Right before negotiating my severance in 2012, I wondered whether I should get a Ph.D. After 13 years in the private sector, I thought it would be nice to switch things up. Besides, if I got my Ph.D., I could demand people call me doctor, just like how our incoming First Lady demands to be called Dr. Jill Biden!
It is absolutely fine to request people address you as doctor if you have a Ph.D. or Ed.D.. Whether people comply with your request is another matter. Only around four percent of Americans have obtained a Ph.D. Therefore, people who have gone through the rigorous process of getting a Ph.D. deserve respect.
I’d like to think that if I got a Ph.D., I would play it cool and tell people, “Just call me Sam.” After all, I’m not only a believer in stealth wealth, but stealth education as well.
For a better life, it’s better to pretend you are dumber than you really are. Otherwise, people are going to expect a lot from you. They may ask you a lot of questions and constantly challenge you as well.
Time is our most precious asset. The dumber you appear, the more time you will have to do as you wish. Trust me on this. I have all the time in the world and it still doesn’t feel like enough!
Here was my thought process about getting a Ph.D. way back when. I’ll go through the pros and cons of getting a Ph.D. From there, you can make your own decision on whether it’s worth getting this degree or not.
Should I Get A Ph.D.?
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.
Since 2000, the number of people with master’s and doctoral degrees has doubled. The number of people age 25 and over whose highest degree was a master’s has doubled to 21 million. And the number of doctoral degree holders has more than doubled to 4.5 million.
About 13.1 percent of U.S. adults have an advanced degree today, up from 8.6 percent in 2000.
After intense focus on making money in banking for 13 years, in 2012, I got sick of it. Instead, I wanted to focus my attention on learning something new. I started Financial Samurai in 2009. Therefore, I thought there may be some synergies in getting a Ph.D. in communications.
At the core of any doctoral program is conducting research and publishing. What better platform to conduct research and publish than with one’s own website?
A key reason why I loved getting my MBA part-time for three years was that I didn’t have to worry about getting good grades. I already had the “dream job” many MBA grads aspired to have – working as a VP at a major investment bank. Going to graduate school was purely for the sake of learning and meeting interesting people in new fields.
Once you make enough money to feel comfortable, making more money no longer becomes as interesting. What becomes more interesting is self-actualization.
Benefits Of Getting A Ph.D.
Besides being able to harness a Communications Ph.D. to help develop my online business, there are other benefits of getting a Ph.D. as well.
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 in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
It really does take at least 10 years of working on your craft to gain true credibility. Think about how you may have felt impostor syndrome working in your 20s. It probably wasn’t until your early 30s that you felt more secure.
Before getting to my 10-year Financial Samurai anniversary in July 2019, I never felt comfortable being described as an expert in personal finance or online media. But now, I feel I have the credibility to confidently share my thoughts on the best course of action without apology. The proof is in the lemon meringue pie.
If you spend 10 years after high school furthering your education, you will have tremendous credibility.
Everybody enjoys a little bit of prestige here and there. Prestige is why within the first minute of meeting someone new, you’ll always know where every private university grad went to school. They’ll voluntarily tell you!
The only reason why things are prestigious, however, is due to scarcity. For example, there’s only one President of The United States. Therefore, he has a lot of prestige.
According to the latest US Census, only about 13.1% of the American population has a Master’s Degree or higher (up from 8.6 percent in 2000). Further, only about 4% of the population has a doctoral degree (up from 2% in 2000).
You may not get rich with a doctorate degree. But with a Ph.D., you will belong to the highest social circles. You can force everyone to address you as doctor all the time. It is your right!
Once you get your Ph.D. you will likely have more opportunities. These opportunities come in the form of consulting, publishing, teaching, and speaking. As an expert in your field, large corporations could hire you as a consultant to provide insight into a business venture.
With a Ph.D., publishers will have more confidence in signing you to write an authoritative book. Visiting professorships are also more readily available if you have a Ph.D. In addition, company Boards always need some Ph.D.s to create at least the illusion of credibility to investors.
Education is one of the most important assets. The things we learn amount to grains of sand in an hourglass. There is so much more to learn.
If you are a true “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.
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.
Universities exist to test wild hypotheses in a relatively judgmental free environment. Surrounding yourself with highly educated people can be very rewarding because they will challenge you on your own thinking.
When I graduated from college in 1999, 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 in 2006, I once again experienced a feeling like no other. My father, girlfriend, and a good friend attended my graduation ceremony.
Today, I am a champion for everyone getting as much education as possible. Education is what will help set you free.
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 may be an even more rewarding accomplishment.
7) Potentially Higher Income
People with Ph.Ds tend to earn a higher income on average. Further, they tend to have more job stability in a crisis.
Below are the latest statistics pre-pandemic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, the income doesn’t take into consideration the length it takes to get a Ph.D.
The Cons Of Getting A Ph.D.
Although there are many benefits of getting a Ph.D., there are also several significant negatives. Here are some to consider.
1) Delayed retirement
The more time you spend getting an education, the likely later you will get to retire. After all, you want to work for as long as possible to make your Ph.D. worthwhile.
I have a friend who is 34 years old. He is just 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 $300,000 – $400,000 as a specialized cardiologist. That’s great money, however, he’s just starting his career while I had just retired. Furthermore, not all doctors will make as much money starting out. Certainly not Doctors in Communication.
You must be sure that what you are getting your Ph.D. in is exactly what you want to do for decades.
2) A test of will and patience
I know about five Ph.D. candidates who never finished because they gave up halfway! Or they are simply taking their sweet time. Some are in their 7th or 8th year in a supposed 5-year program.
One Ph.D. candidate I know is going to school because she doesn’t know what to do. She has a trust fund and decided why not learn while she figures out life given she has the financial means. Other candidates gave up midway and decided to just get a Master’s Degree instead. If you’re going to do anything, you better do it right.
3) Big opportunity cost
Some believe with ever-rising tuition, college itself is an expensive opportunity cost. Can you imagine spending another five+ years of your life after college to get your Ph.D.? During this time, you’ll have made no real money. Further, you will not have gained any real-world work experience.
During your energetic 20s, you could have started a company, gotten promoted multiple times, and traveled the world multiple times over.
Think about how many exciting things have happened over the past decade. Getting a Ph.D. could really crimp your lifestyle. You may experience a tremendous amount of FOMO as your peers make lots of money and do new and exciting things.
The fear of missing out is why I decided to get my MBA part-time. There was so much going on in the Asian region that I didn’t want to skip a thing.
4) Bad for those who die young
If you so happen to die earlier than the median life expectancy, 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 was 24). 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! If you knew you were going to die at 40, you would have spent all your time after high school doing everything you’ve wanted to do.
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.
In addition, getting a Ph.D. and then not using it because you switched fields or retired early is also a suboptimal use of education and time.
The Ideal Ph.D. Candidate
If you decide that getting a Ph.D. is right for you, then your biggest hurdle is getting in. If you are terrible at graduate school exams, you simply might not score high enough to get into a good school or any program.
If you still want to get a Ph.D., here are some things that will make you an ideal candidate.
Research and Academia
It is generally frowned upon to get your Ph.D. and go work in the private sector. Getting your Ph.D. for the sake of making money is a no-no after speaking to admissions directors, professors, and Ph.D. 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. He or she enjoys conducting research in their field and teaching. None of this work is traditionally lucrative.
Have 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 a particular field of study, you won’t be able to last through the program.
If you are getting a Doctorate in Philosophy, hopefully, you have read countless philosophy books 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. Ask yourself, what problems or mysteries do I want to solve?
Perhaps the ideal Ph.D. candidate is one who has already experienced over a decade in the private sector. Therefore, he or she has the perspective to make a better decision about getting a Ph.D. It’s really hard to know exactly what you want to do during your undergraduate studies.
Instead of accepting students with the highest test scores into a doctoral program, doctoral programs should accept more students who have more real-life experience. Being smart is one thing. Being able to apply your Ph.D. in the real world is what makes getting a Ph.D. most useful.
Think about hard problems, such as cutting down traffic accidents with self-driving cars, flying to outer space, or coming up with a coronavirus vaccine. If getting a Ph.D. can help you solve these problems, then by all means get one!
If your Ph.D. doesn’t do much to improve the state of humanity, perhaps don’t get one. We all want to do something that has meaning.
Not Getting A Ph.D. Was Fine
At the end of the day, I decided that getting a Ph.D. was not for me. It would have been a great bucket list item to achieve. However, I decided to focus my time after the private sector on traveling, writing, and now being a father.
Further, I decided to fulfill my desire for teaching by being a high school tennis coach for three years. It was a great experience that ended with us winning back-to-back Northern Conference Sectional Championships.The school had never won one before, let alone two NCS titles in its history.
I truly respect those who have gotten a Ph.D. Not only were they smart enough to get into a doctoral program, but they also had enough grit and intelligence to make it through.
A Ph.D. just wasn’t right for me. But a Ph.D. could very well be right for you! Instead of getting a Ph.D., I’ve decided to pursue my career as an author instead.
I’ve written consistently on Financial Samurai since 2009. I published a severance negotiation book. Now, I’m considering traditionally publishing a book with Penguin Random House.
Any readers out there with a Ph.D.? How was your experience getting one? What other pros and cons are there of getting a Ph.D.? Do you request others to call you doctor? What are your thoughts on non-medical doctors requesting to be called doctors?