How Hopeless A PhD?

Imagine that you have some estimate in your mind of the odds of becoming a professor, given that you start a Ph.D. program. Now imagine you see an article titled “The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time.” How much do you expect that to change your estimate? Yeah, it should lower your estimate a bit.

Now consider actually reading the article. How much on average do you expect your estimate to change then? If your belief changes are rational, you should never expect your estimates to change – they might go up, might go down, but on average stay the same. OK, but do you so expect in this case?

Here is the article; test yourself. Quotes below the fold.

America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. … In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrollment. … British men with a bachelor’s degree earn 14% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to. The earnings premium for a PhD is 26%. But the premium for a master’s degree … is almost as high, at 23%. … In one study of British PhD graduates, about a third admitted that they were doing their doctorate partly to go on being a student, or put off job hunting. Nearly half of engineering students admitted to this. (more; HT Omar Al-Obaydli)

So if you apply to a PhD program and get rejected, you haven’t lost much.  If you start a PhD program in the US, your odds are at least 57% of graduating, and pursing a PhD lets you enjoy a student lifestyle, if that appeals. If you quit early, you’ve only lost a few years and basically gotten a masters degree, which also has many uses.  Given a PhD your chance is about 16% of getting a prof job, for a total 9% chance given you start a PhD.  There are other nice non-prof jobs you can get with a PhD, your odds are better if you go to a better than average PhD program.  You could make sure to study subjects like engineering or economics with better job prospects.

Overall, my estimate of the chances of success went up after reading the article.

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