# Worth of a physics PhD

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Hello PF,
I have searched this subject over the internet for a year now but still can't get a clear view on it since the ideas and specialisations of a PhD are far too wide.
Next year i will get into university and i really want to do a major in physics to then go for a phd in the field that i would like the most. But many people on the Internet and outside told that it is not worth it , that you have to stick to postdocs and the jobs are more like misery. But also when i think about the future i see that there is HUGE number of engineers getting graduated and entering jobs that i don't think it is worth either ( engineering was my second choice)
So is it logical of me to think that a PhD is the best thing to do now since every bad review about it is 2 years ago or older? And that everyone is doing engineering so much that professors will be needed in the future and that would solve the hardness of getting into academia?

## Answers and Replies

Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
What is worth what is personal ... clearly there is no shortage of PhD students so many people think that it is "worth it".
To make an assessment you fist have to decide how you are measuring "worth" and what "it" is that you are talking about.

billy_joule
billy_joule
Science Advisor
. But also when i think about the future i see that there is HUGE number of engineers getting graduated and entering jobs that i don't think it is worth either ( engineering was my second choice)
What does this mean? It's not worth becoming an engineer because a 'huge' number of other people are doing it as well?
That makes no sense to me.

What does this mean? It's not worth becoming an engineer because a 'huge' number of other people are doing it as well?
That makes no sense to me.

Yeah i think it is a bad choice now because with more people comes less salaries and bigger unemployment ... correct me if i am wrong please

What is worth what is personal ... clearly there is no shortage of PhD students so many people think that it is "worth it".
To make an assessment you fist have to decide how you are measuring "worth" and what "it" is that you are talking about.

To define worth i would say it would give me what i love wish is physics but also give me a gappy and good life by not spending it all on begging for employment and searching for jobs . I want to have the worth of years of study ...

Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Again - that's all very personal. The only person who can tell if you are having a happy life is you.

Generally if you study what you love - you are more likely to be happy: though you may not be happy in your work, work isn't everything.
You are just starting out - since you love physics, and you can afford the tuition, study for your BS in physics and see how you go. Aim for honors.
At this stage there is no way to tell what sort of work you will end up doing.

I ended up with postgrad degrees - but only actually worked in the fields for about 10 years.
However, the insight that study has brought me has allowed me a lot of happiness and better than average success and respect in the rest of my life no matter what I was doing at the time... even when I was flipping burgers. A lot of people complain that the effort put into a study was "not worth it" just because they find they don't have a job they love ... but that is not how to use your education.

If your ides of happiness and success is a big salary - then a PhD may not be the right path for you.
For that you have to speculate - maybe medicine or law? Finance?
One form of balance would be to do LLB/BS Law/Physics... then if a physics career does not beckon you can become a litigator. Beware: not all lawyers are rich.
There are no guarantees.

Again - that's all very personal. The only person who can tell if you are having a happy life is you.

Generally if you study what you love - you are more likely to be happy: though you may not be happy in your work, work isn't everything.
You are just starting out - since you love physics, and you can afford the tuition, study for your BS in physics and see how you go. Aim for honors.
At this stage there is no way to tell what sort of work you will end up doing.

I ended up with postgrad degrees - but only actually worked in the fields for about 10 years.
However, the insight that study has brought me has allowed me a lot of happiness and better than average success and respect in the rest of my life no matter what I was doing at the time... even when I was flipping burgers. A lot of people complain that the effort put into a study was "not worth it" just because they find they don't have a job they love ... but that is not how to use your education.

If your ides of happiness and success is a big salary - then a PhD may not be the right path for you.
For that you have to speculate - maybe medicine or law? Finance?
One form of balance would be to do LLB/BS Law/Physics... then if a physics career does not beckon you can become a litigator. Beware: not all lawyers are rich.
There are no guarantees.

Thank you sir for your detailed explanation ...

Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
No worries: I get this sort of question a lot so I can make some guesses.
What I prefer to do is encourage scientific thinking - which is why you need to narrow down what you mean by "worth" or value.
A scientist would want to know how you would measure "worth" and a definition of "it" before commenting.
You need to be able to make such definitions if you are to do well in any scientific field.

However - you are really just starting out so it's a little unfair for me to expect you to get it right away.

billy_joule
Science Advisor
Yeah i think it is a bad choice now because with more people comes less salaries and bigger unemployment ... correct me if i am wrong please
I haven't seen any evidence supply is outstripping demand, do you have any?
In my country engineers are the second highest paid profession behind medicine.
While supply and demand does holds true for the job market, there are constraints on the supply of engineers (or medical doctors), getting an engineering degree is hard, it's often quoted as having the highest drop out rate of all degrees.

I haven't seen any evidence supply is outstripping demand, do you have any?
In my country engineers are the second highest paid profession behind medicine.
While supply and demand does holds true for the job market, there are constraints on the supply of engineers (or medical doctors), getting an engineering degree is hard, it's often quoted as having the highest drop out rate of all degrees.

If you take a look at Bureau of Labor Statistics website ( related to the USA gov. ) you would see that the job prospects for engineering are pretty low ( exept software ) for exemple aerospace engineering ( my favorite type ) is in decline ( -2%) .

No worries: I get this sort of question a lot so I can make some guesses.
What I prefer to do is encourage scientific thinking - which is why you need to narrow down what you mean by "worth" or value.
A scientist would want to know how you would measure "worth" and a definition of "it" before commenting.
You need to be able to make such definitions if you are to do well in any scientific field.

However - you are really just starting out so it's a little unfair for me to expect you to get it right away.

Yeah i am not even in university ... thank you

mfb
Mentor
Unemployment rates for people with a PhD in physics or related fields are tiny - especially if you don't consider those who are unemployed for less than 3 months (= some transition between jobs).

You don't "have to stick to postdocs if you do a PhD", that is reversing the logic.
- If you want to go to academia in the long run, you need a PhD and at least one postdoc, probably more than one. There are way more PhD positions than permanent staff positions, so most PhD candidates leave academia at some point.
- If you want to go elsewhere ("industry", but not limited to actual industry), you can have a PhD, and you can have a postdoc, but you don't need them.

Doing a PhD keeps you both options.

Doing a PhD keeps you both options.

Thank you sir but does a physics PhD(astrophysics or something similar) give me a better more advanced job at space agencies and high tech. companies than aerospace engineering or mechanical ?

mfb
Mentor
What do you want to compare with what? Different PhDs with each other? It will depend on the specific job.

What do you want to compare with what? Different PhDs with each other? It will depend on the specific job.
All i want to know is : what degree could get me a career in more advanced topics ... i really hate working on easy and boring stuff

mfb
Mentor
All research topics are "advanced". Otherwise they would not be new.

All research topics are "advanced". Otherwise they would not be new.

So I understand that a PhD in any scientific field could get me into advanced jobs that i like

mfb
Mentor
It won't harm (at least if money is not an issue), and some research jobs absolutely require a PhD.

jamalkoiyess
Disclaimer: I am in the last year of a PhD in ME. By bachelor's was in physics. I worked for 8 years after getting a MSME before going back to school.

A lot of what you do should be based on what you like, not what the prospects are, IMO. I do not mean you shouldn't take the prospects into account at all, but really: you have many employable years ahead and BLS projections change from year to year if you follow them for long (I have).
One thing I can say beyond this is that having a mixed but related set of degrees was a huge plus to my career in industry, so don't fret about switching concentrations between degrees.

Disclaimer: I am in the last year of a PhD in ME. By bachelor's was in physics. I worked for 8 years after getting a MSME before going back to school.

A lot of what you do should be based on what you like, not what the prospects are, IMO. I do not mean you shouldn't take the prospects into account at all, but really: you have many employable years ahead and BLS projections change from year to year if you follow them for long (I have).
One thing I can say beyond this is that having a mixed but related set of degrees was a huge plus to my career in industry, so don't fret about switching concentrations between degrees.

So you are saying i should forget the prospects and do what i want ?

It won't harm (at least if money is not an issue), and some research jobs absolutely require a PhD.

So you are affirming again that PhD result in low income

So you are saying i should forget the prospects and do what i want ?

I do not mean you shouldn't take the prospects into account at all, but really: you have many employable years ahead and BLS projections change from year to year if you follow them for long (I have).

jamalkoiyess
mfb
Mentor
So you are affirming again that PhD result in low income
No. During the PhD your income is probably lower than the income you get for other jobs. Afterwards it is probably higher. There are always exceptions, but that is the general trend.

I don't see the field of physics with dollar signs. I see it as personal fulfillment; getting all the education you are interested in getting so you can begin making some progress of your own. Basically, the drive to understand and discover. Ideally, if money is to be made in the process, it would be mostly a side effect of that effort to strive to answering questions with no current answers. Strive to either find something new, or apply something in a new way. Some kind of advancement with your DNA all over it.

The reality (as I understand it) is that everyone needs to pay for a roof and food, and maybe clothes. There is definitely a competitive aspect to having a degree or post-doc in physics - as research funding is even more competitive from experiment to experiment. And of course it is very hard to substantiate the research of some of these experiments to investors - as the result of these experiments do not always provide a practical financial return - and investors are not interested in the unknown advancements in technology these results may bring down the road.

What I say, and of course this is my personal opinion; If doing physics is what you truly want to do, then go for it. Use your drive to aim high, and don't let go. Whatever happens post-doc will hopefully end up in a positive light, but who knows. Just aim to do what you are passionate about. If you are ready to put in the work, if your drive is in synch with your passion, you will end up being competitive in your own right.

I rather get my education in something that I am passionate about and become the best at it, and maybe end up making less money - then get more pay in something that makes me hit the snooze alarm every morning.

mfb
No. During the PhD your income is probably lower than the income you get for other jobs. Afterwards it is probably higher. There are always exceptions, but that is the general trend.

Ah you said during ... okay now i understand thanks for the help.

I don't see the field of physics with dollar signs. I see it as personal fulfillment; getting all the education you are interested in getting so you can begin making some progress of your own. Basically, the drive to understand and discover. Ideally, if money is to be made in the process, it would be mostly a side effect of that effort to strive to answering questions with no current answers. Strive to either find something new, or apply something in a new way. Some kind of advancement with your DNA all over it.

The reality (as I understand it) is that everyone needs to pay for a roof and food, and maybe clothes. There is definitely a competitive aspect to having a degree or post-doc in physics - as research funding is even more competitive from experiment to experiment. And of course it is very hard to substantiate the research of some of these experiments to investors - as the result of these experiments do not always provide a practical financial return - and investors are not interested in the unknown advancements in technology these results may bring down the road.

What I say, and of course this is my personal opinion; If doing physics is what you truly want to do, then go for it. Use your drive to aim high, and don't let go. Whatever happens post-doc will hopefully end up in a positive light, but who knows. Just aim to do what you are passionate about. If you are ready to put in the work, if your drive is in synch with your passion, you will end up being competitive in your own right.

I rather get my education in something that I am passionate about and become the best at it, and maybe end up making less money - then get more pay in something that makes me hit the snooze alarm every morning.

Yeah as you said i would love physics but i want a reasonably good future .... thank you sir

Choppy
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
The Internet is full of people with opinions.

If you pursue a PhD in physics the chances of continuing on to a full time career in academia (ie. becoming a professor) are small. This is because there are far more PhDs awarded than available professor positions. The competition for those academic positions is tough. And while with most other competitions in life, hard word and perseverance can lead to you to the finish line of an accomplished goal, at the completion of your PhD you're in a pool of extremely bright, extremely hard-working people. Often the factors that determine who gets the academic positions end up coming down to things you have little to no control over: whether your PhD or post-doctoral projects become "hot" when you're applying for a position, whether the departments that happen to be hiring at the time have a group that your work jives with, whether you fit in with that group, etc.

With that said there are a number of things to keep in mind as well when considering the PhD.

The first is that you're making a decision that is about your education, NOT necessarily your career. If you choose to pursue physics, most undergraduate degrees will be set up to prepare you for graduate school because physics is an academic and not a professional discipline. Professional disciplines, liken engineering, medicine, law, nursing, etc. orient your education towards a very specific career. With an education in physics, once you leave academia, you have to figure out how to move from an education to a career on your own. Some people struggle when they search online for jobs and not much comes up specifically requesting someone with a BSc in physics

If you end up doing the PhD your education will continue. You will learn how to become an independent researcher and conduct research on a problem that no one knows the answer to. There is tremendous value in that in terms of self-fulfilment and personal growth as well as the social and academic contributions that come from the research itself.

There is also a certain monetary value to the PhD. If you look at the data, those who graduate with a PhD in physics tend to do okay in terms of salary, job satisfaction, and employment rates. That of course has to be balanced against opportunity cost. You don't make a lot of money in the five or six years as a graduate student, whereas otherwise you could be paying down a mortgage or investing a certain percentage of your full-time paycheque. And for those who end up in a position that they feel they could have gotten into with just a BSc, that cost in lost opportunity will seem very large.

Finally it's important to be wary of selection bias when reading anecdotes online. People tend to be quite vocal when they're upset about something. They tend not to post very much when they are generally satisfied. The best thing you can do is to try to factor in as much actual data as you can into your decisions. Don't be afraid to be critical of the data either.

Student100, jamalkoiyess and billy_joule
radium
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Getting a PhD is not a bad economic decision at all. At least where I am, if one chooses to leave academia it is very easy to get a well paying job industry in a research position, data science, tech etc. You could make quite a bit of money if you decided to go into finance/consulting. I know that firms will send emails to at least some physics departments and even have events for the grad students. People realize that physicists have very desirable skills which are in high demand. Prestige may also have to do with the availability of some of these opportunities though.

Consider this: if you were to instead go to law school, you will need to pay probably between $120-$170k in tuition for a time in which you do not have an income. If you are doing a PhD, you will not pay tuition and also receive a stipend. If you live frugally you will not have to go into further debt while you get your PhD.

So basically getting a PhD in physics is a good decision if you want to go into academia or get a well paying job in which you have a lot of autonomy.

jamalkoiyess
If you pursue a PhD in physics the chances of continuing on to a full time career in academia (ie. becoming a professor) are small.

Is this academia problem only in the USA ? Or is it global?

mfb
Mentor
It is like that everywhere. Every professor can train many PhDs during their career, but will leave just one position once they retire. It is not necessarily a problem (not every student can become an English teacher either), but it is something to be aware of.

jamalkoiyess