To PhD Or Not To PhD

That is the question

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#1 scalt  Icon User is offline

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To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 03:33 AM

So I'm coming up on the end of my first year out of a Bachelor of Engineering (Electronics & Computer Systems) degree (Hons) and I'm trying to figure what the heck to do next. I currently have a pretty good job at an agricultural research institute helping out their modelling team, mainly a lot of scripting and XML/TXT file processing. I get paid fairly well for a graduate and I am virtually left to my own devices to come with solutions to all the problems that are thrown at me so its pretty fun. However, I think the only way for me to proceed and grow within the organisation is probably through a PhD, otherwise I will probably end up in a purely support role (like I am now) for the rest of my life, and I'm not sure if I really want that. The prospect of taking on a PhD does not really phase me, I had always just assumed I would do one (I come from a family of doctorates), but now I am wondering whether that is the smartest option or if I should branch out and get into the software industry. Does anyone have any experiences/opinions they would be willing to share? I sort of want to make a decision before I specialise myself out of further job opportunities. I'm not looking for 'the answer', just trying to gather as much info as possible - so random, highly opinionated ramblings are welcomed (but may be taken with a grain of salt ;)). I guess the real question here is actually 'to PhD or to Industry'.

P.S. I am virtually guaranteed direct entry to PhD with at least one Uni based on my marks

P.P.S. I am able to do a fully funded PhD through my current job, possibly even staying on full pay (not sure about that second bit yet). I can basically come up with my own topic and if I can prove it has some relevance/benefit to what they do then I would have their backing.

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#2 Programmist  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 04:17 AM

I can't really speak about New Zealand, but in the US a PhD will pretty much only advance your career if you want a career in research and academia. A masters degree can sometimes give you an edge in a down job market when there are a lot of applicants for a particular job, but smart employers are looking for much more than just "who has the highest post-graduate degree." Assuming things are similar in NZ to the US my advice would be to only do a PhD if you are interested in doing one for your own academic benefit or if you want to pursue a career in research and/or academia. It will not give you any real return on investment in the industry.
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#3 Craig328  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 07:48 AM

View PostProgrammist, on 17 August 2010 - 03:17 AM, said:

I can't really speak about New Zealand, but in the US a PhD will pretty much only advance your career if you want a career in research and academia. A masters degree can sometimes give you an edge in a down job market when there are a lot of applicants for a particular job, but smart employers are looking for much more than just "who has the highest post-graduate degree." Assuming things are similar in NZ to the US my advice would be to only do a PhD if you are interested in doing one for your own academic benefit or if you want to pursue a career in research and/or academia. It will not give you any real return on investment in the industry.


That was all true and entirely the way I was thinking...until he closed with this:

View Postscalt, on 17 August 2010 - 02:33 AM, said:

P.P.S. I am able to do a fully funded PhD through my current job, possibly even staying on full pay (not sure about that second bit yet). I can basically come up with my own topic and if I can prove it has some relevance/benefit to what they do then I would have their backing.


If they're going to pop for it AND possibly pay you while you're doing it...well, to quote my 10 year old daughter: "duh". Take it. You're losing nothing and gaining a nice educational edge if for nothing more than your resume. As for what the PhD is worth, Programist is mostly correct: it really takes you further in fields like research and academia. But it doesn't HURT you anywhere. Just look at the job market now. If you were out of work it'd be nice to have extra options (research/academia) available to you, wouldn't it?

One other thing: you sound young. You will never have a better time to pursue higher education than you will now. The opportunity for a free doctorate while possibly being paid to work is a deal that's simply too good to pass on. Try getting someone to make you that same offer when you're in your late 30's or 40's. Not gonna happen.

This post has been edited by Craig328: 17 August 2010 - 07:50 AM

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#4 WolfCoder  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:26 AM

While I love SCIENCE!! as much as the next person here, I plan on being an industry worker for software. I'll keep the SCIENCE!! to myself and the open source community.. Well, unless someone wants to pay me to do their SCIENCE!! of course. I keep saying I don't plan on working in the video game industry or labs, but if I see an opportunity that is just too good I'm going to take it.
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#5 macosxnerd101  Icon User is online

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:35 AM

I love the theoretical aspect of CS, as well as the hands on programming. If someone is paying me to explore the theory and boost my credentials, I'll take it in a heartbeat. With a Ph.D, you can retire into a teaching career pretty easily, on top of showing your employer you're committed to bettering yourself and the company. There are too many positives there to ignore. Go for it.
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#6 Matamane  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:45 AM

I'd recommend it only if you genuinely wanted to go for it. I I were were in your situation, I would do it in a heartbeat, but I'm not you. The only person who can ultimately make the decision is yourself.

What I would do is remove all pretense of the financial and economical factors from the situation, and weigh the pros and cons for yourself, based solely on the concept of yourself with a PhD, and yourself without a PhD. If the result is in the positive, go for it, if not, then don't.
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#7 WolfCoder  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:48 AM

OK a PhD costs a ton of money. But your job pays for that. And you're all set. Why the hell not?
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#8 Programmist  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:36 AM

View PostCraig328, on 17 August 2010 - 07:48 AM, said:

If they're going to pop for it AND possibly pay you while you're doing it...well, to quote my 10 year old daughter: "duh". Take it.

I hear ya. And I totally understand the "If it's free then why not take it?" mentality because I agonized over my decision not to get a doctorate, but it just doesn't make sense for everyone. The state of Texas would pay for 100% of a PhD if I wanted to pursue one. I thought about it a couple of years ago and came to the conclusion that it's just not worth the effort for me. My time with my family is much more important that adding more letters to the end of my title. It would not boost my income nor would it make me a better software developer. Maybe that's partly to do with the fact that I'm already pretty much at the peak of my profession. I can also still teach at state universities with a masters degree when I retire, so no harm there. I guess it probably depends on one's priorities and age. I'm only 35, so I might consider another masters - maybe in business, but I just feel that a CS PhD would be a waste of my time.
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#9 Craig328  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 20 August 2010 - 12:11 PM

View PostProgrammist, on 17 August 2010 - 04:36 PM, said:

View PostCraig328, on 17 August 2010 - 07:48 AM, said:

If they're going to pop for it AND possibly pay you while you're doing it...well, to quote my 10 year old daughter: "duh". Take it.

I hear ya. And I totally understand the "If it's free then why not take it?" mentality because I agonized over my decision not to get a doctorate, but it just doesn't make sense for everyone. The state of Texas would pay for 100% of a PhD if I wanted to pursue one. I thought about it a couple of years ago and came to the conclusion that it's just not worth the effort for me. My time with my family is much more important that adding more letters to the end of my title. It would not boost my income nor would it make me a better software developer. Maybe that's partly to do with the fact that I'm already pretty much at the peak of my profession. I can also still teach at state universities with a masters degree when I retire, so no harm there. I guess it probably depends on one's priorities and age. I'm only 35, so I might consider another masters - maybe in business, but I just feel that a CS PhD would be a waste of my time.



Well, of course, circumstances differ from person to person. In your case, you're 35 and prolly have young/younger kids. THEY will only be young once so yes, if you think that pursuit of a PhD would be too much time away from their growing up, address the degree sometime down the road.

However, for a time I too considered teaching at the university level. While you CAN teach with a masters degree, it's a lot easier to land a job (and the attendant tenure so you can keep it) if you had that PhD. I would also suggest looking carefully into the notion that it wouldn't boost your income. In terms of dollars to your paycheck, maybe not. However, if you were to become an expert in your field and wanted to write professionally, that PhD is exactly the kind of credential that gets you an automatic pass when compared to an amateur blogger, for instance. The degree lends a sense of seriousness about your chosen career, demonstrated dedication to your depth of knowledge in that career field and it just sounds nifty being called Doctor Programmist doncha think? :)

But yeah, as in all things, to each his own. No one answer fits everyone. I passed on law school years back (in the face of scholarship offers to boot) because we decided to have kids instead of wait 3-4 years. I can't say I regret the decision.
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#10 Programmist  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 21 August 2010 - 08:45 AM

Titles aren't important to me. A person's intelligence, resourcefulness, and ambition are much more important to me that their title. These are things that cannot be purchased, unlike a degree. Also, I'm pretty certain that many of the most prolific authors of programming books are not PhDs - nor are many of the senior lecturers at my alma mater. I'm sure a PhD would be worth the time commitment to many people. I'm also just as sure that I'm not one of them.
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#11 Elcric  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 08 September 2010 - 10:45 AM

Attain the PhD now while you can. The PhD will change the way you see the world. The PhD will open your eyes to problem solving skills and windows of opportunity you will never see without a PhD.

Medical science says humans are supposed to live longer than they used to, and our life spans will grow as the field of medicine grows. You need to start planning now for what you want to retire to. A PhD will give you something to retire to. When you are retired the PhD credentials will allow you to do international consulting work when you need a little extra cash to do whatever.

A PhD is a source of pride. You will enjoy being introduced as Doctor instead of Mister. People will treat you with respect and admire you. You will have more self confidence. You will have an inner driving force to meet societies expectations so you can maintain your social standing within your professional community.

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#12 Nikitin  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 08 September 2010 - 11:09 AM

View PostElcric, on 08 September 2010 - 10:45 AM, said:

Attain the PhD now while you can. The PhD will change the way you see the world. The PhD will open your eyes to problem solving skills and windows of opportunity you will never see without a PhD.

Medical science says humans are supposed to live longer than they used to, and our life spans will grow as the field of medicine grows. You need to start planning now for what you want to retire to. A PhD will give you something to retire to. When you are retired the PhD credentials will allow you to do international consulting work when you need a little extra cash to do whatever.

A PhD is a source of pride. You will enjoy being introduced as Doctor instead of Mister. People will treat you with respect and admire you. You will have more self confidence. You will have an inner driving force to meet societies expectations so you can maintain your social standing within your professional community.


Kent Hovind has a PhD. Your point?
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#13 Martyr2  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 08 September 2010 - 09:45 PM

It would be a tough decision for me. On the one hand I would love to have the full ride, but on the other hand you got to ask yourself what a PhD will really get you in Comp Sci. The problem here is that a PhD in comp sci is not like other PhDs in something like literature or chemistry or math. Technology changes and getting a PhD now can easily be outdated in a decade. Imagine getting a PhD back when COBOL was the rage. Sure the problem solving skills you would get may still be there, but a lot of the tools and tricks you pick up will constantly need high level updating. That means you would have to essentially be doing work at a PhD level just to keep your skills sharp for that. Which is why you would need to be in acadamia or teaching it. That or be able to find a job that would require you to do major research your entire career (Google anyone?)

I don't know. Like I said, I would love to get a free ride and would probably take it, but I would certainly be disappointed to see myself losing the PhD level skills after I graduate just because industry and technology changes. At least if it was something like a PhD in math or literature, 2 + 2 and Moby Dick will still be the same in 20 years.

:)

This post has been edited by Martyr2: 08 September 2010 - 09:46 PM

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#14 Nikitin  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 08 September 2010 - 10:15 PM

It doesn't matter if you're a PhD or not, you'd have to keep up at your level to stay sharp. This also applies to other scientific/mathematic fields (sorry, I realize programmers love to think our field is special). A mathematician who hasn't done any research since the days of COBOL would have a knowledge that is just as outdated and needed of update as that of a programmer. Believe it or not, the world of mathematics keeps changing (Ricci Flows, anyone?).

But the thing is - people who pursue PhD, do it *precisely* because they enjoy research. It's what they love to do. If you're talking about research as something you just "have to do" then PhD is not for you.
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#15 Elcric  Icon User is offline

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Re: To PhD Or Not To PhD

Posted 09 September 2010 - 11:41 AM

View PostNikitin, on 08 September 2010 - 12:09 PM, said:

View PostElcric, on 08 September 2010 - 10:45 AM, said:

Attain the PhD now while you can. The PhD will change the way you see the world. The PhD will open your eyes to problem solving skills and windows of opportunity you will never see without a PhD.

Medical science says humans are supposed to live longer than they used to, and our life spans will grow as the field of medicine grows. You need to start planning now for what you want to retire to. A PhD will give you something to retire to. When you are retired the PhD credentials will allow you to do international consulting work when you need a little extra cash to do whatever.

A PhD is a source of pride. You will enjoy being introduced as Doctor instead of Mister. People will treat you with respect and admire you. You will have more self confidence. You will have an inner driving force to meet societies expectations so you can maintain your social standing within your professional community.


Kent Hovind has a PhD. Your point?


You have a very good point. There are always people like Kent Hovind who are smart enough to appear to be milking the system. So far society has not come up with a reliable method for providing oversight to prevent abuse of the PhD designation. I believe the point you are making is not to judge a book by its cover and to verify references and ensure people you hire are what they claim to be.
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