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This is total anecdata, but out of my closest college friends, five of them went to get a PhD, while I went to industry. When they graduated, I was already making more than of all of them, with five years of industry experience. And I made more them them for the next thirteen years too. I never hit any magical ceiling where a PhD was necessary.

In other words, don't do a PhD if you're in it for the money.

It may open a few more interview doors for you, but honestly, at least in my experience, I wasn't even aware of which of my coworkers had PhDs. When I eventually found out, they were all just slightly older than me working at the same pay grade.




But it’s so sad to be in it just for the money. If a phd will allow you to eventually do the things that you love, that should be the priority.

Of course you can do what you love also without a PhD, but I’d argue that a PhD will eventually allow you to explore fields and things that are not economically viable.

In fact I would say that it’s just plain sad that we have to choose something based on how economically viable it is (industry) rather than purely for its interesting properties.


If you want to do something purely for its interesting properties, you don't need a PhD to do it.


If you’re well off (from family or something like that) then sure you can of course do it in your own.

However I’d rather have a system that would still allow me to get some sort of basic income (to afford a living) while doing, say, archeology studies in Ancient Rome. Such system is academia right now.


> If you’re well off (from family or something like that) then sure you can of course do it in your own.

I grew up in a below-average income family in a below-average city in America, and I carved this out for myself despite zero undergraduate degree. This meme that you have to be well off or that everyone who does it had benefactors is kinda silly.

I realize I am a sample size of one, but I really don't care for being wholly discounted in these arguments as if such a path is impossible. Was it exceptionally hard? Yes. Would it have been easier if I just finished my BS and an accepted-to MS? Also yes.

But I didn't for various reasons, and it still worked out because most of the factors that make a successful entrepreneur, scientist, and employee are exogenous to formal education anyway.

I advise people regularly to continue on with formal education; it is not like I think this is a very good track to take. But it is one that is available to those who self-study their ass off and don't mind working menial jobs to put food on the table for themselves and their families with great sacrifices.


I was talking about doing things that are not economically viable.

What kind of research do you do?


You can, but you won’t necessarily get the support that you can from a stipend, adviser, upper division courses, student colleagues, conference travel, and so on.


But someone pays me to pursue my interests, so a PhD was a fantastic choice!


I want to be a university professor purely because I find it interesting. Pray tell, in what land do I not need a Ph.D for this?


Certainly there must be a particular field of study that you find interesting -- not just the mechanics of being a university professor.


I've turned down a handful of offers to teach classes at university and I'm about 34 semester credits short of a Bachelor's Degree.

So I guess the land you need to be in is the United States of America, at least in my case anyway. Might be true elsewhere but I haven't tested my luck.


Sounds like an Adjunct position which I hate to break it to you is no where near Professor. You will likely make less than minimum wage, I have seen salaries of $3,000 per class taught, and have essentially no room for advancement.This is a common end point for PhDs that didn't get a Tenure track position and have no other choice.


They weren't. But nice assumptions.


If you aren't a professor and you are teaching classes you are an Adjunct/Lecturer which is a dead end career-wise. Maybe nice as a side gig or when you retire but a horrible position to be in otherwise.

Edit: I actually don't know what you are arguing, I think the point is that you won't get a job as a Professor without a PhD, getting teaching offers is completely different and happen to people in industry without PhDs all the time.


Being a professor also involves doing original research, leading and managing larger research projects, advising and mentoring grad students and publishing original work. Teaching undergraduate classes is just one small part of being a professor, and in many cases the part many professors find the least interesting.


I happen to have more than a handful of peer-reviewed papers under my belt, including some first authorship credits. That's pretty much how I got the offers.


Oh indeed. If your main reason to want to be professor is that you want to teach some classes and publish some papers then there are definitely options to do that via working in industry (depending of course a lot on your field). However if you actually want to be a professor and work full time within the university world, with all the pros and cons that brings, then it's very hard to do without a doctorate.

But I absolutely agree if you 'just' want to be involved with some research projects, publish a bit on the side and perhaps teach a few courses then there are many ways to reach that goal that don't involve becoming a professor.


You should not go into a PhD program in any field if you're in it for the money. This is because your department will have at least a few grad students who are in it for the love of the field, and they will work insane hours. They will have no life, and will be fine with that. They will be nearly broke and will be fine with that. You will be in competition with those people (for thesis advisors, access to equipment, grants, etc) and you will have a very miserable experience.


Ironically this is even true in investment banking. If you don’t love making deals above all else, you will never even make it to the point of being able to make the big money deals, you will wash out in the first few years.


You obviously haven’t seen the other side :). If you are working as engineer/management/sales in software products, PhD rarely have advantage. However if you walk in to the places like FAIR, Google Brain, DeepMind, you will quickly find that your background as engineer/management/sales has little value compared to having a PhD in relevant area. These places are buzzing with innovations and creativity advancing the state of the art that rest of the world looks upon. Researchers are leading this front everyday and without PhD you won’t even get that job.


Several of the examples in the article of people without PhDs work at Google Brain so you are literally wrong in this case. They are obviously outliers but either way you aren't right.


freeman dyson doesn't have a PhD either jajaja


> I never hit any magical ceiling where a PhD was necessary.

Well is that because you aren’t in a job track that has anything that would need a PhD?


Getting a PhD teaches you to be more frugal. ;-)

I have a PhD in physics. At the time that I finished college, and I think it's still somewhat the case today, the relevance of a PhD varied from one field to another. Maybe scientists just take longer to ripen. As an example, I've noticed that startup founders tend to be older in science than in computer programming.

Don't do a PhD if teenagers are getting rich in your field. Instead, decide if you belong in that field, i.e., if it's the kind of work that you actually want to do.


I don’t think significantly many PhDs are deluded enough to think they did it for the money.

You do a PhD to scratch that itch, hopefully once you graduate you can keep scratching those itches, even if often that doesn’t work out.


there is definitely a naive perception in some circles right now that a doctorate studying deep learning is a path to riches and fame. Due to misleading reports of million dollar salaries for new PhDs and so on.

It's a degree with a high opportunity cost that won't pay off financially in the long run, even with no tuition or debt. In the past I think everybody understood this but now I'm slightly more worried.


The vast majority of PhDs aren’t in ML, however. Even in ML, most are probably not in it for the “more money,” so the minority that is might actually be justified looking at all the JDs for more advanced ML jobs.

However eventually the next AI winter will come and the old lessons will be relearned again.


I was in a PhD program, I dropped out. I have been working in R&D at a large company for a while now; many of my best colleagues have PhDs, many others do not. As far as my personal experience is concerned, a PhD has no bearing whatsoever on your capacity to do solid research.

That said, I am seriously considering going back on the PhD route, because I think I’d like to spend more time teaching down the line. Kind of silly, but I have only a master’s and it seems like most higher ed institutions do not consider hiring you as a professor unless you have the magical piece of paper.


> PhD has no bearing whatsoever on your capacity to do solid research

In my experience this is not true except unless you are super genius. Most folks without PhD often keeps making same naive mistakes, for example, not studying previous state of the art, not recording experiments properly, heuristics instead of rigorous analysis and so on. PhD trains to avoid all these. It allows you to build network, identity great researchers in the field as role models and understand what scientific scrutiny entails. It is not unusual to identify paper written by someone not experienced vs someone experienced. For example, a person without PhD would often neglect to mention scale in the graphs, compute variances in findings, describe figures properly and so on. These might look minor cosmetic things but it often goes long way in overall rigor.


not studying previous state of the art, not recording experiments properly, heuristics instead of rigorous analysis and so on

??? They taught all of us that in undergrad.

a person without PhD would often neglect to mention scale in the graphs

... and they taught us about the scale of a graph in secondary school ...


> a PhD has no bearing whatsoever on your capacity to do solid research

Having worked in research at a few major tech companies now, when hiring research staff I’ve found they typical want someone in a strong position in the research community, typically evidenced by a strong publication record in the field they are recruiting in. While this can certainly be done without a PhD, I find it to be a bit rare. Our current research group is around 10 people (in a ~2K person company), 9 have PhDs.


As far as my personal experience is concerned, a PhD has no bearing whatsoever on your capacity to do solid research.

That is all well and good, but I can't name a single person in my research field who has a decent publication record without a PhD (finished or in progress).


you must do theory right? tcs? based on the name edit: AI and ML are close enough :)


Yep, mainly NLP (including the theoretical parts).


Elmo is bae


That piece of paper is actually the easy part of the entire process.


Total anecdata too - when me and my friends finished undergrad, I went to work in the industry and two of my friends doing PhDs were much better paid than me throughout their entire PhD programme - the combination of grants, paid hours for teaching and marking made their salary about 150% of mine. Only after they finished their PhDs 4 years later my salary has matched what they were making at the start.

I suppose it could be unique in a way that their PhDs were sponsored by large companies and hence well funded, but I worked 4 years a C++ programmer and never caught up with their pay.

That was in the UK btw.


This would never happen in the us where average PhD stipends are $30,000 at great schools and even a two bit programmer in the middle of nowhere USA could make $50k easily.




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