Life After The Private Sector: Should I Get A Ph.D.?

UC BerkeleyPart of my goal during sabbatical is to explore other opportunities.  I’ve been in the private sector for 13 years and I’m looking to do something else.  I’ve been fortunate to save a good chunk of change during this period of intense capitalism.  Furthermore, with the creation of an online business to keep food on the table, there’s no need to do anything just for money anymore.

A key reason why I loved getting my MBA part-time for 3 years was because I didn’t have to worry about getting good grades.  I already had the “dream job” many MBA grads aspired to land.  Going to graduate school was purely for the sake of learning and meeting interesting people in various fields of work.

Once you make enough money to feel comfortable, making more money no longer becomes interesting.  What I’m more interested in is further self-actualization, service, and giving back to the community.

A LIFE IN ACADEMIA

Did you know that Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy?  Philosophy refers to the original Greek meaning “love of wisdom”.  How appropriate a term to describe one that spends years beyond college to gain more knowledge.

When I was a kid, I always told myself I’d love to be wealthy and get a Ph.D. one day.  As I grew older, I realized how much easier it was to dream than to execute!  Sometimes we are forced to choose between something less interesting, but more lucrative and something more interesting but less lucrative.  After four years of toiling away in college, all I wanted to do was make some money so I joined the private sector.

Now that I’m middle aged and no longer have the desire to maximize profits, I’d like to explore research and teaching.  I’ve got to imagine that this is a natural course of action for many people who were good students, but used their talents for profits instead of service.  There’s nothing wrong with this as most of us work for money.

With my online media business, I believe getting a Ph.D. in communications could result in some fantastic synergies.  At the core of any doctoral program is conducting research and publishing.  What better platform to conduct research than with one’s own online media initiatives?

I’m not a 22 year old recent college graduate who isn’t entirely sure what he wants.  I don’t plan to go to get a Ph.D. to delay the inevitable or attend because it’s the thing to do.  I’ve got years of real world experience and have very clear ideas of what I want to do post doctorate.

BENEFITS OF GETTING A Ph.D.

Besides being able to harness a Communications Ph.D. to help  develop my communications business, there are other benefits of getting a Ph.D. as well:

* Credibility.  Anybody who goes to school for this long has to know something.  If you have a Ph.D., you should be an expert in your field of study.  With credibility comes respect.  With respect comes a better sense of well-being.

* Prestige.  The only reason why things are prestigious is because so few people have them.  There’s only one President of The United States for example.  According to the US Census, only 9% of the American population has a Master’s Degree or higher.  In 2000, only 1% of the population had a doctoral degree.  Now that number is close to 3%, but still low.  You may not be rich, but with a Ph.D. you will belong to any of the highest social circles around.

* Opportunity.  Once you get your Ph.D. you will likely have more opportunities granted to you in the form of consulting, publishing, teaching, and speaking.  As an expert in your field, large corporations could hire you as a consultant for a healthy sum to provide insight into a business venture, for example.  With a Ph.D., publishers will have more confidence in signing you to write an authoritative book.  Visiting Professorships are more readily available practically anywhere you go, especially if you get your degree from a top school.  Company Boards always need some Ph.Ds to create at least the illusion of credibility to investors.

* Education.  Education is one of the most important assets one can have.  The things we learn in college amounts to perhaps a grain of sand in an hour glass.  There is so much more to learn.  If you are a “lover of wisdom”, then I suspect you will enjoy getting a Ph.D.  Furthermore, most reputable Ph.D. programs I know pay their students a stipend.  Stanford, for example, pay around $7,500-$8,000 for three quarters a year and all your health care costs.  Not a lot, but not bad at all!

* Community.  I don’t know about you, but I loved my time in college.  The college community is wonderful because everybody is there to learn, support, and nurture.  University is there to test hypotheses and see what becomes of things in a relatively judgemental free environment.  Surrounding yourself with highly educated people can be very rewarding because they will challenge you on your own thinking.

* Achievement.  When I graduated from college, I felt an incredible sense of achievement.  I also swore never to go back until the 2000-2003 downturn happened.  When I graduated from business school, I once again experienced a feeling like no other.  Now, I am an aggressive champion for everyone getting as much education as possible.  I did not understand the benefits of education until I got some myself.  Making money is one thing, but achieving the highest level of education possible is an even more rewarding accomplishment.

THE CONS OF GETTING A Ph.D.

I know at least 15 people with Ph.Ds who are all doing well.  There is no starving Ph.D. graduate on foodstamps like the mass media enjoys highlighting.  I’ve talked to several of them quite extensively and have come to the following negative conclusions:

* Delayed retirement.  A friend is 34 years old and is starting his second one-year fellowship in medicine at Cornell Hospital in NYC.  Granted he’s been making about $60,000 a year as a resident, but that’s nothing compared to the 16 years he’s spent studying, interning and paying tuition after high school!  At 35 years old, he will likely make around $400,000-$500,000 as a specialized cardiologist.  That’s great money, however, he’s just starting his career while I’m at the cusp of retiring!  Furthermore, not all doctors will make so much.  Certainly not Doctors in Communication.

* A test of will and patience.  I know about five Ph.D. candidates who never finished because they gave up, or are on their 7th+ year of a supposedly 4-5 year program!  One candidate is going to school because she doesn’t know what to do.  She has a trust fund and figures why not learn while she figures out life given she has the financial means.  Other candidates gave up mid-way through and decided to just get a Master’s Degree instead.  If you’re going to do anything, you better do it right.

* Opportunity cost.  Some believe with ever rising tuition, college itself is an expensive opportunity cost.  Can you imagine spending another 5 years of your life after college to get your Ph.D.?  You’ll have made no real money and have no real-world work experience.  During your energetic 20s you could have started a company, gotten promoted to a senior position within the firm, traveled the world multiple times over.  My 20s were truly an exciting time of getting my ass kicked at work, speculating in the stock and real estate markets, getting an MBA, and traveling all over.

* Bad for the unhealthy.  If you so happen to die earlier than the median life expectancy of 80, your return on investment for getting a Ph.D. decreases.  I clearly remember when the admissions director asked me in my MBA interview why I wanted to get my MBA so early.  I replied, “Because I know what I want to do, and want to leverage my MBA degree for as long as possible.”  If you get your Ph.D at 30 and die at 40, what a shame!  Worse yet, I know people who get Ph.Ds at 30 and retire and do something totally unrelated with their degree.  Who knows when we will die, but if you’re an unhealthy person, perhaps maximizing fun-time is better than spending another 4-5 years after college to get your doctorate degree.

THE IDEAL Ph.D. CANDIDATE

If you decide that getting a Ph.D. is right for you, then your biggest hurdle is getting in.  I don’t particularly score well on standardized tests, although if I were to take the SAT again, I’m pretty sure I’d crush the verbal section at the very least!  Asking me to figure out the value of the missing variable in a multi-variable equation with a picture of a trapezoid?  Not so much.

Most schools require you to take your GRE graduate exam, get three or more letters of recommendations, write an essay or two, submit relevant research, and send in your college transcripts.  Gathering all this information reminds me of my mortgage refinance experience (nightmare!). An absolute bear that must be done if you want it enough!

After consulting a couple dozen people on getting into a top MBA program, here are my suggestions for what I think will be attributes for the ideal Ph.D. candidate:

* Research and Academia.  It is frowned upon to get your Ph.D. and go work in the private sector.  Getting your Ph.D. for the sake of making more money is a no-no after speaking to admissions directors, professors, and students.  Remember, Ph.D. = Doctor of Philosophy = “Love Of Wisdom”.  The ideal candidate is fully dedicated to staying in the field of academia upon graduation, conducting research in their field, teaching, and proudly representing their university.  In fact, I dare say that an ideal candidate is one who has already experienced over a decade in the private sector, and therefore knows with even more conviction that s/he wants to be in academia.

* A clear vision.  You must want to know what you don’t know yet.  A Ph.D. is the absolute specialization in a particular field.  Without an intense interest in the particular field of study, you won’t be able to last through the program.  If you are getting  Doctorate in Philosophy, hopefully you have read countless philosophy books all around the world and have written numerous papers on the subject already.  If you are getting a Doctorate in Music Theory, hopefully you play several instruments and are a lover of music.  Once your interests are aligned, you should have a vision of what you want to do with your Ph.D.  What problems or mysteries do you want to solve?

* Marketability.  One can’t underestimate the importance of marketability.  If you are an Olympian who is smart, attractive, and famous, you will probably get into any Ph.D. program you want.  Universities compete on recognition and funding.  You’ll have to speak to both tenured and non-tenured professors alike to understand the intense battle for dollars and prestige.  Instead of accepting the brightest college students into your doctoral program, I recommend and believe that doctoral programs should accept more students who have real life experiences.  We can’t all pretend like we’ve stayed at the Holiday Inn Express while discussing world events in the classroom.  We need lovers of wisdom who have been there and can share experiences that only they would know.  Practice and theory must be combined!

SHOULD I GET A Ph.D.?

For those of you who have a Ph.D., are in the process of getting their Ph.D., or are considering getting a Ph.D., I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I’m seriously contemplating getting my Ph.D. as I enter a new phase in my life. Thirteen years in the private sector followed by 5 years getting a Ph.D., and another 20 or more years in academia sounds like a good idea.  I understand getting a Ph.D isn’t a walk in the park, but most good things aren’t anyway.

Readers, would love to hear from those who have their PhD, are getting their PhD, or quit halfway through their PhD.  What are you doing now?  Was it worth it to you?  

Wealth Building Recommendations For Everyone

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Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    None of my friends has a PHD. I must be hanging out with the wrong crowd. :)
    Only a few of my coworkers has a PHD and they are doing well at their job. I’d say if you have time and inclination, go for it. I don’t think academia is for me so I’m not really interested in another degree.

  2. says

    My brother in law has a PhD and teaches at a very good public university. He absolutely loves it, and still manages to run his own practice on the side (he’s in health care) part-time. Even between research requirements and teaching, there’s still enough time to flex the capitalist muscles to do private work. It makes for a long workweek, but if you love what you do, then that’s never much of a problem.

    He loves it, and I can see why – it’s the perfect blend of mental stimulation combined with practical work when he’s not at school.

  3. says

    Go for it! My neighbor was a tenured professor (statistics), Dept. Chair etc at CSUN before he retired. He used to tell me how difficult it is to join the faculty when he statrted (30+ years ago). He started as a lecturer, then adjunct professor for years. He had a Ph.D from UCLA. With all the baby boomers retiring in the next 5 years, it may become easier. He made it seem that it is really hard to find full time employment in academia.

      • says

        Knowing it may be difficult means you are going in with your eyes open. By the time you are looking for work, you won’t need to work to support yourself. Last, is this a crowded field? Are there a lot of Communication Ph.D’s? Will you make the Ph.D relevant with multi media, social media and online business? You could market yourself as an expert in those areas and create a entirely new course.
        I think you want a different career which the Ph.D may help you achieve. You may want to investigate this further and sit in a couple of classes. You can talk to the professors and see if you will like it before you spend all that time to get a Ph.D.

  4. says

    It is tough, Sam. I thought about it once after I was done with my two Master’s degrees but decided not to go for it. I guess I was fed up with studying and researching and working at the same time.
    It all comes down to one simple question: where do you want to be in five years from now? :)

    • says

      Aloysa, why did you decide to do two Master’s degrees? Was it a change of mind after Master degree #1?

      Why not just do a PhD instead of two Master’s?

      Thx for the perspective!

        • pcash says

          There’s a big difference between taking classes (getting your Masters) and doing research for a PhD. A quality PhD student will be spending countless hours a week in their cubible rading, paper after paper. There is something very discouraging about that for an early retiree who’s has the means to travel frequently and enjoy numerous activities.

          I don’t know if I would have the dedication it take to get a PhD once I hit early retirement. I would imagine myself messing around doing it half-assed, and taking a decade to achieve it. However, I could very easily see myself get a couple of masters during my retirement.

  5. says

    I thought about it several years ago. Honestly research that University departments (in my field at least) is pretty useless and boring. No one pays attention to it other than other academics and very rarely would it influence the real world. I was more interested in teaching, but you will quickly find that at least in most respected PhD programs that is frowned upon.

    One downside you didn’t mention is very little control over where you live. Positions can be hard to come by and you might not have many choices (or any) depending on how highly ranked your program is. Additionally, politics in Universities are notoriously nasty, surprising given how educated everyone is, but if you don’t play the game you might not get tenure, a good class schedule, etc.

    The lifestyle is nice, but if you just want to teach, have that lifestyle, and do some research in a low stress environment, you might think about teaching community college with your MBA.

    • says

      Good points. I’ve heard about the nastiness with politics! Here’s the thing, the desire to teach does not trump my desire to live in a fantastic location such as San Francisco or Honolulu. I would like to teach, but I do not need to teach for financial means. Hence, if there is nothing desirable at University of Hawaii, Berkeley, Stanford, Santa Clara, SF State, or San Jose State, I’ll just not teach!

  6. says

    To be honest, I have 25% of the credits I need for a Masters Degree thanks to a prestigious postgrad internship, but I have no desire to finish or go further. Actually the only way I’d reconsider is if a company made me an offer that included a nice salary and them paying for grad school.

    You are actually one of the few people I have heard talk about advanced degrees as a way to achieve. Most people I know with them seem to stumble into them because they like student life.

    Dr. Financial Samurai has a nice ring to it, though.

    • says

      Hah! Thanks John. A Master’s Degree is generally only 2 years a the most. Hence, with 25% of the credits, you only have at most 1.5 years to go!

      I’d get your Master’s no brainer, especially if it’s from a reputable school!

  7. Leah says

    I guess one thing you have to think about is location. I knew some very accomplished PhD’s who found jobs….but in towns they had no interest in living in. The PhD’s took the jobs, knowing that they’d be leaving to go elsewhere in a few years, but it’s a frustrating cycle. One PhD found a job at a great university in a town he liked but wasn’t offered tenure and had to go to a less desirable location.

    Just something to think about.

  8. says

    My wife is doing her PhD and I am really proud of her. I don’t think that I would ever be able to do a PhD but some people see dreams come true in their loved ones.

  9. says

    I often think that it’s silly that we expect people at 18 (or even 22) to be able to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. My BA is in history with a minor in writing. 6 years later, I was back in school for my MBA- not my dream degree, but the most useful one in the field I ended up working in (and enjoying).
    C is back in school after being out for more than a decade. The original plan was just to get a BA, but he fell in love with math, and the plan now is a combined BA/BS and then on to a PhD program (with an MS on the way) in math.
    As many have said, positions for PhDs can be limited, but we’re lucky, in that, like you, C won’t NEED a job once he graduates. If he can find something in our area, great, if not, he can become the crackpot he’s always aspired to be, and self publish a book on the new mystical geometry.
    Or, since we live in a tech capital, go do monetization at a casual games company or R&D at any game company for six figures.
    I think the real key right now to getting your PhD is the fact that you don’t NEED to work for someone else afterwards. You’ll be able to use it to enhance your own enterprises, and then take advantage of opportunities that work for you.
    If you really want to give back, talk to an adult learning center, or the local boys and girls club, and teach to those who could really use what you’re teaching.

    • says

      Hi Shan,

      Talk to me about C not needing a job after graduation. I thought he was without a job for 99 weeks? Did he win the lottery or have a nice investment windfall?

      I’m excited about the Yakezie Writing Contest for giving back. Please take a look!

      Thx

      • says

        I actually need to point some college students I know toward the Yakezie Writing contest.

        C doesn’t NEED a job after he graduates because we can live comfortably on my salary. We live comfortably on my salary while paying for him to be in school. When he’s done with school, that’s 10k+ a year that can go straight into retirement savings with no one even noticing. If he does get a job, any money he makes is just gravy. (Yes, this assumes nothing breaks up our happy marriage, and I am perfectly fine making that assumption. I also make the assumption that if we split, I’ll end up paying palimony.)

  10. SISTAR says

    From a PhD (hard sciences) to a potential grad student:

    Why do you want the PhD? There are only two good answers here.
    1) To better your career or make a career shift.
    You seem to be potentially interested in academia, but you haven’t demonstrated that you know how in-demand your degree is or not. If academia isn’t for you, then you should be sure that having a PhD will actually increase your earnings potential by enough to offset all the time you spent getting it.

    2) Because you are just crazy passionate about the area.
    I suspect that a PhD in communications is a lot different than communicating (blogging or chatting with clients) so you should spend a lot quality time talking to professors about what it is that they actually research and whether you care at all about those things. If possible, volunteer some and get a feel for actually doing the research. You might like it, you might hate it.

    Other random points:

    - Having a PhD does not guarantee that you will get to live someplace exciting. If you want an academic job, you’ll probably wind up at least considering some less-than-desirable places. It would be a shame if you did all that work and then never used your degree because you hated the thought of living in Iowa City.

    - The graduate student process involves an inordinate amount of being someone’s bitch. Grading essays, running to Scantron offices, scheduling journal clubs. Just about anything that no one else wants to do will be shoved onto you. You don’t get to say ‘no’.

    - Actual academics (at least in the sciences) spend most of their time chasing ever decreasing grant funding. If you can’t bring in the money, you will be unceremoniously shown the door.

    - In the sciences (not sure if this applies to communications), you will spend an excessive amount of time in post-doctoral training (low pay, low benefits – but better than a grad student) until you finally get to have a real job. Exact time in post-doctoral Purgatory varies by specialty and economic conditions.

    I don’t want to sound too discouraging, but getting a PhD can easily become a suck-fest if you aren’t going in for the right reasons and with the right mindset.

    • says

      Truly fantastic insight. Thank you!

      Sounds like getting a PhD is a big time drag! The career option I’m thinking of heading towards is becoming an authoritative writer. As such, I have to believe a PhD will only help.

      There are at least 8 schools in the bay Area and Honolulu I could join, so I am not too worried. I am crazy passionate about my business and don’t care about money. Still sound like a bad idea?

      What is it that you do? Do you regret having your PhD?

  11. says

    I’ve always wanted to do what you’re talking about. Work for ten to twenty years and then, once financial stability and career are firmly settled, go for the PhD. If you’ve got the money to live meagerly for a few years and have a true passion for studying, then why not? I think it’s a bad idea if people go for a PhD to make more money or get more jobs – I’m not sure how much this will really help. I even know people who actively won’t hire PhD’s because they’ve been out of the workforce for too long. So it really has to come down to the passion for studying.

  12. says

    Definitely spend some time to think it through before jumping in. I’m sure you would anyway but just wanted to put that out there. I think if it is really what you want to do then go for it just make sure it is what you want.

  13. says

    You and I clearly have some similar thoughts on this topic. After a number of years in business, getting a PhD has entered my mind, and I do have some areas of very high interest that I could see having a lot of fun pursuing. The world of academia, coupled with private projects, has an allure to it. Of course, I’m not a kid anymore and have kids of my own (and the real need for cashflow), so at this point it probably won’t happen. But with less obligations, I could see giving it stronger consideration.

    Best of luck with your decision, your rationale for doing this seems pretty cool.

    • says

      Thanks mate. I don’t have dependents yet, so I can’t make that kind of judgement. 5 years of a PhD program with dependents and only making $24,000 a year would be tough. I’d like to think that with my diverse income streams, I could make it happen if i had kids. Who knows. Thanks for your thoughts.

  14. says

    I think it’s a great idea Sam. I have Master’s degree and I’ve thought about pursuing PhD before as I love to teach. I’ve been teaching since I was 13 years old. Once you have enough money, you ought to do what excites you daily. It seems like PhD will excite you to take your life to another level of happiness and fulfillment.

  15. says

    I thought about the PhD route, but only for the title. Nothing more. Like you stated above, not everyone can say that they have earned a PhD. After reading the comments, however, I’ve realized that 4-5 years of research and bitch work may not be worth the prestige of being called Doctor, after all, if it’s only for a title.

    No matter what, though, once I retire in about 8 years, I will teach high school or college math. My graduate degree should be good enough to do so. Being a teacher is the best way to “retire” because teachers have their summers off, in which case they have time to spend their entire teacher’s salary traveling the world.

    Nice post, Sam. I loved every bit of it.

  16. says

    I don’t know much about PhD’s but I think that’s fantastic you are thinking about getting one! I know one guy who got 2 masters and a PhD and is now a professor. I remember him telling me there was a lot of pressure to get published in certain periodicals and he was always submitting his work. Based on your post I think you’ll be a perfect candidate. Best of luck!

  17. says

    Sam,
    I don’t know much about PhD’s, nor am I a baller like you to have an anomaly of PhD friends. Good for you though. If this is something you want, you should go get it. It’s a dream for most, and something you can make a reality. If it will make you happy, definitely go for it. Like Sunil said; “Its the pursuit of happiness”.

  18. says

    sounds like an interesting thought sam – it could be really good for you – the few that I know with PhDs (education) had a bit of trouble, but still found work after they graduated and seem to be enjoying it, but they have the typical problems teachers have – not getting students interested. Good luck with whatever you pick!

  19. says

    You’ve definitely touched on a personal dream of mine. Work a few decades in the private sector, get a doctorate and then teach for a dozen years or so before retirement (pension included if a state school).

    I think, if you are jumping into the PhD world late in life, that you need to consider the financial implications. For me, dropping into college teaching will probably mean a big pay cut during the years I’d earn my highest wages; also impacting social security I might add.

    However, in your particular situation, where money is not an option, I don’t really see a down side. There are costs, but if maximizing income isn’t a concern, it will probably improve the quality of life.

  20. says

    Getting a PhD after a career in the private sector – now there’s a concept I can warm up to! When I graduated in 2007, I was actually seriously considering going all the way and applying to a PhD program. A few of my friends did… and they are still in school!

    Instead, I worked towards a M.S. while working as an intern. As soon as I collected that first paycheck though… I knew I would not have the will or patience to see a PhD program all the way through.

    To pursue one after a career, when making money is less relevant makes perfect sense. You are now free to focus entirely on learning, for the sake of learning! I would imagine it makes the whole process much less stressful as well. Said friends who are still in their respective programs are always groaning about: not having made any real money, lack of real world work experience, falling behind their peers, etc. Too many factors which prevent them from fully engaging in their research. To be honest, I think the friends I know are all regretting their decision. Like you said, after graduation they will be looking to get that first real job/experience, while I’m already senior and thinking about retiring!

    The thought of obtaining a PhD post career has never crossed my mind before. Can’t say I’m not intrigued by the thought of it…

  21. says

    Not that I know you on a personal level, but I think if it is a dream of yours you should follow it. Yes, there is a cost associated with it, but so is traveling to all the cool places you do. This dream is just a bit out of the ordinary for someone so established

  22. Ash says

    I think getting a Ph.D. would be absolutely great! If you have a dream and passion for a particular subject, just GO for it and dont worry about getting jobs or not getting jobs. When I went to graduate school to get my Ph.D. [in biochemistry], jobs never entered my mind. I just went for it as I loved the subject, it kept me off the streets and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The money was tight, the hours were long and I worked my butt off. But hey, nothing much has changed in my life, except the money is a lot better, but the hours are longer! Yet, frankly, I would pay THEM for letting me do what I do!

    My philosophy is: 5 years are going to come and go no matter what you do! So why not spend it living your dream?? My mother was around 45 years when she went ahead and got her law degree. So its NEVER too late to do anything. And what more would you want from life: living in Honolulu, soaking the sunshine and working toward your goal??

    • says

      Sounds great Ash! The “Time Train” will move no matter how much you put into the caboose. I think I’m going to at least try. If I can’t get in, then at least I know it wasn’t meant to be!

      That’s great you would have been willing to pay them. Awesome. The program I’m interested in pays $24,000 a year and health care. Sounds good to me!

      • Ash says

        “If I can’t get in, then at least I know it wasn’t meant to be!” Nonsense!! Just
        study for the GRE and Im sure you will get in anywhere! Its not just your grades
        or GRE scrores that are important, but your life experiences are just as
        important if not more so.

        24k is average now for grad. srudents. In addition to health care, you also get
        free or reduced rate access to the Uni. sports facilities, lots of free food all week,
        travel to meetings [national and abroad] etc etc etc.

        And judging from everything you have done in your life, I am positive you will
        have no problems finding jobs…at a Uni., community college, high school, as a
        consultant. Or heck, just do your own thing and open up your own gig!

        • says

          For someone more than 15 years removed from taking standardized tests, I am sure I will at least bomb the math portion of the GREs. I think schools would rather have high GREs and no real world experience than real world experience and low GRE’s. It is the way it is. This is academics afterall!

          I’ll try though.

  23. Ash says

    You are very wrong that schools prefer high GREs and no real world experience. MOST schools would prefer a low GRE and someone who has a B.A. and MBA and who shows a passion. I would apply to a wide variety of schools, including some very very prestigious ones…the latter is good for the ego, even if you dont really want to go there. As you have seen from this blog, very few people want to do Ph.D.’s and Uni.’s are really hurting for quality students. TRUST me on this.

    As for math, well, just get one of those instruction books and keep working on the problems. After a while, you will see the pattern and it will be a breeze.

  24. Bob Dowd says

    I have 18 years working in Television as a produce and manager. I got my M.S. nearly 20 years ago and have been using it to teach after hours for quite some time. For the last three years I have been teaching full time (Temp) no tenure track. And this is a huge problem… The idea that a terminal degree is needed to go for a tenured position. I have no real interest in getting a PhD, however I am being forced to do so in order to continue doing what I love the most, tech at a university level. Economically, I would much rather just keep my job teaching and pay out of pocket for the PhD. But this is not possible as all but for profit degrees are stipend. So I’ll cut my pay by more than half to get this terminal degree, that I don’t really need other than to be in “the club.” It is a simple economic decision for me….that is not so simple…. I’m 45, a conservative and surrounded by liberal hoops to jump through… Good luck to you….

  25. says

    You’d probably do fine with the GRE, especially if you purchase a $20 book that goes through the sorts of problems to expect. My only caution is to spend equal time on both verbal and quantitative: I was a lot more worried about the math, so I spent a lot more time working on it. As such, I got a near perfect score on the math (790/800), while my verbal left something to be desired (610/800).

    I know the scoring has changed, but both of those scores were actually pretty close to the 90th percentile at the time. I bring those scores up just to illustrate my point.

    Anyways, I’m planning on heading off to a Ph.D. in theatre and drama in the fall at a UC school. It’s a field that has always interested me, and it’s definitely my passion. I’m looking forward to expanding the areas of research in theatre, while bringing other pet interests into the conversation (pop culture, sports, liveness, etc.).

    • says

      Thanks for the tips Bryan. I won’t neglect verbal, but I sure as hell need to study for math! It’s so useless after graduation beyond the basics.

      Can you remind us again what you do now for a living? Or, are you going straight through school?

      • says

        Right now, I work in the energy industry, where I’ve worked off and on for the same company since 2005 in a couple different roles. My wife works for the same company, though she has a higher-profile position in a different department. We used to work in the same department, but when we got married, I was asked to transfer.

        I got my MA in 2011, and I applied this last winter to this Ph.D. program. I’m getting full funding for the first three years (and potentially the fourth, depending on the budget of the State of California) along with a small monthly stipend for student teaching. For the stipend, the school is expecting 19 1/2 hours of work per week. I need to have a chat with my contact at the school to see if there’s any potential for outside work on top of that (it would be beneficial if I could keep my day job through at least March, as that’s when bonuses are awarded), but I don’t think there is.

        • says

          Gotcha! Everybody seems to be able to get into a PhD program. Was it as simple as that?

          I’m looking at the GRE books and thinking, “how the hell am I going to score well on the math/quant section when I haven’t studied math in 15 years?”

          Since you got an MA.. you did your GRE’s a while ago then yeah? Just pains me that I’ve got to go through this standardized testing again after my GMATs.

        • says

          I actually got my MA from a program that didn’t require GRE scores. I took the GRE part way through the program (fall of 2009, though I got my BA in 2004) because I was applying to an MFA program that required them. I had taken the GRE my senior year of undergrad also, but I thought I could improve my score by re-taking the test (math improved, verbal and writing got a little worse).

          Honestly, I was pretty surprised that I got into my Ph.D. program in part because I only applied to the one program. If I had to guess, I’d think the fact that I’d done well in my MA combined with the fact that (like you mention above) I had a few years in the private sector under my belt (and knew much more clearly how I wanted to spend my life) added to my desirability to the program.

          For what it’s worth, I spent a few years trying to get into multiple MFA programs for acting, and I had no success. My experience with getting into the MA and now the Ph.D. programs seemed much easier, comparatively.

          • says

            Well done Bryan! Perhaps we should meet up some time as it sounds like you are in the Bay Area?

            The PhD program I’m looking at has 10 spots a year it looks like and is ranked #1. Seems like a super long shot. I’m assuming they value maturity and real-life experience over GREs. Going to visit the farm manana!

  26. preserve says

    “perhaps maximizing fun-time is better than spending another 4-5 years after college to get your doctorate degree.”

    Can you think of anything more fun?

  27. AJ says

    I found this article, especially all the comments, to be very insightful. I just happened upon it while researching my own academic endeavors. I had questions on how far I should go with my education and this helped me answer a couple of my questions.

    I was born the riff raff referred to, the ones that doesn’t know anyone with a PhD :). I was homeless from 9 to 17, not much I could do about that. School was not a place I found solice in either, being the poor kid makes you a target. So in order to survive I had to quit school and work, otherwise I would have died. I started a family very early and devoted my life to my children, ensuring that they would never have to feel like the odd one in school, the outcast that never got help in any avenue. I made sure they knew that education was key and there was no excuse to not work hard, socially and academically. Being social is just as important, if you can’t talk to people then you can’t do business with them.

    My youngest just went off to college, she wants to be a Trauma Dr. My oldest will graduate in a year with a BA. I am only 38 and I now want to go to school, I have time, not alot of money, but where theres a will theres a way, right? I always wanted to be psychologist. I love to read, even though I wasn’t able to continue school and got to college, I never stopped trying to gain knowledge. I love learning and the human behaviors and how mental disorders effect behavior. It’s always been a passion of mine. However I do have a great deal aof apprehension in pursuing a career in this field or just going to school to pursue a career that is more practical for my age. I mean it takes several years of education and I will be close to 50 by the time I’d be finished as full time student.

    You all seem to be pretty well educated and smart. Do you think it would be foolish to pursue this type of career now, when I am only 2 years shy of 40? I know this post is a couple months old, but I though it would be worth a shot :)

    Thanks and Best Wishes,

    AJ

  28. garristotle says

    Your comments show your well developed critical thinking skills and talents which point out to me that you would do well in further studies both from internal and external reward motivations. It has been a few months, are you still thinking about it. Please email me to discuss further off the public board.

  29. JC says

    Thank you for posting this, everything I’ve read recently is so negative. I’m going through the application process for a PhD program and am in a similar situation – I’ve worked in the private sector for years, have an MS, and am passionate about the subject matter I want to pursue. Here’s to going for it!!

  30. Jim says

    Thanks for posting your feelings on this. My take? Go for it. I recently retired at 48 and after getting a Master’s in Education, and picking up 18 more hours in my CJ, I want to spend the time teaching and bringing the real world and academia into the classroom. In talking to the Dept. Chair and grad coordinator, there are more and more folks who spent time in the private sector in careers and are now coming back to get the final phase of the their education. You won’t be the oldest one in there, nor the youngest, so have a blast!

  31. JD says

    I just stumbled upon this site and though I would weigh in. I am a CPA, worked may up to a director of finance a private company, then a controller at a public company, then eventually a CFO of a public company. Like many posts on this board, I had a life long ambition of teaching at a university level. So after 17 years in accounting / finance roles, I left my career behind to pursue a PhD, knowing full well that I would never make as much money again, but looking forward to the academic stimulation, shaping student’s lives, etc. I studied for the GMAT, applied to numerous PhD programs, (I chose business management programs), got accepted at 3 or 4 and then proceeded to sell my home, move my family across the country and became a PhD student in business management, with the intention of eventually becoming a professor.

    At first, I enjoyed it. I found the courses in business strategy and organizational dynamics stimulating and interesting. However, I found the statistics EXTREMELY hard — and that comes from someone that got A’s in all my math courses through calculus. As time dragged on, I found the emphasis on publishing and research to be overwhelming, stressful and extremely challenging. I have accomplished many challenging things in my career, including leading complex mergers, acquisitions, and even an IPO. Nothing compares to how difficult a PhD program is. It is, by far, the hardest thing I ever have done in my life. The hours are ridiculous, the difficulty level is insane, the expectations are completely unrealistic, and the chance of success if VERY low. In order to get a job as a professor, you must demonstrate your ability to publish prior to graduating (which you have to do in your spare time on top of ridiculous class loads, research assistantships, dissertation, etc.). Only something like 10% of all submissions to top management academic journals are ever accepted and, even then, the process is fraught with politics, pitfalls, hard work, and a LOT of luck. If you are lucky enough to get a journal to actually consider publishing your work, then it still often requires several rounds of critiques, responses to those critiques, and typically, completely rewriting your submission multiple times. The entire process, beginning to end, can take years, and even then, can often result in rejection.

    All that being said, tenure track professor jobs in business are not abundant, (at least not at best schools), and even if you are lucky enough to land such a job, then you face 6 to 7 more years (post PhD) of similar lifestyle, (long hours, high expectation for publishing). If you don’t publish, then you will get kicked out and be forced to move to a lower tier school — with the lowest positions at community colleges, etc., where there is no publishing requirements and pay is only slightly higher than high school teachers.

    So, long story short. I spent 2 years in a PhD program before I saw the light and realized the the long hours, stress and sacrifice were just not worth it. I have the utmost respect for folks that actually complete a PhD and become a tenured professor, but honestly, for anyone that has already worked in real world for more than 10 years, I’d strongly encourage you to skip the PhD route. It’s a very difficult transition and unless you’re willing to sacrifice 10 years of life and you LOVE to read, write and do statistics all day and all night, don’t do it. By the way, my experience has been that, in general, academics HATE people with real world work experience. Not only is work experience not valued in an academic PhD setting, it is actually frowned upon. I was actually called aside more than once by professors after class and told not to comment about my business experience in class settings because it detracted from the theoretical discussions — I’m not making that up. It is a very frustrating environment for folks with real world work experience.

    So, after sacrificing everything to get into a PhD program and spending 2 years in the program, I am dropping out and returning to the “real world” to make a living again as a financial executive. I have never been happier in my life to be out of the PhD program. I am glad I did it just to learn that I did not like it, but I am even happier to be done with it and have my “normal” life back again.

    • says

      Wow, thank you for your perspective! I believe every word you say and I’ve decided not to get a PhD after visiting a couple programs. Too long, too theoretical, too brutal!

      I’m going to apply to a one year fellowship instead. Pays well, short, and practical.

      As a fellow executive in finance, do you want to go back to work? What about doing something completely different for work ?

      Thx, Sam

    • Dean B says

      I considered all of the same things you just mentioned in your post and decided to not go for a PhD. I have worked full time in my career field for 26 years and I am only 44. I have a graduate degree in administration on top of my work experience. None of that gets me into any of the local university to teach subjects in my career. I would think universities would want a real work experience plus a moderate level of education to teach their students on current issues in the career they want to go in. I am told no each and every time I apply to teach because I don’t have the PhD or ABD. Any thoughts on why?

  32. mary says

    I am a master student now. I wanna apply for phd degree in a privileged university. my major is project management. some times I think its better to get master 2 in construction management and for get getting my phd. u know why? because actually I’m not interested in research any more. I think I can earn much money and also I am so tired of studying anymore. I am so confused and can not decide what to do. is here anyone who can help me?

    • says

      If you are tired of studying, and you want to earn money, don’t get a PhD. Get a PhD for the love of learning. This is the conclusion I’ve come up with.Your energy in your 20′s and 30′s need to be harnessed before it fades!

  33. Sandy says

    I loved your article. Am 28 years old and from a computer science/software engg background. I recently finished my masters degree in engineering part time (while working as a developer full time) with the initial motive to get a better paying job, but once done with it, I felt a big void in my head – more like the kind of feeling you experience when you run regularly and skip the next 5 days without it! I love learning, not because it can be beneficial for a career, but learning something i didnt know makes my day.

    Am thinking of applying for a PhD in engineering with a defined non monetary goal in mind. Problem is, I intend to stay in the private sector because I love what I do. Is it possible to do a PhD along side my job? I am also married – no kids yet, but my wife supports it (at least that what she said :) ).

    Appreciate any feedback from your end,

    Sandy

    • says

      Hi Sandy,

      I tried looking for part-time PhD programs, but couldn’t find any, at least any reputable ones! Perhaps work until you hate your engineering job so much and THEN get a PhD? All the feedback I got says that getting a PhD doesn’t help you get a great job.

      How did you find my article/site btw?

      Cheers, Sam

  34. Lover of Wisdom says

    Hi
    I’m 31 years old and I’m about to do my PhD defense in Intercultural Education tonight. It was my pastor who recommended me to go for a PhD degree; he sees that getting a PhD is beneficial in establishing myself as an authoritative voice in the field. But, I’ve also been contemplating about the question “is it worth it?” for quite some time. There’s no easy answer for me to this. I sometimes struggle when I see my peers already doing well in their career and financially, while I’m still wrestling with papers night after night. I know for certain that in the short run, PhD in education may not mean much in terms of financial gain. But in the long run, perhaps it could help. I’m planning to start a private school, and I think the PhD would help me because of increased credibility that comes with the degree.

    It was a good move for me to go back to a full time job as a teacher upon completion of the PhD courses and advancement to candidacy. So I started doing the dissertation while teaching full time. Fortunately also, they promoted me to a management position one year into the job (while my dissertation was still in progress). So I’m thankful that now that I’m graduating, I also have some solid work experience under my belt, and clarity of vision of what I will do next.

    I think the most important thing before considering any graduate degree is, like Sam said, a “clear vision.” People who have PhD or multiple masters degree with no clarity of vision will have a hard time getting far in life. I have known a lady who has 3 masters degree, and working as a part time elementary tutor. I also know a person who got a PhD from Germany just for the sake of prolonging her stay in that country. On the other hand, I know a person who has a Master’s degree in sports management, the field that he is very passionate about. Prior to the degree, he already accumulated solid work experience, had a solid vision, and already established the connections. He is now doing very well as an organizer of a national sports league. So, the need for a CLEAR VISION needs underscoring one more time.

    • says

      Good luck on your PhD journey! I’m curious to know how you found this post? Did it show up on the front page of Google or something? I’ve decided I’m going to pursue a Fellowship instead.

  35. Eric says

    Hi guys,

    You should seriously and thouroughly evaluate the pros and cons of pursuing a PhD degree. It seems to me that many commentators in this forum paint too rosy a picture. There are advantages in gaining a PhD, but there is clearly also the other side of the medal. I am currently doing a fully funded PhD at an Ivy League university, and the advise I can provide is that you should absolutely try get a realistic and accurate picture what a particular PhD degree involves and what career options it provides. In my oppinion, the comment by SISTAR is a very valid assessment.

  36. Susie Q says

    Hello everyone,

    I am working on my M.S. in Environmental Management (2nd semester, 1st year; Concentration in Water Quality and Resource Management) and I am highly contemplating applying for a PhD. I am currently an intern at a lab testing drinking water and I love my job…. to the point that I would love to work there full time for a couple years in a similar job position as I am in currently in. The internship ends in May 2013 since it’ll be 2 years since I worked there (I started the summer of 2011 as a senior in college). I was granted a fellowship which covers my tuition and grants me a stipend and I believe that I can get fellowships to cover the PhD. as well since my foot is already in the door… Additionally, I am starting my master thesis research soon (next summer after I finish in the lab) and that is going to be funded as well. As long as I make a great impression on the principal investigators of the project (one who happens to know me well already as he was my honors thesis mentor in my undergraduate years), they could consider me as a graduate student researcher for the rest of the research (the grant was just approved and the project is 5 years long). I don’t know if I want to continue on to get my PhD. after. It would delay getting married and starting a family… then again I don’t know when that will happen. My only reason to get a PhD. is because I love to teach… Any suggestions?

  37. Monica says

    Get it if you love to learn!!! I am 42 and a single mom. I decided to take some on line classes when I became ill and was off work, just for something to do. I am now finishing my associates degree, and three surgeries, several treatments etc. later I have been released to return to work, but I loved learning so much that I am now moving my family to a new town so that I can attend a University to get my Bachelor’s. I will be going to college with my son!!! But I love it so much that I want to go on to get my MBA and PHD. Yes I am old, and no it probably will not pay off at my age, but it has given me so much joy and pride because I have a 4.0 and my kids got to watch me get inducted into the honor society. It has set a good example for them also. Actually my youngest will graduate at about the same time I finish my PHD.

  38. PhD to Be says

    Thanks for your article and all the responses. I appreciate all the input. I’m 52 and just started my MA, intending to go all the way to the PhD in philosophy. Longevity runs in my family so I figure I’ll have a long time to use what I learn and the opportunities the degrees open up. My background is in music and education, including 14 years of homeschooling my kids. I’m in my first semester and while it’s a lot of work I absolutely love it so far.

  39. Ana says

    I read your posting, and had to post a comment. I am 47 years old, and decided to pursue my advanced degrees five years ago, after establishing myself in the music and acting business for twenty-five years. I jumped in with two feet, romanticizing myself into believing that academia would provide me with all the aspects of life my professional artistic career could not; financial and spiritual stability, job security, a “normal” life and potential retirement.

    I am about to complete my PhD in Music (Vocal Arts performance), this semester. I have to tell you that pursuing a PhD is a full-time commitment. I have had very little to no social life for the past five years. I am the poorest I’ve ever been, and will be in debt for the rest of my adult life bridled with school loans (I even got scholarships!), and have NO professorship prospects as I prepare to walk down the graduation red carpet in May.

    In applying for several music professorships, reality set in, and I, personally, now feel I made the biggest mistake of my life! There is a reason why so few people pursue and complete their doctoral degrees. I persevered, constantly compromised my personal and financial lives, stuck it out, and now, I am just another unemployed PhD competing for a full-time music teaching position in a rancid U.S. economy. And, it stinks!

    I am grateful for my prior successful professional career, and the lessons I learned when I was young. I am an innovative and entreupreunerial artist, so I will create something for myself if someone doesn’t hire me, and will get back on my feet, as I can always freelance again in the music and acting world. But, that’s not why I pursued these advanced degrees! Noone tells you this stuff when you apply for graduate school. It’s a scam.

    I thought I would get my degree and visualized myself locking in a full-time, tenure track professorship at a university in some lovely, charming small U.S. town at the end of this long road. As I prepare to take my qualifying exams, I am confronted with the old adage that the grass is always greener! I suggest that if you want to learn about the Communications field, find an established mentor for yourself in that field, and go work for him/her. You’ll probably learn more, hands-on, in a shorter amount of time, and still have a life. And, given your business savvy, you may even make some money in the process (even though you don’t need to). Academia? My friend calls it MACADEMIA! Sorry to burst your bubble! Three words of advice; DON’T DO IT!

    • says

      Ana,

      Thank you for your thoughts and advice about getting a PhD! Sorry to hear it has been so rough for you. Perhaps we can look on the bright side, as I always like to do?

      * You have a PhD. Well done! Not many people can achieve such heights.
      * The PhD was paid for, and provided you income.
      * You were already a success in your previous career for 20 years and are an entrepreneurial artist. Perhaps you would have been bored doing the same old thing?

      At any rate, I’m strongly leaning against getting a PhD and focusing on fellowship opportunities instead. Hope you stick around and subscribe and share your thoughts.

      Best,

      Sam

  40. Joseph says

    I am 32 years old and I want to apply for PHD program. I wonder if it is a good decision or not?
    I have no paper (I have just 3 papers as co-author, second or third Author). I am so disappointed , because many universities in Europe say that a candidate should be fresh (within 0-4 years from his master). now I am in my 4th year after graduation from master. Your opinions about my chance for finding a position are welcome.
    Thanks in advance

  41. shazia says

    Hi, I want to do Ph.d but I am confused I am turning 30. If I will start doing Ph.d will it be beneficial or I simply will waste ma time or I am overaged to do the Ph.d. I love Teaching and are experienced also bt I also need to fulfill ma financial liabilities. Please advice. Thanx for this beautiful post.

  42. says

    One of my dreams is to become a professor. One of my dearest professors in college became a professor after being in the industry. He doesn’t have a PhD. He was a senior executive for a private oil company, and decided to retire at 55. The dean of the business school recruited him as a professor part time. Then they hired him full time, and now after 8 years, they asked him to head a program. I think it’s a lot about connections. He was a high ranking executive who brought business experience to the classroom. But he was very well connected!

  43. says

    On another note, I already have 2 master’s. I’m looking at a 3rd master’s part time. My company would pay for it, and it will improve my skills. :)
    I don’t know if a PhD is in the future, but ti definitely is a topic I think about. It’s never too old to get a PhD.
    I met a man in his 50s in one of my grad finance classes, and he is now a PhD student!

  44. Linda says

    I love the article and the posts. Lots of good information.

    At the age of 50 I decided to get my degree in Music. I had grown up in a family of musicians/entertainers and had performed in lounges and at festivals most of my adult life. I also love to write music and believe that I’m pretty good at it.

    Actually, life gave me an opportunity to go back to school. In 2009, my husband and I went several months with no income. We were both self-employed and we ended up homeless with two teenagers, a very large dog, 3 parakeets, and a goldfish. After a few months we finally applied for foodstamps. They told us that they could help us get a job or go to school. Well, jobs were not to be found at that time, especially with us being self-employed and more mature, and we jumped at the chance to go to school.

    Well, we are in our 4th year of college and I will have my bachelors in Spring 15, at the age of 55. I am determined to continue and get my masters and hopefully my doctorate by the time I’m 60. Oh, the concentration will be composition. I intend to make a living writing music of all sorts. I want the doctorate because of the doors it will open for me and the connections I will make. I know it won’t guarantee success – that’s up to me – but not only will it open doors, I should have crazy good skills by the end of it.

    I just thought you were soliciting reasons why people were getting – or not getting – their Ph.D’s, and wanted to include my story. Unlike some of the other commenters, my parents did not even finish high school and I will be the only one in my family – including cousins and aunts and uncles – who will have their bachelors.

    It will have taken 5 years to get my bachelors, and another 2 years for my masters. I’m attending CSU Sacramento. We still have one child in high school and so we are not planning to relocate for a few years. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to get my doctorate at USC or UCLA in composition. Only time will tell…..

  45. Bobby says

    Overall, great article! I thoroughly enjoyed the academic insights that you brought to view. As of right I am currently in undergraduate pursuing my BA with two majors: Ethnic Studies and Philosophy with a minor in nonprofit.

    It’s only my Sophomore year and already I am researching potential graduate programs all, but I cannot seem narrow down my focus. My older friends, who are upper classmates, tell me that I need not to worry about it. The issue is that I do.
    My question is should I go with my passion in academia in order to select my graduate progra?

  46. Juan says

    Hi Sam,

    I was an accountant for 16 years and every day at 3 pm I would stand from my chair stretch and say something like “I am a genius but only my mother knows it” meaning I shouldn’t be there. At age 41 returned to school just to refresh in chemistry (my real aim). Taking one course at first I ended up 12 years later with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. I graduated recently. Now I am back to square one at the verge of collecting food stamps, but I know this is temporary. The satisfaction derived from earning it is Nirvana or Heaven on earth, I wouldn’t change it for anything. You have no money problem then let me give you my blessing: “GO FOR IT”

  47. At a crossroads says

    Love the article. So, you really are not going for the degree? I finished my Masters a few years ago and am working now. Spouse and I tried to get into programs (at the height of the recession) and didn’t get in. As soon as I decide that I will stop dreaming and grow up, my spouse says, let’s try again. WHAT!?! We have four kids (one who is a genius, and one with a mild disability), what are we going to do in a phd program? I might finally get a raise and you want to turn our lives upside down and inside out. Well, of course I’m greedy and can’t resist the thought of having financial security for us and being an example to the rest of our family, but… Can we really do it? We currently work in higher ed, and both have Master’s so we know plenty of PhD’s and they are all like, do it, it would be great, you’ll do fine. They also try to tell us how difficult it will be but that we can get through it. So I guess I’m just ranting (now I’ll get back to work). Thanks for your article, loved the comments, I don’t feel as weird about being old and going back as I did before.

  48. Becky says

    Go for it! You have already accomplished financial independence.
    I am currently working full time and getting two Masters at the same time. I’m learning biomedical engineering and MBA. However, I want to learn more and get my PhD in bioengineering or stem cell research but fear that in doing so, I will decrease my financial prowess substantially. I wish I was in your shoes where I am not tied down to earning money but could focus solely on understanding on how things work.

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