Should I Get A Ph.D.? Not Sure If It’s Worth It

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.. 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.

Should I get a PhD doctorate degree - educational attainment chart

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.

1) You gain more credibility with a Ph.D.

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.

2) A Ph.D. offers prestige and status

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 as part of the elite class! You can force everyone to address you as doctor all the time. It is your right!

3) More opportunities with a Ph.D.

Once you get your Ph.D. you will likely have more opportunities. These opportunities come in the form of consulting, publishing, 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 bestselling 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.

4) If you love education, a Ph.D. is perfect

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.  

Number of degree holders by degree, Ph.D, Master's degree, Bachelor's degree

Related: What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody?

5) Greater community with a Ph.D.

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.

If you become a professor, you will walk around campus as a respected citizen by the thousands. I might even get your own parking spot and free meal voucher. can you imagine go to work every day and feeling the love and respect from so many people?

Look at how Sam Bankman-Fried's parents, both Stanford professors, are able to live in a $4 million primary residence and buy a $16 million vacation property in the Bahamas! Surely they wouldn't throw away their careers and status by doing something illegal at their age.

6) Achievement – Getting a Ph.D. is tough!

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.

In fact, spending two years writing and editing my Wall Street Journal bestseller, Buy This Not That, provided a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The process felt like I was getting a Ph.D! Although, I never got a Ph.D. so I can't say for sure.

Buy This Not That Book Reviews

7) Potentially earn a higher income with A Ph.D.

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.

Should I get a Ph.D.? Income and unemployment rates by educational attainment

8) A Ph.D. will immediately boost your net worth

I didn't think about this benefit of getting a Ph.D. until all the student loan debt controversy in 2023. The Supreme Court shot down President Biden's planning to wipe away $400 in student debt, and some privileged people felt angry and entitled to loan forgiveness.

What I realized is that entitled college graduates do not properly value their college education. Getting a Ph.D. will provide a boost to your net worth because post-high school education is an asset. I go through my analysis on how to calculate the value of a college degree.

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. Personally, I feel blessed to have fake retired at age 34 in 2012. Having full control over my schedule is wonderful.

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. With a Ph.D., it is highly unlikely you will be able to retire at the ideal age of 45. you will want to work for much longer to get a greater return on your education.

I think the better strategy is to become financially independent first and then get your Ph.D. This way, you are truly learning for the love of knowledge, not money.

2) A Ph.D. will test your 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 of getting a doctorate degree

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.

Please also know one of the best reasons to retire early is greater happiness. Getting a Ph.D. may delay greater happiness for over a decade if you're not studying something you absolutely love and are still worried about money.

best reason to retire early - greater happiness

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. You must get great grades and test scores, otherwise, you have no chance. 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.

Real-life Application Of A Ph.D.

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 traditionally publishing a book with Penguin Random House without a Ph.D and it became a bestseller. I didn't need a Ph.D to get ahead. But the degree would still be nice to have.

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?

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158 thoughts on “Should I Get A Ph.D.? Not Sure If It’s Worth It”

  1. Sometimes I really regret not staying in academia. I went into industry instead, but if it had been logistically possible (family situations), I would’ve stayed. Research is really exciting! And I think, for many people in academia, the pros are definitely much more valuable than the cons. It really depends on the individual, but a PhD is a long grind and definitely not for the faint-hearted; you learn a completely different set of cut-throat skills spending time among amidst “publish or perish” mentality. But then, the financial sense you blog about is certainly not easy either for those who have different priorities!

  2. Hey Sam, thanks for writing this up.

    I am a PhD dropout, and it took me 5 years before I left with only a masters.
    I regret it deeply, because now I’m basically a glorified IT guy in the pharmaceutical
    industry; and I get to sit by while I watch everyone else do the fun things I’m not qualified to.

    Perfect Example: I was furloughed for 7 months when the pandemic hit, despite our company developing the exact cocktail that went into Trump’s arm at Walter Reed.
    Because I’m “just an IT guy”… who has literally hundreds of citations across multiple papers and was considered a world expert in my niche.

    If you start a PhD in the sciences, you need to finish quick or leave quick. Anything else will ruin your life.

      1. 2 parts: timeline uncertainty and lack of clear expectations.

        I asked bluntly after my third? year about the timeline to graduation and was told “there is much more we have to do before we can discuss that”. One of his first students spent 9 years, and until I heard him say that to me I thought it was a fluke. He relied on him heavily to build his research program into what it is today, and I became worried that might happen to me.

        I was also frequently pulled away from my own work to my colleagues to perform the more technical aspects of analyzing and presenting their results… which was great until I wasn’t listed as an author on a string of papers.

        Looking back, I suspect that I was being relied on as a funding source to subsidize everyone else (My grants I wrote during first/second years brought in a combined 750k over their lifetime). But that was not obvious to me at the time.

  3. spaceassassin

    Hi Sam, I went through this exact analysis in a span of about 36 hours, 3 days into a PhD program in Clinical Psychology and due to the infrequency of PhDs, there wasn’t a lot of people to seek for advice; however, I was able to call my brother who had just finished his PhD 6 months prior.

    So here I was, just moved to another state two weeks prior, sitting in the DMV parking lot telling my wife that I think I made the wrong decision and that something didn’t feel right about committing to school for another 6-7 years at 24-years-old. We worked through many of the same items on your list, she was willing to support whatever decision I made, so the last person to call was my brother.

    You can imagine the role model he was for me then (and still is) being 6 years older and just completing his PhD. He was brutally honest and I spent 30 minutes staring out a hotel window in Denver soaking in everything he said. We rehashed a lot of our childhood, growing up and how we both got to where we were at in that very moment, and he reassured me that PhD or not, I was going to be okay. At the end he told me, “No matter what, what you decide is the best decision and I know you will make the best out of it either way.”

    So I hung up the phone and told my wife that I was done in the program, and I wanted to return back to our hometown and start again. I ended up at a unique and highly successful construction company at an entry level position and in 13 years I have moved up to VP and couldn’t be happier doing what I’m doing.

    I often look back and think of what could have been or sit and think about the unfortunate psychological strain growing everyday on our kids and what I maybe could have done to help, but eventually I move on. I know I would have enjoyed being a researcher and clinician, but at that moment in 2007 it wasn’t in the cards.

  4. I find the timing of your post interesting. I went through a similar thought process. After being out of school for almost 15 years, I am entering a PhD program Engineering in the Spring.

    I tell everyone it is one of the benefits of the pandemic. I was able to reflect on what I really wanted to do. I didn’t have to take the GRE (most programs are temporarily waiving it). I will be able to take classes online instead of commuting 2 hours each way. I tested my feet in the waters to see if I could still hang with the kids by taking one class this Fall and scored the highest grade in the class.

    I also found that faculty were very receptive to a non-traditional student. They knew I was focused and could contribute day 1.

    My ultimate goal is to teach full-time and consultant part-time. Right now I consult full-time and teach adjunct part-time. So it makes sense for me.

    1. Good luck! I’ve always wondered how I’d do on these standardized tests so far roomed from school. I think I’d bomb them.

      Good to switch gears halfway through if you don’t like your career. Young enough to try new things for a while!

  5. One of my first colleagues at a small startup had a PhD. I remember being so impressed with how knowledgeable he was. He always talked about how he was always trying to get into publications and had done quite well already. Fast forward a few years later and he became an assistant professor and then later a professor. He put his PhD to perfect use!

  6. When completed an MS degree I opted to complete a MBA/PhD, with a PhD in a “hard science”. I had to take one year off my PhD efforts to complete the first year of the MBA and then completed the necessary 2nd year MBA classes while finishing PhD research .

    At the time of the decision, I knew I did not want to work in academia. I assumed it would set me apart in the private sector of my field. My assumption was correct. I’ve had unique employment opportunities because of my education. For example, I’ve been a remote employee (which many people have now experienced) my entire 22-year career. That has provided family-oriented benefits that justify (in my mind) the financial opportunity cost of 6 more years of school. I’m confident I made the correct decision. But, certainly PhD pursuit is not for everyone.

  7. Doing a PhD only makes sense for most people if they want to work in a field where it is required – mostly academia but also things like research in pharmaceuticals, working for the federal reserve etc. depending on field of study. You then should only do it if you getting funding to do it and if you think you have a good chance of getting a job that needs it. Some fields are very over-supplied (e.g. literature) compared to others (e.g. accounting). So, if you are not top of your masters class, don’t think about it in more over-supplied fields. Then you should only go to a program at a top university. For example, in economics in the US, the top 30 universities. Anything below that is a long shot… I’m a full professor in econ at the top university in Australia. Usually, if people ask me what I do I say: “I work at X uni”. I also, now use “Mr” on applications for things etc. When I was a new PhD I was more enthusiastic about using the title Dr but that was 26 years ago and now in English speaking countries the norm seems to be to not use these titles outside of academic settings. And then in Australia we rarely use them. Even undergrads address professors by their first name here. Norms in other countries can be different. Jill Biden doesn’t actually have a PhD but an EdD which is an easier degree to get. If she really demands people call her Dr then that seems petty-minded. OTOH the article in the WSJ was very wrong-headed too. She can call herself whatever she wants. Having a PhD is just an entry ticket to work in areas where it is needed. Only achievement in that area gets much respect within the profession. When I said “most people” – if you are rich and retired, have the ability, and really want to do a PhD then why not?

  8. I have a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and it has nicely paid off in my pharmaceutical career.

    After finishing my BS in Chemical Engineering, I worked for 5 years (~$50k/year). Then I started my PhD. No Masters. Further, ALL PhD students at my university (and most universities in the USA) had no tuition and received a small $20k stipend. I had enough savings to cover the slight bit over my cost of living vs pay.

    I worked to finish my PhD in 4 years and networked heavily in my last year. That led to my entry into the pharmaceutical industry as a lead scientist with a nice paycheck which has continued to increase over time. I have now worked for 3 companies, published many papers and patients, worked on several products that are now helping improve patient’s lives, and can also see through all the misinformation in the media regarding the regulatory processes for COVID-19 vaccine. While I sometimes have regretted missing out some “learning” during my pharmaceutical working years (working on projects that never worked out), I have never ever regretted the 4 years I took to earn my PhD.

  9. The payoffs for a PhD depends on the field of study, what you want to do with it and the potential life styles you subscribe to. PhD in Economics, while it works for those in academia in developing countries(research grant opportunites to address development problems) and those who have superior mathematical/ specialised background in Financial Economics or Health Economics in the developed world, may not always give same payoffs to everyone with same degree. It is probably not best to look at PhD purely from economic payoffs criteria. It is important to look at many other criteria. PhD in American/European History; PhD Archeology; PhD Mathematics; PhD Mathematical Finance; PhD Biology ; PhD Education; PhD Electronics Engneering, will all have varied financial payoffs.

    There may be lost years in pursuing a PhD which could have been spent in acquiring real world experience, but industry is also associated with many instabilities and loss of jobs. Everyone interested will have to decide what to do with a PhD. If you are not prepared to take risks, it will be diffucult to be wealthy, with whatever PhD you have. I see PhD as a training opportunity and a journey. Not the end in itself. No academic qualifications can possibly provide an end. PhD is a tool but the the result you get will be determined by how you sharpen the tool and which forest or landscape you are applying the tool as well as how you quantify and evaluation your risks and payoffs, dynamically. I have seen so many wealthy PhDs, that would have been nobodys without it. On the whole, PhD returns depends on the demand. Coming from a developing country and living in a developed one, i can say that a quality PhD has equally good returns in developing countries, if not better than the developed ones.

    I am still working towards my life-time ambition to do a PhD, having worked in industry for more than two decades. Best wishes.

  10. This is an old post but I wanted to push back a little against some of the ideas in the post and the comments. I obtained my PhD about a year ago in electrical engineering/data science. A person’s PhD experience will depend heavily on the field of study, the school, and the PhD adviser. In electrical engineering and computer science in particular, many students do internships in industry at startups and large companies and many of these students end up working at these companies after graduation or starting their own. Many professors are aware of this and recognize that academia isn’t for everyone (nor can it be for everyone) and so they encourage their students to go this path if they wish. Even if you do go into academia, the pay is usually competitive with similar positions in industry (except for finance perhaps) and you can often make extra income doing consulting. Also, you can choose very good schools in relatively low-cost areas and you won’t have to go into debt at all (coming from someone who had children during my PhD, my wife didn’t work, and we didn’t go into debt at all. Nor did we have to dip into our savings.)

    I haven’t generally seen how a PhD in these fields really closes any doors except to the low-level engineering/programming jobs which you don’t want to do anyway. It also opens a lot of doors to upper level jobs and research jobs in industry. You might be able to work your way into some of these jobs without a PhD but not all (some of the research jobs will only be for PhDs and as Sam said, some companies like the prestige of having a PhD on the team).

    Basically, it doesn’t generally make sense to get a PhD economically due to the lost income during the PhD years, even if you don’t go into debt. But if you choose a field that has lots of opportunities in industry or academia, and if you’re willing to put up with the work (which isn’t for everyone, for sure) then I think it’s a good way to develop the skills and credentials that allow you to work on interesting problems. You’re definitely not just limited to academic jobs with a PhD, at least not in all fields. A lot of it will depend on how you tailor your PhD. Some people will come out of their program not well-suited to industry while others won’t be well-suited to academia. And even if you’re more suited to academia, it wouldn’t take too long to shore up your programming skills to become industry ready.

  11. I have done this and would be happy to advise anyone to avoid any unnecessary pain and effort. I was in my late-20s when I embarked upon a Ph.D. in Economics in a top 15 school, after 5-6 years of a lucrative work experience in another more technical field.

    At the outset, one has to understand that most (if not all) doctoral programs are “academic” slash “apprenticeship” programs, with no relevance in the real world. They are designed by the faculty and for the faculty, who are tenured professors that never worked in the real world, and went from undergrad to grad school to be faculty. The most they can and have an incentive to offer is to hone the grad student look like them. So, in most Ph.D. grad schools, most will be brainwashed into solely wanting and respecting an academic position, because this is all the faculty are able to look up to (not knowing any other world). If you do choose to step out in the real world, you will realize that a Ph.D. has limited and potentially negative returns. First and foremost, most Ph.D.s have lost years of real world work experience in their prime years, making them significantly less professionally mature at their jobs (I am often stunned by the magnitude of this effect when hiring Ph.Ds). Second, they are now “over qualified” for many jobs on paper, but not in terms of real skill-set. Third, the opportunity cost of being in school for extra 5-6 years and focusing on writing narrow research papers (which is a requirement for a Ph.D., really), is huge in terms of current AND future asset building. Finally, let’s make this very clear — the burning desire to “pursue a path of wisdom” will not be fulfilled by pursuing a Ph.D. Ph.Ds require a narrow focus and deep dive into a specific area along with having to write research papers that fit the established norm/standards of your field. Like any other field or a corporate job, your creativity will be significantly “cabined” by these norms (a fact that few academics realize, living in the illusion that they are somehow “intellectually free”). Especially for you, Sam, an entrepreneur who has defined the line on his own terms — the real creative freedom — this could be stifling.

    In conclusion, my analysis is that one should embark on a Ph.D. only if one is interested in an academic career. But realize the pros and cons of it carefully. CONS — Most academic jobs, by simple statistics are in awful geographic areas. Most academic jobs offer a below average pay, and certainly all pay lower than the industry. Most academic jobs require you to live the life of a relative recluse in your office for the most part. Most academic jobs are political if you are indeed playing the game (remember politics is higher when stakes are lower). Most academic jobs will require you to interact only with academics, going to conferences that a few care about. The PROS – Tenure; your pay is set for life (maybe, in this ever revolutionizing world). Community; you will always interact with the same people in your field. More time; despite what my academic friends think, they have much more free time than those in the real world!

    Good luck!

  12. Hi Sam,
    Loved the article!
    Kind of on the same boat, contemplating on the pros and cons of doing a PhD. You’ve written down a few perspectives I haven’t even thought of!
    Good luck with your decision making and for a bright future ahead.

  13. Hi! I have a master degree in Electrical Engineering and I am working at a company right now, I like my job but I am trying to study a PhD, and with this, a lof of questions come to me. I’m not sure if I should study a PhD or continue working in the private sector… How could I decide? I like both careers, I like having a financial security and on the other hand I also like to contribute in researching for my country. Is it possible to get a better job after a PhD ? What do you recommend me? the field of study for my PhD is Computer Science-Information Security.

  14. Similar question. I retired at 33, a year ago, in part by moving to a very very cheap place. I like doing my own research, but it’s driving me crazy that I have no data to use for research. When I worked i had an abundance of data and tools but was being managed and didn’t have time to research what I wanted to. I have a finance masters and was thinking of doing a phd to do my own research and have access to the schools resources. I don’t particularly want to take more than a few courses or teach, but learn and research. The pay would probably at most compensate for the more expensive location. Is this a good reason to do phd?

  15. I have recently begun a masters program. I have undertaken an independent study under the direction of the head of the doctoral program. My research is going well but I am unpracticed, I have been assured by other professors that I have the potential to be admitted to the doctoral program with a full scholarship and a mentorship and an opportunity to continue my research. Is it worth it? I currently work in a social service capacity but I have little experience. My strengths are in my writing and ability to connect with and interview interesting people, but I am inexperienced professionally and lacking in knowledge of proper research methodologies and statistical knowledge. The school I’m going to is relatively large but not particularly distinguished as a vaunted hall of academia. However I do enjoy doggedly following the topics I choose to study and don’t mind spending several years doing it. I’m just on the fence after being offered an opportunity in the doctoral program… however I’m told I need to get more faculty on my side and there is a political aspect to it. Thoughts?

  16. I am 57, a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, hold three masters degrees including an MBA and will be graduating with my PhD in Social Work this spring. There is never a “too old” for a Phd arguement that I would agree with. Pursue YOUR dream, for YOUR reasons and the rest will play out just like it was meant to do. Best of everything to you!

  17. Here’s my portion. I’m 33, turning 34, will be 38/9 when graduating and have been offered a fully funded phd at a top school. I work in a decent marketing job earning 55k with a small business on the side making maybe 10k more per year. have a psych masters already. My wife works in a good job earning 40k so between us we are able to live decently, pay the mortgage, have a car each and go on vacation.

    The phd is in comms, but it’s across the country in a small town where we wouldn’t be near family, might have to sell our home and its likely the town doesn’t have a hospital so my wife’s job is nowhere around.

    What would you do? The offer is great, but the social and economical costs are high too. If I don’t do the phd, we talked about getting my wife into pa school or dnp etc, if I do the phd, we’ll have to put off that and put off having a family too.

    I enjoy research and love the idea of being a phd and teaching and influencing possible policy changes. I worry, however, that comms phd will only bring in about 50k a year vs the same classes taught by a business phd brings in 100k out of the gate.

    I’m incredibly confused. If I were single, didn’t have a mortgage, I’d already be moving to the small town, if I were making 100k I probably wouldn’t be looking at these forums making a comment, as a married man, with responsibilities, I’m trying to figure out the opportunity costs vs long term benefits.

    I’m open to listening to other’s advice.

    1. Hi Undecided. Maybe this will help. Do you want to get a PhD because you love the idea of one, or the actual journey? Don’t do something because you want to have done it, but because you want to do it. I started my PhD at 52, but after the first semester I decided to withdraw. I’d returned to school for the wrong reasons. It’s a huge time commitment and hard on family life. But if you are really about the journey (research, classes), go for it. If not, no harm, no foul.

      Good luck!

  18. I am 52, retired 2 years ago, and just finished my first semester as a PhD student in engineering. I got my MS in 1990, have 30 years of work experience, and had wanted to pursue a PhD for a while, after retiring, I had the time. I can relate to a lot of the posts. Here is my experience. I really enjoy the classes and learning. That said, I realized this semester I have no interest in all the research hours, having to publish 3 articles, collecting mountains of data, and having a single person (my advisor) having the power to approve or fail me after 3-4 years. I think I came into it a bit naive. I thought that while I still had a lot to learn, I could offer something as well. My advisor has never worked outside, went straight through school and started teaching. There are so many politics, and a dark “underbelly” in PhD programs. At first I felt really disheartened and like I let myself down by wanting to quit. Then I realized life is too short and I need to do something that brings me joy and not stress. I can still take classes without a specific goal/degree in mind, just subjects I want to learn more about. I would love to hear others thoughts on my experience. Has anyone had similar experiences?

  19. Hi, I am currently working, I have a Master Degree on Quantitative Finance and I am wondering I should take the risk and go for PhD. I have two kids and safe job and I have been accepted to PhD program at Grad Schol of Economics, OSAKA University Japan, to do Phd on quantitative finance which I really want to do.
    Please any advice will be very welcome.

  20. For many the title of Dr. is nothing more than an ‘ego stroke’. I know many unintelligent holder of Ph.Ds. Knowledge can be gained outside of academia. Life is short, enjoy it. A Ph.D. is not the ‘be all, end all.’ Oh, and one can have all the Ph.Ds. s in the world, but 200 years from now no one will know you had one, or even care. In the end everyone is equal – we all have to die one day, and leave all of our cherished possessions and academic achievements behind. In the end, high school dropouts and PhDs have equal status in the grave. Sorry folks, but this is the reality. Do what you need to do to accomplish and achieve only what is necessary for a comfortable, fulfilling and happy life. A Ph.D. guarantees nothing. Hubris is not a means to an end.

  21. Financial Samurai, you give much advice and opinion for someone without a PhD. Surely if you decide to pursue a PhD, you will realize that very few doctoral students “just don’t know what to do after undergrad” etc.

    That’s like saying that academic resources shouldn’t be spent on teaching an old dog new tricks, let alone research training.

    You seem to have a love for learning, why not keep an open mind? Do not write off a PhD as something to do as a hobby after you’ve found financial fulfillment in your career, it’s insulting to those of us who love learning so much that we chose to pursue it from the beginning.

    Stating that PhD students should always be older, experienced people has no basis. By going straight to academia, a younger person begins their career learning to examine, to conduct meaningful research, and to profess that research. Hey, these are all things a professor does! It seems to me you would be best suited to skipping the PhD (and scientific inquiry altogether), and just giving a series of lectures on YouTube to “students” looking to have exactly the same career path that you did. That way you can still “be your own man”. You could even call yourself a doctor and I bet no one would even care!

    The path to a PhD is no joke. It is not a hobby, or an afterthought. I agree that people in middle age have much to contribute to the academy, and I’ve met extremely profound professors who have done it that way!

    You, however, seem to think being a professor means handing out life advice you learned on the road.

    If you truly love learning, show respect to the discipline of science and the academy.

    1. Hi Josue – Can you share your background so we understand where you are coming from? I provide my advice after talking in depth to over 50 people with PhDs, including professors, students, and graduates working and not working. I also approach the angle from a cost benefit analysis as a finance person and MBA.

      I’ve got over 1,000 posts on Financial Samurai sharing who I am and my About page, so it’s only fair that at least you tell us a bit more about yourself e.g. age, income, education, work experience, field, etc. Thx!

  22. I am a 53 year old engineer who already has a master’s in engineering from a reputed top University. I started my own engineering consulting company when I was in my 30’s and sold after a decade with a reasonable profit, my wife also works as an engineer, so family income is good enough to live on Southern California. With my youngest daughter in UC college and two home mortgages, I do not much spare cash left. I have been wanting to MBA ever since When I was in graduate school for my masters’s in engineering but the time, location,and money never came together for another 3 decades. Now the kids have left home, my job is very easy/boring but pays well well, and first time in my
    I’ve i have A lot of spare time. This is giving me a glimpse of how would I pass my time when I retire, say in 10 or 15 years? Life of average American seems very ordinary and looks like most are jsut living to pass time and doing meaningless things to avoid getting bored. Looking at my very able bodied father and father in law (both engineers) in 80’s, I can not imagine doing the same thing. I can not do engineering too long since it is a highly technical field and younger degrees and age rules. I also see many older well off engineers trying desperately to hold on to any technical jobs even with their obsolete skills and lack of fit in current computer driven business market place.
    So it brings the question why an older man with maximum 15 years to retirment age would do a doctorate? Even though I started with pursuing MBA and secured admissions with several local universities with a reasonable discounts, I am switching to a doctor of education or philosophy program in Organizational Change and Leadership that I can do part time in 3 to 4 years. I am not sure if my current employer will reimburse me since it is not engineering or marketing related. So I will have to either find an employer who will at least pay a part of it or take a student loan to start the program. If I had the financial means today, I would have started the program right away. I see the value of a doctorate degree in doing something beyond my current engineering career. I can teach part-time, write books, do management consulting, and keep myself busy till I am in my 90’s. I do not need the money in my retirement age or will I get more money if I have a doctorate, but I will have an tool to make my next 30 years more fulfilling. My take, if you have the means now (money and time), take the plunge, otherwise you are getting old everyday (with or without PhD) and one day you will find yourself sitting on the rocking chair at the age 80 and wondering why the hell you did not do your doctorate when you had the chance.

  23. I have a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and Quantitative Methodology. What I see not mentioned here is the reality that there are VERY, VERY FEW jobs in academia. Universities are simply not hiring full-time tenure-track professors. Instead, they are resorting to adjunct instructors, who are criminally underpaid, overworked, and receive NO BENEFITS.

    Here are just some of the MANY articles out there about the harsh realities of academia:

    Having a Ph.D. does not in ANY WAY guarantee a job in academia. Regardless of fields or specialities, the consensus among all academics is that academic jobs are extremely difficult to obtain. This is especially true given the huge government cuts in higher education. The odds are NOT in your favor.

    So if your sole rationale for getting a Ph.D. is to become an academic or have a career in academia, I’d strongly advise critically considering and analyzing the academic job market. If your sole goal for getting a Ph.D. is for personal pursuit of knowledge, then it might be worth considering. Still, I am not sure it is ultimately the WISEST investment (you can still learn a lot on your own without going to graduate school).

  24. I agree with most of what is stated, but will add my personal experience. I’m about midway through a PhD at the moment (over all the big hurdles), and feel it has been a great experience. Of course, if you had asked me how it was going at various points over the past two years, the answer you would receive would likely vary a lot. It’s going to have its highs and lows.

    I decided to go back to school for two primary reasons. 1) I hated all the traveling I was doing for my prior job and knew I wanted to pursue something else. 2) I always enjoyed the environment academia offered and really wanted to be a professor.

    Obviously this comes at a bit of a cost given that you’ll probably put in crazy amounts of time while getting paid 20-30k per year by whatever university you’re at, but you’ll honestly learn so much at a very rapid pace. It can be very rewarding at times.

    Additionally, if your goal is to become a university professor (encouraged by the doctoral programs), you may have the potential for a very comfortable life; however, this will depend highly upon what your degree is in. If it’s a PhD in philosophy, your career prospects might not be great whereas if it’s a PhD in accounting, you’ll likely do relatively well. That being said, if you truly are a lover of wisdom, perhaps the amount of digits on your paycheck doesn’t matter that much to you. (I care about both)

    I personally feel the lifestyle of the university professor is great. You get paid to research topics that are interesting to you and to show up and talk to a classroom of young adults for a handful of hours each week. Granted this may take a fair amount of effort, but it will seem worth it if you’re passionate about your field. Oh, and your colleagues are generally pretty bright too.

    1. But here’s the thing about being paid to research what you like. In academia, it’s “publish or perish”. And you are usually expected to teach, advise students, serve on committes, and assimilate yourself into the “cuture” of the place. So it’s not all “just me and my books.”. Oh yes, and you will most definitely be expected to write grants. You have to bring money into the university, a lot of which you will not see. You will have to do a lot of brown nosing to not only keep your position, but to climb the ladder. In academia, it’s “up or out”. You don’t get to just exile yourself to a dark corner and do your research. You will have to take a side in the politics of the place. If you don’t, you will be looked down on as lacking ambition. So, contrary to what they depict in fiction, the life of an academic is not laid back. At least, not in the U.S. The easygoing professor who never seems to worry about anything is a relic of the past. Now your average professor (tenured or not) will be a stressed out basket case. Probably on three or more blood pressure meds. That’s the world you’re going into. Are you sure you’re still up for it?


    Hi Everyone,

    It is my pleasure to see such a great comments. I need your help. I am 41 years old. I did business for 14 years. I had money but lost almost all because of wrong bad investment. Since 2010 I have been teaching fulltime in College and University as an Adjunct professor of Computer and Engineering field. I have Master Degree from Pace University and I can do my Doctorate Degree from same University.Also teach certification courses. Now I have to decide should I go for Dr Degree or not. I have over 50 certifications in IT field including MCT,MCSE,CCAI,CCNP,CCDP,NCDA,VCA,VCP,A+N+S+. Now if I do doctorate degree it will take another 3 years from my life but I will be able to get fulltime professor jobs at any University when I will be 44. If I only teach certification courses I do not need Dr Degree but I can make more money. The doctorate degree would cost $66,000 USD.

  26. What a great post and comments, thank you all for sharing your experiences. I would really appreciate if you could share your thoughts with me about if it’s the right decision or not to get my PHD.

    I have an master already and I’m now 29 years old, I have my own business going with my salary about 10,000 USD a month, it’s an online business with 15 employees and I only spend max of 3 hours a day on it, and I’m planning to improve it, So I’m financially stable;

    I’m offered a scholarship somewhere in Asia, as well as $1500 monthly stipend, to do my Phd in a field , business, that I like but I’m not sure if I really want to do Phd on. I don’t wanna teach in university one day but I would like to share my thoughts and knowledge in weekly lectures etc. i don’t like commitment and office job!

    I wanna get a Phd for the title only, and make my mom and my love ones happy and proud. I think it’s a nice achievement. But I don’t think I will be able to study hard or spend more than 2/3 hours a day on my Phd. Is that reasonable? I’m not really sure if I should go for it or not .. I don’t like to work hard that’s my nature, and try to avoid under pressure for health reasons.

    BTW, my Father is a wealthy man, meaning really wealthy, not saying I depends on him by any mean as I don’t get any financial help from him since I was 20 as we don’t get a long that much.

  27. Hi All,

    This is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart. Pursuing a PhD has been a life goal of since I was a kid. As a 34 old with an MBA I have no illusions about what it takes to get a PhD, and I still want to do it. Specifically I plan on getting a PhD in Economics because it is the most fascinating subject in the world to me, with psychology being a distant yet related second.

    Since you have technically entered your early retirement I think there are really two options to pursue. The entrepreneurial route as you describe, or the academic route. I do believe you can do both. I think the strongest argument for doing the PhD now is that you get more usage out of it now versus getting it later in life.

    The flip side is, as you know, if the motivation isn’t there then its probably not going to be worth it in the long run. If youre like me at all, you just want a challenge. Do them both if you can, but if not just enjoy life.


  28. I wonder if a PH.d is for me. I have my masters degree in Criminal Justice with a dual specialization in Forensic Psychology and Forensic Science with some student loan debt. I plan to work in academia when I retire (I’m 26) but I have been mulling over the opportunity for a PH.d at this time. Would it benefit me in my career endeavors? Probably not. The criminal justice realm mostly relies on experience and not so much education. I wonder what is your perspective? Would it benefit me at this age to go ahead and push through so that when I retire I can reap the benefits of an advanced degree? Or will I be able to market successfully my attributes with a masters degree alone?

  29. Hi Sam,

    Long time reader of your blog and I have to say, looking at the comments, I couldn’t help but chime in with my $0.02.

    I’m a first generation immigrant, 26 y/o, did my bachelors in engineering (biotech) abroad before I joined a PhD program in Biochemistry here. Right now I’m in my 5th year (general duration of grad studies for my lab is around 6.5 – 7 years) and hope to be done next year.

    IF you’re going for a doctoral degree ( from the last couple of your comments, I got the feeling you were opting out), I would recommend looking at the faculty who you want as your advisor instead of the school. A lot of great schools have crap faculty, though the inverse is not always the case. Your PI / advisor ( and to some extent your dissertation committee) is really the only person who has control over your doctoral study, and its excruciatingly important you find one with whom you gel. Everything else is quite frankly irrelevant or will be taken care of.

    What I found most interesting is the accuracy of comments that have been provided by people who actually HAVE a PhD, vs, those from people who would like to have one. This is quite common – non PhDs either treat PhDs with contempt or respect – kinda like Korean car styling – you either love em or you hate em – there’s no middle ground there, and you would hardly take advice on gold smithing from a blacksmith would you ? It sounds clique-y but it is quite true.

    My humble advice to you would be to do a get a PhD only if you feel there is a benefit to it. Just like getting into an MBA program, do a cost/benefit analysis – will your PhD really be worth it ? I say this because if a PhD in communications is anything like doing a PhD in the sciences, then getting a PhD just because you want to learn is an utterly lousy reason to get the degree. IMHO, the only reason you should get a PhD are –
    1. the advanced degree opens job doors for you
    2. you would like to stay in academia,

    of which only the 2nd point has some passing commonality with your reasons as I understood.

    Pros of getting a PhD (my views may be biased towards the experiences I have as a science PhD candidate – this might not be applicable wholly for other fields, especially those that do not deal with a lot of experimentation)
    1. You learn to analyse stuff really quickly
    2. You learn to defend your arguments cogently
    3. You learn to learn & pick up your pieces from DAILY defeats instead of bawling your eyes out
    4. Teaches you tenacity. Look at point 3
    5. If you apply yourself it actually changes the way you think about everything. Not in a metaphysical manner, but in a real life application, day to day manner.
    6. you get to interact with really REALLY intelligent people, often leaving you feeling like a fake, or at the very least humbled.
    7. Instills a really strong work ethic
    8. If you can spin your recently gained soft skills right, you can land a job virtually anywhere.
    9. You learn how to negotiate with someone who holds all the cards while you hold none.
    10. Day to day BS doesn’t fool you most of the time. Refer to point 1

    Cons –
    1. Are you really willing to forego having a social life ?
    2. You must be willing to be ground down under the deluge of negative data, or stuff just not working for you. My PI’s most accomplished PhD graduate published his 400 page thesis, and all of the work he published could be done in 1.5 years. He spent a grand total of 7 years in the program. Where did the rest 5.5 years go ? – Negative/Incomprehensible data, stuff not working, hypothesis’ failing the test, and just plain bad luck. Contrast the amount of ‘good’ data to the amount of ‘bad’ data, and you will see why grad students are perpetually grumpy
    3. I’ll repeat the 2nd point again, since very few seem to appreciate it. You WILL be ground down under the deluge of negative data. Ultimately the only things that will keep you going are your work ethic, discipline and doggedness.
    4. You are EVERYBODY’s bitch. EVERYBODY’s -starting from the dean, right down to the post-docs in your lab. The situation improves slightly once you’ve gained some seniority, but you’re still someone’s whipping boy.
    5. Pay that is just above the poverty line – officially classifying you as slightly better off than food stamp material but still thoroughly unable to afford anything great. In some Uni’s the pay situation is better than most though

    All in all, while the long term benefits are there, you pay a very dear price in terms of time, effort, and mental peace to achieve those dreams.

    Lastly, apologies for the long post and slightly arrogant tone at the beginning.


    1. Thanks for your perspective! Being “everybody’s bitch” doesn’t sound too appealing at my age (37). As a result, I think you’ve definitely convinced me NOT to do it. It’s OK to be a bitch boy in your 20s, but in your mid to late 30s you tend to want to naturally be your own man.

      1. You only become “everybody’s bitch” if you have no backbone–and even then it’s not all that dramatic (academic environments are very collaborative, at least in my experience). As a mid 30s man, you will be just fine. You may feel like you are at the bottom rung of the ladder sometimes, as many people around you are seasoned PhDs and post-docs, but people tend to be very respectful. If they don’t seem that way, find a different lab. Most of the cons Sam cites are completely exaggerated and are reminiscent of stereotypes perpetuated in our society about what getting a PhD is like.

        I would consider searching further and wider for perspectives and talk to some people in academia, in industry with a PhD, and wherever else you can find PhDs in the fields you are interested in to get their two cents. The commenter above seems cynical (most likely due to nearing the end of their PhD–things probably seem a little darker during this year or two time frame).

    2. You cite many pros of getting a PhD but strictly say it’s only for people who want to stay in Academia. That is simply not true and unsupported by data. People who want to work in all sorts of fields, including business, can benefit from getting a PhD. The benefits you list are ubiquitously important in many technical and problem solving careers, and I don’t think most high-profile employers would scoff at having spent 5 years or more honing your critical thinking and problem solving skills. Yes, industry experience is important, but having shown the potential to be a high-level expert in a field is attractive to many employers as well. The paradigm that a PhD is strictly for entry into academic areas is fading very quickly.

  30. I also was accepted to enroll in phd program in computer science. I never liked coding but I learned it and have a master degree Iam 41 with two kids and the age thing makes me think twice if I should start the phd this fall. The college offered scholarship that covers 85% of tuition but I have to have 15 credit every semester full time. Currently i am not working so phd will not make me miss any work, but I am not sure what to do. Should I go for it and become a “Dr” and struggle to make it happen or should I just shut up and go on with life as is and worry about other things in my life and family. I will be 45 or 46 when I finish that is if,,at that age I cant start new thing we only have one shot in life and timing is the essence, I should have done phd in my twenties or early thirties now it is not that time.

    1. “I never liked coding, but…” is your answer. If you get a Ph.D, get it in something related and make it something you want. I’m going through the same type of thing, and have over 20 years in a career that was my third choice…why get a doctoral in that? I’m leaning back to my original interests or at least finding a way to combine the expertise with something more important to me.

      1. Computer science is a much bigger field than merely coding, even bigger than computers. There are huge essential fields within computer science where programming is not even required. In any case, coding wouldn’t really be your focus in a PhD program – even if you focus on software engineering, most of what you do will be doing is at a much higher level. Similarly, I have had math professors (at an ivy league top 10 math department) who despise and are terrible at doing calculations, but are at the very top of the field. Or perhaps in the same way that even the greatest novelists can be terrible spellers.

        However, I agree with the usual criteria, you should only get a phd if 1) you love what you are studying so much you would pay to do it (because, even on a full scholarship, given the opportunity cost, you ARE paying to do it). 2) it is a professional requirement. ….i would personally add 3) if you simply have no better options AND it is a fully funded program, with a living stipend, in a field that is interesting to you, in demand (computer science, economics, etc…) and you like doing academic stuff, then it is obviously a reasonable life choice.

  31. Mohammad Alshahrani

    I am 37 yrs old, and I would like to go back to the grad school shortly for Ph.D program, and I know it isn’t easy especially for whom has a family and full time secure job . What I say is may ALLAH helps me to making the right step for my family and me :)

  32. amanda frances

    after a year, i decided to drop out of my phd program.
    i have a masters and for what i do, there was no real benefit to getting one.
    i DON’T want to spend my life in academia.
    i did a little video with my reasons why.

  33. I am 30yrs old with a masters, and I want a PH.D… I’m hesitant because of the test, evaluations, more student loans, and etc… The bright side is my tenacity to learn and the hope that life will turn out exactly as it should, based on a series of decisions I made, based on my past experiences.

  34. VisualTheorist

    Before you throw in the towel, here’s my story. I’m 59, and I just passed the oral defense of my dissertation one week ago (Feb. 21, 2014). I started back to grad school in 2009 when I was 55. I went back for three reasons: 1) as a black man with exceptional intellectual ability and academic records, I have always felt that I owed it to myself and the Black community to be the best that I can be; 2) I am not financially wealthy, and a teaching job, which I am positive I can get, eventually, will suit me fine as a retirement gig; and 3) I want the permanent name change and recognition that comes with the title of Doctor of Philosophy.

    I was accepted at one of the most prestigious UC schools in California, and was offered a four year fellowship. Mind you, I only applied to ONE school! If you are good in your verbal skills, focus on that. Most graduate schools want to see a combined score on your verbal and math, but if you are applying for a degree in the social sciences or humanities, they will mainly pay attention to those verbal scores. With two weeks to study for the GRE, I was able to score at the 94% level, higher than required for Harvard, Princeton or Yale, or any institution for that matter! My math score was around 20%, but no one cared! I had a combined score of over 1000 points, and in 2009, that was the bogey, above which the breakdown didn’t matter.

    The biggest hurdle in the program was passing the Written Qualifying Exam (WQE), which is offered once every six months. I failed that exam twice. I was given one more chance to pass, and I passed with the highest score possible. My writing had improved that much. As if that were not enough, I caught up with my cohort, many of whom had passed on the first try, and I raced to complete my dissertation. Needless to say, I am the FIRST in my cohort who has fully completed the program, and has been conferred with the coveted title of Doctor of Philosophy. It’s one week later, and I am still floating on air. Google “calidoscopio brooklyn handicap” if you want to see the outcome of the most amazing horse race ever, and see how it all fits together with this discussion.

    I may be flat broke for the moment, but I have complete Faith that all of this effort was not in vain. I see plenty of opportunities for work, and I am applying for both postdoc and regular jobs. I am going at the job search with the same intensity that I went for the PhD, and I Will absolutely succeed. I am in excellent health, not overweight, and still look, feel and communicate like a much younger person. I have had that corner office and those six figure jobs, but I do really need all that at my age? If I return to that level of income fine. If not, fine. I live for the enjoyment of life, which is fleeting, and money is only a small part of that equation.

    In June, I will don the monastic garb that is academic regalia, and I will be hooded (crowned as I see it) in one of the grandest edifices in all of the academic world. It will feel like a coronation. My school is known for its excellence in every corner of the globe, and I will forever be associated with that institution as a graduate at the highest level. I should also mention that I obtained a Masters degree in 2012 as part of the doctoral program, so should all else fail, I have a professional certificate.

    In closing, I can tell you that my wife, who has been my co-collaborator in this effort, is soooo very proud of me. She has sacrificed from day one, and never wavered in her belief that this was the right thing to do, for both of us. When it’s all said and done, the three letters behind my name on my tombstone will be, PhD. For now, we’ll settle for Dr. and Mrs. This is a legacy that is priceless!!!

    1. Greetings Visual Theorist!!

      Congrats on your recent acquiring of a PhD degree. I am finishing my Master’s degree from the University of San Francisco (MPA program), and I’m ecstatic. I was mulling the idea of continuing forward to obtain my PhD. I’m 47 years old with two small children, so I’m no spring chicken. Your post is quite compelling……..

      Thank you!!

  35. 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.

  36. At a crossroads

    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.

  37. 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”

  38. 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?

  39. 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…..

  40. SavvyFinancialLatina

    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!

  41. SavvyFinancialLatina

    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!

  42. 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.

  43. 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

    1. Joseph, based on the comments here, the bias seems towards the negative, unless you love to teach, love to learn, and have the finances to support yourself in rough times already.

  44. 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!

    1. 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.



  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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?

  48. 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.

    1. Eric, after reading all the feedback and visiting the schools, I personally have decided against a PhD at my age and stage in life. I’m going for a fellowship instead!

  49. Lover of Wisdom

    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.

    1. 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.

  50. 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,


    1. 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

      1. Thanks for the feedback Sam – I got your link from google search,
        I forgot the search criteria – i think it was with regards to ‘benefits of phd’.

  51. 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?

    1. 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!

  52. 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.

    1. 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

    2. 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?

  53. 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!

  54. 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!!

  55. garristotle

    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.

  56. 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,


  57. “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?

  58. Bryan at Pinch that Penny!

    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.).

    1. 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?

      1. Bryan at Pinch that Penny!

        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.

        1. 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.

        2. Bryan at Pinch that Penny!

          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.

          1. 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!

  59. 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….

    1. Thanks Bob. I can see “the club” mentality, b/c I have an MBA and we also have that type of mentality.

      Good on you for pursuing your PhD at 45! Is it that simple to get in?

  60. 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.

  61. 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??

    1. 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!

      1. “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!

        1. 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.

  62. 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

  63. 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…

  64. 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.

  65. 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!

  66. 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”.

  67. Sunil l Expedited Wealth Building through Entrepreneurship

    I know a few Sam, they are not the wealthiest, but some of the happiest and well networked folks. they are in it for the “joy” – pursuit of happiness perhaps…

  68. 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!

  69. 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.

  70. 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.

  71. 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.

    1. 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.

  72. 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.

  73. 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.

    1. 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?

  74. 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.

    1. 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!


      1. 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.)

  75. 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.

  76. 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!

  77. Frugal Stoic

    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.

    1. 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!

  78. 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? :)

    1. 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!

      1. My first Master’s is from back home. My second is from the US. :) Totally different fields. In fact, I am going to write a post about it. :)

        1. 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.

  79. 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.

      1. 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.

  80. I’m with JT. I can see why you’d want to do this. I support this, as long as you don’t start to write stuff that’s all confusing that I don’t understand.

  81. 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.

    1. Really, not one Joe? Yeah, I donno if you should be hanging around with that type of riff raff anymore! j/k.

      Maybe knowing around 15 PhDs is an anomaly. I donno. My aunt and uncle both have their post-doctorates, so it’s something I’ve always grown up knowing.

      1. One of my brother has an MD and the other one quit his PHD program 5 years into it.
        I guess I’m the underachiever of the family. :)
        You can try it out for few years and see if it stay interesting.

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