I Didn’t Question Whether it Was Worth Getting My PhD Degree Until my Second Year…
“To be honest, if I could do it over again, I never would have gone to grad school to get a PhD degree.”
The day Jess told me that, we were cleaning the -80°C freezer together. She was in her sixth year, and I’d just passed my qualifying exams in a PhD degree program.
When she said she wished she’d never gone to grad school, I nearly dropped a box of dry ice (filled with valuable samples) on the floor.
I was shocked!
Jess was someone I looked up to in my PhD program, and I never thought she seemed unhappy with graduate school.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Don’t you know what’s been happening around here lately?” Jess asked.
I was dumbstruck; I thought I was current on all the grad school gossip.
She sighed, “After all my hard work, there are no jobs. None! Everyone who’s defending this year is on the job-hunt, but it’s impossible. The only ones finding jobs are those with industry experience, or connections, and even then…. If I had known how tough it would be to get hired, I would have just left with my master’s. Staying on to finish my PhD has been a total waste.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about what Jess had told me.
I was a good student, but grad school was grueling.
Just that week, I had passed a seven-hour written exam, followed by an oral exam.
I was wondering, is all this work for a PhD degree worth it?
I wondered if I should just quit, and finish grad school with my master’s.
Some of my classmates had opted to just get a master’s, but I had planned to stay on course and complete my PhD degree.
I got even more anxious when I realized that I had no idea what my career options would be after graduate school.
I had naively assumed that with all of the biotech companies springing up around Boston, I’d be a shoe-in for a job once I had my doctorate.
After talking to Jess, though, I started to worry, was it really worth it to finish my PhD?
In the end, I did stay in grad school and get my PhD degree, and I’ve never regretted it.
Despite Jess’s anxiety during her job search, she eventually found a job she loved.
In fact, of the countless people I’ve spoken to, no one has regretted completing their PhD.
On the other hand, I’ve never met a PhD candidate who hasn’t had doubts about finishing their degree at some point.
Completing a doctorate doesn’t just require years of hard work.
It also usually means living on a small stipend, and sometimes even taking out loans.
You will need to weight multiple factors into your decision such as:
- Can you make time to take courses and write a thesis?
- Will a PhD help you to get a better paying or more impactful position?
- Is it too late to go back to grad school?
There is no question that getting your PhD degree requires a big investment of your time and money (probably more than you expect!)
So what are the rewards of sticking with your PhD program?
5 Reasons Why It Is Worth Getting Your PhD Degree, After All
Assuming you didn’t get a “zero” on the above assessment, there is a glimmer of hope that maybe your PhD is worth it. Here are the 5 major reasons why it’s worth getting your PhD degree after all the time, energy, money, and effort it requires.
If you didn’t take the assessment yet, click here to find out if it’s worth getting your PhD Degree.
Reason #1: With a PhD Degree, you’ll earn more over your lifetime than the average Master’s degree holder
From talking to thousands of people, I know that graduate students worry about the cost of their PhD degree.
Many PhD candidates think about the cost of their student loans versus their university stipends, and wondering whether the financial strain is worth it.
Money may be tight while you’re studying, but this is one area where a PhD really is worth the investment, especially in fields such as law, pharmaceutical sciences, biomedical sciences, and finance.
Getting your doctorate will make you more likely to earn a higher salary over someone with just a master’s degree.
According to a study from the US Census Bureau, using data from the most recent comprehensive national census, adults with PhD degrees earn more than those with just master’s degrees.
This is true for all the disciplines that the Census Bureau surveyed, and the differences range from a 7% increase to a substantial 33% increase.
The salary rewards for PhD holders aren’t just in academia, either.
There’s evidence that a PhD is an even more valuable asset in the private sector, particularly in industrial research and development.
The salary boost is usually biggest in the STEM fields.
The journal Science reported that PhD holders in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences, can earn as much as $20,000 more per year working for private companies than those who stay in academia.
For any industry, PhD holders are very attractive hires.
The level of discipline and specialized knowledge that a PhD requires, as opposed to simply a master’s, is absolutely necessary in many advanced, research-driven jobs.
Reason #2: You’ll have unique career options open to you that you won’t get with just a Master’s
Based on over 10 years of mentoring experience with PhD candidates, I know that their number-one concern is career options after earning their doctorates.
This question is so important that it’s a make-or-break issue for a lot of graduate students.
Based on career options alone, many ask whether it’s not a better option to just get a master’s degree.
Whenever I talk to those skeptical PhD candidates, I tell them that their doctorate will be worth it, and the data backs that up.
According to PayScale, PhDs can expect to make more money than applicants without doctorates, and have access to more jobs.
The median income for an employee with a PhD degree and less than a year experience—meaning the first job out of grad school—was almost $80,000. Someone with a PhD in the sciences, technology, engineering, or math can expect to earn six-figure incomes after getting their PhDs.
In highly competitive fields, certain positions go exclusively to applicants with PhDs.
According to a ranking conducted among almost 3,000 employed PhDs by PayScale, these jobs are worth the effort.
The average worker with a doctorate ranked themselves at the highest level of job satisfaction.
All of this is good news for graduate students with reservations about continuing their PhD educations.
After you earn your doctorate, you can expect to earn more and have higher levels of job satisfaction.
There’s another major benefit to finishing your PhD.
In addition to the salary rewards and the prestigious CV that come with a PhD, there are the connections you will make on your academic journey.
As you climb the ladder in your field, you’ll distinguish yourself as an expert, accumulating contacts who will vouch for your work.
On top of the likely salary hike and job satisfaction that come with your degree, you’ll earn valuable social capital.
Reason #3: Having a PhD Degree gives you the self-confidence that comes with knowing you stuck with your degree, instead of quitting
If your confidence is faltering in grad school, you’re not alone.
According to a 2014 piece in Forbes magazine, as much as 70% of the American population has struggled with “imposter syndrome” at some point in their lives.
This is particularly true with people on the path of higher education, since academia attracts people who have high expectations.
For graduate students, the question of how to craft their own self-esteem is essential.
To psychologists, the answer to this question is clear: self-esteem comes from personal and professional achievement.
Researchers have analyzed what gives people a lasting sense of satisfaction with their abilities.
Instead of high self-esteem leading to high achievement, study after study indicates that the opposite is true.
As a Wall Street Journal article puts it, “high self-esteem is the result of good performance.”
As anyone who is getting their PhD degree knows, the path to earning a doctorate takes a lot of both labor and time.
However, while it takes effort, it’s all in service of the field you’re most passionate about.
Once you’ve finished your PhD, you will have accomplished something that only a small percent of the population have.
You’ll have earned the respect of your colleagues and peers, and done it while distinguishing yourself academically. By receiving the title of doctor, you will earn self-confidence in the most meaningful way.
Reason #4: Your writing skills will improve tremendously as a result of writing a Doctoral Dissertation
In order to become a PhD candidate in the first place, you need a good grasp of how to write.
Going all the way and finishing your degree will push your skills to the next level, and put you in an elite category of writers.
Most people will never even attempt to write something as ambitious as a PhD dissertation, let alone finish it.
Compiling years of research—and hundreds of pages of notes—into a cohesive thesis takes organization, talent, and most of all, diligence.
Once you’ve completed your PhD degree you’ll be an expert at one of the hardest parts of the writing process: sitting down and getting started, every day.
I haven’t even mentioned the numerous papers you’ll write, or co-write.
In fact, the process of learning to collaborate is also a valuable skill, which PhD’s have an opportunity to hone.
Why is this important?
Even if you don’t pursue a career in academia, you’ll still be grateful for your wealth of writing experience. In fact, in non-academic fields, your writing skills will give you even more of a competitive edge.
It gets stronger the more you exercise it; and the more you push yourself to think about a piece and then write it out, the easier it becomes.
Even in highly-skilled professions, basic writing skills are increasingly rare.
According to a study from CollegeBoard, blue-chip businesses spend over $3 billion every year on remedial writing training for their employees.
Businesses are desperate to hire good writers, and your PhD is an indication of exceptional writing ability.
For an employer who’s searched high and low for good writers to hire, a doctorate signals that you’re a sound investment.
Reason #5: By working with your committee to get your PhD Degree, you’ll have better interpersonal skills
As a PhD candidate, you know that the stereotype of the grad student working alone is only a small part of the story.
The day Jess confessed her doubts to me about getting a PhD, we were working together on a tough project.
We were part of a team that had to juggle complicated experiments with scarce resources.
Together, we had to use teamwork and sheer persistence to complete the research we needed.
The members of our lab team each had different strengths, weaknesses, and levels of experience.
It didn’t even occur to us at the time that we were learning group-management skills.
Working alongside professors or peers in grad school requires unique interpersonal skills, which are different from typical cooperation.
Academics tend to be independent-minded and ambitious thinkers.
Plus, collaborations in grad school are often focused on extremely complex and difficult projects.
The level of emotional intelligence it takes to do research in a team a team, will serve you well in any field.
PhD degree requires building professional relationships with mentors and navigating bureaucracy to access resources.
No matter what your field, these are all skills that will give you a head start in achieving your career goals.