entry-level jobs which are +60 hours/week here (which pay roughly the same as my scholarship), grad school is very flexible and allows me to take some time for some of my hobbies. Nevertheless, when I think that I'll finish my PhD when I'm 30 years old, plus 2-4 years of post-docs if I'm lucky, I'm afraid that if I don't manage to land an academic position I'll basically be applying for an entry-level job in the industry by my mid 30's, when I could apply now for an entry-level job (I've received several offers due to my MEng) and in 5 years move the ladder or even find a job abroad back in Europe or the US. I'm not sure if my love for Physics is so strong as to sacrifice my 20's and early 30's in a career where there's no guarantee of success.

Could you give me your advice or opinions? It would be nice also to hear opinions of PhD students in Latin American countries.
 
Last edited:

Answers and Replies

  • #2
jim hardy
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
9,847
4,888
I'm not PhD material so can't really 'walk in your shoes'

i can tell you -
- the best programmer i ever knew had a PhD in Physics .
He had interesting work in the 1970's , automating satellite tracking for NASA and mapping Earth's gravitational field, i think in preparation for GPS.
His code set the bar for being efficient and bug-free.
He seemed happy and interested in the work he was doing.
Some of it was pretty secret weapons research.

So my opinion is
Industry needs and welcomes people who can excel.
A PhD says you are capable of that and would open a lot of doors for you should you decide to go into industry.

Could you give me your advice or opinions?
I can offer two thoughts:

1. You're going to turn 40 irrespective of whether you get a PhD en route.

2. When we reach 60, what we regret is the things we didn't do.

old jim
 
  • Like
Likes binbagsss, gleem and berkeman
  • #3
56
5
I'm not PhD material so can't really 'walk in your shoes'

i can tell you -
- the best programmer i ever knew had a PhD in Physics .
He had interesting work in the 1970's , automating satellite tracking for NASA and mapping Earth's gravitational field, i think in preparation for GPS.
His code set the bar for being efficient and bug-free.
He seemed happy and interested in the work he was doing.
Some of it was pretty secret weapons research.

So my opinion is
Industry needs and welcomes people who can excel.
A PhD says you are capable of that and would open a lot of doors for you should you decide to go into industry.

I never thought about it that way, but you've got a really interesting point. You're right, the fact of finishing a PhD says a lot about the type of person, especially in undeveloped countries where less than 1% of the population manage to get one.

I can offer two thoughts:

1. You're going to turn 40 irrespective of whether you get a PhD en route.

2. When we reach 60, what we regret is the things we didn't do.

old jim

Also never thought about that perspective, but I've indeed heard about regretting about things one didn't do in life. I will give more thought on this, thank you very much.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes jim hardy and berkeman
  • #4
Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,720
1,930
You're certainly not the first student to struggle with this. For the purposes of making these kinds of decisions, it's commonly recommended to assume the probability of getting an academic position with your PhD is on the order of 1/10. So it's much more probable that you'll end up leaving academia than it is you'll remain in it.

Pursuing the PhD is a good idea if that's something you really want to be doing. But don't doing it blindly. I think the real key is to have an exit strategy. Build up a skill set that will allow you to make a transition into the working world when you leave academia. Having done a master's degree in engineering, it sounds like you've already done some work on this. Beyond that, it's also important to weigh the opportunity cost. If you started a career-type job now, you'd have a career-type income - allowing you to pay off loans, build up savings, pay off a mortgage, etc. The PhD will delay that by several years. So, do some math and figure out what that means.
 
  • #5
56
5
You're certainly not the first student to struggle with this. For the purposes of making these kinds of decisions, it's commonly recommended to assume the probability of getting an academic position with your PhD is on the order of 1/10. So it's much more probable that you'll end up leaving academia than it is you'll remain in it.

Pursuing the PhD is a good idea if that's something you really want to be doing. But don't doing it blindly. I think the real key is to have an exit strategy. Build up a skill set that will allow you to make a transition into the working world when you leave academia. Having done a master's degree in engineering, it sounds like you've already done some work on this. Beyond that, it's also important to weigh the opportunity cost. If you started a career-type job now, you'd have a career-type income - allowing you to pay off loans, build up savings, pay off a mortgage, etc. The PhD will delay that by several years. So, do some math and figure out what that means.

I have actually considered transitioning into the world of Machine Learning and Data Science as a second option, seeing that I have a talent for programming and I actually finished my first masters while doing applied maths. This has actually helped me a lot in my research which has a good component of computing, and that's why I received several job offers upon graduation (which I now regret declining).
Fortunately I received scholarships though all my education so I'm completely debt free (I'll do have to refund the current scholarship if I don't finish, but I haven't used the money at all just in case something like this happened). However, you're right about the opportunity costs, as the time inverted on the industry will be delayed by my PhD. I'm considering that, if I'll likely end up working in a private company at the end, I don't think the PhD will be worth in terms of financial stability instead of doing physics as a hobby.
 
  • #6
Dr Transport
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,523
649
Death and taxes are the only guarantees in this world, a job in academia is a lucky draw for the very best who have connections.
 

Related Threads on Should I continue my PhD? Advice needed

Replies
18
Views
869
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
2K
Replies
4
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
2K
Replies
2
Views
584
Replies
5
Views
3K
Replies
3
Views
489
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
2K
Replies
4
Views
417
Top