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To PhD or not to PhD...

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This may be a bit long so bear with me… So, I'm new in my field (about a year in), that I've been wanting to do since I was a kid. This is the field I love and couldn't picture my self doing anything else. I also consider myself very ambitious and want to go very far in my field. I 'd eventually like to be a leader and start my own consulting business (it could potentially be a very lucrative side hustle #multiplestreamsofincome  :P ). My field is pretty hard to break into. Fortunately, I was able to break in with only my B.S. degree, I beat out people with years of experience/higher education than me. I've been reaching out to people in my field finding mentors and whatnot and it has been echoed to me by a few people that I respect (involved in professional organizations, directors of their workplaces, etc.) that getting my PhD would be beneficial for me, financially (one of my mentors said I'd be able to jump into a good, high paying job after because I'd have the industry experience + the education. and I realize its one persons opinion, albeit he knows his shit) and personally. I also feel it in my gut that if I don't go back to school (at least Masters) I WILL be "left out" so to speak in 10-15 years.


My reasons for getting a PhD wouldn't be for just career/financial stability, I love my field and want to be part of advancing it, which I feel like I could be a part of from doing so searching on the interwebs. 


Would getting it be worth it? A few things I'm nervous about: 1) being overqualified 2) opportunity costs for being out of the workforce for years (even tho I COULD potentially make more over my life I do go) and 3) taking a "pay cut" so to speak. It wouldn't be a crazy pay cut but I'm not so sure how funding/getting paid works when you're a PhD etc. I also have a supportive SO, so that really helps.


I know it seems like I'm all about the money (does it?) but I think one would be naive to think in life its NOT about money. Any feedback would be appreciated. This forum is great…I've spent a few hours on this already and I barely made an account!

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When people with a job in the field ask whether or not they should get a PhD, I think two big (and similar) deciding factors are "Is the PhD necessary for you to advance in your career the way you want to advance?" and "Will you be obsolete in the future without a PhD?". That is, when you think about what you want to do in the future (whether it's to do more things or stay in the same position), do you need a PhD? To me, it sounds like yes but obviously only you know the full details!


To address your other concerns: 

1. I don't think you will be overqualified for a PhD program. Not sure about chemistry, but in my field, people often come in with prior experience. I would say 30% to 40% of newly admitted graduate students are not direct from undergrad--either with Masters degrees, worked in industry beforehand, worked as lab managers etc. Also, you say you are a year in your new job? Does that mean you are only about 1-2 years older than a BS graduate? Or do you mean you worked hard to get where you are and although you finally just "broke in" the field last year, you are a lot older and have a lot of past experience. There may be some concern if you are quite old (late 30s) because some PhD programs are ageist.


2. Opportunity cost is a real concern but as you say, it might be worth it in the long run.


3. In science fields, PhD students are paid a living stipend, which is usually just enough to support one person on a modest but comfortable lifestyle. Of course, whether this will be true for you depends on your own lifestyle and your actual program's stipend and the cost of living where you live. If you want numbers, my program is in the LA area (high cost of living) and campus-wide, our science student stipends are around $28,000-$32,000 per year (I think Chemistry tends to be in the lower end of this range).


I think money is a valid concern. Only you can decide if the long term salary benefits are worth a pay cut now. If you have savings from your time working, you might be able to use these to maintain a slightly better standard of living. Or, if your SO is making at least as much as a graduate student, then that's usually enough for both of you to live pretty well. 

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I'm about the money, too, so don't feel bad! LOL!


My advice:


1. So far, you have the word of one person that you need a PhD. That person may be knowledgeable, but they are still just one person. Before committing the next 5-7 years of your life, I would gather more information and opinions. What kind of position do you want to have in 10-15 years? LOOK at the people who are currently in that position - at your own company, at similar companies, on LinkedIn, whatever. Do they have PhDs? Most, all, some? If you can do some informational interviews with a few of them, that would be even better. Get many opinions; get a general consensus that a PhD is necessary and recommended for your next step.


2. Whether it's worth it really depends on the kind of work you want to do, your field, and what you define as "worth it." I have yet to make a decision about whether my own PhD was "worth it" - I could make similar money with a master's degree in the same or related fields, and not wanting to be an academic in the traditional sense, many of the jobs I want don't necessarily need a PhD. On the other hand, the PhD can be an asset for many of the jobs I want, and some of them do require one. I suppose that once I finish my postdoc and move into my actual career I'll be able to answer the question better.


There are some personal fulfillment aspects to a PhD that might make it worth it to you.


As for the salary - well, you can compare the average PhD stipend in the natural sciences (probably somewhere around $30-35K) with what you make now, multiply the difference by 5 or 6, and take into account raises you'd get in your current job (there aren't really raises in PhD programs), growth of any retirement accounts or investments you might have made in the 5-6 years. Think about whether your salary with your BS (or an MS instead) would reach the same level as the job you'd get with the PhD in 5-6 years. Or is there a ceiling effect in the PhD job, after which you really won't go much higher? If the difference is in favor of the BS/MS job, you have to decide whether the jobs you can get with the PhD are really worth the cost to you. (Or it may be that you really can't advance beyond a certain point without the PhD, which may mean that while the opportunity cost is high short-term, in the long-term it's better to do it now.)

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