Updated on June 10, 2020, eight years after I left my day job in finance for good. This is a good post for those of you looking to get a Ph.D. or not. Bottom line: I don’t think it’s a good idea, unless you just love to learn one subject for years and you want to become a professor.
Part of my goal during sabbatical is to explore other opportunities. I’ve been in the private sector for 13 years and I’m looking to do something else. I’ve been fortunate to save a good chunk of change during this period of intense capitalism. Furthermore, with the creation of an online business to keep food on the table, there’s no need to do anything just for money anymore.
A key reason why I loved getting my MBA part-time for three years was because I didn’t have to worry about getting good grades. I already had the “dream job” many MBA grads aspired to land – working as a Vice President at a major investment bank. Going to graduate school was purely for the sake of learning and meeting interesting people in various fields of work.
Once you make enough money to feel comfortable, making more money no longer becomes interesting. What I’m more interested in is further self-actualization, service, and giving back to the community.
SHOULD I GET A Ph.D? A LIFE IN ACADEMIA
Did you know that Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy? Philosophy refers to the original Greek meaning “love of wisdom.” How appropriate a term to describe one that spends years beyond college to gain more knowledge.
When I was a kid, I always told myself I’d love to be wealthy and get a Ph.D. one day. As I grew older, I realized how much easier it was to dream than to execute! Sometimes we are forced to choose between something less interesting, but more lucrative and something more interesting but less lucrative. After four years of toiling away in college, all I wanted to do was make some money so I joined the private sector.
Now that I’m middle aged and no longer have the desire to maximize profits, I’d like to explore research and teaching. I’ve got to imagine that this is a natural course of action for many people who were good students, but used their talents for profits instead of service. There’s nothing wrong with this as most of us work for money.
With my online media business, I believe getting a Ph.D. in communications could result in some fantastic synergies. At the core of any doctoral program is conducting research and publishing. What better platform to conduct research than with one’s own online media initiatives?
I’m not a 22 year old recent college graduate who isn’t entirely sure what he wants. I don’t plan to go to get a Ph.D. to delay the inevitable or attend because it’s the thing to do. I’ve got years of real world experience and have very clear ideas of what I want to do post doctorate.
BENEFITS OF GETTING A Ph.D.
Besides being able to harness a Communications Ph.D. to help develop my communications business, there are other benefits of getting a Ph.D. as well:
* Credibility. Anybody who goes to school for this long has to know something. If you have a Ph.D., you should be an expert in your field of study. With credibility comes respect. With respect comes a better sense of well-being in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
* Prestige. The only reason why things are prestigious is because so few people have them. There’s only one President of The United States for example. According to the US Census, only 9% of the American population has a Master’s Degree or higher. In 2000, only 1% of the population had a doctoral degree. Now that number is close to 3% in 2018, but still low. You may not be rich, but with a Ph.D. you will belong to any of the highest social circles around.
* Opportunity. Once you get your Ph.D. you will likely have more opportunities granted to you in the form of consulting, publishing, teaching, and speaking. As an expert in your field, large corporations could hire you as a consultant for a healthy sum to provide insight into a business venture, for example. With a Ph.D., publishers will have more confidence in signing you to write an authoritative book. Visiting Professorships are more readily available practically anywhere you go, especially if you get your degree from a top school. Company Boards always need some Ph.Ds to create at least the illusion of credibility to investors.
* Education. Education is one of the most important assets one can have. The things we learn in college amounts to perhaps a grain of sand in an hour glass. There is so much more to learn. If you are a “lover of wisdom”, then I suspect you will enjoy getting a Ph.D. Furthermore, most reputable Ph.D. programs I know pay their students a stipend. Stanford, for example, pay around $7,500-$8,000 for three quarters a year and all your health care costs. Not a lot, but not bad at all!
* Community. I don’t know about you, but I loved my time in college. The college community is wonderful because everybody is there to learn, support, and nurture. University is there to test hypotheses and see what becomes of things in a relatively judgemental free environment. Surrounding yourself with highly educated people can be very rewarding because they will challenge you on your own thinking.
* Achievement. When I graduated from college, I felt an incredible sense of achievement. I also swore never to go back until the 2000-2003 downturn happened. When I graduated from business school, I once again experienced a feeling like no other. Now, I am an aggressive champion for everyone getting as much education as possible. I did not understand the benefits of education until I got some myself. Making money is one thing, but achieving the highest level of education possible is an even more rewarding accomplishment.
Related: Should I Get An MBA?
THE CONS OF GETTING A Ph.D.
I know at least 15 people with Ph.Ds who are all doing well. There is no starving Ph.D. graduate on foodstamps like the mass media enjoys highlighting. I’ve talked to several of them quite extensively and have come to the following negative conclusions:
* Delayed retirement. A friend is 34 years old and is starting his second one-year fellowship in medicine at Cornell Hospital in NYC. Granted he’s been making about $60,000 a year as a resident, but that’s nothing compared to the 16 years he’s spent studying, interning and paying tuition after high school! At 35 years old, he will likely make around $400,000-$500,000 as a specialized cardiologist. That’s great money, however, he’s just starting his career while I’m at the cusp of retiring! Furthermore, not all doctors will make so much. Certainly not Doctors in Communication.
* A test of will and patience. I know about five Ph.D. candidates who never finished because they gave up, or are on their 7th+ year of a supposedly 4-5 year program! One candidate is going to school because she doesn’t know what to do. She has a trust fund and figures why not learn while she figures out life given she has the financial means. Other candidates gave up mid-way through and decided to just get a Master’s Degree instead. If you’re going to do anything, you better do it right.
* Opportunity cost. Some believe with ever rising tuition, college itself is an expensive opportunity cost. Can you imagine spending another 5 years of your life after college to get your Ph.D.? You’ll have made no real money and have no real-world work experience. During your energetic 20s you could have started a company, gotten promoted to a senior position within the firm, traveled the world multiple times over. My 20s were truly an exciting time of getting my ass kicked at work, speculating in the stock and real estate markets, getting an MBA, and traveling all over.
* Bad for the unhealthy. If you so happen to die earlier than the median life expectancy of 80, your return on investment for getting a Ph.D. decreases. I clearly remember when the admissions director asked me in my MBA interview why I wanted to get my MBA so early. I replied, “Because I know what I want to do, and want to leverage my MBA degree for as long as possible.” If you get your Ph.D at 30 and die at 40, what a shame! Worse yet, I know people who get Ph.Ds at 30 and retire and do something totally unrelated with their degree. Who knows when we will die, but if you’re an unhealthy person, perhaps maximizing fun-time is better than spending another 4-5 years after college to get your doctorate degree.
THE IDEAL Ph.D. CANDIDATE
If you decide that getting a Ph.D. is right for you, then your biggest hurdle is getting in. I don’t particularly score well on standardized tests, although if I were to take the SAT again, I’m pretty sure I’d crush the verbal section at the very least! Asking me to figure out the value of the missing variable in a multi-variable equation with a picture of a trapezoid? Not so much.
Most schools require you to take your GRE graduate exam, get three or more letters of recommendations, write an essay or two, submit relevant research, and send in your college transcripts. Gathering all this information reminds me of my mortgage refinance experience that took months and months to complete(nightmare!). An absolute bear that must be done if you want it enough!
After consulting a couple dozen people on getting into a top MBA program, here are my suggestions for what I think will be attributes for the ideal Ph.D. candidate:
* Research and Academia. It is frowned upon to get your Ph.D. and go work in the private sector. Getting your Ph.D. for the sake of making more money is a no-no after speaking to admissions directors, professors, and students Remember, Ph.D. = Doctor of Philosophy = “Love Of Wisdom”. The ideal candidate is fully dedicated to staying in the field of academia upon graduation, conducting research in their field, teaching, and proudly representing their university. In fact, I dare say that an ideal candidate is one who has already experienced over a decade in the private sector, and therefore knows with even more conviction that s/he wants to be in academia.
* A clear vision. You must want to know what you don’t know yet. A Ph.D. is the absolute specialization in a particular field. Without an intense interest in the particular field of study, you won’t be able to last through the program. If you are getting Doctorate in Philosophy, hopefully you have read countless philosophy books all around the world and have written numerous papers on the subject already. If you are getting a Doctorate in Music Theory, hopefully you play several instruments and are a lover of music. Once your interests are aligned, you should have a vision of what you want to do with your Ph.D. What problems or mysteries do you want to solve?
* Marketability. One can’t underestimate the importance of marketability If you are an Olympian who is smart, attractive, and famous, you will probably get into any Ph.D. program you want. Universities compete on recognition and funding. You’ll have to speak to both tenured and non-tenured professors alike to understand the intense battle for dollars and prestige. Instead of accepting the brightest college students into your doctoral program, I recommend and believe that doctoral programs should accept more students who have real life experiences. We can’t all pretend like we’ve stayed at the Holiday Inn Express while discussing world events in the classroom. We need lovers of wisdom who have been there and can share experiences that only they would know. Practice and theory must be combined!
SHOULD I GET A Ph.D.?
For those of you who have a Ph.D., are in the process of getting their Ph.D., or are considering getting a Ph.D., I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m seriously contemplating getting my Ph.D. as I enter a new phase in my life. Thirteen years in the private sector followed by 5 years getting a Ph.D., and another 20 or more years in academia sounds like a good idea. I understand getting a Ph.D isn’t a walk in the park, but most good things aren’t anyway.
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