Is a PhD Really Worth it?

<p>First some background. I'm an upcoming senior in high school, and I plan to apply to top-tier schools for undergrad and I think that I have the SAT's and other stats to get into at least some of them. My plan then was to possibly double major in physics and mathematics at that university and try to get into a good grad school. However, last night, on one of my stumbleupon excursions, I unfortunately came to this page: Don't</a> Become a Scientist!</p>

<p>After reading that page, I was extremely discouraged. It was the analogy of someone dreaming to be in the NBA seeing how impossible it is. However, is this image accurate, exaggerated, or outdated? The reason I ask this is that over the past few years I've spent a lot of time learning mathematical and physical theory on my own, and I couldn't really see a future in which I'm happy without constantly learning more about the universe or mathematics. I believe I have the skill and determination to make a good scientist (many may thinks it's too early to tell on this board or see this as arrogance, but I honestly believe that I have what is needed.) Is this article accurate in that, no matter how hard I try, no matter how skillful I am, I will eventually end up 200k in debt with no job and no life?</p>

<p>Thanks, and I really want honest answers... Not the "follow your dreams" answer my guidance counselor may give me.</p>

<p>The essay in question is one person's opinion, and while it has some truth to it I would not take it as 100% gospel. It is true both that (a) there is ever more competition for ever fewer permanent academic positions and that (b) the salary is often quite small compared to the effort involved. However:</p>

<p>1) The jobs that are available in academia are pretty nice - academic freedom, you get to research anything you can find funding for, salaries that can get up to the $200k range even in the hard sciences, a lifestyle that gets easier with age, and the liberty with tenure to publish "In Defense of Homophobia" essays that would get you canned in any other field.</p>

<p>2) Many PhD's are able to find academic positions outside their "home" departments - branching into engineering, a related science, etc.</p>

<p>3) PhD's in the hard sciences can transfer to a lot of other fields that are both easier to get into and more lucrative. I know a physics PhD who just finished law school - his initial salary as a patent attorney is sickening. I know another older physics PhD who clears $250k as an engineer - no, he does not have an engineering degree.</p>

<p>4) There is much to be gained in the pursuit. With an undergraduate foundation in math and physics you can transfer into almost any vaguely scientific field you want. Get that far and you will have a great position to decide on a further course of action. I know science grads who went into engineering, law, medicine, and business, and all are doign just fine.</p>

<p>5) In general, debt in the sciences should be minimal - graduate study should pay for itself (if not much else), and many academia-bound undergrads either come from cheaper state schools and/or find significant grants and scholarships.</p>

<p>6) No life? You can have a great life, but don't kid yourself that it is not a ton of work.</p>

<p>I'm not going to say "follow your dreams" (although you are an idiot if you don't, whatever they are - might as well at least TRY for happiness!), but you DO have a shot, and more importantly, you have very little to lose and a lot to gain by at least pursuing these areas and this dream as an undergraduate student. Four years from now, things may be a lot different for you!</p>

<p>Science is certainly not a dead end field. You will not end up 200k in debt, science grad school is usually free or better, and the biggest cost of science grad school is the opportunity cost. In my uninformed opinion, majoring in physics and math is great: they are broad but technical enough to allow you to branch into all sorts of fields.</p>

<p>Here's another depressing grad school link (but don't worry, it's not typical): <a href="http://www.reddit.com/tb/cn3fj%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://www.reddit.com/tb/cn3fj&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>While I too am worried/semi-freaked out about starting a PhD program in light of potential career prospects after grad school - all the options that this article lists are not (in my opinion) actually very viable options. "Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you." To this articles credit, it was written in 1999, so perhaps the job field looked different then. Medical school is no picnic either - you could find similar articles scaring kids away from medicine talking about the pressure of med school/going into huge debt, then the insurance hassles, malpractice, all the business stuff that come with being a physician. Law school? Really?- take a look at the articles about how people coming from top law schools can't find a job in the current economy/ there are way too many law school grads. I suppose computer or engineering could be a option for some people - but personally those don't hold the appeal that science does - to find out how disease works/ find treatments/ further human knowledge/improve life on this earth. Writing a computer program to better upload photos to the internet doesn't do it for me. (I know I know, computer/engineering do more than that, but I am not a CS person at all). Basically, other career paths/field have their big issues too. I suppose science grads just need to have more alternate career paths than becoming a tenured faculty. But that doesn't mean don't go into science - or so I hope.</p>

<p>Also, Slorg - wow - that was quite a link. But oddly not as worrisome as the OP's link - I can take balls of steel (bring it), but depressing job stagnation/making the wrong career choice from the start is way more scary.</p>

<p>That article was published 11 years ago. It's kind of dated.</p>

<p>There is a need for PhD/MS in sciences for government work- which nobody really wants to do because they want to go into private sector or university research in order to be able to devise their own research projects. Academia appeals to a lot of people because of its freedom. Government does not because you have to come up with something that the government wants, so not a lot of opportunities to build a CV the way academics can.</p>

<p>I think the advice "don't become a scientist" is ridiculous. Other people say "don't become a doctor" or "don't become a lawyer" or "don't become a teacher" or "don't become a mechanical engineer." You have to choose something, right? And you should choose something you're both good at and like. Every career has its disadvantages and advantages -- and its cycles. Unfortunately, you cannot predict demand very far in the future.</p>