The Value of a Ph.D.

Kevin Pitts
8/31/2012

This piece by Daniel Lametti about the value of a Ph.D. is good. I commented before about the Washington Post piece he refers to. 

When making the jump from a Ph.D. to industry, the details of your subfield often aren’t so important. A couple of years ago, I was at one of our campus career fairs talking to recruiters for energy, computing and other high tech firms. Several of them told me that they wanted to hire Ph.D. physicists, and they didn’t care in which subfield they earned their Ph.D. They just wanted Ph.D.’s.  High tech employers like Ph.D.s because they are smart, well trained and they have shown that they can bring projects to completion. If you aren’t able to complete a project (and some people aren’t) then you don’t earn a Ph.D.
 
There are cases where employers want people trained in a specific field.   For example semiconductor firms are sometimes looking for people specifically trained in condensed matter physics to do research on new materials for the next generation computer chip. But in many cases, companies like Ph.D.s for the reasons I listed above regardless of the details of what they did to earn that Ph.D.
 
I’m the first to say that earning a Ph.D. isn’t for everybody. I think you really have to really be motivated to put the time effort into a Ph.D. program. There are real benefits of a Ph.D. The most important things you can do are to figure out if it’s an investment you want to make and have a realistic understand of where it might lead you.
 
Many students enter a Ph.D. program planning for a career in academia.  That's fine, it certainly worked well for me, but it's also important to understand that the benefits of a Ph.D. go beyond academia.