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Maybe I am just bitter because I feel like my PhD was a waste of time (and I did finish), but I feel like doing a PhD is a failure in itself.

On HN a lot of people seem interested in Doctoral study and seem to praise it as a good thing, but I am wondering, are there many people out there who found their years of a PhD helped them much on their start-up?

I feel my years of PhD study and the degree have not helped much.




I think that my case is unusual, but I did a comp sci PhD, writing a dissertation on relational databases, and it's been extremely useful. I pursued the PhD because I liked writing software and wanted to study it more. No plans about academe or industry. Just seemed like a good idea at the time.

The PhD has helped in a few ways:

- I've been doing database-related startups for 20+ years, and my deep understanding of database technology has proven very useful. I could have gained some of this insight by working, but I think this path has led to a broader and stronger foundation.

- On a couple of projects, my actual dissertation subject has been relevant.

- While a PhD was off-putting to employers at my first startup (understandable, since it was also my first actual software job, and they had no evidence that I actually wanted to write software and was capable of doing so); once I got past that, the title was occasionally a useful thing to put out there. (On one occasion, I was asked to write a paper for an industry group with "lots of symbols".)

- Contacts with the academic world of databases that have come in handy over the years.


but I am wondering, are there many people out there who found their years of a PhD helped them much on their start-up?

sorry for the snarky comment, but i'm pretty sure 10000% of HNers will agree that a Ph.D. is definitely an anti-prereq for doing a start-up; in fact, it's probably the worst use of your time if your goal is to found a start-up (UNLESS you want to develop your Ph.D. thesis into a start-up, which is hard, since what is popular in research and what makes $$$ are largely uncorrelated).

that's like spending 3 years earning a law degree and then complaining that it didn't help you with your goal of becoming an Olympic swimmer


I was under the impression that it could help in getting people to take you seriously, although this might apply more to consulting than startups.


From the experiences of people I know, it helps if your startup is either capital-intensive (think building a chip) or is solving a really hard technical problem (think Google, DNA sequencing, or auto-parallelizing compilers). In those cases, the fact that you ostensibly advanced human knowledge in some small way serves as a predictor that you might be able to do it again, which inspires confidence. If your startup doesn't fall into either category -- and most don't -- it's less helpful.


I think what I find annoying/confusing is that on HN articles that have to do with PhDs are voted up and people are generally pretty positive about PhDs, rather than emphasizing that they are a waste of time to people interested in start-ups.

HN doesn't seem like the appropriate place for PhD info.


HN is no longer just Startup News, as it used to be. Topics which are of intellectual merit appeal both to startup founders as well as to PhD students. Hence the large number of PhD HNers and generally rosy picture of PhDs.

But I agree with the grandparent that getting a PhD is somewhat opposed to doing a startup (although you need many of the same skills for both).


Have you considered that some of us might like to cure diseases, build intelligent systems, or transform our energy mix? Not everybody is interested in trying to build websites.


Really, I think if you look at successful startup founders and the various other folks getting rich in the startup community ( VCs, CEOs, serial board members and angels) then folks with PhDs are vastly over-represented.

I could come up with a list, but I'd hate to turn this into a duelling-list thread. Still, start poking into the backgrounds of successful folks and I think you'll be surprised how many have a long-neglected "Dr" in front of their names.


I just got back from two weeks off of my PhD studies due to burnout, and did some serious thinking about quitting in favor of entering the small business and/or startup world because I still felt burned out. I realized that we've got some projects in flight that aren't finished and that I want to see through, because I stand to improve my reputation considerably if things go well, but if I leave now, I'm throwing out all the investment in those projects to this point.


Isn't that an example of the sunk-cost fallacy?


No. I stand to gain more than the opportunity cost of staying.


I believe the resilience, critical thinking/reading and ability to keep going are benefits I've had. Less so the actual research output.




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