Worth of a physics PhD

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  • Thread starter jamalkoiyess
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  • #26
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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
 
  • #27
Choppy
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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.
 
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  • #28
radium
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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.
 
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  • #29
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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?
 
  • #30
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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.
 
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