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Ask HN: Will getting a PhD lead to a more interesting life?
243 points by foopdoopfoop 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 250 comments
Hi there,

I'm at the end of my MSc. studies in CS. At the moment, I can choose to graduate in a month or two, or stay-on for another 9 months doing research in interactive theorem proving that will potentially lead to a PhD opportunity.

I'm doing my MSc in a foreign country and I'm very unhappy here. Another ~9 months seems like a huge hurdle to me. The current situation is if I choose to graduate soon, I will likely surrender my chance for a PhD.

I don't particularly love studying. I think interactive theorem proving is quite cool, but the actual practice of studying/research hasn't been that enjoyable to me, but I enjoy having the knowledge once I've acquired it. In many ways it seems like "the future" to me, and it'd be really neat to be one of the first passengers on that train, so to say.

I have no desire to become a professor/researcher. After I acquire my PhD, I surmise that I would go to industry.

The issue here is one of bad information: I don't have industry experience and I don't really know how any of this stuff plays out. I'm worried that if I chose to forego the PhD, I'll really regret it in a number of years. I'm afraid I won't be able to find interesting work with just a MSc, and I'm really afraid of getting a boring software engineering gig.

I'm concerned that without the expertise/knowledge/academic maturity that I would gain from a PhD, I'll be stuck doing things that bore me after a number of years, with no room to grow to more interesting things. Equally concerning to me is that I think I'd likely be miserable during the PhD process. It seems very lonely, and I don't find much enjoyment from, say, sitting in my office reading papers all day. I much prefer creating things. I also think I'm just not that bright and that a PhD would be a huge intellectual challenge for me. I'm also absolutely sick of living like a student with little financial freedom.

Does anyone have any guiding advice?




I have a PhD (in mech engineering) and work in industry.

My experience was that I basically had to pick up a new physics set and tool set every year as I jumped from algorithm development, to constitutive model development, machine learning, and quantum computing. In all cases they were tackling problems in different areas: new toolset to learn, new math to learn and new physics to learn. I thoroughly enjoy working on research problems, however I felt that there was a lot working on made up problems and forcing a square pegs into round holes so we could declare success to the funding agency when really it was a probably worse way to tackle the problem than industry standard.

Pros: I was forced to ride a learning curve with a new skill set and new area of expertise every year. I have learning to pick up skills very quickly.

I took a lot of cross discipline classes in physics, mechanical engineering, mathematics, scientific computing, chemical engineering, and materials engineering. I have a large amount of cross discipline knowledge.

I found the work fun and I basically had no boss which was nice.

The downside: I worked 60 hours a week for $20,000/year for 5 years. Lost wages ~ $500,000

The tools and skills I developed for my PhD only peripherally translate to the work I do in industry.

Advice: Get a job, the PhD will be waiting for you in 2 years if you decide you want it then. Plus it sounds like you are thinking about getting a PhD because looking for a job is hard.


I took a job after doing my MSc, with the thought of going back to do a PhD in a few years time. I did go back after 5 years, but didn't finish the PhD - I only stayed for a year.

I mostly thought that I had to do a PhD to keep learning. But I was wrong - I learn every day as a developer. I also realized that I liked broad problems rather than narrow. E.g. make a system good enough in all dimensions vs working on "perfect" overload protection.

I wrote more about it here: https://henrikwarne.com/2016/03/07/ph-d-or-professional-prog...


> Advice: Get a job, the PhD will be waiting for you in 2 years if you decide you want it then. Plus it sounds like you are thinking about getting a PhD because looking for a job is hard.

Almost no one who takes that advice returns to get a PhD, the income is too hard to give up and often life moves on which makes it hard to take the financial hit and devote the time.

The only way it worked for me was to not need much money (tuition covered and receive a stipend) and have 80+ hours a week to geek out over things that interested me. Absolutely no way I could do that now with kids. That may be one of the reasons almost everyone in my program was in their mid 20s, and the hand full in their 50s after their kids went off to college.


Not sure. I'm in my 20's and have done well enough in industry (programming) and with side projects to not have to worry about making money any more. Now that basic needs are met, the question is how to spend my time in the ways that are the most interesting to me.

As just someone with some business savvy and programming skills, I could go work as a staff engineer somewhere—but that probably won't be that interesting or impactful. If I go work at FAANG I'll probably work on ads or tweaking existing systems—a cog in the wheel.

So the idea of going back to school to try for a PhD in some interesting field is now something I'm considering seriously. I graduated from college 5 years ago and I remember thinking about how badly I wanted to stop studying and start making money in the 'real world'. Funny how retrospectively I can see how that was all subliminally motivated by finances; and now that such pressure has subsided, life is much more about fields of interest and purposeful work.

The question is then, will a PhD always lead to meaningful work, or am I digging myself into a hole, and I don't really know the answer to that.


> Almost no one who takes that advice returns to get a PhD, the income is too hard to give up and often life moves on which makes it hard to take the financial hit and devote the time.

These are all fair points and worth thinking about for the OP (or others in a similar situation). I got engaged and married while pursuing my PhD, and I found having a wife difficult, it wouldn't work (for me) with kids (although there were a few).

I worked for two and a half years before going back to school but I lived like a student for those years, so I didn't end up with a lifestyle change. I also saw a reason to get the PhD--I wanted (and still do) to be a P.I. on research endeavors.


Almost no one returns, but I don’t think money is the reason.


This is fantastic. I fetishize learning and I'm quite envious of the stuff that you got to learn. For me, the ability to learn hard things is what a PhD trains you for. Yes, it's not financially rewarding in the first few years of your career but with the right tools, mindset and some guidance from peers and one's advisor, you can put a PhD to good use.

That said, I'm not a PhD. How do you recommend one learning multi-disciplinary skills these without one?


If you have reason to suspect that the job market will be somewhat recessed in the coming time then getting a PhD might be a reasonable strategy to ride that time out.


I tend to disagree with this.

PhD's tend to work in advanced areas of companies. When recessions hit, R&D is one of the first places to take a hit.


It's the opposite. R&D is a long term investment. When a company starts a new project in a recession then the recession will be over by the time the project has been completed. When a recession coincides with the completion of a project then you can't travel back in time to undo the decision.

Recessions generally hurt companies that sell directly to consumers the most. Business to business companies are usually affected the least.


I think the idea is that you spend the recession years in a relatively safe albeit badly paid position which can potentially lead to more lucrative opportunities in the post-recession years. This makes some sense except that your skill in predicting recessions is likely horrible and you probably shouldn't be planning your career based on it.


Some years ago I remember somebody (maybe Tim Bray) had a post that the people who had the best careers in Tech would go to secure government positions during recessions, where they would generally work on crafting the standards other people would have to follow, after the recession they would move into a period of private consulting on the standards they had just designed. I think the PhD argument is a variant of that.

It is of course correct that if you are so good at predicting recessions that you could use this strategy effectively then probably your best monetizing possibility would be just predicting recessions and investing based on that. But then it is not sure that people will do the most effective thing either.


I have a Ph.D. in CS from the University of Washington. I'm glad I did it, but it's not for most people.

Academic research is like a marathon and the Ph.D. is like a marathon training program. If you don't want to run a marathon, you probably don't need a marathon training program. Yes, a marathon training program is an interesting and rewarding way to improve your running, but it's very likely you can find equally interesting and rewarding ways to improve your running that don't have the grind of a marathon training program.

I'd strongly recommend you read The Ph.D Grind at http://pgbovine.net/PhD-memoir.htm before you consider starting a Ph.D program. It's a good summary of what a Ph.D. experience at a top CS university in the US is like.


4 years ago I cold emailed and phoned you to ask for advice regarding PhD program. I followed your advice and ended up not pursuing a PhD. And yeah, I think you're totally right :) so yeah, thanks again for answering my cold-email and willing to have a phone call with me 4 years ago!


And I'm still answering cold emails to this day! Glad I could help and hope you get a chance to pay it forward.


I almost have a PhD from UW and concur. One failure mode I’ve observed in people getting a PhD is not fully understanding what it entails before starting. Later they undergo a painful period of rectifying reality and their idealized version of what it means to be a PhD student. Often realizing it wasn’t for them, and they would be happier elsewhere. I think for many people it’s important to overcome the sunk cost fallacy and leave.

Like many things in life a PhD is what you make of it, and I know many people who have had a miserable time, and those who’ve had an awesome time and everything in between. My PhD has been exceptionally tough, and not for the reasons Philip talks about, I have an awesome advisor, great lab, focus, lots of papers and it’s still just a challenging process. To me the PhD is much like ultra-marathon training, I’ve had the opportunity to do amazing things that I would have never got to do at a company for 5 or 6 years and wrote cool papers and built high impact systems. Though I’ve had to do all those things while making almost no money, and working with exceptionally limited resources.


I have a PhD in CS from the University of Washington too.. and all I can say is that yanokwa is an awesome person. :)


Kind of you to say. You aren't so bad yourself!


For context, this dude went on to create software that is used for electronic data capture all over the world, and build one of the most inclusive, diverse, and friendly communities around it I've had the pleasure of participating in. The drive behind his PhD, and what came out of it, made my life and that of many researchers and volunteers in our neck of the woods easier.

This webcast sheds some light on his motivation and perspective: https://www.geekwire.com/2013/geekwire-podcast-windows-8-ash...


I am very interested in what you replied to the email 4 years ago.


An important point is that not all PhDs are equal. It varies a lot depending on the advisor, the subject, and the lab where it takes place. Some topics are quite "niche" and will not be useful in the industry. Some advisors don't really supervise their students (can happen in the best schools, with reputable professors). Check to see if you'll have the freedom to visit other labs/companies during your PhD. It's good to see a variety of places to get ideas from people, initiate collaborations, build a network. It's usually possible, but requires initiative from your part. And you need to make sure you will not get stuck in a never ending, boring PhD.

> I'm just not that bright and that a PhD would be a huge intellectual challenge for me

Don't think you need to be bright to complete a PhD. If you're able to get accepted in a program with a decent advisor, you should have what it takes to complete your PhD. It's also a matter of personality, perseverance.

I'm pretty happy that I completed a PhD. For one thing, it's great to have more than one professional life. I did a variety of things. Worked in academia, in several labs, several countries, and now in company. I had friends who went straight working for a company after their Msc. They earned more money, but I have the feeling I had a more diverse career, and that I learned more things (even though some of them are pretty useless). On the other hand, even in the industry, there are many opportunities to do interesting things. It's up to you not to get stuck in a boring job.

There's no definite answer.


I agree with this. The choice of advisor makes a huge difference in your PhD experience. If you get along well with your advisor, have mutual respect, and are working on interesting topics, getting a PhD is an exhilarating experience.

TL;DR: Pick an advisor you're excited about.


In 2011 I was buying a Ford Mustang and I had to make the decision whether to upgrade to the V8 engine. It was $10K more (+ extra fuel) and the V6 already had 300+ horsepower. I just couldn't justify it.

Eight years later, the car runs great, and it still even gets some complements. I never once needed any extra power! But when someone asks me, "Does it have the V8?" I have to tell them, "Naw, it's just the V6."

At the Ford dealership, you're paying $10K for nothing else than to be able to tell people, for the next 8 years, that you bought the V8. And it might just be worth it.

That's advice on whether to get your PhD, by the way, but it's a few more than 8 years.


For some people, the V8 means much more...the sound, the torque, and perhaps most importantly, a stronger platform for tuning and power that a V6 simply cannot offer.

Perhaps people doing PhDs also have different motives and intentions for how to use them.


Also, for people into that sort of thing, a V8 has more value for a collector than a V6 just by virtue of rarity.


In 2011 I was just finishing my PhD, so I couldn't afford a new car. At least my brain has that V8 now...


CS PhD from Stanford in dynamic program analysis. Lost all my friends. Ghosted by companies for jobs directly related to my research. Everyone I knew who went directly into industry is doing way better than me. My salary has only tracked inflation. I sorely regret the decision and consider it to have fundamentally ruined my life beyond repair.


>I sorely regret the decision and consider it to have fundamentally ruined my life beyond repair.

Are you sure you would not feel the same way had you gone straight to industry? Musing over those who stayed, got their PhDs, and are in fascinating, high paying jobs?

My suggestion is that you try not to have an external locus of control.

I spent 7 years in grad school, realized a PhD won't get me the job I was seeking, and quit. As a result, everything you say is also true for me, and I don't even have the degree to show for it.

But I also know that grad school was a great time for me, and I did get most of what I wanted out of it. As for my not-so-great industry outcome, I do know I'm not really putting a huge amount of effort to improve it.

The PhD is about the journey. The certificate at the end is just a technicality. Could it be that you valued the certificate more than the journey?


It's also easier to have rewarding high paying career in the industry.


> I sorely regret the decision and consider it to have fundamentally ruined my life beyond repair.

This is an incredibly worrying statement; nobody should feel that way. Do you mind if I ask why you think it has not only ruined your life but so much that it is unrepairable?


Imagine telling any of the thousands of homeless people in the Bay Area that a Stanford PhD program “ruined my life beyond repair”.

Maybe it is a lack of general life experience that is holding you back.


It seems to me that as a Ph.D. you have, largely on your own, figured out how to solve some very hard problems and smash some very large rocks. The hard problems/big rocks you are faced with now have just changed somewhat: finding work you enjoy; making enough money and/or matching expenditures to income; forming/restoring friendships and social bonds. Those are very challenging problems, but they are solvable.

Regarding being ghosted: 1) it's not you, it's the research job market and/or the the stupid way most companies hire people, and 2) companies routinely ghost applicants - it's incredibly rude but shockingly common. Job-hunting is a weird game but there are probably some winning strategies.

And as Kierkegaard didn't say: "Get a Ph.D., and you will regret it; don't get a Ph.D., and you will also regret it; get a Ph.D. or do not get a Ph.D., you will regret it either way...This, gentlemen, is the essence of all [doctors of] Philosophy." ;-)


> Ghosted by companies for jobs directly related to my research

This is unexpected. What's going on there?


If it's the same story as most other fields, the related jobs available require either:

1) No phd, because those either command a high salary, or are likely to jump ship for higher pay as soon as they meet qualification 2:

2) A phd and previous experience, because the job can't be trusted to someone fresh out of school without practical experience.

That was more or less the story from all of my circa 2008 friends who graduated with bio/chem engineering type degrees, trying to decide between grad school or entering industry, at least...


This has happened to me a bit too.

Along with the factors that @zdragnar mentioned, funding for industrial R&D isn’t very stable either. One place I interviewed lost the contract that would have funded my position; another place with a lot of goverment projects decided to freeze hiring due to “political uncertainty.” Neither place was particularly upfront about this, but their decisions do make a bit of sense.

There’s also a ton of misunderstandings between the academic and industrial folks. “Expert in machine learning” in a job posting might mean anything from “a few years experience” to “I literally wrote the book on this topic.” Likewise, it is also hard to present accomplishments in a way that impresses both sides. There’s certainly a lot of currently-empty room for specialized, savvy recruiters (and if you are one, looking for a neuro/ML person, let’s talk!)


I have heard it anecdotally time and time again, "Overqualified".

Specialization only pays more when there's demand for the exact specialization. Nobody wants to pay a PhD and risk them moving onto the "perfect" position when the same job can be done by somebody more generalized.


Couldn't OP just not list that on the resume/application? This seems like a solvable problem if it's as bad as they make it out.


This is the solution.

I once worked with a guy that had a law degree. He never listed that law degree when applying to software engineering jobs. People figured he'd just go back to law, even though he hated practicing law.


MIT PhD. This is currently happening to me at the moment. From what my old labmates tell me, it is par for the course.


Why not just take PhD off your resume and just say you were having a sabbatical


A quick google search says that grad students are 6 times more likely to experience depression than the general population, so that is something to keep in mind!

And a survey at Berkeley (your rivals/colleagues across the bay) found nearly half of Ph.D. students showing signs of depression.

https://www.chronicle.com/article/Grad-School-Is-Hard-on-Men...


There are always people better than you in this world no matter you've a PhD or not but you can always find a niche market and grow your expertise there.

Your friends maybe waiting for your call. Be proactive.


Could you elaborate why you assume that your knowledge and skills can't be recycled in another (engineering) area?


Not the OP, but often times people coming out of PhDs don't have applicable engineering skills that are used to deliver actual products to actual people. Getting results to put into a publication and delivering a product that people rely on are two skillsets that have very little to do with one another.


Drop the PhD from your resume and try again?


This will sound rude and I’m sorry but there is no way your entire life is ruined because you decided to get a PhD from one of the top 5 most prestigious institutions in the entire world.


As sort of rude as this is I have to agree. If your life can be fundamentally ruined by this then there's a major blindspot in play.


It's all about perspective. Also, I'm betting 5 years from now they no longer think that.

Sometimes it's hard to see very far when you're in the weeds, but once you get to the other side it's easier to look back and realize it was absolutely worth doing, even with the challenges.


I totally believe it. Debt sucks. Being smart (passed a certain point) sucks. Plus, think of the lock-in, losing friends, etc.

Basically, he sold his soul, and I don't blame him for thinking he's not going to get it back.


I'm prepared to believe that going deeply into student debt can have this effect. It is a very insidious form of debt that can't be discharged through standard bankruptcy.

My understanding is that it's possible to avoid this through TA or RA positions with tuition waivers, at least at reputable programs. So I think the question of debt should be considered somewhat separately (though not entirely separately, as this insidious form of debt doesn't existing the world of stupid mortgages or credit card irresponsibility, where at least you have the topic to collapse in bankruptcy and, 7+ years later, start anew. Forever debt lives in the hellacious realm of student loans, divorces, and Dickens novels).

I mastered out of my PhD program, largely partly because I got a good job outside with money and fun projects, and partly because I was struggling academically. I do occasionally "wish" (eh, not really) that I had a PhD, but that's because I work in a university (although in a technical track). I accept that research positions aren't open to MS holders in Universities (or in some industry positions), but the degree ceiling definitely extends into non-research positions that would be available to MS (or BS or no degree) holders in non-university tracks. This, however, is my own deal. If I don't like it, I need to leave, so I wouldn't expect anyone to give this complaint much force.


There's typically no debt doing a STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) Ph.D. in most places, unless you're talking about undergrad debt.

STEM Ph.D.s are like jobs. You get paid a stipend (the financial package typically requires you to work as a TA/RA).

A few data points. My Ph.D. program paid me $30k/yr tax free over 4 years. Prestige scholarship holders were able to get even more, maybe $45k-50k. (my numbers are old -- I got my Ph.D. nearly a decade ago)

I've had friends at Princeton who received packages in the range of $28k-$35k/yr from their engineering depts.

Not a huge amount of money, but enough for a single grad student to survive on. I have a friend who did a Ph.D. in Math at Stanford, and he didn't have to pay cent.

Debt is generally not a common issue for STEM Ph.Ds.

Humanities/Social Science Ph.Ds. on the other hand are a completely different ball game. I've heard that many live in relative penury and rarely finish on-time (taking anywhere from 5-7 years). Humanities Ph.Ds. please add data points.


It is still pretty much the same, the UW stipend in Seattle is enough to rent an apartment in a nice neighborhood and eat well. Not an extravagant life but no one is going even 20k into debt, let alone 50,100,200k that people do for other professional paths.

I know Stanford PhDs have even higher stipends to offset the costs of Palo Alto.


I did not know that debt was a mitigated issue for Ph.D's. Thank you for informing me.

If that's the case, and he can literally just light his diploma on fire and walk out into the world without any huge burdens (like debts), then it does seem strange to say it ruined his life.

Perhaps he let someone go who he really adored and is being romantic. Or maybe he thinks he has to keep following this path.. but if he's free to start over, there's no need to worry about the old ruined life anymore.


A PhD will probably make your life more "interesting" in the Chinese proverb sense[0].

At least that's the impression I get from a lot of PhDs. I don't have one myself, and I used to regret that, but not anymore. PhD work is hard, thankless, underpaid work that has little to no value in industry. Although it does open up opportunities to even more hard, thankless, underpaid work in academia.

The one exception is Machine Learning. A PhD in ML can apparently get you paid millions in the industry.

But if you already consider 9 months a huge hurdle, consider what a hurdle 4 years will be.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_you_live_in_interesting_ti... (It's apparently not based on any actual Chinese proverb or curse.)


Who knows!! By the time you graduate, ML may be out of fashion OR there may be too many ML PhDs by then.

I got my PhD in 2008 and my room-mate was doing a PhD in object recognition. Fei-Fei Li (who now is a bigshot at Stanford now) was a professor at UIUC in the same group. In the pre deep-learning days, object recognition was tedious, boring and un-cool. Semantic web etc was hot then!! And look at things today.


4 years is generous. I know very few people in the states who have gotten their PhD in only 4 years.


It's the best-case scenario. I figured comparing 4 years to 9 months was bad enough, but it could easily turn into 9 years. Or more.


That's because in the US, PhD is actually the combination of masters degree (typically 2 years) and PhD (typically 3-4 years) in other countries.

At least in sciences, US universities don't typically even offer a MSc program; people can get MSc by enrolling into PhD, which is typically the only available graduate program, and quitting it after completing the coursework.


That isn’t really true either. We don’t receive masters degrees unless we do a gentleman’s withdraw, then it’s only an M Phil. If you come into a PhD program with an MSC, you can still take 8 years to finish, ya, you get to skip some course requirements, but that isn’t where the majority of the time in a PhD goes.

MSC’s aren’t offered as much anymore because they had the same problem as PhDs (it could take 4 years to finish one) without the prestige of a PhD at the end. They don’t even guarantee much of a jump start on a PhD. These programs have mostly been replaced by professional non-thesis or thesis-light options, along with “5th year” programs at universities that tack on a few courses and a straightforward thesis to an undergrad program (MIT is famous for these, many universities have copied that).

European universities often have the latter 5th year programs as well where they are considered even more crucial because many of them have only 3 year undergraduates.


What exactly isn't true about it? In all institutions that I know all, students are given MSc status as soon as they complete the requirements, not M Phil (never even heard of it).

Some students leave the school after that point, but it doesn't invalidate their MSc, nor their MSc gets converted to M Phil or whatever. It's not a common thing, but I've seen students drop with MSc mostly because of issues with their supervisors (tenured faculty without much incentive to do research at a good pace).

Edit: I looked it up, and apparently, you're making a blanket statement based on a niche practice in a handful of US universities: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_of_Philosophy#United_St...

"Although most American universities do not award the MPhil, a few award it under certain circumstances."


And it takes 2 years for most students to meet the MSc requirements (basically they need to complete the coursework), not 4 years, barring some special cases. Again, I'm talking about the common practice, not the handful of exceptional universities in the US you're referring to.


Many universities just toss you an MS degree along the way for free in your PhD, but coming in with one has no real effect on your PhD length besides waving some clad requirements. At the end of the day US PhD programs just assume you will do 5 or more years of research, for those looking to be professors this is a boon as many US PhDs skip the postdoc step often required for EU PhDs which are typically 3ish years.


In many US schools, an undergrad entering a PhD program will need to satisfy the Masters requirements along the way. The only way you don't end up with an MS degree is if you forget to file the paperwork.


It depends on the discipline. In the geosciences, MSc degrees are the typical 'working degree'. If you want a job, you basically need one, therefore lots of schools offer them. Most people spend 2-3 years on an MSc and then hopefully get a paper or two out before starting work or going on for a PhD (another 4-8 years). You also have to have a pretty solid thesis to get the MSc so you can't just bow out of a PhD program.

Some of the more academically-focused (private) schools don't have much of an MSc program but they're atypical, and they don't dominate research like they do in other fields.


Oh yes, all my experience is for computer science.


> has little to no value in industry.

So what ? It has great value to history and humankind.


The average case of a PhD (even in machine learning) is that a handful of people will read your work, and you'll get cited a few times. That's it.

The analogy I've always used is that researchers are like miners in a gold rush. Most workers take their pickaxe, labour at the rock face, and come away with little more than sore muscles. A lucky few will strike gold (sometimes by looking in the right place, sometimes by working hard, and sometimes by being lucky). You need all those hundreds of people labouring away to find the gold, but the efforts of a single worker matter less than you might think.


This is exactly how I decided to go.

If your goal is to maximize your lifetime income, academia is clearly not for you, but neither is the Peace Corps, the clergy, civil service, or anything like that. However, if you can afford to spend a few years trying to make the world a better, more interesting place then grad school isn’t a terrible option; you can always do something else afterward.


I find that to be a funny statement. Would you actually argue that every single phd has "great value to history and humankind"?


No, of course not. I would argue that:

- Some do, and we're really bad at figuring out which ones the are, especially ahead of time.

- It's a collective effort. Your thesis and my thesis might not be particularly groundbreaking or influential individually, but each one is a tiny step, more or less in the right direction, towards understanding something. It's mostly a myth that "geniuses" make huge leaps forward, while everyone else muddles around. Most ideas are presaged in the literature for a while before someone puts them together and runs with it.


I find it sad when people have no other metric of value other than $$$. "I can't sell this, what is this?"


It's not about money.

The large majority of phds collect fewer than 20 citations. Most papers are ready by only a handful of people. "Screaming into the void" is a pretty accurate representation of many phds (including my own).


Working in industry and making money also contributes to humankind. Whatever the company is doing must be of some value in order to make money. So someone who may not have the right motivations to getting a PhD is probably better suited to move into industry sooner rather than later and be the most productive contributor to humanity as possible.


I agree with you on the point that money is overemphasized, but does a PhD really mean you're more likely to add great value to history and humankind?


Yes, that is basically the job description; the point of a PhD is to contribute new knowledge.


PhD's doesn't contribute new knowledge, they contribute knowledge that can't be proven to be old.

It might sound similar, but it is not. Let me explain the difference:

A person performs a study creating lots of data. If he wanted to contribute to human knowledge he would publish the data with no comments, as he is probably not the best person in the world to analyze this data. If on the other hand he was a PhD he would not publish the data, instead he would publish some pet theories related to the data so that he can build his brand, and most of all he will absolutely not publish the data since it could possibly be used to prove that his pet theories are not relevant or maybe even wrong which would be disastrous for his brand.

Now there are of course PhD's who do the right thing but it doesn't benefit their career at all.


I would argue that, while the pursuit of new knowledge is surely admirable, not all of it can be assumed to meet the high bar of being of "great value to history and humankind".


But in fact most often old topics are revisited with slightly different approaches.


I’ve always been curious about why people write “$$$” instead of “money”. maybe you could elaborate


I can't speak for the person you replied to, but sometimes this is done as a way of disparaging money and the desire to have some, perhaps in the same vein as writing "Micro$oft".


I don't know, I guess it's a bit more cartoony.. The dollar sign is tightly connected to concepts like profit/capitalism etc


Maybe humankind should reward it more, then.


I think you're on to something here.


many of us do. or are you saying it should be mandated by the people who have all the weapons?


Well if it has no value to industry, chances are it has no real value to history/humankind other than "oh that's kind of interesting"


Value isn't always apparent immediately. Quantum theory seemed largely useless, but now it's useful in computing.


> ... but now it's useful in computing.

I do hope you're not referring to the google leak. That result is merely unreproducible with classical computers. It isn't currently useful for anything except PR.


Unless you mean something very specific by "Quantum theory" I don't understand how you can even make that statement about such a broad topic. Quantum mechanics are extremely useful.


I got my BS in CS 16 years ago. I always thought I'd go back for a PhD, but every time I started looking, I quickly lost interest. (I don't think I'll ever get one.)

But, here's the important quote:

> After I acquire my PhD, I surmise that I would go to industry.

Go into industry first. Why do I say this? I've been involved in hiring for about 8 years, and I've only seen a very small amount of candidates with PhDs. (They usually come from inexperienced recruiters who don't know how to hire software engineers.) The candidates fresh from a PhD program usually have very little experience in complicated software engineering, and thus will work at the same level as a recent college grad. The only time they are useful is if their field of study directly applies to the work we're doing; but I've never seen a PhD candidate like that.

The thing to realize is this: (Computer Science) != (Software Engineering). Industry mostly does software engineering; it only gets into "computer science" if you're writing a compiler, a database, ect. So, unless you pick a field of study that industry will need when you graduate, you'll end up being as useful as an entry-level CS grad.

BTW: If you find something interesting, you can always leave industry to go back to school. It's critical, however, that you set up your finances to do that. Going back to school will be a huge paycut, so you need to make sure that you don't have a big mortgage, large car payment, ect. (That being said, assume that you'll work for 5-15 years before going for a PhD, so if you buy a nice car now, and pay it off, you'll start your PhD program with a free used car in good condition.)


> Industry mostly does software engineering

I would extend this thinking even further...

Most industry jobs aren't even practicing "Software Engineering". Algorithms, data structures, discrete math... that's totally outside of the day to day work for most "Software Engineers"

If you're building an app (web, mobile, desktop) it's largely plugging pieces together nowadays. You're likely using libraries that were built using "Software Engineering", but the end user practice of assembling those pieces into a functional user-friendly application is more akin to a construction worker assembling the 2x4s to build a house.


What do you think a Civil, Mechanical, Industrial engineer does? Do you think a Civil Engineer is going around re-working how buildings are designed?


I was thinking of getting a PhD 4 years ago. I applied and got accepted to CMU master's program in robotic vision. I planned to go through the program and worked my way to get into a good PhD program because I didn't have enough credential to apply directly to good PhD programs. After thinking through it, I decided not to even do the master's.

Throughout my thinking process, I spent everyday and lots of weekends sitting at coffee shops crunching through research papers. And what I found was that a lot of of the papers were not directly relevant to the industries, it's just like what somebody said in the comments: a lot of research projects are like trying to hammer a square peg into a circle hole. I'm sure some of them will make great impact. For example, the research about neural network had been done since the 80s, it just happens to take off nowadays because computers back then weren't good enough. But when I asked myself: "What am I really looking for?" I realized that I wanted to work on something that makes an immediate impact. Especially because I grew up and raised in a developing country, a lot of problems here are super immediate. (i.e. poverty, hunger, lack of educations, etc) As so much as I'm genuinely curious and interested in many of the research topics, I realized that my stamina didn't lie in curiosity and interest alone, but more in the immediate impact I'm making. For example, I learned that I'm much more fulfilled to work on something super practical and can be immediately useful to people.

Even though I didn't end up doing a PhD, I still occasionally spend my time reading conference papers. My curiosity and interest are pretty much satisfied through that. I'm much more interested in exploring interesting applications of such ingenious research rather than doing going super deep in a particular topic and be the one doing the research. Magic Pony Technology is one of the companies I look up to. I think it's a brilliant way of turning research into something practical


> "I don't particularly love studying"

> "I have no desire to become a professor/researcher"

I don't have a PhD, but my take is that if you don't like/want those things, then a PhD will be a big waste of time.

It sounds like you're in a situation that you don't currently like, and are hoping that a PhD will help solve that for you; but I suspect that you'll find that being in a PhD program will feel like more of the same.

Also, if you have published papers, and keep up with current research and publishing papers, then you _can_ go get a PhD after being in industry for awhile if you think it was a big mistake. You don't have to do one right after a masters.

I hope you figure out what you want to do - And good luck with whatever you decide!


It looks like you're an American expat studying in Germany.

A lot of PhD's there go directly into industry, so much so that's from my observation it's the norm instead of the outlier.

You would likely only surrender the chance for a PhD at your institution - and even then, only with your Chair. Funded PhDs are treated like a job and you more or less apply for them just like any other job opening. If you don't like what you are researching, but you are interested in holding employment that involves research, I would recommend looking for a funded PhD at another institution. Applicants with a technical background are at a premium in other fields, so you wouldn't even necessarily have to worry about sticking with CS.

So, here's my recommendation:

1.) Stick with your current research for the rest of the academic year. It gives you something to do while you're looking for employment.

2.) Start browsing one of the many job boards for EU academic positions. Find something you like.

3.) Start browsing any of the job boards for private employment - EU, US, or otherwise.

4.) Do a couple of interviews. If you find something you like, whether in academia or the private sector, go with it.

5.) If you don't find anything, and if you're offered the PhD position at your university, think hard about whether or not you want to take it. Research as a PhD is different (you're treated more like an employee).

Also think about what you don't like about your current research and where you live. Are you dissatisfied because of cultural reasons - which is definitely an issue in the expat community - or are you dissatisfied because of your line or research or your academic environment?


In Germany? Things to keep in mind:

1. There is no time limit when doing a PhD. I know several colleagues who did a PhD in Germany who took more than 10 years. Those were not pathological cases.

2. It's definitely useful to have the title when getting a job and it helps to get some specific positions. And it opens the doors for interviews in this country. Though, even in Germany: Compared to just starting to work and getting experience that way you are likely to lose money, even in the long run.

Doing a PhD is a job, one that is not very well paid. It can be pretty great if you are okay with the money you earn and if you can enjoy the time. A good PhD program: Not too much work (I recently passed by the university at 14:30 on a Friday, there was one single soul), interesting work, something specific you get in the end. But for that to work positively it has to be something you enjoy doing. If you'd see it as lost time, it will be lost time. It has to be in a city and a country you like where you can be with people you like and work on stuff you enjoy. OP, it sounds as nothing of that would be true for you - and if not, a PhD is the best way to reach a burnout or a clinical depression. Don't do it.


Most of your post reads as if you really don't want to do a PhD, but are looking for someone to convince you to stay. We can't really help you with that.

If you really want to do a PhD, I thought I should add a clarification regarding this:

> Equally concerning to me is that I think I'd likely be miserable during the PhD process. It seems very lonely, and I don't find much enjoyment from, say, sitting in my office reading papers all day.

My PhD was by far the most intellectually stimulant job I ever had, and now that I'm in industry I find myself missing it. This is of course dependent of your research group, but some of my weekly PhD activities included

* a weekly seminar where we would all read a new paper and discuss it

* a weekly course on specific research topics - first it was Neural Networks, then it was Reinforcement Learning. We made a point of having a programming part to it, in order not to remain purely theoretical.

* optional courses on topics that each one of us found interesting

* discussions with other researchers who would come to our offices and ask for input regarding a specific problem they had

* a weekly "meeting" in which we got together to have cookies and talk about life

Add the yearly sprint to get things ready for a conference and the random tasks such as organizing a conference, and the end result was that there was always something new to keep myself busy.

Of course, not all PhDs are like mine and some people are truly miserable. But it's not a given that all PhDs will be like that.


there was always something new to keep myself busy

Doing phd research didn’t keep you busy?


How is your mental health? A PhD takes a significant toll on the mental health of a large chunk of the students. It is hard work, you are paid peanuts and sometimes the completion joy is not worth it.

If you are not enjoying what you do, you are doubly at risk of developing mental health issues. As someone with a PhD and who works in academia, a PhD is just a degree. It is not worth the risk of depression.


A lot of good advice here already. Here's something which may be a factor in your thinking. This is what I've observed since I moved to industry post-PhD: A PhD helps one gain scientific maturity simply by giving one full 'make-or-break' ownership of a project. In industry, it is very rare, especially for a junior person, to completely own a difficult and complicated project, in a way that it just won't get done right if they don't do it right. And maybe after the first successful project, you look for a new one, that experience will add to your scientific maturity as well.


I think there are some people who really want to do research more than anything else. They should do PhDs. People without this compulsion are probably better off doing something else.

I was joking with a friend the other day about interview questions which pick out the people most likely to succeed at research. The consensus was that this is the best discriminator:

"Do you ever wish that all your friends and family would just vanish so you could get more work done?"


If my answer is “Yes, but only temporarily!” does that still count?

For real though, this comment confirms all of my intuition. I’m about to start a PhD at the age of 36, with a spouse and child to support, and I know my bank account will never forgive me for this. But... I can’t not do it.


I hope you have a good supervisor and I wish you good luck!


Geology PhD here, caveat emptor:

If you don't find research compelling, then don't go for a PhD. It's not worth it on any front--you'll be broke, stressed and miserable for years and then quite possibly quit with little to show for it.

I think the concerns about a typical software engineering job not being interesting or allowing for intellectual growth or exploration are also overblown. Programming is pretty special in that there are a lot of different ways to do things, and the barrier to entry is incredibly low. If you're bored you can spend what work time you can get away with, and what personal time you have, and explore side channels or new approaches to optimizing parts of what you're already working on.

Interactive theorem proving is indeed cool, but it's not the only thing out there, and if working on it comes with a certain lifestyle that you find untenable, then don't feel bad about passing on it. There are lots of cool things to do, and plenty of other trains to be one of the first aboard--just keep a look out while you're doing whatever you end up doing.

Furthermore you can always go back and get a PhD unless other circumstances (i.e. kids and the need for a higher income) get in the way.

That being said, I got a PhD and it definitely made my life more interesting, but I'm a committed research scientist and would rather do nothing else, so there weren't a lot of other options for me.


I did a PhD in Computer Science but chose to go to industry (not research lap). My PhD had zero effect on the job opportunities OR quality of job. Did a couple of startups after and that gave me a lot more fulfilling experience. PhD teaches you somethings like how to judge a problem but you can learn the same thing in a much shorter timespan e.g. by trying to do a startup.

I would say, unless you are 100% sure you want to go to academia or research lab, DON'T do a PhD. You will never regret it. Also, it is never a one way street. After a year or two working somewhere if you find out that PhD is your true calling, you can always go back to graduate school. You will get into a better graduate school. The PhD you would then do will likely be better too. Nothing against automated theorem proving (don't know what it is) but likely your industry experience will give you a better perspective on how to pick a better problem.


Here is my general related advice for people thinking about a Ph.D. in STEM. In no particular order

- don't go to a program unless you are paid enough for it to at least cover costs. Preferably an ok salary.

- it will likely hurt your lifetime earnings, think about if that matters to you.

- done right, it's probably the most interesting work you will have for it's own sake

- ... but it probably wont' have any broad impact

- absolutely do it if you think you want an academic career

- ... but think about a plan B for when you decide you don't, or they decide you won't

- if you are going because you want a more "interesting" career in industry you usually should have

a) worked in that industry before going and

b) have a precise idea of the degree program, topic(s), and then the jobs you are targeting

- it will be a lot of work, and a lot of fun. Sometimes on the same day but not always. If it isn't both on average you should consider leaving.

- the degree itself isn't going to do much for you in industry unless your area of study overlaps with something in current demand. That's often a bit of a crapshoot when you are looking 5+ years ahead.

- if you are considering going because you can't think of what else to do at the moment, don't.

- some jobs will pass you over because they are worried you will be bored. Sometimes they are right.

- some jobs will pass you over because they are worried you are "too academic". Sometimes they are right - you will have to prove you are practical also. This will take time.

- some jobs will pass you over because they don't value the education or think you didn't gain anything useful from it. They are mostly wrong (but consider if you want to work in that environment).


Don't do the PhD. They always take longer than the advisors' rosy estimates and if you're unhappy, it will seriously harm your mental health. If you dislike studying, getting a PhD isn't for you as that degree tells employers "here is someone who studies and researches" and thus you may be on the hook for more school- like work.

I'd say just go into industry now, if you truly want a PhD later on, do it where you'll have a better chance of mental health and prosperity.


There are plenty of PHD's who lead thoroughly uninteresting lives, there are plenty that have exciting and meaningful lives.

Your degree isn't what makes your life interesting or not, nor is your job title, nor is your job, nor is how much you get paid.

The premise of the question is wrong, IMHO.

If you're "not sure" about the PHD, take some time off and work for a couple years in something challenging and then decide if the PHD is right for you. You'll still be sharp enough to resume the studies and you'll have more experience from which you can base your decision.


> Your degree isn't what makes your life interesting or not, nor is your job title, nor is your job, nor is how much you get paid.

So a day laborer in India has equal chance at "interesting life" than a researcher at google ?


I have been a day laborer (not in India) and worked at Google (not as a researcher) so I might be close enough to both worlds.

While my time at Google was very exciting for me, it didn't yield any stories that friends or family ask me to retell. Compared to "the time my boss asked me to catch running circular saws he would slide down a roof at me", "that time I found a complicated XSS" just lacks pizzazz. And since I worked hard, I had fewer off hours to generate stories like "the time <well-known political figure> got so mad he called me an asshole in a room full of donors" or "the time I got second place in a drunken knife-catching contest".

The net is that based on that coarse metric of how often retellings of stories from various times in my life are requested, my life at Google was actually one of the least interesting I led, and I suspect that will be generalizable for most people without a straight-line path through life.


> my life at Google was actually one of the least interesting

I am assuming, you don't really care about living an interesting life as you traded an interesting life for one that insn't.

Also, when I say "day laborer" I am not talking about educated people who do that for a while. I am talking about ppl stuck in that situation with no way out.


I was a day laborer before I went into tech or got an education. And (like most people, I suspect) I do care about living an interesting life-- I just didn't know that I was trading that away. Didn't figure it out for a long time, actually.


> I do care about living an interesting life

Why can't you simply reverse your course of action though. Now that you have better understanding of both sides of it.


I did. I left Google to take a job that is both more interesting and that leaves me more time to do interesting things.


interesting != happy != success != wealth

These are all different, often orthogonal things.

There are people who are "stuck" in a socio-economic dead-end who still lead happy and interesting lives, nonetheless. They are able to take their situation in life and make the best of it.

The OP can do the same. He certainly has far more opportunities than a day-laborer or subsistence farmer. In a way, that abundance of choice is a burden. But nowhere is it written that PHD's are guaranteed to be "interesting", or even more interesting than anyone else.


> He certainly has far more opportunities than a day-laborer or subsistence farmer.

Exactly. That contradicts the totally meaningless platitude "life is what you make of it".


Comment OP is trying to express that life is what you make of it. A PhD or an industry job at google etc etc won’t make your life interesting by themselves, but you need to make it be.


well a day laborer in India doesn't have many avenues to 'make his life'. Why do ppl think he decided to " make his life" to be a day laborer.


> I don't particularly love studying. > I'm absolutely sick of living like a student > It seems very lonely

Then don't do it.

> I don't have industry experience

No one starts out with industry experience. Get started.

Choose your company position carefully for interesting scope. Change jobs if you make a mistake.

Meta advice: choice is stressful and you sound stressed. Take a minute to reflect on the strength of your position and long term outlook. Looking pretty good! Now, take a breath, and tackle your choice problem as if you were helping a close friend with it.


I very much disagree with the general tenor of the comments. True, a Ph.D won't directly translate into more money, or more exciting job prospects. Also true, a Ph.D isn't a golden key to life.

A Ph.D in a solid field gives you a new set of tools for solving problems, and it gives you the luxury of digging very deeply into a subject you find rich/stimulating/opportune. I walked out with:

- deep knowledge of cutting edge techniques in my field - a network of world-class experts to whom I could turn when faced with interesting business/engineering problems - years of practice in solving hard problems

> I much prefer creating things.

A good Ph.D serves your ability to create.

> I'll be stuck doing things that bore me after a number of years, with no room to grow to more interesting things.

You don't have to stay in academia for your Ph.D to be valuable.

>I also think I'm just not that bright and that a PhD would be a huge intellectual challenge for me.

None of us are "that bright". That's the whole point of the Ph.D.


I got a MSc (in electrical engineering, thesis on neural networks in 1998) and went into industry, switching into programming in mid-aughts. Absolutely no regrets. Ph.D. is absolutely not necessary to get a good job in programming, and at most employers not really even an advantage.

If you make the wrong choice of which job to take, you can fix that relatively easily by switching employers, and your experience at the "wrong" place still adds to your perceived value, status, and pay. If you make the wrong choice of thesis, advisor, or university, I am led to believe it is much more difficult to correct.

From your own description of your desires, skills, and interests, it does not sound like you should be getting a PhD. You can leave industry and go back to school later if you want to (I did to get my master's), but the reality is you almost certainly will not want to, so you should be clear in your mind that you're making a definite choice.


I finished my PhD about a year ago (graduating in a month finally). First and foremost, graduating won't stop you from doing a PhD later. I initially took an industry job for a year and then chose to go back to academia.

I initially went back to academia with the perspective of either staying in academia or going into research, but after those four years I basically lost the will to stick in these fields.

Honestly if you don't have a particular subject or project you want to do for your PhD it's not worth going through it. I initially felt like you, that if I didn't do it I'd regret it, but now sometimes I wonder if the time I spent doing it was worth it ( and I actually wanted to do a specific thing).

It's way more important to just find a job that fits what you currently find interesting than it is to remain in academia hoping that a PhD is anywhere near what you hope it is.


I cannot agree more with your last paragraph.

I am finishing my PhD in a few months and while most people think I have a good profile for and should stay in academia, I have lost the will honestly.

At the end of my PhD, I am basically still interested in the things I was always interested in. But I keep questioning myself if PhD was really worth it, and what would I really have missed out if I just joined a job that I enjoyed doing.


If we're talking about Computer Science, a PhD will generally not get you a job. The good jobs all look for skills rather than credentials, and formal education is mostly ignored, both during hiring and at work in general.

The case where a PhD will actually help is when your research topic is relevant to the business, where the work you did to get your PhD actually broke new ground in an way that makes you an expert on a problem the company wants to solve.


> I have no desire to become a professor/researcher. After I acquire my PhD, I surmise that I would go to industry.

Run. Join the workforce. You’ll be much happier.


Agreed. In industry, if you want to work in R&D or climb the technical ladder, the PhD is a clear win -- as long as your expertise area is regarded favorably. If it's not, you've largely wasted 3-5 years of your life.

Worse, if you see yourself evolving into a management or business role, a PhD may prove to be a liability. In many commercial settings, a doctorate is seen as a biomarker for 'is too bookish' or 'prefers analysis over action' or 'lives in a dream world'. The more theoretical your thesis area, the more likely this is to happen.


It sounds to me like you have a real passion for building things. That more than anything else (including a Phd) will determine if you land an interesting job. Remember that coders are hired on merit not accolades (well, supposedly, modulo whiteboard interviewing and other such pleasantries). I'm working with people with only community college degrees (no university) that are phenomenally capable and people with multiple university degrees that have a hard time thinking themselves out of a cardboard box. Your field of study is interesting to me. Have you thought about a cross-discipline PhD (more than one way to skin a cat)? Can you build a frontend that would look interesting to someone in philosophy or economics (or pick any other field)? You will not do yourself any favors by committing to several years of what you perceive right now as hellish. Don't worry about what you would gain in academia. Industry will challenge you to improve in other ways. I learned more in my first year on my first post-graduation job than in all of my year at uni.


Quick Answer: No it will not.

I have a Ph.D, and I have worked both as an academic and as a developer (at Apple). More than half the people in my group at Apple had PhDs, but I would say that their degree was irrelevant to their position and job. What mattered was the skill and passion they brought to their work.

The people I met who were truly happy in their job (either in university of industry) were the ones who loved what they did. If you love doing research, and all that goes with it: reading articles, writing papers, advancing knowledge, then, assuming you have talent too, you will be happy as an academic, and you will need a PhD. If, on the other hand, you want to be creative, contribute to a team effort, work with like minded others, then you do not need a PhD. I do not believe that getting a PhD will give you "expertise/knowledge/academic maturity".

Personally, I learned WAY more outside of university, and tackled much more interesting problems after I left. My post-research life was much happier than my research life.

Good luck.


I'll give the US perspective.

You don't forego anything if you choose not to do a PhD right now. You can always do it at a later age - even in your 40's.

Red flags: You don't love studying. You don't love the process of research. You have loneliness concerns (loneliness is a reality for most PhD students). You don't want to think about sitting in the office reading papers all day. I can assure you - reading journal papers is boring - they're often not written to be read easily.

Don't worry about not being bright and it being a huge intellectual challenge. Many/most students feel they're not bright enough, and whether it will be a huge challenge depends heavily on the topic and your advisor.

Worrying about not being able to do interesting work: While I do think a PhD makes it easier to find interesting work, I think largely that's a separate skill in itself. I would wager that most PhDs do not find particularly interesting industry jobs if they do not learn the skills to find such jobs. Merely going through the motions of acquiring a PhD will not help too much in that regard. And if you do develop those skills, chances are good you'll be able to get interesting jobs with your MSc.

If you have a view that academia is about doing fun problems, the truth is yes and no. The "yes" is obvious. The "no" is that very, very often the reality is papers/conferences are the currency of academia, and the typical professor these days is more interested in optimizing that metric. So there's a good chance you'll end up publishing work that is dubious, or end up doing hacks to get more papers (e.g. republishing the same stuff with minor tweaks).

Definitely do not go into academia with the assumption that people there are more intellectually honest or have more integrity than in industry.


Well, here are some thoughts:

1. What is "interesting work" to you? Everything depends on that. Would you be going into industry as a researcher? If not, a PhD may not be useful, and interactive theorem proving in particular doesn't seem relevant to industry.

2. Many people get their PhD at a different institution than their previous degree(s), so I don't understand the choice you think you're facing.

3. It's perfectly possible to step away from university study and come back. I had a ~2 year gap before starting my PhD.

4. Some PhD research is very collaborative. Depends on what you're doing, where, and with who. Look up authors of papers you think are great, especially those with quite a few authors.

5. Research success is often as much about persistence as intelligence. Yes, sometimes you need to read papers all day, but it's with the goal of creating new things.

6. If you think you'd be miserable while doing a PhD, you'd be crazy to do it.


"More interesting life". Not for you, from the sound of it. Yes, with a PhD you could do things you wouldn't get the chance to as an MSc. But those are things that you don't seem to enjoy -- reading papers, research. Some PhDs do write software, but more often (I think) they do the research and delegate the writing of any necessary software.

You don't want to do a PhD, you don't want to do the work that a PhD does, so why do it?

An MSc who is excited about his work is going to be far more useful and happy than an unmotivated PhD.

Source: I have a CS PhD, from many years ago. Like you, I preferred creating things. I was fortunate to be able to make the transition to industry. But I also saw contemporaries, with PhDs, who wanted to make that transition, but waited too long and were then unable to.


Don't ask "will it lead to..." That question always ends in trading present misery for an illusory brighter future.

Instead ask "is this how I want to spend my short time on earth?" If doing research and writing papers sound exciting, then DO IT.

Follow that approach and your life will be interesting.


I am in a similar situation as you - I'm currently doing my Msc (Computer Science, in Germany) and cannot decide whether I would want to continue to a Phd or head back to the industry. However, I had worked 3 years in the industry _before_ I enrolled for the current masters program, and that gave me a lot of perspective. Since you mentioned this:

> I don't have industry experience and I don't really know how any of this stuff plays out. I'm worried that if I chose to forego the PhD, I'll really regret it in a number of years. I'm afraid I won't be able to find interesting work with just a MSc, and I'm really afraid of getting a boring software engineering gig.

The trick is to find an engineering job in a domain/problem that you are interested in. I would really recommend that you spend a few years in the industry, since my time as a professional really really helped me in the long run. I am able to prioritize things faster, and meta-learnings like "Validate your hypothesis before investing resources" are true in both academia and industry. It would also be a good opportunity to gain some software engineering skills (academia has a bad rep when it comes to code quality) and some people skills (eg: how to do code reviews without sounding like a jerk). Also, the money would really cushion the blow if you end up deciding to do a PhD later after all.


I have a PhD in Economics and was a Finance professor for a few years before realizing that life in the academe wouldn't suit my skills. I now work in Data Science and couldn't be happier.

The question of, "is it worth it?" is complex and only can be answered for yourself.

Most people will say that if you don't plan on working in academia that the PhD will lead to a suboptimal career income. You could spend that 4+ years building your skills working for a company and end up earning considerably more. The other side effect is that there is a definite bias against PhDs for most jobs in industry.

For me, it was all about the journey and I wouldn't change any of it for the world. Any decent PhD program will expand your horizons more than nearly anything else. There is no way I would be in the same position now without my previous experiences. I do have to say though that my "detour" through grad school and being a professor means that I didn't start earning real money until my mid 30s and puts me financially behind some friends of mine who started earlier. Seriously though, the experience was amazing as it expanded so much about how I think about the world.

If you do a PhD, you should be doing it for yourself and your own learning. If you do it for the title/paycheck, there are far better ways to get there.


It seems like you're kind of on the fence about it. I'd say try applying to a few positions that seem interesting to you anyway, that are likely to give you an interview, but don't lie about being super enthusiastic about reading through stacks of paper or whatever while you're doing it. Just be honest about the sorts of things you hope you'd get out of the programme while you're there - maybe they'll consider you a good fit, maybe they won't or maybe you'll figure out that you want to do it or not while you're doing that.

At least then you'll have explored your options fully even if you don't end up going for it with the greatest amount of knowledge about it as you could have - if nothing else you'll have informed regrets!

There's another aspect to this though: There's a big tradeoff between "interesting" work and "good" work in some cases - for instance consider the games industry. That's arguably the peak of creative technical work but because so many people want to do it often the conditions aren't great and the pay is lower than some other fields despite the work being as hard or harder. Consider it an artefact of supply and demand in the labour market I suppose.


PhD life is, in general, a pathway to academia; it means research and teaching. Add to the fact, you'll be overqualified for the vast majority of relevant work.

> I much prefer creating things.

Just do that. Enter the workforce and start a pet project, or think bigger.


In general I think if you are very unhappy it makes sense to change things up. It is possible to do a PhD later in life if you want to.

It might help you to change the area you live, get a job and see what that is like. It will help you see what is good and bad about academia and just working a normal job and that will let you make an informed decision about how to proceed.

Also I agree totally the interactive theorem proving is the future.


Entry to a PhD program is not something that is dangled like a golden carrot as the promise of an interesting life. Anyone offering such a lure is more likely looking for cheap graduate student labour and you should run a mile away.

In reality, if you are self-funded or have a scholarship, and suitable grades, most academics will gladly take you on as a PhD candidate. There is no shortage of junior academics looking for people to maintain their labs, fix their equipment, and add their names to the end of some papers as a professional courtesy for fixing a few spelling mistakes. Sure, you might not get a position under a world-famous academic, but - especially if you have no interest staying in academia afterwards anyway - this has absolutely no impact on your future life whatsoever. If you're just interested in the letters P, H, and D after your name then you can study for that anywhere, anytime, on your terms.

From the limited context you've provided, I would recommend you do not continue on to this PhD. Do one later in life if you still feel it's warranted.


I was in a PhD program, and left because I realized that I didn't really want to be there for another 4 years to finish after my Masters degree.

I think the problem with academia is that you are always around very intelligent people with PhDs, who have survived the very ruthless culling to make it into academia. From their perspective, a PhD is a great deal. In reality, a PhD is more of a mixed bag.

These are my observations from viewing the outcomes of my cohort:

The pros of a PhD: 1 - you're more likely to be working on research, 2 - you're more likely to lead an R&D team (and in some places it will be a requirement past a certain point if you want to climb the science management ladder), 3 - there's a small salary bump, 4 - people will tend to give your scientific arguments more weight than someone without a PhD, 5 - a PhD is a requirement for some positions at (a very limited) number of employers.

Cons: 1 - Those three letters next to your name will make you overqualified for a lot of very interesting jobs; 2 - there is a huge opportunity cost associated with getting a PhD; 3 - employers value practical experience far more than someone with more education; 4 - a PhD does not necessarily guarantee that you will find more interesting work, there are tons of people with PhDs who are essentially underemployed (by choice or by necessity); 5 - depending on your field, you may find that jobs at the PhD level are geographically limited; 6 - job search typically takes much longer.

Overall, there are only two reasons I would recommend someone get a PhD: 1 - they want to be an academic/researcher; or 2 - they want to spend 4-6 years studying a specific subject out of curiosity or intense interest.

Also, you can always go back. There are people who complete PhDs in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. The only thing that alternative students give up, is potentially the ability to enter academia, but even that is not always true.


This short essay[1] (with links to 26 translations now...wow!) by CS Prof. Douglas Comer of Purdue helped me find solace when I was struggling with a comparable dilemma.

[1] https://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.phd.html


If you want to get cool jobs in AI, you do need PhD.(i.e. https://careers.google.com/jobs/results/6231594434232320-res..., https://www.quora.com/Does-the-AI-team-at-Facebook-hire-rese...). Those that don’t are just meaningless jobs in startups that pretend to do AI (git clone X, change dataset, train and pray that the machine learning god makes magic happen).

Though these meaningless jobs do pay well these days, thanks to Softbank.


Like many here, I have a PhD. First, I did this because I strongly wanted to do it, and I don't regret my choice at all.

In your case, since you don't like the environment where you are and where you would pursue your PhD, it seems a clear no! You want to do a PhD because you either want to stay in the environment where you are (e.g. your lab internship during M.Sc.) and you want to continue doing more advanced research with the same people. Or you have been in (remote) contact with a team or a researcher and you badly want to work a few years with them and make their research topic yours. If you feel none of these situations apply, you'd rather go (working) in an environment where you will thrive.


My PhD is in mechanical engineering with a minor in computer science. I would just remind you that a PhD is a research degree. If you really don't like research, it may not be for you. You should also be quite good at math since PhD-level work in CS is very math-oriented. The comments about the financial costs are also something to keep in mind. You shouldn't expect a PhD to be a net positive financially over your working life. What it can do is give you the ability to tackle a wider array of projects during your career along with the confidence to know you're capable of working in new fields. I've worked in spacecraft engineering, as a research professor in medicine, as a self-employed software developer, and am now working on a robotics project of my own design. Tackling new fields is not a problem because I know I can do the research necessary to get up to speed. Maybe I'd have the same attitude with only a MS, but I doubt it.

If you want to spend your day working on theorem proving then get a PhD. If not, don't. You may also find another PhD subject you may like more. A PhD opens different doors even though you may still arrive at the same destination. If you are paralyzed in making a decision, you might want to start the PhD and do a summer internships at various companies. Use internships as a way to evaluate a "regular" jobs. BTW this advice doesn't mean you have to stay in this country that you hate. You may be able to get a PhD somewhere you like!


A PhD also closes some doors because the roles you apply for will tend to be more specialized. Or maybe that's not the direction you want to go, and you have to explain in every HR phone screen for five years "no, I actually want to do x."

In general, the jobs you get if you have a PhD pay somewhat better, but there's fewer of them, and have less flexibility with who you work for and where.


Eh you can leave it off your resume if you want.


You might want to ask yourself whether it's the fear of making the jump into working life that's holding you back. After all, academia is a lot like school, so it's what you've done all your life and you know very well what is expected of you.

I was a fairly good student and considered doing a PhD during my MA. However, I felt exactly the same way.

In the end, I tried a variety of jobs instead. Looking back, I feel like I've evaded a huge trap. Nowadays, I'd even say that dropping out after the bachelor or doing a more unrelated master might have been best for me. YMMV.


Only place in industry that requires a PhD is Data Science. How interesting what you do there is depends on the company. In most cases as a Data Scientist you won't be doing much coding. Otherwise if you want to go in any other software development you don't need PhD, because as you said you don't want to be a researcher. That being said its very likely for your 9-5 programming job to be very boring and not what you expected so I suggest you don't completely rule out researching, because it probably won't get any more interesting than that.


I only know a few hundred Data Scientists and (a) you don't need a PhD and (b) they do quite a bit of coding. But I suppose if you work in a more research capacity that might be flipped.

And personally I would be wary of any company that insists on a PhD since it's a clear sign to me that they are clueless. Since great Data Scientists are those with strong EQ and communication skills not those they know the most algorithms.


Concur. I know several dozen Data Scientists with and w/o PhDs, at a wide range of skill levels. In general the better DSs I know, the ones who can deliver useful solutions in meaningful timeframes, are the ones who chose not to pursue the PhD, but have attained an MS in some engineering field and have a desire to learn the technical ropes that feed into their field and that their field feeds.


No idea where you are but I almost never see DS jobs which don't require PhD at least for proper companies.


Few jobs explicitly require a PhD, but realistically for many jobs a PhD is the only way to acquire the experience, reputation, and connections to get the job.


When I toyed with the idea of getting a PhD, I spoke to a professor at a CS conference about what it's like to be on a conference committee. One of the first things he said was "Well if my paper doesn't get in another professor's conference, there's no way that professor's papers are getting in _my_ conference." (Double-blind notwithstanding, the research topics in this particular conference had known investigators.)

As much as I enjoyed the toil and reward of seeking novel results, I decided at that point that I could enjoy computer science and work on interesting (possibly novel) things without having to be a part of academia and the petty politics that drive a lot of it.

It really depends on what you define as "interesting" and what you want to get out of your investment in time and energy towards your studies. In a lot of ways, there's no better time to be alive as a software engineer than now. You can apply those skills in such a wide variety of industries (multitudes of AI applications, VR, health care, transportation, etc), many of which are getting new or increased investment from VCs. You may not work on something specifically interesting, but your contribution to a larger goal or mission can be greatly satisfying. I'd say pick an industry where you can have even a small impact as an engineer, or a company where you may have exposure to many areas and drill down into things that interest you.


As a 5th grade dropout who is a fully self-taught developer, I did Interview, mentor, and supervised a multiple of developers with masters and PhDs to help them understand and get comfortable in the real world of the IT industry, sure they are probably "smarter", faster researchers, more organized than me but I have the experience to put together the big picture, cover the edge cases, account for common mistakes in the domain, understand the market and the clients mentality etc... most of that won't be covered by a PhD.

Noone started his career with a bunch of experience, you'll get boring jobs, you'll encounter annoying bosses or clients, you'll have stress and deadlines pressure, you'll be forced to develop things that don't match "your idea" of quality, you'll probably have some imposter syndrome... these are just common parts of the industry especially for newcomers.

The best advice would be if you're not looking to go into academia then don't go for PhD, it's a waste of time you can use that time to grind through the industry and get that experience. Another important thing IMHO is that no matter how cool your field is, no matter how much you like it, if it fells under the deadlines, pressure, and stress wheel you'll not enjoy it, you'll find something else that seems more fun and you'll wish if you can do that instead!

I would say if you want maximum fun and then have fun on side-projects, open-source, or freelance on the side


If you're already feeling a bit burnt out, an interesting hobby (HN probably has a lot of good suggestions) and a decent job would probably lead to a more satisfying near future. What seems like an enticing job can lose its luster in a year or two anyways and the financial security you'll get from 4-5 extra years of wages will go a long ways.

Imagine two years down the line: with a job you could be looking to buy / living in your first house, or you could be maybe half way done your PhD.


If you don't _want_ to get a PhD, it will be very hard to finish. It is already hard if you are motivated and eager to do research.

Also, just the title alone is of not much value in industry, you need to have done research in a sought-after area. So if you mainly want to do it for career purposes, interactive theorem proving is probably not a good choice. If you think you need a PhD to get interesting industry jobs, better look for a PhD in an area where FAANG researchers publish.


It sounds like it might not be the right move for you. If you do go into a Ph.D, I do think it's important to have a clear idea of what you want out of it.

I did a Ph.D and have no regrets - for me, it resulted in more interesting work and rapid advancement once I was in industry. I picked up a lot of relevant knowledge on distributed systems (not know-how or techniques, but generally how to think about them and evaluate them) that comes in use every day. Exploring the (vast) space of potential system designs and figuring out how to evaluate them is something that I picked up in the Ph.D and is incredibly useful in my job. A Ph.D doesn't give you that knowledge on a platter, but it can give you the time and resources to learn and practice it. I think a lot of engineers in the industry are... not great... at doing this and in many cases don't even realize it.

Anyway, doing a Ph.D. gives you a big blank space to fill in with self-directed learning and research. For some people that's a golden opportunity. If your goal is to be taught skills that you will directly apply in your future career, a Ph.D is a crapshoot. You might get that if you have a hands-on advisor in the right area.

One thing I've noticed is that whether work is interesting is as much a function of the individual, environment and team as it is of the work itself. A curious individual who is engaged with their teammates and is given autonomy to do their job in the best way they see fit is likely to be a lot more engaged in a "dull" task than someone who is working in an "exciting" area without those things.


What was your PhD in? How did you go about studying distributed systems? I'm really curious about this topic and appreciate any advice on getting started.


My advice to anybody in general would be: Do it. I did a Ph.D. and I had a blast. You need to be in an area of your field that you really like, and over the Ph.D. candidate years you will meet essentially everybody on the planet working on the same stuff, geek out with similarly-minded people in your lab or at conferences around the globe. A Ph.D. widens your view on our field substantially and you feel less like your role in the world is that of a code monkey. Don't do it in the U.S. though, where your position in society is to be a (financially) poor student and often times just being used by your advisor as cheap labor. Do it in a country that has better conditions, like you find all over the place in Europe for example. If you first go to industry, you'll never come back.

My advice to you specifically would be: Don't do it. You seem to dislike academia and your area in particular. A Ph.D. is not an instrument to get better opportunities in industry, except for a very few research-oriented positions. I'm now working in industry as a software engineer, and I'm also having a blast, but the position I have did not require a Ph.D. (I feel like I have a broader understanding of CS than my colleagues do though.)


I don't recommend doing PhD in "theorem proving" as I don't see a lot of industry demand for it. Machine learning, statistics, optimisation, ... all better choices (if you know you're not going to stay in academia).

Having said that, I'd apply for PhDs in other countries as well. Hopefully some would offer you a place directly, not "1 year of free work that will potentially (a.k.a. "not") lead to a PhD opportunity".


Side note: there is some industrial use (and interesting work) for theorem proving in software verification and cybersecurity.


The thing is, a PhD is in its own way a professional degree, like a JD or MD. The difference is that the profession a PhD is teaching you is research. If you don't enjoy research, there's really no reason to get a PhD. For non-research jobs in industry it doesn't matter if you have a PhD or not, and if you don't want to do research then you probably won't want the jobs in industry that would require a PhD.


PhD in Multimedia Art here. I transitioned during the degree into web dev. While I don't regret getting the PhD I wouldn't recommend the process to anyone. Funding is lean so you'll be taking a vow of poverty for 4-6 years. On top of that, even with your assistantships, you'll be constantly pestered to do additional, uncompensated work. In addition to this, something about the scarcity of funding, and uncertain future of academia in general seems to bring out the worst in people. I noticed an unusually high concentration of narcissists in my own department (maybe varies by degree).

Paradoxically it made the job hunt hard, even though I had a good deal of part time web dev job experience going into my full-time hunt, those three letters after my name seemed to turn people off so much that I had much better luck leaving the PhD off of my resume and mentioning it later on in the interview process once I had gotten my foot in the door.

My first job after leaving, I am making a higher salary than 4/5 of my committee members made last year (public university/public salaries). No regrets but wouldn't recommend to anyone. It's a severe amount of stress.


If you can't make up your mind whether you need something, you usually don't.


Not giving any advice, just data; you can draw your own conclusion.

As an IT manager doing recruiting, a PhD is irrelevant, both for hiring decisions and for salary & career. It will be your skills that matter, not your titles. If the PhD is helping you acquire some useful skills, that matters.

As someone who knows a number of people with PhD's: except for MDs and people working in universities, nobody is using in real life more than 1% of what they did for the PhD. But most of these people did the PhD after they got a job, in parallel with working full time, it took a while to complete but it was a passion/hobby and I appreciate that. One of these people is a lady that has a low level job, but interacting mostly with people in Germany: as Germans have a higher appreciation to titles, her PhD is impressive to them. Well, if they ever ask and find the PhD is in German literature (completely unrelated with her actual work), then it becomes less impressive.

For academia, I find PhD requirements to be more of a bureaucracy than real positive, but I confess my lack of expertise in that area and I am open to learn different.


>>As an IT manager doing recruiting, a PhD is irrelevant, both for hiring decisions and for salary & career.

I mean, that's because you're talking about IT, which is traditionally about practical sysadmin/network engineer skills and even a Master's degree is good only for management tracks.

If you were recruiting in a field where cutting edge research is performed, e.g. hardware engineers for microprocessor design, it would be a different story. Intel and AMD for example employ a ton of PhDs.


" Intel and AMD for example employ a ton of PhDs." Not for their titles, but for their skills. This is what I have also said.


A masters is already quite good. It should make your life more interesting than a bachelor's. Think about a decent job, no questions asked, you might even have a reasonable choice on what type of job you will take. Don't expect too much though.

Now with a PhD you could be the envy of your community. Imagine posting about pursuing your PhD in Australia or posting on Facebook about the space entity named after your research group. From what I know phds like to post on fb a lot. That is not to deride them. Most of their achievements are genuine and worthy of a like or three. A PhD is quite something. But it is no guarantee. You could get a PhD and still end up at the bottom end of the totem pole. One of my friends is like that. Spent years as a lecturer in China only to choose unemployment for a decade when he got back. But yeah. You have to mess up quite badly. I would argue that even in his case his life became more interesting because of it.


It sounds like you're burned out, and not 100% sold on the idea of doing a PhD.

I suggest taking a break from school for a year or two, try moving to a country you like better, and reassessing what you want.

If you decide you really are interested in doing a PhD in theorem-proving, and you have talent for doing graduate research in that area, getting back onto that track should be possible.


> I don't particularly love studying

You need to introspect a bit more on what part of this is really true to you. You are already doing an MSc and that shows you are good at studying. May be you do not love pointless-studying. But no matter what degree you have in CS, you will have to study in your career to stay relevant in the industry

> I have no desire to become a professor

Good PhDs are usually good teachers. They do not have to be a professor and many are not. Teaching brings clarity of thought and improves your fundamentals. You could just ask your professors "why you need to be a teaching assistant" and check out if their answers make sense to you.

> I have no desire to become a researcher...and I'm really afraid of getting a boring software engineering gig.

Why pursue a PhD if you do not want to be a researcher? And who says software engineering has to be boring? You can chose what you want to work on and have just not found it. Obviously, a choice is easier for a PhD. But may be you can also look at being an entrepreneur (unless you dislike hard work)

> I'm also absolutely sick of living like a student with little financial freedom.

You have not even started on the financial part of financial freedom.

> Does anyone have any guiding advice?

My personal opinion - I find PhD to be too time consuming if it does not have a good purpose. I declined admission to PhD after working pretty hard towards that. I had been working on a certain topic of research for 3 years before that. My reason for declining was the quality of the faculties/mentors and the quality of research produced from the university. For next 2 years I did have second thoughts about whether I made a wrong decision. But I am happy with how my life turned out to be after that. However, if I had good faculties or good research produced I would have stayed

Look at the quality of the PhDs coming out of your college/university. Also check out if their research is actual research or some kind of documentation. You could even talk to or interview a few people who have spend 2 or 3 years attempting the PhD. Avoid the ones in the first year because they are more likely to be unhappy with their choice in the first year.

From your post, it just looks like you need a break. Couple of weeks off and you should be able to think clearly for yourself.


The training you get during a PhD is mostly your responsibility. There are good academic PIs who know how to actually mentor students. From them you can learn a lot about research and people. Most professors lack the soft skills needed to mentor and grow students because it's rarely a condition for employment.

The growth you do during a PhD is, therefore, mostly on you. If you're not the type who can teach themselves and have fun doing it then, perhaps ironically, you're going to find it extremely difficult in a PhD program.

Given the right company, you may be surprised at the opportunities open to you. Technical people tend to over-rate the "interestingness" of the work being done and under-rate the quality of the work environment when looking for jobs.

Think hard and very honestly about what work environment you'd do best in, work hard to find that environment. If you do, it doesn't sound like you'll miss those three letters that much in a few years.


Good question but its a non starter. Do not look to college, people and phd to live a interesting life. It seems you have few options to explore so why not start exploring them before making a decision.

- look at job boards and see if you find interesting work, apply and see if you get in. You can always return to get your phd if that is not interesting.

- search on linkedin with people who are working in interesting jobs and have phd. Email them and talk about your question, people are normally eager to help.

I noticed that right now some of the AI and ML jobs do require PHD but it’s limited and by the time you finish it may become mainstream. Look into those options.

At the end you make your life interesting by figuring out yourself and not depending on job market or friends.

Last thing based on your words it looks like you enjoy people and want to leave student life then just get into one of the tech company as a researcher where you will get all of that.

Who knows may be that is not what you wanted after all, but atleast you will know.


In a discussion about PhD's nobody has as yet mentioned Freeman Dyson?

- https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-math-puzzle-worthy-of-freem...

- https://old.reddit.com/r/Physics/comments/21h1xv/freeman_dys...

On the other hand, i myself feel that, if you have the mental inclination and can afford to do a PhD, one should do it. It gives you a greater probability of actually contributing to Humanity's collective knowledge base.


Given what you said especially in your last paragraph, I would advise against pursuing a PhD right now.

However, I don't think that going for an industry job now would "surrender your chances for a PhD". I also got a MSc in computer science, then I worked in the industry for 5 years before going back to academia and start a PhD. Depending on your field, this can be a more or less dauting process.

Working in the industry before going back to a PhD has a number of pros:

- you can make a better decision about what you want to do because you have actual industry experience

- you can save some money for your PhD

Cons:

- Going from an industry salary to a PhD salary is really sad

- The process of getting accepted in a PhD program after you've left academia for a number of years can be difficult (but not impossible!)

You seem to be quite sick of student life during your MSc, so be aware that during a PhD it is about the same or worse. Getting yourself an industry job now can let you breathe some air and make a better decision about what you want to do next.


PhD in CS here, currently working for start up.

TBH, I wasn't deeply committed to research but got a position offered at my institute, which I took. Plus, I had to relocate to another city, because my adviser took over another institute. My wife had to stay at our former place, because of her job. And a lot more trouble I had to undergo for the entire process. On the other side, having these three letters next to my name was super appealing to me. This let to mixed feelings about doing a PhD. Some examples.

Pro: I was really free to do what ever I wanted Con: But I also had to get my own funding and couldn't save any money

Pro: I focused a lot on methods I was interested in and developed some on my own Con: I left new technologies behind, which made my start into industry quite bumpy

Pro: I learned a ton of interesting things in great detail Con: No one cares. Just as with technologies - models, paradigms, methods come and go. The PhD is, in most cases, only a certificate of your "self learner attitude".

But what really hit me hard was something else. During my time as a PhD I mostly worked on stuff I enjoyed and I was surrounded by people doing this for the same reasons. In industry, in special CS/coding related fields, you likely work on a ticket system. You arrive at your office, grab the ticket, machine it off, take a another one... From now and then your agile coach wants you to wright words on colored post its. I didn't expect the change to be that dramatic. Especially because I already worked as a developer in such systems during bachelors/masters degree. The PhD changed my perception of work.

In summary: I enjoyed doing a PhD, but the PhD left me with wrong self-assessment (for the industry). After getting fired I joined a fresh start-up, which turned out to be great. Here I found the freedom and creativity I was missing. Looking back I would probably skip the PhD for a start-up with a good team. Pay attention to the team - it's key.


Hey everyone,

I just wanted to say thanks for all your insightful and helpful comments. A big, wide range of opinions are represented and it gave me a lot of needed perspective.

I'm still thinking carefully about my options/future and haven't come to a definite decision yet--but I wanted to give a big thanks to everyone who contributed. Thanks again.


Number one, unless you love what you study, don't get a PhD. You'll probably never finish.

Number two, if the only reason you want a PhD is for more money, you won't make and it won't help. If you look at the earnings of people with a PhD vs. people without one (but who could have gotten one), the ones who didn't are pretty even because they have four/five years of work experience when their friends are just getting out of their PhD programs.

If you don't like doing reading and research, then you probably won't make it through the PhD. Even worse, the "interesting" work that you get to do in industry with a PhD vs. without is basically more of the same, because all of the stuff that isn't like that is just as open to people with a PhD vs without.

It sounds like the PhD really isn't for you. Get out there and go apply what you've learned thus far.


Get the PhD. You KNOW you can get it now. You may not be able to say the same thing in 5-7 years. Private industry will NOT penalize you for having additional education, and academia does NOT hold a monopoly on boredom. In fact, plenty of people are just earning a paycheck and can't remember the last time they felt satisfied professionally. In my experience, private industry gives PhD.s a lot of latitude to figure out what THEY want to do for the company. Does that sound interesting to you? Also, you mention that you are studying in a foreign country and are very unhappy there; do you mean the country, the university, or both? I ask because every country has an intellectual tradition that reflects its values and culture. Is it possible you would be happy in academia or private industry if you returned home?


If you don't like to study so much and to become a professor/researcher. Please don't take me in the wrong way, but you are just wasting your time.

I also wanted to do a master and PHD for the same reasons that you do. But for financial reasons I couldn't afford it at the time, I felt sad: I wanted to be "smarter" on paper than others. I've did what a loser would do: find a job.

I've found a job and since then, I've just looked in the academia a few times back, but never went back. I've looked back only because I've wanted to maybe do a bit of ML. Anyways, I think you need to find yourself there.

If you work a few years and don't like it, you can go back. I also think that you have a few complexes that could be better handled by a psychologist, such as, you think that getting a PhD would be a huge intellectual challenge, when you are about to finish your master... Yet, it isn't even hard, you just need to pump infinite hours into that and want to become a researcher/professor or find a job in ML/AI(nowadays, you don't even need that to find a job anymore).

I had a lot of growth on my career and all my friends that went to academia just talk to me about that choice with a lot of regret. I don't doubt that they know more than me as they had many years of study time, while I was working full time and building a career/family, but it isn't that important to me anymore. I would give it a go, maybe quit even your master and try to work.

Of course, it is all your own responsibility. Don't blame me for your choices, but make up your mind and take charge of your life. I did back then, and I'm happy Today to have done that, all that because I had a financial problem that didn't allow me to have that, I couldn't really make that choice and I quite liked the fact that I didn't have to choose. I was very insecure at the time and that changed a lot and I consider even silly the fears and thoughts I had back in the days. I wish that this helps you somehow. Also, if you then find out that you want to get that PhD, it is fine! The most important thing is that you find what is important for you.

Cheers


I hold a German Diploma in computer science (comparable to MSc but - of course - much better.) I started a PhD without really wanting it, I thought it's a good opportunity. After one year I came to the conclusion that it was a bad idea to start it. It took another 1,5 years to actually quit. Why did it took me so long? Because by doing something I didn't like I had developed a depression...

I went to a decently paid job and would never go back.

I did, however learn some great things during these years in academia, as I had a great postdoc and a very skillful team.

If you ever want to go back, you surely will find a good position to do your PhD. Professor love cheap labor. It's not hard to find. And PhD students are by far not the brightest people I met. Some are, some absolutely not.


You seem to flag a lot of things that you don't like which boil down to you don't like research very much. And that's pretty much what a PhD is. It also tends to be something very specific and narrow. This doesn't preclude you from taking your PhD and branching out into something broader down the road, but the value prop of a PhD, if you will, is that you're a world expert in some specific area.

The other downside of not just getting industry experience is that a lot of PhD research is very, well, academic. Wrote a book recently (something else that involves lots of time in a library and elsewhere reading and writing on your own) and a lot of the papers I used for research were pretty much crap and disconnected from anything in the real world.


I have a lot of PhD friends (physics and CS) and I personally dropped out of PhD program after 6 months to work in industry.

The people who absolutely needed their PhD were those that loved research and were and are amazing at it. They are now professors, researchers, etc. and are obviously doing what they enjoy.

Others took PhD to support their self esteem. Some felt it was easiest to continue studying and not go to an industry job yet.

The saddest category thought they would find meaningful career in PhD work but only found dead end academic career path and burned out or just switched careers.

I don't regret not doing my PhD. Software engineers are generally recognised for their skills, not for their degrees.

It sounds like you are considering PhD out of fear and not out of love. I would advice against it...


All you said about yourself doesn't quite sound like you should get a PhD.

Also having a PhD doesn't automatically make your life more interesting.

Having a PhD will make you an expert in a narrow topic. So it most likely will lead to job opportunities inside this topic. If you love this topic, then it might help having a more fulfilling work life.

The problem is, it's not quite possible to really know if you're still interested that much in a topic after studying it for several years. You might be even sick of the topic after your PhD.

What you will take away from a PhD are some research skills that you could apply on different topics. But if you don't like and enjoy researching, then I don't quite see what you will really take away from a PhD.


As someone who has a PhD in informatics, I would say it's only worth it if you (mostly) like doing what is required for getting the actual PhD (research, writing papers, giving presentations - often to an audience that is not really interested in what you have to say but still has to grade you).

Having the PhD is not that useful unless you want to be a professor / academic researcher. In my case I work for a Japanese governmental research institute, which hires both PhDs and "supporting staff". Supporting staff have less freedom and have temporary contracts. No-one really gets paid that well. In terms of work, I'm still coding a lot, but also need to read and write many papers, proposals, etc.


I studied for and completed a PhD. I am quite sure it has opened doors for me, allowing me to access more interesting/enjoyable and arguably better paid work. I'm glad I did it.

However, based on what you say I would not recommend you do the same. If you hate the process you may not finish - it's a long and at times demoralising journey, even if you normally enjoy the process. If you don't like reading papers then you may not enjoy the jobs you'll get when you graduate. There are probably better ways to get interesting jobs, for example with an early stage start-up which can't afford to hire someone with a top PhD.


My PhD contract ends today. I'll defend by the end of the year. I'm leaving academia.

I'm happy to have "tried" a PhD. I didn't know whether I wanted to do research. During my PhD, I advised several interns on a software project I started as a student during an internship. I could teach, which I liked to do.

But it was exhausting. It was hard to even start working these days. It didn't work out, because I didn't get to grips with my subject, and didn't enjoy my advisors.

My father is a researcher and sees research and writing paper as I game. He enjoys doing it. If you don't particularly like doing research and don't plan to become a researcher, it's a big no. Don't do a PhD.

Also don't start a PhD at a place you know you don't like. What kept me enjoying life is my friends, my family, enjoying the place where I live and the club I'm part of.

> It seems very lonely, and I don't find much enjoyment from, say, sitting in my office reading papers all day

It's not quite like that. There is paper reading, and there is sitting at a desk, behind a computer, writing. But a PhD is also about learning and having interesting discussion with your advisors and your colleagues (I didn't especially experience that but I now former and current PhD students who do/did). It's also solving problems and modeling things using a sheet of paper or a big whiteboard. It's also implementing proof of concepts.

My experience as a PhD student was not so great, but loneliness was not part of this. I had an active social life and loved these years as a PhD student just for that. Being alone during the day in such a life is a feature at times, but if you have a nice team, you may enjoy coffee breaks and meals with your colleagues, who may become your friends. You are not really alone. There are nice people around you you can enjoy and have interesting conversations with every day.

If you do a PhD, don't stay alone. You will most likely need support from your friends and your family. Either by just doing something else with them, or by talking about your difficulties.


> I won't be able to find interesting work with just a MSc, and I'm really afraid of getting a boring software engineering gig.

You don't even need a MSc to get interesting work...

What do you find to be interesting work? Creating things, what sort of things?


The decisions you are trying to make seem to be based more off of anxiety and/or fear rather than a passion for what you want to be doing with your life. Try to find out what you would enjoy doing with your current skillset and spend some time figuring out a way to make that happen. A MSc in CS opens doors to many industries as well academia, so you have tons of options to choose from.

You probably won't regret spending the next few years of your life doing something that you think is interesting. There is, however, a chance that you will regret spending the next few years worrying about if your future self will regret those years.


The conventional wisdom states, if you have a burning passion about the topic you're going to research on, go for it; otherwise, no, and I agree with that. I don't think it will add much to your life except 2-3 letters of a title, especially if you have written a thesis for your MSc which you probably are going to do since you mentioned you are doing research.

Mind if I ask if you have had any experience working as a software dev? That's what everyone else does (including me, even after my masters), and it is not bad because so. Can you elaborate on what you are afraid of if you transition to the industry?


I would say there are limited number of fields where having PhD is an assumed norm, and would influence your hire-ability. Molecular biology is one of those, from my experience?

Your time is probably better spent interviewing, networking or searching for internships.

Your idea of how PhD works seems quite bleak, from what I heard, it can be a bit more creative/involved version of things you already do for your MSc thesis.

So if you hate MSc, but really like the research you do, and your advisor and research-group, I would consider staying. Especially if they know how to write grant-proposals ;)

If you don't like the research, run.


Only continue with a PhD if you really love research and learning. Even the best international positions are ridiculously underpaid and you will have to move around the world multiple times and travel way too much.

I spent 10y in academia. Loved my PhD and subsequent research positions. Went back to industry because I wanted to spend more time with my lady.

For me the research years have paid of exceptionally well. Lots of interesting people and projects, and enabled work I would never have been able to get off the ground without the training and network.

But my case is very uncommon.


IMO people should be discouraged from getting PhDs so that the only PhDs are the ones who do it out of internal drive and craziness. #keepPhDsWeird

It isn't logical to get a PhD. The worth of your PhD will be determined by how much you can make for yourself, and how much charity your advisor is motivated to give to you in leadership and insights. A PhD is not very transactional, you don't know what you'll get except what you think you can give to yourself. A PhD works best for people who have no other choice.


This sounds like a no brainer. If you don't actually enjoy academia then it definitely isn't worth it; even for those who do enjoy academia, a PhD is hit or miss.

You can go into industry and work in that time, and you'll have at least as interesting a life at the end of it. And if industry demand for interactive theorem proving does increase (which it would have needed to for you to get a job in it at the end of a PhD), you will have ample opportunity to learn it on the job instead of in school.


Anyone have any thoughts on doing a PhD in later life? I don't need a career change or salary boost, but I'm very aware I've stumbled into data science (albeit very much on the applied side) without the right fundamental maths knowledge or research mindset. I read dozens of papers each week and even now I find them terribly abstruse.

I suppose I'm contrasting this to just continuing on with online courses and books - is the added structure, focus and community more transformative?


The point of a PhD is to learn enough that you can produce research and then get better at producing research. Learning how to produce research is where an advisor and community of grad students and postdocs becomes important.

However, if you just want a better understanding of the fundamentals, you certainly don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) do a PhD.

Also, if you’re reading “dozens of papers each week”, maybe slow down? I wouldn’t pick up much more than abstract-level knowledge at that rate.


It's what I'm doing right now: I started a PhD in computer security after 7 years working as a software engineer in the industry. All of that in Europe.

The answer to your questions is -of course- it depends.

As somebody said in the thread, not all PhD are created equals. The "structure, focus and community" you will get from a PhD will vary greatly depending on your topic / lab / team / advisors.

For me, it mainly brought two big positives and two culture shocks.

- First big positive, while a PhD in itself is not super prestigious, a PhD in a topic in hot demand is. I wanted to transition my career from a software engineer with light exposure to security problems to fully-fledged security expert; even if I'm not done yet, this part seems to go as planned.

- Second big positive, if you love the topic you'll deeply enjoy most of the days there, especially if you have had a career before: you probably have a better BS detector and more down-to-earth aspirations than a brand new master student, and be more likely to work as equals with your advisors. I love my typical days: I have a private office and basically have free reign on how to move my research forward in basically any direction I see fit. I should add that writing and speaking publicly is also a big part (40-50%) of doing a PhD, but it is something I happen to love personally. If you hate writing, don't do it!

- First culture shock was how most PhD students are set to work alone, with weekly discussion with their advisors only and next to no collaboration with other PhD students. Coming from hectic teams in the software industry where we would collaborate daily if not hourly, the lonesomeness of the PhD was striking at first, albeit not unappreciated (No urgent emails ? No pagers at 3am ? No manager interrupting my train of thoughts 3 times in the afternoon ?). I do think the best projects are born from collaboration and if you can find a team with exciting research goals collaborating together to reach them, this can be a PhD holy grail. While I love that I can go down a rabbit hole all by myself without asking for permission, when I'm stuck at the bottom, I'm stuck alone, and this was new to me. This requires discipline because when you're given a lot of leeway, your greatest enemy becomes yourself.

- Second culture shock, at times public research feels closer to prestige-based industry (like entertainment) than engineering. There are a few superstars and a lot of nobodies; You compete with everyone worldwide and everybody's CV is public; You'll go from feeling bad because somebody's research is ten times better than yours, then facepalm because somebody else's research is ten times worse than yours. There are not a lot of correlation between the quality of your work, your reputation, and your salary.

- I also should add that if you have a family, a PhD program may strongly encourage or even require you spend a few months abroad in other universities. For me it was not possible (raising a young child) so I made it clear with my advisors upfront and it went well. But overall it is very difficult moving forward in academia (which I don't aim to) without moving a lot geographically, which can be tricky if you have a significant other and / or children.

- Regarding the specific mathematics part of your question, I feel your struggle as my maths were super rusty going in. While a great joy of a PhD is that you can take a few hours / days to dive deep into a mathematical concept you don't understand, you do not have enough time to enroll into a full master in mathematics either. So you still have to pick your battle there.

I hope that helps. Good luck!


Currently doing a CS PhD at Stanford. If you have no interest in becoming a professor/researcher and don't like to do research, there is very little reason to do a PhD. The PhD is actually a training program for doing research much moreso than another degree to learn more specialized knowledge. You don't need a PhD to keep learning. So i'd suggest trying to go into industry, but positioning yourself to be able to keep learning cutting edge stuff.


I'll give you some advice, but first, a caveat: PHds are correlated with higher intelligence, and higher self-discipline. This is obviously due to the filtering process involved in achieving such a goal.

To succeed in life, you will need self discipline. Intelligence isn't bad either.

But most importantly, if it is interesting, gainful employment that you seek, then you must understand that supply and demand drives everything.

People often mistake any level of college as some sort of guarantee of a job or money. But it doesn't. Not even close.. It might be a prerequisite for certain positions, but that's all. To get your dream job, you must supply exactly what the employer needs, or at least convince them that you're the best person to provide it.

With that in mind, you need to design your life:

1. Begin with the end in mind. If you aren't incredibly precise about what you actually want, you'll just be walking backwards in life, and you might get lucky and end up in a nice place, but probably not.

You want a more interesting life. What does that mean? More interesting than your current life? How interesting is that? Do you want to travel? Do you want to hunt spies for a living? What do you actually want to do? Take as much time as you need to precisely answer this question. Seriously. This is critical.

2. Work backwards from this dream life. Let's say you love the ocean, and you have envisioned that your dream job involves sailing on a ship a few months of the year.

Well, you've got a few options: 1. Be a nomadic freelancer with a satellite phone. 2. Work for an oceanic survey or marine biology research outfit. 3. Work for the oil industry and help support oil rigs.

Whichever sounds great at that point. Dig into whatever is necessary to achive your next step. You might need ta phd if you want to do marine biology research. If you want to be a nomadic freelancer, you should work to establish yourself as an expert in a particular field. You can do so without an employer by creating, or contributing to, open source projects.

These are just a few random thoughts, but the point here I want to repeat is:

1. Design your life, don't expect random chance to work out for you. 2. Work towards your design, step-by-step.


If you have to ask the question, you don't need it nor truly want it, so why bother?|

A Masters is good enough; you are above most people but not too deep into the trenches.


Will getting a PhD lead to a more prosperous life?

Will getting a PhD lead to a more satisfied life?

A have a PhD. I think I can say probaly yes to the first. But: Where others can earn black money next to their work, I can't. So go figure.

For the second: I am certain - no. When others go home and leave their work where it belongs to, I keep on chewing. More responsibolity leads to more stress Imho which colides with satisfaction.

Both answers do not answer the OPs question though.


If you had an opportunity to study AI for your PhD then it might be worth it. However, since your field is rather niche, I don't see how it would be that valuable to industry. My advice is that you need to get out of there, and get a job as soon as possible. You will realize that what you've learned at university and real world software development are really quite different.


This is something I'm struggling with too. I'm about to finish the masters part of my US based PhD and I like my adviser and love what I'm studying, but the lab's culture (or lack thereof) is really isolating. I'm not sure if it's a case of "the grass is always greener" or if I really should push though and finish up my program.


Its a mind blowing thing to me that people study for that long, not really even starting their career until their 30's, to get a Ph.D - That said, if you are that close, and having this serious of thoughts about what is the right decision, and it will only take this extra 8 months to set you on the right path, then just do it. btw what country are you in?


In most countries a PhD will graduate around 24. It’s only a marathon in the US, and isn’t such a huge investment in time in other places.


> In most countries a PhD will graduate around 24

Not in Germany. I started studying at 18, so as early as possible. Finished after 5 years with my Masters degree. A PhD would've taken a minimum (!) of 3 more years, so I would've been 26 or older. If you don't have a perfect start, take more than regular study time or take longer than those 3 years, it's easy (and not considered being bad) to be 30 when you're done.


23, 24, 25, 26, yeah somewhere around there. That's a lot different to 30s. I had a colleague in Austria who got a very good PhD, with top-tier publications, all done in two years and out into industry.


> , I will likely surrender my chance for a PhD.

I don't think this is completely valid. I know a handful of people I graduated with both undergrad and grad, who went into industry for a year or two and then went back to study for a PhD. I wouldn't say it's a common path, but it happens..

In your case, you may benefit from a 2 year stint in the workforce IMHO


In practice, I expect most people will, if nothing else, find it hard to give up a likely fairly lucrative job in an on-demand profession to get a PhD. Golden handcuffs and all that.

But, sure, it's possible.


If you want to do it for the sake of better job opportunity, and to make more money, or status, don’t do it because there are better ways to reach that goal.

If you’re passionate about it and have different goals and believe you can have a positive impact by deep diving into an area, go for it and you will enjoy every day of it.


Short answer: No

Long answer:

Forget about "studying".

If you doesn't like doing research, i.e. try to solve open-ended problems without even knowing if an answer exists, do not do a PhD.

Doing a PhD is like Antarctic expedition - low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness, safe return doubtful. There's no reason to do it unless you really like it.


From my friends who have done PhD's, I understand that its a hard road to go down. I feel like you would need to be committed, interested and motivated....

An exercise I find useful when it comes to making hard decisions, is that I flip a coin and if I am disappoint with the outcome then I know it's the wrong decision.


There is no piece of paper that will ever give you the permission all of us humans seem to desire from the universe.

Get out. Go to a place you like. Do what you like there. Permission is given by doing.

Or in short, if you have to ask if a PhD is the right thing to pursue, it's not. :) have fun and enjoy life! good luck!


phd in machine learning - it was worth it, but i had an awesome advisor and my own funding (via a fellowship) so my experience is not necessarily the norm. I would never recommend a phd to someone given the time commitment (almost lost my girlfriend, and now wife, and a lot of friends), but life is way better post-phd than if i hadn't done it. I understand the bind you're in. The phd will open more doors to more interesting work, your opinion will start to have more weight, and available interesting work finds a way to your desk. Just remember that you do pay for all of this with several years of hard, stressful labor - being an expert in a specific technology can get you to the same place without nearly as much of a personal time commitment.


Get the PhD (unless you really feel like it is going to mentally destroy you)

In my 20 years career in tech (dotcoms, startups, academia), there have been several times when having a PhD would have come in handy for pay bumps, funding, new jobs, and interesting projects, etc.


If you intend to go into industry, what is the industrial job market for interactive theorem proving? If it is not so good, then you will be doing a career change at the end of your PhD and at least part of the degree's value will have been lost.


Not necessarily, it depends on the advisor, university, program and field.

The problem is that once you start you are committed for 4 years. Abandoning a PhD program and starting another one is quite more complicated than changing of job.


Don't do it unless you have something deep pulling you in that direction. People fetishize the things. You will grow in industry in other ways. You will see what things look like when the rubber meets the road.


Don’t do it.

A PhD is a massive emotional challenge. Unless you’re 90% enthusiastic/committed from the start I’d strongly recommend against it.

If you really feel regret strongly in the future, you can return. It’s not an irreversible decision.


You can go back and do a PhD after working for a few years - I did this.


There’s no correlation. Particularly in the software world, “interestingness” of work is dominated primarily by what you can do, and what you deliver, not by credentials.


Aerospace PhD from Purdue. I do not regret it whatsover. I met some great people and it definitely made me a better engineer. I did not go into academia either.


A PhD is a research degree. It teaches you how to do research. If you do not want to do research, but rather, build things, I would recommend forgoing it.


No it won't, find a position in industry asap.


"I have no desire to become a professor/researcher. After I acquire my PhD, I surmise that I would go to industry."

Go for industry!


As a former tech recruiter, if you want to be a data scientist, a PhD helps. So look to see if the jobs you dream about ask for a PhD.


Get a PhD, but only do it if you actually enjoy academia. Otherwise, it really isn’t worth it.

Related question: are there ways to get involved in research on the side, rather than as a full-time, multi-year commitment?


> I choose to graduate soon, I will likely surrender my chance for a PhD.

Why? There must be a prof somewhere who is willing to accept you.


If you don't enjoy doing research, you will be miserable doing a PhD. That's really all there is to it.


A phD will help you get a visa/GC. I think that is why you see a lot of foreign candidates doing a phd.


If you turn in the Iowa State University VP of Finance in for NSF grant fraud, then YES. Do not recommend.


being in Europe makes a big difference here I think.

in the US i know several people who did an MS, worked in industry, then went back for a PhD. it’s extremely possible.

i suspect this is less true in Europe, where the degree process is faster and more focused and where the hierarchical aspects of academia are much stronger.


If difficult is interesting, then yes. Getting a PhD will make your life waaaay more interesting.


I dropped out of PhD school, and I have a more interesting life than most of my friends who stayed. :)


Yes, but "interesting" and "happy" are not the same thing.


TL;DR: For me personally Ph.D. has been the greatest decision I have ever made.

I am not going to cover the typical discussion regarding the diminished lifelong earnings of Ph.D graduates as I don't think everyone is optimizing their life 100% around money. If that's the case I would recommend looking holistically including choice of life partner and their earning potential as well where you live and the job market there.

I have a PhD in Computer Science from one of the top 5 schools in the world and Masters from unknown university in a medium size city.

Through the years I have struggled with being an outlier at my unknown university where people did not understand my passion for CS. I took part in open source projects, went to meetups and read tons of CS books just to satisfy my curiosity. at the same time there was nobody I could talk to regarding my passion.

When I entered Ph.D this turned out to be the greatest social experience ever. Almost all my current friends I have met during Ph.D. They are geeks in their own respective area (CS, Chemistry, Biology, Social Science, Theatre studies) and we can talk for hours about our research which never happened with me before. I met my life partner there and chances of finding of someone who I can talk to about theorem proving in a "normal" world are close to zero. On top of it she also understands the value of hard work and long hours I commit to work which has always been a struggle with my partners from general population.

Now the bad parts. You should expect that Ph.D. is a long and lonely journey that you have to execute by yourself. You are likely to go for months without any tangible results and you need to be happy with that. I did not suffer any mental health problems during the Ph.D. but they were fairly common between my friends due to pressure to publish and loneliness of the pursuit. If during Masters you are already dealing with some anxiety Ph.D. may not be enjoyable. In the end all my friends turned out fine and graduated but expect ups/down during the process.



From my sporadic research on this the tl;dr is you don't get a PhD unless you want to profess the cutting edge of that field by teaching, researching and perhaps doing general public education. It seems it is not as profitable as it is intrinsically rewarding. Then my own perspective is that at the moment academia is a minefield depending on which institution you join and what field of study. Some fields end up looking like industry job anyways, except you write and review papers day to day.


A PhD will make close to zero difference to the quality of job you get, so if you're thinking that an MSc will get you a boring job but a PhD would get you an interesting job that's absolutely not the case. I speak as someone who has had a long and fulfilling career in software engineering in spite of having a music degree, and knowing people with strong quantitative PhDs doing very boring work. (I would say they aren't "stuck" other than in their own perception however). It's on you to find yourself interesting work though - PhD or no, it's not going to land in your lap.

Secondly, it's definitely not the case that if you don't get a PhD now you'll never get one, however in all likelihood it will be much harder later on. In my experience, people's responsibilities and commitments (personal and work-wise) grow constantly and it only gets more and more difficult to find time for things in future.

It sounds like 9 months doesn't give you a PhD, 9 months gives you potentially the opportunity of a PhD. So it's a theoretical minimum and when you're looking at this, you should calculate on the PhD take longer. Be wary of sunk cost. Having invested time in getting an MSc, it's easy to think "9 months isn't that long given how much I've done so far" without thinking through whether the goal is worth achieving in itself.

tl;dr: Get a PhD because you want a PhD. Probably don't get a PhD thinking it will make some sort of difference to your job prospects.


Follow your intuition.


I left my PhD program in CS (specifically, compilers).

I began working after graduation with a job at a (very) small Chicago start-up. I was the first engineer. I enjoyed a lot of freedom, and I was paid OK. The job had many ups and downs. The opportunity arose to pursue a PhD when my advisor-to-be recruited me at a weeklong PL research retreat over the summer. I thought: "well, I will regret it if I don't at least try and see." Not to mention: how could I have a better opportunity, than for my advisor to recruit me?

I was part-time for a little while. (My advisor was very flexible.) Work got worse, mostly for unrelated reasons, and it was time to quit the job. I was spending 3 days a week on research for the PhD, and not enjoying it. However, I was very much enjoying my compilers research seminar course (read a paper and discuss every week). So, I quit the job. I figured: "maybe I am not enjoying research because I haven't been able to focus on it."

It turned out I really didn't enjoy the work I was doing. I wanted to do research, but this wasn't it.

My advisor and I discussed my dissatisfaction with the PhD at length. I felt like I came to the program with a lot of excitement for compilers research, but I was spending all my time on tedious engineering work (writing a `#pragma`-parsing extension in Clang). I wanted a promise that there was a plan to switch gears, to get creative, to do (what I believed) I had signed up to do: to write a totally new kind of compiler!

My advisor was flummoxed. "This is it," they said. I was confused, and a little angry.

It's a common story to start a PhD on the promise that you'll get to do a certain interesting piece of research, but spend 2 years (in some cases, more!) doing other work for your advisor (possibly due to funding). I knew a PhD candidate in this very position, who one day finally became so frustrated they said aloud: "I'm sick and f*cking tired of this! This is not what I signed up for." They had been there 2 years, and still weren't working on the research they began the PhD out of an interest in pursuing.

Finally, my advisor issued an ultimatum: decide whether to stay at least 2 years through quals, or quit.

I told my advisor I couldn't commit to 2 more years. Not when I was unhappy with the work, and when they were openly promising me more of the same.

My advisor was angry. They started to say some unflattering things: sometimes things like, "since you're an engineer, you should understand that the foundation work comes first." Other times, they were just openly rude, and non-constructive: "in my opinion, you are a bad presenter." They prided theirself on radical honesty, but failed to value empathy. Eventually, I just stopped listening to them.

I told my advisor I was going to explore my options and look for work. At first, they were encouraging: "I expect nothing less." In retrospect, I think they were confident at the time that I would stay. After it became clear I was planning to find a job instead of continuing in the program, however, my advisor began to make arguments to me like:

"Nothing in industry is interesting. Only people with PhDs get to do the interesting work."

"You will get paid more with the PhD."

"You will never become a self-directed learner if you quit."

All of these points are blatantly false. (The last one in particular was really weird to hear.) But, finally, I was hearing it said: I was hearing my advisor spread the fear. All along I picked up on the trepidation my peers in the research lab felt toward "industry work," which they all seemed to imagine as a form of cubicle hell in the bowels of Oracle's terrifying UFO office complex in California. My advisor finally gave a voice to that fear. They tried to spread that fear to me.

I am extremely glad I had already worked in industry. I knew my advisor was wrong. I think, however, that they believed their own arguments. They've never worked in industry, after all. And maybe they needed to believe it was worse, in order to justify the stress and overwork of academia.

For my part, I ended up with an excellent job in New York City working for better.com. I have no regrets. I still have a fascination with compilers, and I occasionally read papers for fun. I work on my own self-directed projects in my free time, which I enjoy far more than I enjoyed working for my advisor. I also get paid very well, and my work peers are some of the smartest and most talented people I've ever met - PhDs included. The best thing my advisor ever did for me was fire me. I got a raise (even over my first job); I got to move to New York City; I got to work with incredible new people (and lots of them); and I now know exactly what I'm missing out on, having left the program.

By the way: we're hiring at better.com. :)


get a job. you can always go back to do a PhD later, and the workplace will equip you with the skills you'll need as PhD student to take no shit


I've been thinking all morning how to answer this. Rather than give advice, here's some thoughts about what I've seen in the industry. The quick answer is that, yes, a PhD should give you a more interesting life...but you might not want that.

I have a PhD in Chemical Physics. I got it about 15 years ago. The need to go deep into computation to solve chemistry problems is what gave me the computer skills that have served me well. That is, after I got my PhD, I haven't done any work in in chemistry or physics at all, but have been a high-performance computing expert everywhere I go. So, in my case, having the PhD really helps, but that's because I work in a field that secondary to my PhD work. I would wager, that's probably true of any academic field. The actual PhD work is so esoteric that it's not going to have any good application to reality (industry) in a reasonable time frame, but the underlying skills needed to get the PhD are going to be super useful.

Now, as for getting a job...I have had very bad luck (until recently) getting the FAANG-like companies to take me seriously: I'm expensive, I don't want to sit around all day gluing APIs together, and I don't have a public repository of code to point to. They want folks who fit into their mold of whiteboard interview. But now that I'm senior enough (15 years + PhD), I'm starting to get the target calls rather than the generic recruiter nonsense.

The point about not having the public repository of code is important: when you're a PhD, you job is to solve problems that _have never been solved before_. That is, it's not a rehash of the same problem in a new language, or a different architecture, or anything. It's new! The world hasn't seen it yet. That means 1) you can't go find an answer on stack overflow, and 2) your day-to-day work is HARD, and often demoralizing - at least I feel stupid every day until I find the solution, and then the dopamine hit keeps me coming back!. Since work is very hard (now, I also don't put tons of hours in, because the work is hard, so that's good). I don't have the mental energy for any side projects. I'm ok with that, I love what I do! But there is no public ego stroking and thought-leadership and all of that other stuff you see with other semi-famous developers. I can't point to a public project and say "I did that" or "I helped build that" because what I do is propitiatory.

Getting the PhD itself was a slog, and I didn't really enjoy the grind. But it is good have that credential. I know SV is all about "meritocracy" and whatnot, but having the PhD is a good signal that a person knows how to think and problem solve with little to no supervision, especially when the problem space is ill-defined. When hiring, I always count a PhD very high. I know a bunch of companies do too. So while the initial work of getting the PhD wasn't terribly fun, I've always had an easy time finding a job or getting a promotion.

I think another commenter said something to the effect that a PhD is a good signal that you can (and have) owned a full project start-to-finish. Don't discount that. It shows you as a closer. That's a good thing.

Sorry for the brain dump, but this was an interesting question you posed...tl;dr - I think a PhD can make you super valuable if you set it up in a way that the skills you learn while getting the degree are transferrable (now) to industry. You will have a leg-up on everyone else entering the field. Just don't get caught in pure theory that will not have an application for another decade. But you need to be ok with feeling stupid everyday because the problems you're solving are hard and new.


This is a very good answer!

I got a PhD almost 20 years ago (in ML). I worked hard and played hard - and had the time of my life. I learned to surf, got a black belt in Aikido, restored a sailboat, climbed 3 times a week, and made friends for life.

Professionally, it set me up to join industry, and put me on a technical fast track. Do I still use any of the research from my PhD - almost never (although I still dabble with NNs and GAs occasionally). Do I still use the overall research and organisational skills, and the critical thinking I learned - every day!

If you are a self-starter and have the right sort of intellectual curiosity, a PhD will be a worthwhile exercise, whatever you do afterwards. And, as the parent points out, the signalling that a PhD gives can be very useful. The fact that you completed a PhD points out that you are both smart, and can get things done.


do the phd and find a profession outside of tech.


No.


> I'm afraid I won't be able to find interesting work with just a MSc, and I'm really afraid of getting a boring software engineering gig.

This is probably true. Most jobs you'll get with a BS+Msc are going to be app development. Web, mobile, server... pick your flavor. You'll largely be using tools developed by other people, to build applications.

The really interesting jobs are absolutely held by Phds. But that's not to say that having a Phd guarantees you'll get one of those jobs.

I think if you have the option to get a Phd, hunker down, and do it. The industry is headed for a correction in salaries soon. Way too easy of work is being done for 100k+ salaries. When that correction happens, you're going to be happy that you have a Phd and are doing work in a much more challenging field that warrants the pay.


> The really interesting jobs are absolutely held by Phds.

That wholly depends on your definition of interesting.

I don't have a PhD.

I've written software that taught literacy to kids, helped people pay their bills online (back in 1999, when this was novel), written full ML systems (15 years ago, before the advent of open source ml packages), co-founded a YC company, and now I'm helping people rediscover the images of their lives (see my profile if you're interested!)

To be sure, I'd love to go back to school. There's so much I know I don't know, and would be wonderful to discover.

Just realize you can work on interesting stuff if you look for it, are willing to stretch your skills continuously, and change jobs every handful of years.


> That wholly depends on your definition of interesting.

Of course it does... I'm just making an assumption (possibly wrong), that if you're the type who's in an MS program, wondering if you'll be bored without a PHD, then yes, most industry jobs will bore you. After all, why are you in an MS program seriously considering a PHD. There's gotta be an intellectual curiosity there beyond just moving data around.

At the end of the day, 90% of industry app development is CRUD (Create, Replace, Update, Delete) work on data. The really interesting problems (from an intellectual perspective) are either in research positions, or, at the elite positions within company pet projects like Google Brain, for example.


None of it qualify as interesting to peopple interested by phds.


Exactly my point, which seems to be eluding many others.

People who are interested in a PHD, aren't interested (most likely) in your CRUD / another run of the mill app.




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