Does it Pay to Get a PhD?

by | May 16, 2013 | 0 comments

Ever thought of getting a PhD? Wonder if it is worth it or not?

Recently I have been asked this very question several times. They want to know my view on the PhD process.

Some are wanting a PhD for personal reasons, but everyone wants to know “Does it pay to have a PhD?”


In my case, yes. I have been put on boards (paid), been offered positions (for no other reason but the PhD), and of course I currently work at a university in a position which requires a PhD. But, I cannot claim this is typical. I know many PhDs who work normal corporate jobs that do not demand advanced degrees, and I even know some PhDs who are unemployed or underemployed.

But given the questions, I decided to do a little research.

Common Reasons NOT to get a PhD.

In an article by CBS, they tell of reasons why not to get the PhD. Here is how I view some of their 12 reasons.


Reason 1. A PhD takes twice as long as a bachelor’s degree to complete.

My View – Duh.


Reason 2. Professors will exploit you.

My View – If you let them and you choose poorly, yes. But you have choices.


Reason 3. You could drop out. Only about 57 percent of doctoral students will get their PhD within 10 years of starting graduate school.

My View – I thought it was worse than that. This is a very true statistic. But you are to blame here, not the system.


Reason 4. You might end up on food stamps. Since 2007, the PhDs who filed for government assistance tripled.

My View – Who is to blame here?


Reason 5. Academic jobs are tough to find.

My View – True, but depends widely on your field. And, academia is not the only place that needs PhDs.


Reason 6. It could cost you and leave you in debt.

My View – Yes, if you are stupid and get a loan. Call Dave Ramsey and ask his advice about getting a loan to pay for a PhD. Just do not hold the phone too close to your ear when he responds.


Reason 7. You probably won’t get tenure.

My View – This may be true. Tenure is a deadly trap for universities. But, I would not be focused on tenure. Focus instead on getting results.


Reason 8. College presidents would eliminate tenure if they could.

My View – Agreed. So would I.


Reason 9. More than 50 percent of faculty are part-timers. Part-time faculty usually don’t have access to health insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits.

My View – Agreed. But that is partly by choice. Many are working other jobs while teaching.


Reason 10. Jobs can also be scarce outside academia.

My View – This goes back to jobs are scarce. Not true. What is scarce is people who can market themselves and find opportunity.


Reason 11. Graduate schools play with the numbers about graduate stats.

My View – This may be true in a sense, but I do not think because they are playing games. The numbers are just hard to get. It is hard to track people once they left. We do not put tracking collars on PhDs.


Reason 12. Unfortunately, you can’t eat prestige. But you can write obscure papers that only a handful of people will read.

My View – Amen!!


Some of my observations on the PhD

  • The PhD is not the problem. The reason people quit and/or take 10 years is because they do not understand the basic of getting it done. The PhD, like anything else worth going after, takes planning and strategy.
  • The articles written with the bad data were not by PhDs. Not to say they are not true in part, but could be biased.
  • Used properly, the PhD can be leveraged for money.
  • About 1.5% of the US population hold PhDs. Want to be in the 1%? This is one way.


Why Get A PhD?

  • Personal goal – For me, it was a personal goal. Nothing else. I never planned to go into academia (really, I was dragged in kicking and screaming,) but just wanted to get to the PhD level.
  • If you plan to teach, it adds real value.
  • Some jobs do require it. High level think tanks and related positions in organizations (yes – even corporations) hire only PhDs.
  • Sets you apart. You are in the 1%. Not always as a positive thing, but this coupled with some common sense (no – the PhD and common sense do not have to be mutually exclusive) can help in some situations.
  • You will often be considered the smartest person in the room, even though you know it is not true. If you think it is, you have another problem we can discuss later.

This is my view on things. But I am asked so often about strategy on how to get that PhD, the I am now doing some webinars on the subject. So, I expect soon I will know more PhDs!

Question: What is your view? Are you thinking of this route? Have you taken the PhD route and found it a waste? 

Sign up here to get a FREE copy of my article on The PhD Process! This article tells you the true steps you need to take to be successful in the PhD world.

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Dale Callahan

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