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Ph.Ds in IT - Good or Bad for a Career? 781

Posted by Cliff
from the is-the-extra-education-worth-it dept.
LordNimon asks: "I'm thinking about getting my Ph.D. (I currently have a Master's) in computer engineering. I've heard all sorts of stories about Ph.Ds being less likely to find a job than their less-educated counterparts, but not a lot of credible evidence. So, I was hoping to hear from Slashdot readers on their experience. Do you think getting a Ph.D. in CompSci or CompEng will improve or worsen my career outlook in the industry? Has anyone witnessed someone being turned down for a job because he had too much education? If you're a hiring manager, what is your opinion on someone who has a Ph.D. and is otherwise already qualified for the position?"
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Ph.Ds in IT - Good or Bad for a Career?

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  • Degrees? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nick of NSTime (597712) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:52AM (#6732702)
    "Carl and I have our Master's, but Homer just showed up when the plant opened."
  • well.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by REBloomfield (550182) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:52AM (#6732710)
    All the PhD's I know have stayed in the education field. Two teach, and one has a research position at Microsoft's Education dept.
    • Re:well.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Frymaster (171343) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:55AM (#6732745) Homepage Journal
      the key here is research. if you want more of a research position, a phd will go a looong way. if you are more into implementation, a masters might already be too much.
      • How exactly do you define implementation? In my company, it is much easier to rise in the ranks with a higher education above a bachelors degree. From my experience and what I have seen of others, the higher level coders may come up with ideas, but they are still in the trenches everyday helping with implementation.

        I cannot see getting a doctorate as precluding you from implementation (or a job for that matter), but instead adding the responsibilities of research, development and mentoring lower level em
    • Re:well.. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eyegor (148503) *
      I've known two Phd IT types and while they're very knowledgable in their field, they spent more energy trying to be "elegant" or inventing new ways to do things (IOW something cool that they thought of but wasn't standard) rather than doing things the right way. I think they forget that production IT shops aren't staffed by students.

      In the proper job (a very high-level IT role or in education), a Phd is a valuable asset. In a production shop, it's slow death. Everyone gets sidetracked chasing dreams.
    • Re:well.. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by EvilAlien (133134)
      Thats pretty common. Having an advanced degree can restrict choice in terms of employment. I know somebody in California who keeps getting told that they are overqualified... and a Ph.D. friend has to work in a teaching position in a backwoods university town because that is where a position exists.

      Tech Ph.D.s are going to be a differnet matter though, as long as you have some management experience or wish to get into management. The Ph.D. I see in technology tend to be running the show in CIO or CSO p

    • by IceAgeComing (636874) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @12:16PM (#6734086)

      I got my CS Phd in 1996 and haven't found a job that uses my research skills until just a few weeks ago. Read that again. I've waited seven years. BTW, I graduated from some of the top engineering schools in the country (Stanford and CU at Boulder).

      Short story version of my post: employers don't typically need research skills, so they won't pay for them, and those that do are very hard to find.

      Don't expect the jobs to come after you graduate unless you're already well-connected in the research community. Is your mom or dad a PhD? Then maybe you'll have a chance to stay out of the slow lane I found myself in.

      Here's some free advice on whether to get a PhD after I spent 6 years getting mine.

      Don't expect industry to find your research experience valuable unless they're hiring you as a researcher. You'll probably get paid the same as a MS candidate if you're a normal developer.

      Even smart people don't make it through a Ph.D. program because either they don't have good chemistry with their advisor, or they can't sustain interest in their thesis topic. You've probably never had to study one thing for more than a year. Imagine studying it for 4-8 years.

      If you don't hit it off with your advisor, you're probably sunk, so spend a lot of time networking and getting to know your potential advisor before starting.

      Be fired up about a topic before you apply! It's not like BS or MS where you show up, read a lot, remember a lot, and get through. If you're not passionate about your subject, then after two years, getting through your thesis will feel like pulling your own teeth out.

      In case you're interested, here's what happened when I left school. I didn't have connections or serious prospects for research jobs. As it turned out, my first job out of school was writing numerical C++ libraries for an internationally recognized software company. I got paid $50K/yr for creating two libraries that made the company some serious bank. After two years of working there, I was making $54K/yr. I only got offered a 20% raise when I threatened to leave, which I did anyway.

      Then I taught at a university for two years but hated the fact that most students were only interested in the diploma, not the actual subject matter. So I had to deal with lots of cheating and poor performance. Remember, this was 1998 when someone with a 2.0 GPA could get hired as a network admin. I lasted two years there. My pay finished at $44K/yr as a full-time, tenure track professor.

      I've slowly jumped around to government contracting and private consulting, which have paid better, but I probably would have gotten paid the same with an MS degree.

      Now, I've finally found a job as a researcher in an industry setting. I waited seven years to find it. It will pay around $85K/yr with benefits.

      • I'm going to get a PhD next fall. But man, the money is going to be hard to give up. I make more than 85K/yr and I graduated with a BA the same year you got your PhD.
      • I graduated from a decent engineering school (RPI) in 1998. My advice comes in a variety of flavors:
        • What makes for a good advisor/program/topic
          • There is a famous fable [ox.ac.uk], which states that choice of advisor is more important than choice of topic. While this may be overstated, good advisors have a sense of what is interesting and provide interesting directions. However, be wary of working with really big names, often they are very hard on their students. Try to determine how they treat their students and
  • by floppy ears (470810) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:52AM (#6732711) Homepage
    It's conceivable, sure, but you're a lot more likely to get turned down for a job for a lack of education than too much education.
    • by EastCoastSurfer (310758) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:59AM (#6732822)
      Having just interviewed more people than I wish to remember I would say that a PhD doesn't hurt you when looking for a job. The problem is that if you have only gone to school for many years and have no real software development work under your belt, that will hurt you if your looking for a development job.

      Of course if you want a research position then a PhD is the only way to go. You probably need to end up asking yourself what you want to do and figure out the best way to get there. Getting your PhD is right for some paths, going to work is right for others.
    • by micromoog (206608) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:07AM (#6732975)
      However, you're much more likely to get turned down for a job in industry due to a lack of experience than a lack of education. A BS and 5 years' experience will take you farther than a PhD and no experience.

      Sadly, getting graduate degrees while employed full time is the only way to really maintain a competitive combination.

    • by sql*kitten (1359) * on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:12AM (#6733056)
      It's conceivable, sure, but you're a lot more likely to get turned down for a job for a lack of education than too much education.

      I'm not sure that's true. Certainly, my own experience of interviewing candidates is I'd rather hire a candidate with less education and more experience than one with more education and less experience. That comes from hiring people and seeing how they perform in the "real world". A PhD comes across as being too "theoretical", interested in abstracts and research, and not in day-to-day programming which might be just grinding out database code or fine-tuning GUIs. A Master's will stand you in good stead for "high level" job like a System Architect. But PhDs are too highly qualified for an entry-level coder (and are reluctant to take a "junior" position anyway), and not experienced enough for a senior position, so they're stuck in limbo.

      Only do a PhD if you have a genuine interest in the research you want to do - for example, if you're deeply interested in AI anyway, a PhD will be a rewarding experience. But it is a big mistake to do a PhD purely as a way into the job market.
      • by btlzu2 (99039) * on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:49AM (#6733633) Homepage Journal
        I think this is a reasonable view on day to day hiring; however, if you're a company looking to get an expert to technically lead a division in a certain direction, you may want to hire from the relatively smaller pool of PhD's. For example, some of the computer consulting companies I deal with have security experts with PhD's in telecommunications or computer security-related degrees and they set the overall tone for their company's policies on security.

        I think if you want a fairly high-profile, powerful job that doesn't have a lot of people applying because they're not qualified, a PhD might be for you, not just for research purposes. At least, that's what I've learned with my experience. I think someone working in the field and getting a Master's degree is pretty valuable itself. (Because I'm doing that! :) )

      • Thats the biggie... make sure you are interested. One of my old scoutmasters got a PhD in Mettalurgy, not because it was relevant to any job he did, he just wanted the knowledge that he'd gain on the path.

        As for being overqualified, I know one guy who had to leave half his certifications off his resume to get a job.
    • Even if you do have a PhD, who says you have to put it on your resume? If you think it will 'over qualify' you for the job that you're applying for then leave it off. If you get an interview then you can use it as a wildcard then. As with most things in life, you can't subsitute real world experience for study at any level and I don't think a PhD or masters makes any exception.
    • A Ph.d was never intended to enhance a career in programming. Hard lessons people trying this will learn:

      1. Unless you are obsessively, genuinely interested in the topic, the four+ years of research will drive you insane. You can't just "not care" about the topic.

      2. During those years you will be doing little programming, getting little practical experience, and making welfare wages. Meanwhile your undergrad friends are getting their 401ks pumped up while they learn something useful. If you actually do po

    • It's conceivable, sure, but you're a lot more likely to get turned down for a job for a lack of education than too much education.

      Along those lines, I've noticed that when a particular job market is oversaturated (as IT currently is), then of course, salary levels drop, and employers will hire the most amount of education that they can get for their money. Instead of Bachelor's degrees soaking up all of the entry-level positions, it's the people with the Master's degrees who are knocking the B.S's out of
  • by JohnGrahamCumming (684871) * <slashdot AT jgc DOT org> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:53AM (#6732719) Homepage Journal
    My experience with having a PhD differed depending on which side of the
    Atlantic I was on. When I was in the UK (where I got the qualification) I
    definitely met resistance from some companies who asked me bluntly why I had
    bothered to get a PhD if I wasn't going to do research, and seemed suspicious
    that I might be too "academic" for their jobs. Only one company, ICI, was
    positive about my doctorate stating that I would start at a higher pay grade
    because of it.

    In the US I've found that the PhD was a plus, people respect that you did
    the work to get it and generally are interested by the topic I choose (security).
    I have not had a negative reaction here.

    In my current position where I hire people the more education the better, as
    long as the person has the skills required for the job. So I have had to choose
    between a person with a PhD who had just learnt C++ and a person with a Master's
    who's spent 2 years coding in C++ then the Master's wins. What's going to be
    important with your PhD is to demostrate that you have practical experience along
    with the studies (could be through a summer job, for example).

    John.
    • I would vote for the two years of actual, practical workforce C++ than to more years of theory getting another degree. I still think getting an higher degree is a good goal, but folks shouldn't do it for the possible pay increase or other mythical promises. Other fields benefit more from the PhD than CS/CIS/MIS. Perhaps PhD in CE would be nice.

      Of course, with the economy, it might be a good time to invest in your education. Either way, your going to be underpaid and/or overqualified. I know a few PhDs flip

    • by FortKnox (169099) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:08AM (#6732987) Homepage Journal
      On the contrary, its about experience. Graduate degrees are wonderful with those that already have lots of experience in the field first (ie - don't go from freshman year of college to PhD without some work experience put in).

      The reason is, if you apply for a job with a Masters and someone else with a bachelors and 3 years of experience, you won't get the job. Why? Because experience is more important than extra education; plus, the bachelor is cheaper. With higher degrees comes higher expected pays!

      So, I always tell people to get a job with a bachelors and have your company pay for the graduate degrees. That way you get what you want (your grad degree) with a bonus (your grad degree for free!) and your company gets someone with experience AND a grad degree for cheaper than hiring one straight outta school.
      • by dnoyeb (547705) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:35AM (#6733418) Homepage Journal
        Experience is NOT more important than education. Lots of self taught programmers will have difficulty finding a job because just claiming you can do that job is much different from producing a 4 year college degree.

        A Masters degree is a "Specialization." It means you can do the bachelors stuff, and especially this one particular topic. So if you find a job in that particular "topic," THEN you get payed more, and are valued more.

        A doctorate is not so much a further specialization, but a doctorate dubs you an innovator in the field. Excellent when budgets have money for research and development. But I must warn that anything Non-product related will be the first thing to go when budgets get tight.

  • Too much education (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BeninOcala (664162)
    Well i have some experience in this as my mother has two master degrees. She has alot of trouble getting her foot in the door because of her education. Most heads of departments do not want someone with better backgrounds then them.
  • by LePrince (604021) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:54AM (#6732732)
    Do not forget that 40K$ jobs are much more frequents than 100K$ jobs.

    So, yes, having a PHD means that you will request a higher salary (which is ENTIRELY normal), therefore reducing the number of opportunities you can have. But is it a bad thing ? I do not think so. Maybe you'll end up looking for a job a bit longer, but you'll most likely get a high-pay job, with many benefits, and a job you will like, or in which you'll have some type of control/supervision.

  • Professors (Score:2, Insightful)

    by XJEEP.org (633878)
    the last professor that I had was a PHD. He was a moron. I think that your knowlege base and work experience should stand on its own.
  • A Job? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by statusbar (314703) <jeffk@statusbar.com> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:54AM (#6732737) Homepage Journal
    Is a job the only reason why you want a Phd?

    --jeff++
    • Re:A Job? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by iangoldby (552781) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:05AM (#6732942) Homepage
      I strongly agree with the parent.

      The only valid reason for chosing to do a PhD is that you really want to. Forget career - that should have nothing to do with your decision. Doing a PhD is hard work, and you will almost certainly go through times when you wish you'd never started and wonder if you should just cut your losses. On the other hand, it can be immensely rewarding, and will teach you a whole new way of thinking.

      As for jobs afterwards, outside academia at least, it's a lottery. Some companies value them, others don't. So that shouldn't really affect your decision.
    • Re:A Job? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LordNimon (85072) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:11AM (#6733032)
      Not exactly, no. I already have a good career (as a software engineering). In fact, I would be quitting my job to get the Ph.D. I would certainly enjoy working on it. My goal would be to allow me to choose between working in the industry or in academia, effectively doubling my career options. In addition, my work experience is completely in software, but I would rather work in hardware design (e.g. microprocessor or computer architecture). Without getting a degree in computer engineering, I don't see how I could get a job as a hardware designer.

      I would probably be happier as a professor, but I may not find a tenure-track position at a university I like. In that case, I would try to find a job in the industry, but I wanted to see if getting a Ph.D. would close more doors than it would open.

    • Re:A Job? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shisha (145964) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:14AM (#6733098) Homepage

      Is a job the only reason why you want a Phd?

      As far as I know all the people who started doing Phd _just_ to improve their career oportunities did not finish. Why? It has something to do with motivation :-) Finishing a Phd requires a very different mindset from just doing an MSc. You actually have to get trough dozens of situations when you're honestly stuck, or even worse when someone else has published the solution of the problem you have been working on etc.

      So I would suggest not doing a Phd, unless you really want to do a Phd for the sake of research and being in academia.

      Besides having a real job, and doing it well, for 3-5 years can really advance your career much more than a Phd.

      That said I've got friends who have stared Phd's for their interest in the subject (one doing DPS, one AI) and they have completed them and now they both have really interesting jobs, which they probably won't find were it not for their degrees.

  • and my preference when interviewing to select people with solid commercial experience rather that mostly academic backgrounds. I suppose for specialised applications a Phd will be a benifit but not for the vast majority of positions.
  • Yes, it happens (Score:5, Interesting)

    by marktoml (48712) * <marktoml@hotmail.com> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:55AM (#6732749) Homepage Journal
    I not only saw this happen...I contributed to it.
    We had an opening for an entry-level or mid-level developer position. Had a fellow apply with 2 masters and a Phd. I couldn't really see that the job would be challenging/interesting enough.

    Most employers are not interested in being a way-station on someones career. I figure if I really need a job, tayloring the resume to suit the position is essential.
  • by GeckoFood (585211) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [doofokceg]> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:56AM (#6732768) Journal
    There are at least two people holding PhDs in my department (I am in the MIS department of a large retailer). Both of them are worker bees, although they are definitely well respected. They are not part of the "good ol' boy network" so they probably won't make management, but management around here definitely listens very closely to them.
  • Since I am still in school working on my degree in applied physics, I don't have a great deal of insight to offer. However, I have heard from several of my friends that are working and there seems to be an unwritten rule that bosses like to hire smart people but don't like it when employees are smarter/better educated than them. To me, it appears to be an inferiority complex.
  • by Jucius Maximus (229128) <zyrbmf5j4x&snkmail,com> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:56AM (#6732773) Homepage Journal
    PhDs are more likely than others to have careers in Academia. So if a statistically larger number of them, compared to Master's or Bachelor's degree holders go into academia, then there would obviously be a smaller percentage of the total number of PhDs in industry compared to the others.

    And since the number of people with PhDs is relatively small to begin with compared to the other groups, the perception that they don't get indistry jobs as often is easy to understand.

    I'd say you should go for it and get the degree. I don't see why it would decrease your chances of getting a job in industry, and in the case of a tech downturn (again,) you could probably still turn to a job in academia.

  • Experience... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ivanmarsh (634711)
    Take it from a guy that's been in I.T. for 15 years and doesn't have a degree in anything... it's easier if you have an education. Though A PHD might be a bit much for the average I.T. shop.
  • Only do a phd if you really really want to research in that field. Many people spend a few years hating their lives because they have to work on a sucky dissertation that it turns out they weren't really very interested in.

    But having done a phd, if you're concerned about it, just leave it off the CV. I doubt anyone will ask you to account for the missing years, but if they do it' not exactly hard to talk about your 3 years' work as a volunteer teacher in Mozambique.

    Honestly though, I doubt a phd will have

  • A friend of mine applied for a job he was more than qualified for. He lacked a piece of paper that said he had done an education. If I would have applied, I'd get the job (I think), without being nearly as experienced.

    In my experience, businesses are more interested in diplomas then in experience. Having completed an education doesn't prove you're an expert in a given area, but that have mastered a basic skill in working as a professional. And that is probably of much more value than in this case technical
  • As a B.E. in Comp Engg I am planning on applying for further studies. However the authors question brings a question to my mind. Should I app for MS or PhD. It is generally considered more difficult to get a PhD admit but easier to get aid in PhD than MS. Of course the point raised by the author of the post seems to add another facet to these questions. Would some of you post-grads out there have any advice?(Note I have 2 yrs of Job experience and am also seriously thinking of going for an MBA but selling
  • by stomv (80392) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:58AM (#6732800) Homepage
    A Ph D (in engineering and science) is a certification in the ability to do research. Generally theory based, and often without a "real world" product in sight.

    Read lots of papers, write some papers, get published.

    This has as much to do with computer engineering in most companies as having your IBEW (electrician) certs.

    If you want a career in research -- either in an academic institution or a semi-private or private lab (think Bell Labs or Lawrence Livermore Lab), then get a Ph D. If you want to "do" computer engineering, than a Ph D won't likely help you.

    It is certainly not likely to result in a pay differential from a master's degree equivalent to the time lost earning the Ph D (4 - 6 years generally).

    P.S. I'm a Ph D student in Systems Engineering (similar to operations research)
    • by Space cowboy (13680) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:23AM (#6733252) Journal
      Depends who your research is funded by. Mine was by the Ministry of Defence in the UK. Quarterly meetings with the paymasters, progress had to be made or a good reason why no progress was made had to be given.

      The group I was in was small but exceptional. Two of them now work for Eidos (one's the TD). One of them is at Nasa, One's a TD at CNN Money, and the remaining two of us own our own companies. Getting a PhD certainly didn't hold any of us back.

      We were (mainly) investigating neural networks for pattern identification. My contribution was the introduction of context in a meaningful way. A fair few of our ideas were fast-tracked to the product stage within the MOD, not all worked in the field, but some did.

      Simon.
    • If you want a career in research -- either in an academic institution or a semi-private or private lab (think Bell Labs or Lawrence Livermore Lab), then get a Ph D. If you want to "do" computer engineering, than a Ph D won't likely help you.

      I'd have to agree. Even a degree in Computer Science is of questionable use when you're actually in the real world (I have one btw). I work for IT in a College, and we have all sorts of shit from Comp Sci students who think they know more than we do, just because they'
  • by Per Abrahamsen (1397) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:59AM (#6732819) Homepage
    If you want to do research, a Ph.D is a must. If not, it is a waste.

  • by mrob2002 (564229) * on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @10:59AM (#6732830)
    As an IT manager who also has a Comp Sci PhD hopefully I can give an answer from both sides. This is also from a UK perspective.

    My PhD was based around networked information systems like the Web and Gopher, back in 1992-1996. My PhD improved my technical skill set a little, with extra programming experience, and early awareness of protocols such as HTTP, and standards such as HTML. But the real advantages came from the other part of earning a PhD - the ability to present your ideas to others, whether that's on paper, or stood at the front of a room. The ability to organise my thoughts, to analyse problems and come up with solutions, to think outside of the already known base of information and come up with new ideas, to manage my own time, these were all the skills that I picked up between graduating with my first degree, and being given my PhD.

    As a manager looking to hire someone, I would expect someone with a PhD to have the skills mentioned above. But you can also pick up those skills "on the job", or just have them as innate abilities, so as ever it would come down to how you present yourself at the interview. Having a PhD would certainly not count against you.

    Maybe I'm lucky, but I've never come across the "overqualified" argument myself, and I'm very happy that I had 4 or 5 years dedicated to researching something that I found extremely interesting, in a superb learning environment. I think the skills of analysis and logical thinking are very handy in the IT and programming enviroments.

  • by 4of12 (97621) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:01AM (#6732855) Homepage Journal

    "So you know what B.S. is?"

    "Yeah."

    "Well, M.S. is More of the Same, and PhD is Piled Higher and Deeper."
  • by JanneM (7445) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:04AM (#6732912) Homepage
    My experience as a Ph.D. (though in cognitive science and robotics, not computer science) is that you do tend to become disqualified for some kinds of work. Essentially, grunt work programming, run-of-the-mill system administration and so on will be pretty much off-limits to you.

    There are three reasons, generally, for this: first, you spent years in school whereas your peers went out and got work experience (or just learned a lot about unemployment benefits), so you will compete with people that have experience, whereas you do not. Second, your prospective employer will fear that you will want a higher salary (or other benefits) due to your degree, and they won't want to hire you when they can get a cheaper programmer that can do the job just as well. Third, they will (rightly) suspect that you will not find the work stimulating, rewarding or career-enhancing enough, leaving them with the need to do the hiring process all over again in six months or a year.

    That said, a Ph.D. opens up whole new career paths that you really aren't qualified for otherwise. You of course have the research and teaching career path sort-of-open (though that is for masochists only, the way academia is going). You are also suddenly eligible to pursue an R&D career in big corporations. Last (but not least), the added knowledge and insights you get, the contact network (especially if you do a post-doc as well) and the skill you get in doing research means it is feasible to go out on your own with your own company R&D-oriented company (alone or with colleagues).

    So, you lose some opportunities at the lower end, but gain some at the top. Of course, doing a Ph.D. is also a lot of fun (at least afterwards :) ). It's your call.

  • Salary Requirement (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hasie (316698) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:04AM (#6732922)
    I had a friend who decided that while he was studying he would go ahead and do a PhD. He is a highly skilled person who didn't really need the extra qualification because of his experience. The problem now is that nobody wants to hire him because they think he is going to want a larger salary! He doesn't, he just wants a job, but he can't seem to convince anybody of this! Just something to consider...
  • by (H)elix1 (231155) <slashdot.helix@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:09AM (#6733005) Homepage Journal

    Experience will make more of a difference than your education level. I would rate a masters with the same level of interest as someone who has an MBA - someone willing to continue to learn. A PhD in computer science would scare me, as the time you spent focusing on earning your doctorate does not really constitute real world experience. Experience being equal, I might take the PhD. A PhD in math, bioinformatics, or something where you applied software development is much more impressive. Given the choice between someone who has worked in the trenches, death marches, fluctuating requirements, and knowing how to say good enough, and someone who spent the last four to six years slaving over a doctorate? Not a chance. You would have to show that you were not an academic if you could make it to the interview.

    You really want to impress me? Author a programming textbook and get published. I hear you make almost as much as a grad student too... (grin)
  • When hiring (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doinky (633328) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:11AM (#6733034)
    we generally avoid PhD's for the (admittedly prejudiced) reasons below:

    1. More likely to leave for reasons beyond our control (even if we do our best to make work happy, they may decide to go off and do research or go teach)

    2. Less likely to work well in the compromise-heavy environment required in commercial development (prefer an elegant solution; sometimes to the point of a huge productivity loss for everybody else, when all that was needed was a select-sort or some other quick get-it-done-because-it's-late solution)

    I've worked with a lot of PhD's despite the two caveats above, and have generally observed that if you can get the right PhD in the right position, you can play to their strengths. This usually means hiring them for an architecture position where they can interact with professional organizations; do long-range planning; write neat prototypes; all that kind of stuff that heads-down developers rarely get to do (and which the PhD might be better at anyways).

    However, putting a PhD in a development position has been uniformly disastrous at all three companies (huge, medium, and startup) I've worked at. Even at the senior developer level, there's too much compromising and too much "wiring code" to make most PhD's happy; and their tendency to pursue elegance at the expense of expedience no matter what the situation can slow everybody else down too.

    • Re:When hiring (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ENOENT (25325) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:50AM (#6733639) Homepage Journal
      Do you also avoid hiring experienced developers? Some of us non-PhD folks have learned the hard way that quick, expedient fixes are sometimes disastrous, and spending a few more hours thinking about what you're going to do BEFORE doing it can really cut down on the number of "hotfixes", "security patches", or what-have-you.

      Where I work, our customers tend to be concerned with having our software work correctly. Maybe this doesn't matter much to you...
  • by IIRCAFAIKIANAL (572786) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:12AM (#6733058) Journal
    and I'm making well above the average salary for a programmer/analyst in Canada for the age 21-29 range (i'm 23). I started at a standard salary but worked hard (and smart) and proved that I deserved to be making as much as the more experienced guys. It looks like I will have a senior on my title within 2 years at this rate. All this with surfing slashdot on a regular basis as well.

    ( ;)

    I would say that what really matters is how well you perform on the job. A phd may affect your ability to get your foot in the door (whether because a phd would command more respect or, in contrast, reek of "academia") and may affect your starting wages, but that's all moot after your first review.

    About the only thing I can say is you may be making a bit less than someone with only a masters because you don't exactly get to use a lot of the theory you picked up. And you may have a catch-22 with the whole "over-qualified" for entry level (because of the PHD) but under-qualified for senior positions (due to lack of practical experience). And in the end, you may be bored a lot of the time with easy work - I know I am.

    I have a co-worker with a phd (but not in comp eng) and he's pretty much treated the same as all the others around here. He's not an exceptional programmer, but he never complains about his salary (unlike, say, the guys in PC support :).

    Of course, this is Ask Slashdot, so you're only going to get a bunch of anecdotes anyways =) YMMV
    • Start a company (Score:3, Insightful)

      by abulafia (7826)
      I don't have a degree. I'm heavily qualified, based on world experience (many peers think I'm 3133t for my math skills, security habits and coding behaviour). I'm a college dropout. I won't explain why, that would be silly.

      If you feel you aren't a candidate for the job market, no matter reason why, start your own company. That's what I did. Over or under-qualified, it doesn't matter. The worst it can do is fail, and then you can start another or go back to academia, unlike careers with large companies.

  • And over-qualification is definitely one of them.

    We recently searched for a part-time office admin for our company, and got _lots_ of CVs. But we rejected them all: far too qualified for the job. It sounds bizarre but when someone has too much experience they get bored doing banal things, and when someone has too much training, they often become too arrogant to do banal things.

    And banal work is the bulk of it.

    Then there is also the question of money: people with more experience and more qualifications expect more pay, and if the job does not justify this, there is a mismatch that will often cause problems.

    Finally, many companies have a specific culture (social, business, technical), and it takes time to learn the culture. Extra training and experience can be useful but can also simply get in the way.

    Lastly, as people get older, they appear to become more cynical and (in some cases) corrupt. "Sure, I can steal from my employer, after all everyone does that, right?" Perhaps it's an attitude that is there in young and old alike, but I've seen it much more in older people.

    Give me a smart, young, motivated mind and I can do more with it than with an older mind with experience and training.

    Sad, but for me (and I have lots of experience, ironically), true.
  • Over time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gwernol (167574) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:13AM (#6733065)
    In the short term having a PhD may be an impediment. Spending between 3 and 8 years (sometimes even more) in an academic environment is in some sense "wasted" time when you could have been gaining experience of the commercial environment. The academic world is very different from the business world.

    In the longer term it can be a tremendous advantage, if you work in the field you studied. There is no doubt that getting a PhD is genuinely hard work and most companies know this and respect it. You will be an acknowledged expert in your field. If you specialize in an area that can be applied to commercial problems - for example security, parallel processing, AI, visualization - then a PhD is a almost required if you aspire to be lead the technology division of a company that specializes in that area. A very disproportionate percentage of CTOs of high tech. companies are PhDs.

    That said, if you just want to be a software engineer or a sys admin, the PhD isn't going to help you much and you will perhaps always be seen as overqualified.

    Finally my most important advice: don't start on a PhD if you don't have a deep interest and genuine passion for the work. You will spend several years of your life learning and discovering more about some arcane corner of the universe than all but a handful of people in the world. It is an enormous amount of hard work and requires true dedication. If you aren't energized by that prospect you won't make it. A PhD is not something you do because it will enhance your career, its something you do because you need to do it.
  • by Cthefuture (665326) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:13AM (#6733066)
    Personally I would hire (and have hired) someone who has an extra 2 years real-world experience over someone with a Ph.D. Any day.

    The fact that you're already interested in seriously pursuing a doctorate would already start to make me nervous.

    Although theory is nice, I've all too often seen educational types create truely horrible software. Grand pie-in-the-sky designs that have no place in the real world (and rarely function properly anyway). Overdesign is a bad thing (see: PKCS#15, ASN.1, CORBA, GNU "configure" crap, etc).

    So unless you're only interested in the research and education fields I would spend the time learning how to write and design good solid software in the real world.
  • by Texodore (56174) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:15AM (#6733113)
    I have experience with this at our company. It's probably an isolated experience. It more applies to hiring PhDs that have lots of experience teaching that go into the real world.

    Our company hired a professor from UNC. This is a professor that took over one of Fred Brooks' classes.

    At first we left him to be a zealot for software engineering. We have a great process in place, so he was more the zealot for the entire company. Then the politics came down and forced him to work on a deliverable.

    The product took about twice as long as expected. All that software engineering theory just didn't apply in the real world. Build environments, makefiles, message files, and all that stuff you use in the real world were foreign concepts. Unit testing was another issue - most builds that came down the pipe had a simple bug that prevented testers from using the build. It could be argued that much of his code was not readable as well. Lots of one letter variable names, and wrapper around functions that didn't need them. I mean, he did the equivalent of wrapping strlen with a function named StringLength. This was to improve readability.

    He's already stated he wanted to join the bandwagon for teaching and instructing in the company, proclaiming the merits of process and all that stuff. He wants to tell people how to avoid the mistakes he's made. Bottom line: he's instructed for so long, he thinks this little experience further qualifies him.

    In short, I can't say I recommend hiring a lifetime professor at a major college as a programmer. There's too much unlearning that needs to take place, and too little awareness of how software engineering process works in the real world.
  • by gosand (234100) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:15AM (#6733114)
    You have to fit the job that is being filled. Why would someone pay you what you are worth when there are 100 people out there that they could hire for a lot less? The title of my post has two meanings:
    1) There are lots of tech people out of work, so you could very well be over-qualified with a PhD or even a Masters.
    2) There are a lot of people out there to work the grunt jobs, and fewer people getting a higher education in IT. This could be an advantage.

    It is all going to depend on what companies are around you. If they are all small, private companies doing web work, you may be out of luck. If you are near an IBM office, or some other tech giant who may have a use for someone with a PhD, then you could have a chance.

    It is a real issue that people can be overeducated for a lot of jobs.

    I used to work at Motorola, and we hired a contractor that was really smart. He was hired to help us test a release of some real-time cellular products. He had worked at NASA for years, and had some good stories. But he was worthless as a "regular" employee. He kept 3 sets of notecards in his shirt pocket, each set being a different color. One color was for process stuff, one was for technical stuff, and the other was for something else. When you would tell him something he would whip out his notecards and write it down on whichever category it fit into. If you ever wanted information from him, he went to his notecards. He was a good guy, and really smart, but he was too smart for the job.

    I worked with another guy at a small company who didn't know Unix, but said he could learn it. He had a Masters and was working on his PhD. (I was surprised he didn't know any Unix, but whatever) We thought he was capable of picking it up, but he clearly wasn't. Two months after he started, he still had to refer to his notes to remember how to list a directory's contents. He was a smart guy, but he just didn't get it.

    My suggestion? If you go for the PhD, do something in the computer security field. There will always be a need for computer security gurus, and in that field you'll be up against snot-nosed kids for the jobs. :-)

  • by slyckshoes (174544) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:23AM (#6733244)
    I have found that having a Bachelor's degree in CS was enough to get me mod points on Slashdot. I don't know if you'd get more points with a PhD, the FAQ doesn't seem to address this. Perhaps you could email CowboyNeal.

    Oh, you want a *real* job? ...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:32AM (#6733379)
    Most of the posts you're seeing here are along the lines of "well, all the PhDs I know..." or "when I see a guy with a PhD...". And they're bull crap. I *have* a PhD. In computer science. Specializing in AI. And I also hack code rather well, thank you very much. So here's my two cents.

    The whole premise of the question being put before us is broken. Will a PhD improve your career. I mean, really. NO ONE FINISHES A PHD WHO STARTED ONE SOLELY TO IMPROVE HIS CAREER. It might improve it. But that's not why you get one. If you're considering a PhD because of its job opportunities, then I have one thing to say to you: get a job!

    You get a PhD because you want one down deep. Because you like being a scientist and a researcher. Because it's a goal you've had all your life. That sort of thing. If you don't care about a PhD, then holy cow, DO NOT GET ONE. What are you thinking?

    It's going to be a painful half-decade too, consisting mostly of salaries around the $18K mark, or a whole-decade's worth of night classes and stress if you go the part-time route. People who try for PhDs because it will improve their employment position are the first people to drop out of the PhD program.
  • It depends... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrIcee (550834) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:43AM (#6733518) Homepage
    I've worked with very large organizations, such as NASA as well as medium to small shops. Additionally, for the past 12 years I've been CEO of a software corporation... that said...

    In general - someone who has a BS in CS (for example, myself) and leaves it at that and enters the work arena (well, this applied not since 2001 since there is no work arena currently) is, in my view (and apparently the view of many companies I've been with) better qualified as PROGRAMMERS than someone who has spent most of their time pursuing higher education.

    Indeed, I've experienced people who didn't go to college but were computer savy, and who entered the work force and have gone to the top of the list in their companies - and in some cases gone on to head their own corporations.

    In general, and in most conversations I've entered in on concerning this topic - the feeling is that a GOOD programmer (and I stress the word GOOD) who begins the work force early has much much more practical experience.

    In the 25 years (I'm 45) that I've been professionally programming, I've written literally hundreds of compete applications - some with teams but most on my own or with a single partner (PC games, image processing systems, paint systems, medical software etc). In many cases, not only written the applications but supported them and marketed them myself (or with the team).

    In some occassions, teams I've put together have included Masters and Phd's... and while very bright they often tend to lack the ability to see "the entire picture". Now, there are two types of programmers out there... first, there are the ones that code routines and are merely told input and output expectations and they deliver. The second set of programmers work with entire application concepts, and have the ability to understand what is required in a full application and how to go about designing it, as well as coding it. In my experience, most (not all of course) masters and phd's fit better into the first category as PROGRAMMERS.

    Indeed... a Phd shouldn't be used as a programmer, more over they should be used as a visionary. Keep 'em away from the code layer because they have LITTLE practical experience designing REAL-WORLD applications. They often don't understand time-frames - since they havn't experienced real-world programming conditions and requirements (e.g., shitty management decisions ;). On the other hand, they have MUCH experience in pushing boundries and concepts. So as a VISIONARY - that is where they are better off in my opinion.

    So it comes down to what you want to do... do you LOVE programming for the joy of programming? If so, get out of college and get to work! On the other hand, do you enjoy thinking about possible concepts and pushing the boundries of understanding? If so... than a masters or phd might be perfect for you.

    One last thing... small companies rarely have use for a Phd or Masters. They cost too much and don't provide the small organization enough bang for the buck (unless they're going after venture capital and want a pretty-face). It's your larger corporations that have more of a need for the Phd level visionary - and can afford it. Think IBM FELLOW for example.

    Aloha... over and out

  • by Kismet (13199) <{pmccombs} {at} {acm.org}> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @11:47AM (#6733593) Homepage
    When I was a manager over an IT department, we sometimes got Ph.D. holding candidates interviewing for the position of scriptwriter/setup technician.

    We were worried that such an overqualified candidate would soon become dissatisfied with the job, or would require a higher pay than we could afford for the position. It was really not a good fit for the job.

    I realize that in this economy, a lot of really educated people are in need of work. My suggestion to those is that they do not advertise their higher degrees with jobs that they are overqualified for. If you are satisfied with menial work, then it doesn't matter if you have an advanced degree - don't show it off.

    If you are getting your Ph.D. as a career move, make sure your job description matches your education, otherwise it was a waste of time. You don't need a Ph.D. to be a scriptwriter.
  • Not cost-effective (Score:3, Informative)

    by phliar (87116) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @12:15PM (#6734068) Homepage
    I have a PhD in computer science -- in user interfaces (so I wrote a lot of code), at a department that's one of the earliest Unix installations, and I also worked as a sysadmin part of the time I was in grad school. I think that's probably a best-case scenario... when I decided to bail on the tenure track, finding a job was not easy, it took me about three months -- and I had to find the time to do it in. Starting assistant professors don't have a lot of spare time. If my research had been in a non-saleable area (like theory, which was what I used to be in), I imagine things would have been much worse.

    With my strong programming experience I did OK, and found a job that paid $75,000 (this was in 1995). However, there was this guy who was in grad school with me. He left after an MS since he couldn't get in to the PhD program... he'd been working for the five additional years I was in school, making good money and getting raises, so in '95 he was also making the same amount of money. And he had lots of vested stock options that were actually worth money.

    The only reason to get a PhD is because you think it would be cool and fun and you don't really want to do anything else. That was all true for me, and I had a blast doing it and would definitely do it again, and recommend it to others. But don't do it for money: if you think you'll be more succesful financially as a result, you're deluded. It will be a waste of time.

  • by deanj (519759) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @12:26PM (#6734208)
    This completely depends on where you want to get a job. I've worked in both academia and the "real world", so I've seen both in action.

    If you're on staff in academia, you're golden with a PhD. Work experience absolutely doesn't matter. A PhD (and interestingly enough, in ANY degree) can get you pretty damn far. Doesn't matter what you've done in the past, or how experienced you are, it's those three little letters that make all the difference. If you don't have them, you can pretty much write off any upward mobility, and you'll be treated like cattle.

    I've seen people with PhDs completely outside the computer field get put into management positions over computer folks.... Believe me, the results are frightening when that PhD tries to tell people how to do their jobs.

    In the "real world", it's the opposite. If you have great work experience, and can speak intelligently about what sorts of projects you've worked on, you've got the job. Very few people pay any attention to degrees once you're hired... all that matters is that you can do a good job. In fact, if you try and sling around the fact you've got a PhD, it'll probably just make people think that YOU think you're better than they are.

    A lot of people coming through with degrees DO seem to have this opinion, and they really show it during interviews. Those that do that sort of thing don't get called back.
  • by pmz (462998) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @12:54PM (#6734552) Homepage
    I hate to say this, but I've formed the opinion that even four-year degrees are overrated. Looking back at high school, everyone was buzzing about how you either go to college or into the military right away after high school, and that people who don't do that are somehow "losers". So, all the kids religously took the SATs, poured over all the unsolicited junk mail from colleges, paid the application fees, and, then, went to college as "Undecided". Shouldn't that strike us as odd?

    One thing that the recent economy has taught me is that a four-year degree in a specialty--or worse, a graduate degree in a specialty--can be like a ball and chain regarding career changes. What would be better is for high school graduates to not commit to an expensive four-year degree program (unless, of course, they are unusually motivated) without a clue regarding their major; rather, they should enter the workforce, go to a very cost effective associate's program, or do the Mormon thing and take two years in South America or something. Kids need some time to discover themselves, and I'm not convinced the rush-em-through Universities are appropriate for this learning process, especially given that Universities are very very expensive.

    I can't stress the cost of a four-year program enough. Unless a student can get by without loans (via a trust or scholarship), they should strongly--very strongly--consider the alternatives. It is way too common for students to graduate in some default generic major due to not knowing any better, yet ending up paying for it for the next ten years of their lives. Student debt levels now-a-days are simply insane.

    Sure people claim that a college degree will pay for itself, but I'm not so sure. The best values are state-supported colleges, but it is still common to come out with $20,000 worth of debt. How many $60,000/year jobs are there? Certainly not enough for all graduates. I wonder if that $20,000 would have been better applied towards a down payment on real estate--perhaps the most sound investment most people will ever make in their lifetimes.

    What would you rather have, $20,000 towards a home that you can defend with a gun, or $20,000 in debt living in an apartment with a family of 10 above and the rock star below? Even if you don't end up with a lot of money in the long run, raising a family in a real home with a back yard has a value that is hard to measure.

    And, no one says you can't go to college later, after seeing the way the world works and knowing what direction is the right one for you.
  • Engineers vs. PhDs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rfernand79 (643913) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @01:02PM (#6734661)
    First of all, bear in mind that getting a PhD in Computer Science is not the same as following a career in engineering. Edsger W. Dijkstra once said, "Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." This little (almost pedantic) phrase reflects the importance of recognising the difference between a career in education (research) and professional studies. A Ph.D. in Computer Science is typically immerse in mathematics, not "just" in software engineering (please, do not read in a derogatory sense). Researchers aim to different jobs from those usually obtained by engineers. This does not mean you're over-qualified, this means you were trained to do something else (research). Getting an advanced degree (Master in Software angineering, Doctor of Professional Studies or similar) will certainly leverage your career. Becoming a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Computer Science will not necessarily train you for an IT job. You may, however, apply for the R&D department - Ph.D.s are not "condemned" to work at Universities, National Laboratories or Research Centres.
  • by alchemist68 (550641) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @01:15PM (#6734825)
    There is some truth to this:

    B.S. does NOT mean Bachelor of Science, it means BULL SHIT!

    M.S. does NOT mean Master of Science, it means MORE SHIT!

    Ph.D. does NOT mean Doctor of Philosophy, it means PILED HIGHER AND DEEPER!

    First you have to carefully evaluate your career goals. Is this what you really want to do? Next, is their a job market for Ph.D.s? I've been reading about the mass exodus of high tech jobs over to India and Asia, not good. Second, it matters significantly where you get a Ph.D. in science, in addition to any experience you have acquired. Do you have a really good track record of success? Any failures? How did you handle the failures? What types of companies do the graduates get to work at and for how long? Is the turnover number high for a particular job position or company?

    A masters degree may be all that you really need. If you have the desire to get a Ph.D., an alternative to getting a Ph.D. is launching your own business as an independent programmer, consultant, etc... This too can be very rewarding both personally and financially. There's nothing quite like being the boss. Plus, you get to use travel and luncheons, dinners, small vacations as business expenses. In addition, after you've had several successes with a business venture, casually mentioning it to your employer may indicate you're more competent than the average Borg Drone and could make you a candidate for promotion.

    Another alternative is to go back to school and get an M.B.A. The M.B.A. was designed for non-business majors, professionals in science and many other fields to work in administrative positions. Again, where you the M.B.A. also matters.

    I was told by my undergraduate academic advisor NOT to get a Ph.D. from a non-ranked chemistry program. At the very minimum, one would want to get a Ph.D. from Ohio State University or the University of Michigan in AnnArbor, because the Ph.D. is a terminal degree, meaning there is no other degree above that, and with a Ph.D. you will be expected to perform with the same level of expertise, competancy and detail, and responsibility of your peers graduating from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Columbia, Brown, (Ivy Leagues and many second-tiered schools).

    So, very carefully evaluate what you think is best for you. Don't get a Ph.D. just so you can be called "doctor". Being called "doctor" from a non-ranked program can be more embarrassing and humiliating than the greatest on-the-job screw up you've ever done. When you go applying for positions that require Ph.D. experience, you may be at the interview to make the other candidates who graduated from better and more selective programs look better. I know, I've earned a masters degree from a non-ranked program (which is "OK" for most careers in chemistry), however, my next goal is to get an M.B.A. because that will take me further and get me out of the laboratory.

    ALL YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS ARE BELONG TO YOUR GENETICS AND ENVIRONMENT.
  • by JRHelgeson (576325) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @01:21PM (#6734905) Homepage Journal
    A PhD in Computer Science is the most worthless degree if you are planning to get a job in the IT industry. The only thing a PhD is good for in the computer industry is doing research and being a professor at a university, or doing research for companies that can afford to have a PhD on their R&D team.

    My brother got his PhD from the University of Minnesota. He is now a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He teaches 3 classes a year, and the remainder of his time is performing research and writing papers. He does get paid very handsomely for it, I must say. He stated that when he was going to school, that he was basically dedicating his life to one of working in academia.

    Outside of Academia, a PhD in Computer Science is not a very valuable degree.

    However,
    I once had an employee that had dual masters degrees in Geology and Information Systems. He got his degree in Geology, then realized that he couldn't feed a family as a geologist (unless he wanted to feed them rocks) So he got his MIS degree. He couldn't find a job ANYWHERE (so I hired him :)).

    It wasn't long before I got him in touch with someone from Texaco Oil Corp. where we got him an interview and now he is working for Texaco, making 6 figures, helping them develop new methods for using computers in searching and drilling for oil.

    So, my advice would be that if you get a Ph.D be prepared to work in a research role. A second degree in a complimentary field might work better for you. If you choose a second degree, use that degree to get you into the IT industry in a particular field you're interested in.

  • by plcurechax (247883) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @01:33PM (#6735056) Homepage
    Most average or medicore managers don't like "really smart" people under them. They worry that you may make them look bad (be vindictive), or be a snob and put other team members down.

    Ph.D. have a reputation of being not good team players. This comes from working alone on your thesis for a number of years, often independantly and not in a team of close knit research group. All real world companies need team players, because no one person can (or should) do everything.

    Hiring staff (HR or the technical manager) avoid PhD for low/entry level positions because of the bordom and leaving factors. They worry that you will leave at the first better job offer. The best way to fight this is, if you really are excited about the job, show your excitment, and try to only take interviews with jobs you plan to stay at.

    Once upon a time I had an interview at ARM [arm.com] the microprocessor design company, they were looking for a couple of IT positions (security and development) and my CV interested them. When I got into the interview, the fact that almost got me hired was that I was a licensed amateur radio (ham) operator. Since hams tend to have a boat-load of practical hands on experience with building and fixing things, they were very keen on this. I wasn't going to touch a MPU design, or even work on embedded systems, but it was this practical experience that they looked for.

    If you want to work for AMD, Intel, ARM, IBM Research, Microsoft Research, or AT&T Research, then get your Ph.D. If you want to muck with designing systems to be build, get your Masters and get experience.

    Education is important, but experience is golden.

  • by dgerman (78602) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @07:41PM (#6739246) Homepage
    I have a PhD in computer science. Like many, I went down the path not because I wanted the money or the fame. It was just there, in front of me, and I decided I wanted to try to see "what to be a researcher" was like. I never thought of the future jobs, the years of poor TA salaries, or the like. But man, did I enjoy it! The 7 years it took me were sometimes difficult (plenty of stress to finish the darn thesis) but at the same time were very good: plenty of travel to conferences, being able to do _whatever_ I wanted with my time, being able to learn and pursue anything that look interesting in front of me (to a certain extend), and the great feeling when you see your name in your first research articles, and later in citations.

    I recommend you read a book called: A Ph.D. Is Not Enough: A Guide to Survival in Science
    by Peter J. Feibelman. It is a little bit biased towards the academic jobs, but it has a chapter on the "real world" jobs too. I wished I had read it many years before.

    About me? I finished school and got a job at the Big Blue. I proved to myself I was able to create software in the Major Leagues, but then I realized I was being under employeed (my research skills were underutilized). In Canada there are few places better than them to go to, so my only alternative was academia. I am now tenure track at UVic.

    The perfect job exists for few. In my case, I am happy and I am making the best out of it. My PhD has allowed me to pursue things in my life that might have been impossible otherwise (how many people would "kill" in Canada for a well paid job in Victoria, for example?). I would do it again, for sure, if I had to go back in time.

    On the other hand, I have seen many crack under the pressure. You can be made to believe that you are an ass, with no potential to have a "contribution" to science. Many people struggle to find a thesis topic for years and many fail altogether. I must be very hard to feel the failure of not completing. Many others don't know what to do with the PhD when they finish and end with jobs that they could have gotten with a Ms.

    Make sure you heart wants the PhD. Otherwise you might just waste some years until you decide it wasn't for you.

  • by ralphclark (11346) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @09:04PM (#6739804) Journal
    Get a PhD and go to work for a big merchant bank. Recruitment is very much controlled by HR in these places and they just love paper qualifications (I suppose because it means they can raise the average quality of candidates without actually having to understand anything about the skills thus represented).

    Alternatively you could use a PhD to get a position as a trainee BA with one of the big consultancy firms. I can't vouch for how they are right now, but Accenture - formerly Andersen Consulting - certainly used to only consider candidates with very good academic qualifications.

    You need to realize that a PhD isn't going to mean you can autmatically leapfrog into a senior role and 100K starting salary. What it *will* do is enable you to compete for entry into "fast track" career paths with the very best firms. Once in, opportunities abound. If, say, you joined a top merchant bank, and if you are ambitious and talented and applied to move over to the business side in the Front Office, you could be earning 250K + 500K bonus before you reach 30. If you stayed on the IT side you'd make slightly less money but you would still be assured of access to the most challenging projects using the most up to date technologies.
  • by garyebickford (222422) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .cib73rag.> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @09:22PM (#6739952)
    I was told by a research professor at Carnegie Mellon that the PhD make you a member of the club of people who get things done. These are people who can then be depended upon to accomplish complex, long term projects, including mustering up the necessary resources, keeping your support system in line, etc.

    In other words, you try to get a PhD, and the department does pretty much everything it can to prevent you from doing so. If you manage to finish, you have shown you can get things done despite obstacles, and thus join the club.

    IIRC, only about 50% of those who start a PhD program actually finish and about 90% of the non-finishers completed the course work but never finished their thesis. So his view has a certain validity in affect, if not in policy. It seems to me it's a good view to have for oneself, taking into account also the others' statements here about your interest etc.

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