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Why do you want your Ph.D.?

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Background- I'll be starting a combined masters/Ph.D. program this August, in electrical engineering (solid state electronics). I'm finishing up a summer internship at Well-Known Engineering Company. The senior fellow in charge of my team has been hinting that he'd like me to stay on with the company and complete a masters degree part-time (and ditch my current full time Ph.D. plans). This morning, he sat me down and very seriously asked me why I want the Ph.D. so much.

Now honestly, I don't have a good answer to that question.

I struggled with that in my personal statement too. I know that I want to work on something that will be significant to lots of people, that will be a "game changer" or whatever the super-cliche word in the semiconductor industry is right now. But I know that for people to actually use my research results, they'll have to be picked up by a company, and pushed forward by them. And my supervisor's argument is that you don't need a Ph.D. to do that. A masters degree + the 4 years of work experience that you gain by not doing the Ph.D. is more useful for that purpose than the actual Ph.D. would be.

Do you guys agree? How did you decide between Ph.D. and masters? Does my lack of a good answer to this question mean I'm screwed?

Note- I'm still going for the Ph.D.... just curious about what other people think :)

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This may be more relevant for the Humanities and Social Sciences, but my best advice is that you should only get a PhD if cannot see yourself doing anything that doesn't involve getting one. If there are other occupations that you can pursue that would make you happy -- do that! A PhD is a long and grueling process, it takes about 4-6 years to complete (even more in the Humanities). These are years in which you dedicate yourself to studying one very small corner of one very small specialization instead of working and gathering actual on-the-job experience. You earn much less than you would in a normal job that you could get with just a BA or Masters, and the PhD makes you overqualified for most of the jobs that are out there on the market today. What's worse, after you graduate with your PhD, your chances of finding a job range for bad to terrible. A job in academia may require taking on a heavy teaching load in a middle-of-no-where university and takes years before you have job security (=tenure).

So, you should only get a PhD if you think the experience alone is worth it - even if 5 years later you won't get a job that requires your skills (in academia or research) and you won't mind the 5 years' loss of earning potential and experience, as well as the potential difficulty of obtaining a job because of over-qualification.

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I have to agree with Fuzzy on this one. I think you should REALLY research and consider your opitions outside of a PhD. A lot of times once you get a PhD, you are exhempted from a lot of really good positions. PhD are really for those individuals that want to do independent research- you will be required to secure your own funding, produce manuscripts constantly, present present present...and if you're looking at an academic position- you will be loaded with teaching responsibilities.

I would ask yourself: Where do you want to be for the rest of your career? What are you interested in doing? What environment do you want to work in?

You can do a lot of significant work without a PhD...I almost think you are apt to have more opportunity to work on projects that are going to contribute more if you don't do academics...if you go into a government or private research position, you will most likely be working with more money, in better facilities, and on projects that are going to have a lot of impact (depending on who you're working for and your field).

Have you talked to both academic professionals and individuals working in NGOs and perhaps government funded positions? I would talk to them, ask them about their education past, what they're doing, and how they differ between the other positions.

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The Top 10 Reasons Why I want a PhD:

1. So I can play doctor with girls.

2. I have this cool frame that a diploma would fit perfectly in.

3. I have 5 years on my hands with nothing else to do.

4. I like getting student discounts at the movies and on magazine subscriptions.

5. I am addicted to the Grad Cafe and it would be weird to lurk here without being a grad student.

6. I spent $160 on the stupid GRE exam - so I am pretty committed financially.

7. I really wanted to be a post-doc but they told me I need to be a doc first.

8. I look really good in a six-cornered cap.

9. I thought a P.H.D. stood for a Pizza Hut Driver

10. I did it for the health insurance.

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Chicks and money, obv.

But on a serious note, I want it because I took a research position at a University doing program evaluation with just a master's, and I found myself severely restricted in several ways (e.g., going after grants, as I didn't have much support in my subject area and couldn't be competitive without PhD support), and I realized that I wanted to be doing my own research and have more control over my research agenda than I was afforded. I was tired of feeling bound and like I could only rise so high without a PhD and because I couldn't picture myself doing anything else. I love my craft, and I want to continue to grow with it and get better at it. It just seemed like the logical choice.

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My dream job is professor. More for the (eventual) independence in research than anything else. I believe that getting a PhD generally offers you more independence in general in your future career.

Also, I was bored doing what was considered "regular work" in my field. Do you enjoy your job right now? It only took me a few months to realize that I didn't want to be an "Engineer I, II, III, etc" or work in consulting engineering in my field. It's an important job, but it doesn't provide me satisfaction.

Am I being stuck up, snobby, etc? I don't know, but getting a PhD is something I really want (and almost feel I need) to do.

Also, great list Fez :)

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Because I couldn't afford a master's degree.

Seriously, that was what started it -- although that's a horrible reason to do a PhD. I really love the field I'm working in, and had no way of getting professional development. It was so frustrating that schools will invest in PhDs to the point of paying them to go to school, while at the same time masters degrees were prohibitively expensive, and wouldn't bump me up in the payscale at work. Finally I decided I didn't just want professional development, I wanted to be in a position to effect systemic changes that would make it easier for others to do my work well.

That and the prospect of a poofy hat. Love the hats.

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That and the prospect of a poofy hat. Love the hats.

I always tell people that one of my criteria for PhD programs is outrageous convocation regalia, and they always think I'm joking!

I kind if hate myself for this logic, but as far as I can see, the reason I'm pursuing a PhD is that every time someone asks me what I want to do with my life I always come back to "study language." Even when I try to frame it in non-academic terms, or when I project my interests onto industry (huh?) jobs, I always end up rationalizing how it will be almost as good as getting my PhD. I don't know if in this climate it will be possible for me to get in to a PhD program or get a TT job afterward, but if I don't give it my best shot I'll never know. I never though I'd be someone that said "because I can't imagine doing anything else with my life" but...there ya go!

I guess part of it is that there isn't much in the way of "industry" jobs for humanities/social science majors. I don't know if I would feel differently if, like for engineers, there was a large pool of (highly competitive) job options.

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1. I've always wanted to be an archaeologist. (following one's dreams, how cliche)

2. I don't want a real job. Why would I? I've done one for the past 3.5 years and I can't see myself doing it for life.

3. What else am I going to do with my B.A. degrees, one in the Humanities and one in the Social Sciences? Become a teacher? Yeah, right.

4. I'm good at school and am a nerd.

Edited by Pius Aeneas

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4. I'm good at school and am a nerd.

Also, this. I'm way better at school than I am at my current job.

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The Top 10 Reasons Why I want a PhD:

1. So I can play doctor with girls.

2. I have this cool frame that a diploma would fit perfectly in.

3. I have 5 years on my hands with nothing else to do.

4. I like getting student discounts at the movies and on magazine subscriptions.

5. I am addicted to the Grad Cafe and it would be weird to lurk here without being a grad student.

6. I spent $160 on the stupid GRE exam - so I am pretty committed financially.

7. I really wanted to be a post-doc but they told me I need to be a doc first.

8. I look really good in a six-cornered cap.

9. I thought a P.H.D. stood for a Pizza Hut Driver

10. I did it for the health insurance.

Literally lol'd.

4. I'm good at school and am a nerd.

This is one of my top reasons as well.

My other reason, and perhaps my main reason, is because I can't imagine being 50 or 60 and regretting not getting my PhD. Ideally, I would like to land a TT professor job, but even if I don't, I can't imagine not trying. I know a woman who has her PhD in Italian Literature and now makes a fine living as a professional gardener, mostly working on upscale homes planning and designing their yards. She loves what she does, she loves that she got her PhD, she wouldn't change a thing about her life.

If I don't get my PhD, or don't at least try, I know for sure that I will wonder for the rest of my life, "what would life have been like if I had gotten it?" I'm not trying to live with that forever. So I'm going to give it a shot, and if it works, that's (probably) great, and if not, then it doesn't.

B) <--- sunglasses to hide fear that, as opposed to regretting not getting PhD, will actually regret getting PhD

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I thought about this a lot when I was applying. Basically, I feel that I could be happy doing any number of things, including getting my PhD and working in academia. At this point in my life, it is more "why not?" than "why?" I really enjoy school, am good at it, and would love to spend more time learning and researching. Crucially, they're paying me. Sure, I'm missing out on other earning potential, but I'm not going into debt, so if I end up not using my PhD, so be it. I think that I will enjoy the experience enough to justify spending the next five/six/however many years of my life in grad school. I've started to become a little worried when I hear other students saying that you really need to know for sure that this is what you want to do, or that a PhD can make you overqualified for things, or that you'll get sucked into the idea that not finishing or not getting a TT job is a failure, even when you're not enjoying it anymore. For me, this was the most attractive of the options I thought about for my life, but not the ONLY place I could see myself. Is that not enough?

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honestly i probably don't NEED a PhD for what I want to do which is research but feel like that if I don't i will also be stuck doing someone else's experiment which was great during undergrad but isn't how i'd like to be living my life ones i get the prevorbial real job

i have told others before that i don't particularly care at the moment where i end up as long as im doing research that interests me and is my own although as a first (starting the 2nd) year grad student it is still a long way away though that sounds selfish and a bit immature as I type it....

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My other reason, and perhaps my main reason, is because I can't imagine being 50 or 60 and regretting not getting my PhD. Ideally, I would like to land a TT professor job, but even if I don't, I can't imagine not trying. I know a woman who has her PhD in Italian Literature and now makes a fine living as a professional gardener, mostly working on upscale homes planning and designing their yards. She loves what she does, she loves that she got her PhD, she wouldn't change a thing about her life.

If I don't get my PhD, or don't at least try, I know for sure that I will wonder for the rest of my life, "what would life have been like if I had gotten it?" I'm not trying to live with that forever. So I'm going to give it a shot, and if it works, that's (probably) great, and if not, then it doesn't.

B) <--- sunglasses to hide fear that, as opposed to regretting not getting PhD, will actually regret getting PhD

Totally! This is exactly what I've had trouble expressing. It's not just "I can't imagine myself doing anything else" so much as "if I don't do it now I might end up hating myself for not giving it my best shot. I think this might be the best career for me, and even though it's super competitive and hard and under paid, I'll never know if I don't try it.

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For me, the PhD is primarily a means to an end. My dream is to work at my undergraduate institution as a professor, because I love to teach and I feel like I have a lot that I can give to the atmosphere there. I'm not too gung ho about research even though I definitely enjoy it on a good day. In order to do what I really want to do, I have to have a PhD, so that's what I'm doing. Perhaps not that inspiring, but such is life.

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My other reason, and perhaps my main reason, is because I can't imagine being 50 or 60 and regretting not getting my PhD. Ideally, I would like to land a TT professor job, but even if I don't, I can't imagine not trying. I know a woman who has her PhD in Italian Literature and now makes a fine living as a professional gardener, mostly working on upscale homes planning and designing their yards. She loves what she does, she loves that she got her PhD, she wouldn't change a thing about her life.

If I don't get my PhD, or don't at least try, I know for sure that I will wonder for the rest of my life, "what would life have been like if I had gotten it?" I'm not trying to live with that forever. So I'm going to give it a shot, and if it works, that's (probably) great, and if not, then it doesn't.

B) <--- sunglasses to hide fear that, as opposed to regretting not getting PhD, will actually regret getting PhD

Ding ding ding! Very well said, and primarily captures my thoughts on why I'd like to pursue a PhD.

I've now been out of school with my M.S. degree for three years. I have a great salary, but my office job is .. well an office job. I'm doing research in a related field, but I am mostly told what to work on (I dislike this) and don't get freedom to pursue new research topics. It's all about what the client wants (consulting). However, I am building some nice skills in analysis, presenting/writing, presented at two conferences. And I am happy that I did not go directly from B.S. > M.S > PhD. I wouldn't be nearly as prepared as I am now professionally and personally. Plus, I've dealt with office politics in my current role that tend to make some of the academic politics mentioned on this board seem like child's place. But I just don't feel the passion with my current topic/environment. Am I making a difference? Sure maybe. But I know I don't love it. I just don't. And what is worth doing unless you love it?

I knew leaving my master's program three years ago that I'd someday at least apply to a few PhD programs to see where the dice fall. If it doesn't pan out, oh well, I lose a few great years of my early 30s where I could be bringing in a nice salary. I'd always regret it, if I don't at least try. That would just kill me. My wife knows this, and is generally supportive. But we are now just trying to work out the timing of it all (the hardest part sometimes eh?). We are both fairly established in our careers/current jobs, so we'd certainly be making sacrifices (likely moving and her leaving her position). I was fairly set on applying for Fall 2013, but I think I may push to Fall 2014 to allow for her to get a promotion under her belt and us put away some more $$. Making the decision as a family is certainly harder (at times she questions it -- which she should .. there is risk), but I couldn't imagine doing it alone. I think my overall application will be better off, as I continue to build on my CV and start to realize "Hey .. I might as well apply to the best of the best programs and see what happens!"

A TT position at a nice university in a nice region would certainly be the end game. But those are few and far between. If the academic landscape is still dreary and doors are just closed, I wouldn't mind moving to an NGO, think tank, or govt lab either. I don't think that is a bad Plan B and all, other than the risk of being overeducated (or passed over because of a PhD) for some of those jobs. But what I do know, for-profit research work has just been soul-crushing... and is starting to bias my judgement so I am getting out asap!

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Also, I was bored doing what was considered "regular work" in my field. Do you enjoy your job right now? It only took me a few months to realize that I didn't want to be an "Engineer I, II, III, etc" or work in consulting engineering in my field. It's an important job, but it doesn't provide me satisfaction.

Am I being stuck up, snobby, etc? I don't know, but getting a PhD is something I really want (and almost feel I need) to do.

This was my reason, too (so if you're a snob I must be one also :P ). It's important, someone has to do it, you honestly probably get more recognition for doing it, but the regular engineering career path isn't that interesting to me either.

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Literally lol'd.

This is one of my top reasons as well.

My other reason, and perhaps my main reason, is because I can't imagine being 50 or 60 and regretting not getting my PhD. Ideally, I would like to land a TT professor job, but even if I don't, I can't imagine not trying. I know a woman who has her PhD in Italian Literature and now makes a fine living as a professional gardener, mostly working on upscale homes planning and designing their yards. She loves what she does, she loves that she got her PhD, she wouldn't change a thing about her life.

If I don't get my PhD, or don't at least try, I know for sure that I will wonder for the rest of my life, "what would life have been like if I had gotten it?" I'm not trying to live with that forever. So I'm going to give it a shot, and if it works, that's (probably) great, and if not, then it doesn't.

B) <--- sunglasses to hide fear that, as opposed to regretting not getting PhD, will actually regret getting PhD

Forgot to include this on my list, but regretting not trying to do a PhD many years down the road is also one of my reasons. I know that if I don't at least attempt it, I'll have that nagging feeling in the back of my mind constantly, especially as I see friends and relatives going for theirs. I figure since I'm coming straight out of undergrad, why not give it a try? I've got backup plans if I don't make it.

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It basically boils down to personal satisfaction.

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My first reason was that I'm really interested in my research area. I have a burning desire to do my research. Plus, we are living in a town where I am unable to do my job at the level for which I trained and don't have an intention of moving (husband is TT). Once I got in we have both started talking about the remote possibility of spousal hire-type situations. Being a prof would definitely be good, but I know it's a long shot.

Even doing some adjunct work along with my current job (which I can hang onto through my degree) would be quite satisfying and would definitely be better for us financially.

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I can think of a couple things; perhaps you've been in school too long. You can't see the forest for the smooth milky thighs. . .

hmm, and all this time i thought i needed a tan in order to be waxed poetic about...

all jokes aside, EW. sounds like you're the one who has actually been in school too long if you think that's a nice comment to make on some random message board

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