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Ask Slashdot: Worth Going For a Graduate Degree In the Middle of Your Career? 260

Posted by Soulskill
from the better-than-at-the-end-of-your-career dept.
spiffmastercow writes "After nearly a decade of professional software development, my desire to work on something more interesting than business applications has pushed me toward looking into going back to school. I'd like to go into a graduate program for Computer Science, but I need to weigh my options very carefully. Is a Ph.D. a near-guarantee of a spot in a skunkworks type of job (Microsoft Research and the like)? Is a M.S. just as good for this? How does the 'letter of recommendation' requirement work if you haven't kept in touch with your professors?"
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Ask Slashdot: Worth Going For a Graduate Degree In the Middle of Your Career?

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  • by Vombatus (777631) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:18AM (#40993883)
    If that comes in the form of a graduate degree, so be it.
    As long as you keep learning
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah you should stop learning. In the middle of your career, the return on investment is going to be weak. You only have about 40-ish years of good work in you (assuming you don't encounter issues with age-discrimination). It's one thing to learn on your own in the context of your job/career or personal time. It's another thing to invest time and money in a further formal education that is only going to provide so much return.

      What are you going to do, go be a 45 or 50 year old entering a new path? Right. Th

      • by dokc (1562391) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @03:42AM (#40994291) Journal

        Yeah you should stop learning. In the middle of your career, the return on investment is going to be weak. You only have about 40-ish years of good work in you (assuming you don't encounter issues with age-discrimination). It's one thing to learn on your own in the context of your job/career or personal time. It's another thing to invest time and money in a further formal education that is only going to provide so much return.

        What are you going to do, go be a 45 or 50 year old entering a new path? Right. That'll be taken seriously.

        What return on investment has to do with his question? He clearly says: "...my desire to work on something more interesting than business applications has pushed me toward looking into going back to school..."

        Additionally, having PhD will actually help him against age-discrimination

        • by robthebloke (1308483) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @07:15AM (#40995113)
          He also says: "Is a Ph.D. a near-guarantee of a spot in a skunkworks type of job (Microsoft Research and the like)? Is a M.S. just as good for this?"

          If you're doing a Phd because you want to work on cutting edge research, then you're possibly going to be dissapointed. A Phd would certainly help open the door for an interview at one of those places, but won't immediately mean you'll get hired. It's one thing being able to digest the latest research papers, but it's another thing entirely to implement them in a production environment. Are you proficient with the latest GPGPU techniques? (cuda/direct compute/openCL). How is your 3D graphics knowledge? How much do you know about the latest SIMD / threading optimisation techniques? Have you ever looked into FPGA's? How much experience have you had developing cross platform applications? Have you had experience writing code for distruted computing environments? If you have most of those covered, and you have a Phd, then there will be plenty of doors open to you. If you have a Phd, but none of the above, then the Phd will be of limited help.

          A large number (though not all) of Phd grads I've worked with are great at solving problems, but not very good at putting that into practice on a large codebase (where maintainablity, sanity, and efficiency, inevitably take priority over being cutting edge).

          How does the 'letter of recommendation' requirement work if you haven't kept in touch with your professors?"

          It's of little consequence. Your research portfolio will be the thing of most interest to employers. If they get to the point of asking for references, then you've already got the job. The tutors will not stand in the way of that (graduate recruitment is an important statistic for universities these days - the tutors get moore out of you getting a job than you may realise!)

          • by tylikcat (1578365) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @07:28AM (#40995167)
            I left the computer industry and went into research in my thirties, working first in computational biochemistry, and am currently doing a PhD in Neurobiology. This isn't about the money - I'd have done better staying in software for that. But having cut my teeth in the industry when stock options actually amounted to something, I have a bit of elbow room on the financial side (and do not have a family). I wanted to do something that was interesting and meaningful, and I'm pretty darned happy with my choice there.

            I'd be hesitant to seek a PhD for career betterment. Oh, sure, some career betterment is likely to come, but it's a lot of work at fairly lousy pay and I think one needs the motivation of actulaly loving the work.

            Oh, and regarding letters of recommendation - having spent a while working in a research environment before I applied to grad school, my LoRs were part of how I documented my research background. In the programs I applied to - mostly on the biomed side of things - they're pretty darned important.

            • There is still an age thing even with a PhD. If you are getting your PhD and you are in your 40s, you will be going up against many PhDs who are in their mid to late 20s. I see many people going straight through to PhD now. They have no real life working experience, but they have a PhD. While the person getting their PhD has that real life experience. Depending on the company, that experience may count or may not count. It all depends on the HR department and the person at the top.

              From what I have seen rea

              • by tylikcat (1578365) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:18AM (#40995877)
                Certainly when I was a hiring manager, real life experience was a big plus. Not that I avoided bright eyed young things in their 20s, but I generally found that people who had been through the product cycle a bunch of times were a lot more stable and reliable over the long term. And similarly, when I was applying to grad school, my background both in research and software were a huge bonus. At one point, over two thirds of the PIs* who taught a class or two of a course I was taking offerred me positions in their labs. (Though I'll admit, part of this is that in biomed there's a real hunger for people who are competant in both biology and programming. The real challenge was to find lab where I could do bench work some of the time instead of being chained to a computer.)

                But I'm a simple woman with simple tastes. There's an awful lot of cool and interesting work to do, and so far people keep being willing to let me do it. I'm riding this as far as I can ;-)

                * "Principle investigator" - god-boss of a lab.

          • The obstetrician that delivered my first child used to be an accountant; he wore rubber boots to every appointment and had very entertaining and fluffy eyebrows; He entered medical school at 45; He'll work until the day he keels over but now he really loves what he does where as bean counting was nice it wasn't his true calling. The average career change for each person in the workforce these days is somewhere between 3 and 5 and there is now so much overlap with technology that what you do today may not be
          • by SQLGuru (980662)

            [quote]A large number (though not all) of Phd grads I've worked with are great at solving problems, but not very good at putting that into practice on a large codebase (where maintainablity, sanity, and efficiency, inevitably take priority over being cutting edge).[/quote]

            Which is why having about a decade worth of experience in the business world would give him an edge over the theoretical-only PhDs. He's worked on real life projects, probably even in a team environment with source control. And if he get

        • by methano (519830) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @07:48AM (#40995257)
          Welcome to LaLa Land! Almost every PhD I know over 50 is out of work or underemployed. You can never stop learning but you can stop getting paid for what you know. A caveat, they all have degrees in Organic Chemistry.

          So do it for the love of learning. Don't even think about this as a financial investment.
          • by mcvos (645701)

            My dad has a PhD in physical chemistry, he recently retired, but he was constantly learning new programming languages right until his retirement. (Yeah, he wasn't doing much with chemistry. He found his true calling instead.)

          • by Peter Mork (951443) <Peter.Mork@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:08AM (#40995785) Homepage

            Based on the offers I received upon earning a Masters in Computer Science, I would probably be a little better off financially if I had joined the work force at that point in my educational career. Instead, I chose to earn a PhD (in Computer Science). I do not for a moment regret that decision. The degree affords me a fair amount of intellectual freedom (even though I work for a corporation).

            The degree certainly does not guarantee a posh research position at MSR (or a similar lab). But, it does demonstrate an ability to think independently and critically, which are skills still valued in the workforce.

            Finally, I would note that every CS PhD that I know is gainfully employed, and only one feels under-employed (although a delay in earning the PhD due to an advisor problem didn't help). So, my advice (FWIW) is to go back to school, provided that you are motivated more by novelty (intellectual freedom) and less by money.

      • I never stop my career while I learn, and I never stop learning in the middle of climbing the corporate ladder

        I first entered the work force when I was in my primary school, working part time, during the evening hours, earned money to help my family, which was dirt poor

        But I did not drop out of school

        All my "holidays" became working fulltime - while my classmates went for vacations, I worked and worked

        From primary school to secondary, to university, I worked while study.

        Even after I obtained my first univer

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drrilll (2593537)

        Yeah you should stop learning. In the middle of your career, the return on investment is going to be weak. You only have about 40-ish years of good work in you (assuming you don't encounter issues with age-discrimination). It's one thing to learn on your own in the context of your job/career or personal time. It's another thing to invest time and money in a further formal education that is only going to provide so much return.

        What are you going to do, go be a 45 or 50 year old entering a new path? Right. That'll be taken seriously.

        There is no shortage of people who are ready to tell you what can't (or shouldn't) be done. If it is something you want to do and feel strongly about, do it. Every great mind in history, and everyone who ever did something worthwhile had to hear and ignore the naysayers.

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        Many employers will reimburse you for going to school. Low investment (temporary cash flow -- percentage based on grades). Even if it just gets you a raise at your current job, the return is good.

      • by Peristaltic (650487) * on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @12:49PM (#40998367)

        What are you going to do, go be a 45 or 50 year old entering a new path? Right. That'll be taken seriously.

        Bull. Shit. Granted, it's not a large dataset, but I know more than a half-dozen people in their late 40's that successfully switched careers, and started by taking a graduate degree related to their new profession.

        They are taken seriously enough, my friend.

        I know a woman that earned a law degree and changed professions when she was 60, and has been having a great second career working for a NGO. I went back to school in my late 40's to earn a MS in Biomedical Informatics, and have been having a blast ever since.

        To a 20- or 30 - something it may look like you're professionally dead at 50, but if you bust your ass, you can still do anything you want for at least a couple more decades past 50.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:40AM (#40994011) Journal

      If that comes in the form of a graduate degree, so be it.

      Exactly. But make sure your boss is on-side before trying to convert learning into academic letters while working.

      My learning on the job (at the R end of R&D) was producing so much in academic results (I've published quite a lot of it also) that I was easily able to regurgitate some of my personal work as a MSc thesis. Later, a bigger chunk in another area became a PhD thesis. Doing this on-the-job, however, required support from my boss, as I also had to do a load of courses and sit exams to get the required credits. Scheduling your work around class timetables can be tricky, even if you keep the work hours balanced.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @06:53AM (#40995045)

      I would unhesitatingly say "yes", however, make sure you understand what you are getting into. Talk to past students in a similar field. When you get close to choosing an institution and supervisor for the work, make sure you talk to that supervisor's students, etc. Always find a good supervisor and project first. If you are motivated and want to do well, a graduate project is a worthwhile challenge, but if you get a poor supervisor, it can be misery no matter how good you are. Make sure all the elements necessary for a good project are in place.

      Someone else has commented on the importance of support of your boss at work. That's essential if your plan is to do it in parallel with working. Someone also mentioned that many MSc and PhD are granted these days based on a bundle of published papers. That's the approach I would recommend. The peer-review process can be an extra challenge to get through, but in the end it means you have something more than an unpublished thesis to put on your CV. It ensures your work gets distributed and used by people in the field.

      If you think having an MSc or PhD guarantees a particular job, no, it doesn't. It will somewhat broaden the scope of positions you can consider, but it may simultaneously narrow some of them too (potential employers may be bound by standard agreements to pay more to people with MSc and PhDs, and they may not have that much money). If you're going to do it, do it mainly because you want to learn.

      The "letter of recommendation" part is tricky if you have been outside the academic realm for a while. Presumably you've changed in 10 years. The most important person to contact would be whoever supervised you for the biggest project you did as an undergraduate in a relevant field, and then try to find someone in your current line of work along similar lines. Ideally you need people who would be positive about your work :-) Some indication of whether you are a good writer will be important. It also helps if you talk directly to a potential supervisor and ask them how to handle it. Talk to supervisor first, then apply, is probably the best route.

      Don't worry that you've been out of the academic realm for a while and working in industry. Most graduate programs see that all the time. It's not regarded as an impediment if a student is actually any good and can show they are ready (e.g., a major project they've written up in undergraduate work or during their employment).

  • Guarantees (Score:5, Informative)

    by AndOne (815855) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:19AM (#40993887)
    A PhD doesn't really guarantee you anything. It can also be detrimental depending on what you want to do as some companies consider it too much or too expensive. You'll be better off starting in a Masters program and then deciding if you you really see a need or feel the desire to go for the PhD. A PhD is a LOT of work and time.

    Really unless you plan to go into academia or hard core research I'd steer clear.
    • Re:Guarantees (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:36AM (#40993989)

      A PhD opens a lot of doors to jobs that are not available to people without doctorate degrees. At many companies, a PhD is very useful if you want to be on a management track. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but a PhD has definite benefits. A MS degree is similar, but does not open as many doors compared to a PhD. Whether or not those benefits end up being worthwhile it is not possible to say. If you job allows you, take one graduate level course a quarter/semester for a year and see what you think. This is the best way to tell if graduate school is for you. When I took my first graduate level class, I could tell within the first week that this level of education would be highly beneficial for me. It is a night and day difference from undergrad classes. Many schools give you 5-7 years to complete a MS. If you end up liking the graduate courses and see worth in them, enroll in an MS program. Within 3-4 years of part time enrollment, you'll have a MS degree and a good chunk of additional education.

      As others have said, keep learning. But structured learning with validated recognition of that learning is a good bet. Work on an advanced degree from a decent school. It's more likely to benefit you than a bunch of ad-hoc classes from various websites.

      • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

        A PhD opens a lot of doors to jobs that are not available to people without doctorate degrees.

         
        Exactly !!
         
        Plus, if do not have to state your PhD degree on your CV if you do not want to - I did that on couple of occasions to get the jobs I wanted, and only after I landed the job, and out-performed the rest in the company that I revealed my PhD degree
         
        By that time the company would be crazy to fire you
         

    • Re:Guarantees (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @03:12AM (#40994161) Homepage

      What a graduate degree does guarantee is an opportunity to extend your contacts beyond your current circle. So choose your educational facility carefully. Remember at lot of research is done at Universities and doing your graduate degree gives you access to the research and the people paying for it. In competitive markets who you know counts for more than unverified experience (in competitive industries giving top notch references for crappy employees often pays of well). The is also a demonstration of willingness to continue to learn and that you haven't become stale, soon to transfer from the pointy end to sales as your tech knowledge has fallen behind.

    • Re:Guarantees (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @03:47AM (#40994309)

      I don't know about that - the division I'm in (of a large company) hires almost solely PhDs, and we're not exactly "hard core", whatever that means. Also, if he's sure he wants the PhD, it's not like getting the MS will shorten his PhD appreciably, if at all. If I were mid career, I would definitely not waste time on an MS if the PhD is what is desired.

      I would decide what the goal is. If it's to attempt to get a higher paying job, don't get the PhD. If it's prestige, don't get the PhD. If it's to focus on interesting problems that might require some fairly deep insights, both during the PhD program and later as a career, then get the PhD.

      To answer the submitter's question more directly:

      A PhD isn't a guarantee of a job in a skunk-works type of environment. It isn't a guarantee of anything, really. It is an opportunity to focus on a narrowly defined problem for a number of years, and learn the skills and mindset necessary to move what the world knows about a subject. This requires being able to synthesize knowledge and insights from collections of facts, data, theory, etc. These skills are the sorts of things you need to do to work in a skunkworks type of environment, certainly as a major contributor and not just in a support role.

      I would say this - if you like to apply skills that you've learned toward your job, get the MS. If you like to figure out things that people don't know yet, get the PhD.

      • Also, if he's sure he wants the PhD, it's not like getting the MS will shorten his PhD appreciably, if at all. If I were mid career, I would definitely not waste time on an MS if the PhD is what is desired.

        I'm in a similar position to the submitter - I'm planning on doing some postgraduate study after 12 years in industry.
        I know that US degree programs are slightly different to the ones here in the UK (taught PhDs are very rare, if they exist at all here,) but the advice I've been getting is that doing a master's first is the best way to go as it will teach the research skills required to do the doctorate.
        It will also help with the "letter of recommendation" problem.

        • I suppose it depends how much time you are willing to commit, whether you'll do it part or full time, and how much experience (if any) you have in a research environment. Full time, a PhD will take anywhere from 4-7 years, typically (in the US - I understand that's a bit lower in the UK). An MS will take another 2-3, full-time, I'd expect. So you're right in that the bar to getting into an MS program will be lower, and that, once completed, you'll have some letters of recommendation to get into the PhD p

      • I think Mr. Underbridge (Dr. Underbridge, based on his insight?) has succinctly described the pros and cons.
    • by fm6 (162816)

      What companies consider PhDs extraneous? Certainly no company I've ever worked in. The degree has a great deal of snob appeal, even when it doesn't have anything to do with the actual job. There's even a school of thought (dominant at Google in its early years) that says that a Master's is the bare minimum for serious computer work, and you should always prefer a PhD if you have a choice.

      Which is not to say that the bare degree is a guarantee of anything. I've met a fair number of people who hold the kind o

    • Re:Guarantees (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CadentOrange (2429626) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @05:35AM (#40994737)

      A PhD doesn't really guarantee you anything.

      You're correct that a PhD doesn't guarantee anything. My personal experience of working in the software industry in the UK, after getting a PhD in computer science has been mixed. On one hand, employees still have the stupid mind set of looking for X years commercial experience. It didn't matter that I had spent 4 years writing lots of C++ code for complicated machine learning algorithms, and like most on /. had been programming from a very early age before going to university. It still counted as 0 years commercial experience at a lot of places. I gave up trying to figure that one out. A PhD isn't going to automatically give you a high paying job.

      On the other hand, having a PhD can open doors. I've found out that clued up start-up founders are desperately keen on hiring PhDs. This isn't strictly down to the area of your research (though it helps obviously). A PhD says that you've spent years working on problems where the solution isn't well defined (buzz word here is "wicked problem"), you're self motivated (no need for management hand holding), you can work with plans that change, you're not fazed by failure and most importantly you persevere and finish the damn job. Big companies tend to be pretty "Meh" about these traits, but start ups know that these traits are absolutely vital to getting off the ground.

      TL;DR version: The PhD may not help you in your career in well established organizations, but it may give you a better shot at working at start ups where the skills you picked up over the course of your PhD are better valued.

    • by Lando (9348)

      I'm not sure of the current job market, but in years past while a masters increased earning potential, getting a PhD actually paid less. Most consultants work with a Masters degree whereas those that want to do research and "interesting" stuff generally go on to get a PhD. Business sells, research does not, in the past at least. To get interesting work you generally need to pay more for the education and receive less income.

      That being said, I am working on getting my PhD in order to teach computer scie

    • Re:Guarantees (Score:4, Interesting)

      by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @07:25AM (#40995161) Journal

      A PhD doesn't really guarantee you anything.

      Certainly. A PhD is often not very structured (in the UK, there are no exams either), and will not give you much if anything if you don't put anything in.

      It can also be detrimental depending on what you want to do as some companies consider it too much or too expensive.

      I would generally think that those companies have an attitude problem and you probably don't want to be working there. It sounds like they don't value skills or want to pay for them properly. Not wanting PhDs is merely the outward manifestation. It will apply to very skilled workers without PhDs as well.

      You'll be better off starting in a Masters program and then deciding if you you really see a need or feel the desire to go for the PhD.

      This again depends very much on the country, and what you want to do. And it would have to be a research Masters, otherwise it won't be anything like a PhD. The trouble with a 1 year one is that 1 year isn't very much, and by the time you've done 2, you may as well stick it out for 3 and get the PhD. Also in many places, you can bail on a PhD after 1 year and get a Masters instead.

      A PhD is a LOT of work and time.

      Certainly. It's a full time job for a minimum of three years. Not only is it a full time job, but it's also one that's not easy. Especially as you can't share the load in any way.

      Really unless you plan to go into academia or hard core research I'd steer clear.

      I would very much disagree.

      A PhD will give you many things. The most obvious is that it will give you a narrow area of expertise which you could use to get a new job in that specific area. That's actually the least that it will give you.

      What a PhD really gives is much broader and more useful.

      One it teaches you how to learn much more effectively than an undergraduate degree. You will have to learn all sorts of ancilliary stuff with generally decreasing amounts of help as you go on. For instance if you do work in things like AI, machine learning, image processing, computer vision, you will have loarn all sorts of numerical computation stuff. You will have to learn how to plough through badly written research papers that document disjointed fragments about the absolute latest state of the art. This is necessary if you ever want to adopt cutting edge techniques afterwards before they are establised and there are well-written resources.

      After you've done one PhD you should never need another: the PhD will give you the tools you need to come up to speed with the state of the art in a new area by yourself.

      This not an unverified claim. Many academic workers (postdocs) switch areas after the PhD. This is often considered a good thing. If they succeed, it means that the PhD actually did what it was supposed to.

      It also teaches you how to research effectively. This is useful even for small bits of research needed in R&D jobs. It will give you much better experience in figureing out where to look, where not to look, when to push on and when to cut your losses.

      In other words, a PhD sets you up well for a lifetime of future learning.

      A PhD is not about learning a very narrow area in detail. That's merely a necessary consequence.

      As a final note, some people may chime in that you can do that without a PhD. Well, of course some people can, but most people find it much more effective to be taught how.

    • A PhD doesn't really guarantee you anything. It can also be detrimental depending on what you want to do as some companies consider it too much or too expensive. You'll be better off starting in a Masters program and then deciding if you you really see a need or feel the desire to go for the PhD. A PhD is a LOT of work and time. Really unless you plan to go into academia or hard core research I'd steer clear.

      Not really. I'd say for a person looking to go back to grad school, he/she'd be better off finishing the MS degree, then force his way into a company like Google or Lockheed Martin. That is, big engineering firms known for having in-house career development programs and fat school reimbursement benefits. Use the MS studies to prepare to the interviews, and try and try until you get there. Then work your way to anything resemble a R&D program and begin your studies for a Ph.D.

      In particular with compan

    • by Thelasko (1196535)
      Where I work, a year of advanced education is treated as a year of experience. You can pay enormous sums of money to go to school, or you can keep working and make money to achieve the same end result. It really doesn't give you any incentive to get an advanced degree.

      If you want to move into management, you really need an MBA, not an MS or PhD. However, many technology companies don't acknowledge the fact that scientists and engineers with MBA's command a much higher pay scale. There is a big demand
  • not necessary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I know a man who got a job at Skunkworks and he only has a high school diploma. I know a drop-out with a GED who got a job at NASA. Getting a degree does not guarantee you a job. It's all about timing and your qualifications at the time.

    • I know a man who got a job at Skunkworks and he only has a high school diploma. I know a drop-out with a GED who got a job at NASA. Getting a degree does not guarantee you a job. It's all about timing and your qualifications at the time.

      Le'ts leave everything to faith then.

  • Several things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Sri (199544) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:37AM (#40993995)

    So letters of recommendation don't usually mean a whole lot for a senior student. If technically competent people have given you good recommendations that's fine, but usually you find a supervisor first, then apply.

    A PhD in comp sci isn't a guarantee to anything, it's usually not worth it financially (an MSc usually is), and spending 4 years, or more, of your life on 20k a year with the theoretical payout at the end of it is a bad plan. Academia is usually based on years since you completed your PhD, so even though you could talk your way into some credit as a programmer (a programmer is not a scientist by the way), so that's more likely to be more harm than good. Research is usually very front loaded in a career, you produce the good stuff before you're 40, you supervise other people doing good stuff until you're 50, and then you teach and sit on committees and supervise people who may or may not do good stuff. If you're jumping into that process late you have to realize you're going to be treated like you're supposed to be 20 years younger than you are, and well, it's just not easily workable.

    In terms of industry an MSc is worth it, a PhD isn't. An MSc shows you have a bit of a step up as a self starter, a bit more advanced knowledge and interest in a specialized area and you can do something interesting that isn't necessarily financially driven which still sounds cool. (My MSc was on GPU ray tracing, which, when I did it, wasn't going anywhere fast but everyone I applied for work with knew what those things were and immediately had a connect as to something 'interesting'). But for a PhD it's not usually worth it, industry experience is more valuable (and lucrative) unless you really need a PhD for a particular job you want, which would only be in academia, it's not worth. Again, keep in mind, a PhD is definitely science, you can get by as a programmer in a BSc and an MSc but if all you are is a programmer you're going to get your arse handed to you when someone asks you to develop a novel model of a problem or a novel solution and they don't really care what language you implement it in, if at all. Where I am we have a couple of PhD's in comp sci who I don't think ever write code, ever, but they're extremely well respected because they do theory of computation and fairly sophisticated mathematics development (which their grad students might implement).

    As someone else said, there's no harm in doing a masters, and it's usually upside, so it's worth doing if you're interested, and the requirements are pretty lax to get in. Don't do a coursework masters, do a thesis masters though, coursework masters is like an undergrad with more advanced topics, so you're not getting anything, those are basically there to pad 'years of experience' for foreign students looking to move to your country. A masters you can reasonably accomplish at least part of it part time and keep your job (and income) too. Here the course requirements are 4 courses total, so one or two a term for a year or two, and then a thesis after (which is basically writing a 150 page book on some topic, and having an interesting idea you can demonstrate an example of).

    A PhD though... ugh. It's a lot of risk, if you're a stellar programmer already it won't make you better and you're better to just keep making money. It lets you solve more novel problems, but those can be bad precisely because they're novel, which makes them hard to solve if not unsolvable. There's no guarantee for a decent gig at the end of it either, and you might end up stuck in a job that is the same as someone with an MSc, so you've wasted 4 years or more of good earning power on it.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @03:03AM (#40994117)

      PhDs don't get you jobs. I can point you to plenty of PhD students that have come from the university where I work that had trouble finding work. Now to be fair, most deserved it, they weren't very good, just hoop jumpers who kept jumping through enough hoops until they got their degree (it isn't supposed to work that way, but it does).

      Get a PhD if you want to do research. Basically if getting a PhD sounds like something you are interested in, then sure, go for it. Education for your own sake is never a bad thing, so long as you can afford it. However don't look at it is a "better job-getter" particularly if you already have work experience since that is what employers tend to weigh most heavily.

      The only jobs you get a PhD for are jobs that require it. There are a few, mostly in academia but a few out of it. However other than that, no it doesn't help you get work to a significant degree and can even be a harm in some cases because employers will reason you'll be too expensive for them or too bored with the job and leave.

      Goes double if you aren't that interested and are just going to "hoop jump" it like some of our grad students.

      • PhDs don't get you jobs. I can point you to plenty of PhD students that have come from the university where I work that had trouble finding work. Now to be fair, most deserved it, they weren't very good, just hoop jumpers who kept jumping through enough hoops until they got their degree

        I know people in management that won't hire PhDs for that exact reason. You hire one because they have specialized knowledge in a particular area. The problem is that when the work is done in that area and they move on to ot

    • Re:Several things (Score:5, Informative)

      by SwedishPenguin (1035756) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @04:23AM (#40994445)

      You don't go into a PhD program expecting to be better off financially because of it, you go for the PhD if you want to do research.

      As an aside though, 20k USD? The entry salary for a PhD student at my university in Sweden is the equivalent of about 45k USD and it gradually climbs to about 54k USD for the last year of the PhD. Not private sector salaries, but certainly enough to live a good life without resorting to ramen noodles.

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        In in canada and we get 23k ish a year unless you're at the university of toronto (where it's more like 35k, but you have to deal with brutal living expenses in toronto).

        After tuition (7k) I take home about 17k.

        A foreign student will make 37k or something, but then they have to pay 20k in tuition. That is if they get scholarships.

        Granted, sweden probably recognizes that getting a PhD shouldn't leave you impoverished, while the rest of us use it as cheap slave labour, but the US and canada especially it's n

    • by raddan (519638) *
      Your post is wrong on several aspects. I know this, because a few years ago I was in exactly the same boat at the person who submitted this question, and now I am mid-PhD in CompSci.

      Firstly, a PhD can open doors to many jobs outside academia, as an industry researcher. While it's true that there are many "pure" research labs in industry anymore, even the "unpure" labs give you a great deal of leeway on your chosen research topic. Often the payout has to be "plausible in the near term". But if you can
  • by AuMatar (183847) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:38AM (#40993999)

    What is it you really want to do? Do you want to do research- develop new algorithms and approaches? Then it can help a bit. But you pretty much need to stop working and go to school to get the real benefit, the real benefit is in doing graduate research with a mentor, making connections, and studying without distractions. It isn't the classes.

    If you just want to work on different types of applications- do so. Apply for jobs that do something else. Look at startups, go to local startup events. Search job listings and ignore anything that says J2EE or .NET. If you don't live near a major city, you may need to relocate. But it's easily doable- 11 years in and I haven't touched a business app yet.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      the real benefit is in doing graduate research with a mentor, making connections,

      Something like 70%~80% of jobs are acquired through referrals.
      If you're not the top 10% of your field, who you know is what will separate you from everyone else trying to get that same job.

      Starting working your professional contacts and see what's available.

  • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:39AM (#40994005)

    Many masters are very application-oriented, and there's a chance you will end up feeling like you are doing the same job as before, but at a slightly higher level.
    For most "technical" (i.e. sciences) fields, an M.S. means you take two years of classes without failing them, are able to regurgitate it out on exams, and maybe put together a Master's Thesis that's more a Rite of Passage than real work.

    PhD's on the other hand, often (once again in sciences) spend the same two years learning the same coursework, and are expected to do 3-4 years of pure research, applying that knowledge, before they graduate. The sole purpose of the second (and larger) half of their tenure being to hone their ability to create rather than apply (I know many M.S. holders will be POd at that statement, but it obviously varies case by case, and I'm giving a broad brush stroke, so don't whine). Many PhD programs also give you an "honorary" masters if you fail to complete the PhD program (either by choice or by lack of research capabilities).

    As an aside, many government research labs (some subgroups of which are strictly programming and computational) don't offer full time positions to anyone who doesn't have a PhD, and will only give those with an M.S. a temporary scientist position with the understanding that you are pursuing a PhD.

    With that all being said and done, it really depends on what you want to do. PhDs are generally pretty high level. If you want your code to have application to something, you will most likely need a strong science background, whereby you are then using your programming skills to apply algorithms to solve problems. A PhD in CS will more likely be something very high level regarding computer science as a philosophy itself (hence doctorate of philosophy). It's quite a 180 and very likely more of a departure than you wanted to take from your current career.

    Finally, as far as letters of rec go, graduate school in general is much more a case-by-case basis, and not only most admissions departments be very accommodating of any questions you might have during a phonecall, but letters of rec from work supervisors will also suffice in many cases.

    Whatever you pick though, I wish you the best of luck and think you will have a great time and be happy with either one C:
    I only list the drastic differences in a PhD so that you are able to weigh it properly against a Masters (including the fact that it's oftentimes less employable during a down economy, because of how much more companies are "required" to pay PhDs vs. an M.S. holder that can do the same work).

  • by melted (227442) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:43AM (#40994019) Homepage

    I've worked at MSR as a software developer. I have a M.Sc in CS/EE. To be a researcher there, with very few exceptions, you need a PhD. But that's a requirement, not a guarantee. You also need to either be young and promising (as determined by your publications, and how well they're received by the scientific community), or seasoned and established (as determined again by your track record of publications). "Seasoned and established" is not something you can get in a couple of years. These folks operate at the bleeding edge, you need to spend 2-3 years working really hard just to really understand what they're doing, let alone contribute something significant.

    For an engineer, there's no requirement beyond, well, being a great engineer, and B.Sc. Some other companies (notably Google) prefer to hire researchers who are _also_ great engineers. This is rare, but these folks do exist, I know a few personally. PhD requirements do apply to those engineers.

    If you're looking to do something researchy for a while, just get a software developer job at a lab (MSR or elsewhere). You likely will be able to publish, if your work is not embarrassing :-) (MSR allows and encourages engineers to do their own research). Let me warn you, though, you will be working with people who have been working in the same field for a decade or more, and as a result acquired the amounts of expertise that you won't have just starting out. A few (or a lot, depending on your IQ) of them will be a lot smarter than you, which can be demoralizing to some folks. And almost all of them will know math really well, which can be a challenge for you 10 years after school, even if you did advanced math there. You will have to understand them, after all, and help them apply what they've thought up. As if this wasn't enough, 9/10ths of what you do will never go anywhere other than to the patent office, which too can be demoralizing for someone who's used to people actually using their products.

    On the flipside, you will learn A TON, if you're willing to put in the effort, and the environment is the very definition of low pressure. People are pleasant and super smart, research is interesting, you don't have to pull 12 hour work days, except maybe once a year before a major conference, and since you're a precious commodity, you're given the freedom to choose projects that interest you.

    Point is, it's not all as rosy as you imagine it right now, but it's a worthwhile experience nevertheless. Or at least it was for me, YMMV.

    • OP here.. If you don't mind me asking, why did you leave MSR? Being a dev in a lab sounds good -- I'm mainly interested in intellectual challenge, not so much the prestige of being the one to publish groundbreaking research. I mainly see a graduate degree as a foot in the door -- my BS is from a state school in the midwestern US, not prestigious enough to get an interview most of the time, and my work history doesn't look impressive enough because I've had to pay the bills rather than risk my family's we
      • by melted (227442)

        Simply put, MSR did not offer an exciting enough career path. Software development is a service function in a lab, not its bread and butter. As such, there are very few canonical "teams" there, so you might as well forget about management track. To progress as a developer (or "individual contributor" in Microsoft parlance), you need to be shipping software. That's something you don't get to do in a lab, not very often at least. I managed to ship a couple of things and get promoted once, but I was an anomaly

  • It's really up to you to figure out whether you want a PhD or not. Theoretically, a PhD does NOT have the same increase in ROI that a master's does. But if it's what you want, then it's what you want. Only *you* can decide that for yourself.

    As for letters of recommendation, I think you can use a boss for at least one of them. It doesn't hurt to call up your professors from undergrad, in any case. Email them first, then call. In my experience, they always appreciate talking to one of their former students. R

  • Is a Ph.D. a near-guarantee of a spot in a skunkworks type of job (Microsoft Research and the like)?

    Having worked at MS with multiple Ph.D. holders, I can definitively say, "no". I knew testers with Ph.D.s, and team architects with nothing more than a BS. For your Ph.D. to get you into a research job, it needs to have some substance. Do your dissertation research in a cutting edge field, write papers that show you're an expert in the field, be prolific, rather than publishing the minimum to graduate, etc. If you do, they'll be more likely to hire you. And not because of the degree itself, but because of t

    • by dell623 (2021586)

      This. Honestly, you sound a bit naive for even suggesting that a Phd is a near-guarantee of anything. Generally a Phd is an end in itself, before the days of maths phds getting six figure quant jobs it would be unimaginable to think of it as a career step outside academia. You're looking for some kind of mathematical valuation of degrees, your questions sound like some kind of logic tautologies like phd->research job ms=phd ms->research job, the value of letters of recommendation. People who do degree

  • by ralphbecket (225429) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @02:58AM (#40994097)

    Short version: go for the Masters, first.

    Long version....

    Really, you will only complete a PhD if you are genuinely, personally driven to do so. It's as much a mental endurance test as anything else. The main hurdles you need to overcome are (a) you will have to find something genuinely original to do, probably with minimal support -- this is quite the opposite of all other educational experiences -- (b) work out how to solve your Big Problem (by definition, the answer can't already be out there waiting for you), and (c) by the time you are ready to write up, assuming you've stuck it out to the point where you have something to write about, you then have to convince yourself that what is, by now, blindingly obvious to you will be seen as miraculous by everyone else (my tongue is only slightly in cheek here).

    Having obtained your PhD, you will have done a fair whack of damage to your earning prospects! Industry will be suspicious of you, while universities are tough places to build careers, regardless of your career stage.

    The upsides of a PhD are that you get to immerse yourself more freely and more deeply in your subject than anyone ever gets a sniff at in industry and that you should get some serious, Olympic level, brain training. That is very, very rewarding in its own right.

    In a nutshell, if you must do a PhD, do it as a labour of love.

    On the other hand, you could go for a Masters. Here you will find much more handholding (this is a Good Thing) and get to explore CS in much more depth than is usually possible in a first degree. Even better, a Masters is good for your career, whatever you choose to do, and many universities will give you the option of converting to the PhD course if everything is going well.

  • by jmcbain (1233044) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @03:16AM (#40994181)

    I have a PhD in CS from a top-20 US university and now work in an industry research lab. Like most PhD recipients, I started grad school right after college and finished before starting my professional career. I would say getting the PhD is the single best decision I ever made, and looking back at my high school and college trajectory, it now seems like it was an inevitability. I always wanted to work in technology research, hack on software prototypes, work on R&D projects for a large influential company, and make more money. I've gotten all those, and I'm grateful for the opportunities. I make about 25% to 50% more in base salary than my friends who went to the same grad school but graduated with a MS degree. I also have more technical freedom at work because I have the publications and track record to back up what I'm saying. In the couple of times I sent my resume out for a new job (e.g. Google, MSFT, Facebook), I've gotten callbacks within 48 hours.

    I do agree with some of the other unwashed heathens here who have only MS degrees that you can indeed get a great job with just a MS degree. But why limit yourself? Also, I agree that not all PhD programs are the same. I've seen some PhDs from 3rd tier universities work as test engineers. So in the end, I would say that you should get a PhD only if you can land at a CS grad school top-20 university [rankingsandreviews.com]. It is not worth your time getting a PhD from a university outside of this group. If you do get in, establish your area of expertise by publishing a lot of papers at top-tier conferences in order to strengthen your case for getting an interview at a lab like MSR. I recommend you do your dissertation in a field that has high value to companies, like machine learning or IR.

    By the way, never take out a loan for grad school. If you work as a TA or research assistant, you will get paid while you attend school. The national average seems to be about $25k/year according to all my PhD colleagues.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @03:18AM (#40994193) Homepage

    Here's a cool job: Whole-Body Motion Planning and Locomotion in Rough Terrains. This is to develop control software for the DARPA Humanoid Challenge. University of Texas at Austin (but really on site at NASA Houston)

    The ideal candidate should have a PhD in Aerospace Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science or related fields. Record of implementation and testing experiments on real robotic systems is required. She/he should be highly familiar with robotics theory, including motion planning, kinematics, dynamics, control, and linear dynamical systems. She/he should be proficient in software development including, algorithms, dynamic simulations, object oriented programming, and realtime Linux applications. High expertise in C++ is required. Proficiency in Python and Matlab is also desired. Experience developing software using GIT revision control or a similar tool is required.

    Pays $55K.

    • Sorry, but that example doesn't work because it's a postdoc position, not a permanent job. You can't use postdoc salaries as indicative of anything, if that's your point. Postdocs are to PhDs what internists are to MDs. They typically pay around $50-60k, and the person taking the position is doing it to prepare for a career as a professor. It's like an advanced version of PhD that is shorter (typically 2ish years) and where they pay you a little better.

      I'd imagine that a person who takes that job for

      • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @12:34PM (#40998205) Homepage

        Sorry, but that example doesn't work because it's a postdoc position, not a permanent job.

        The whole "postdoc" thing is mostly a scam. [wordpress.com] Especially in this case. Someone with a PhD in computer science or aerospace is already more than qualified for a real job. If that "postdoc" position meant entry to the tenure track for a professorship, it might be worthwhile. But it doesn't. It's a staff position for a DARPA competition for which real companies are also competing.

    • If I can design and build terminators I want more than 55K!
  • Unless you ALREADY have a burning desire to do a thesis on a specific problem, you're not going to want to do a PhD in CS (especially if that's what you do now). When you're in mid-career, programs in the same field will want you to have a specific vision for what you want to do with your thesis. If you're pursuing a PhD because you're not super happy with the type of problem you're working on now, but don't have a clear plan for how to change direction, I'd recommend checking out CS-related fields, go to a

  • I'm going to defend my PhD dissertation on Friday, actually. Anyway, the problem is that in academia, there's sometimes a big disconnect between what's happening in "the real world".

    Anyway, the way I've handled it is that I've basically kept my feet in both camps. Throughout the research work I also worked part-time for a consultancy (now full time since I'm done). I'm also a CCIE. PhD alone might mean "an absent-minded professor" to a recruiter, but combined with credentials from industry side I've at leas

    • I assume (from the CCIE) that you've spent some time in industry before going back to school.
      I'm planning to go for an MSc and then hopefully a PhD starting from next year after more than a decade as a network engineer - I'd love to hear more about your experience of the PhD
      Good luck with the defence!
      • by Zarhan (415465)

        I got my MSc 10 years ago. Anyway, I'm not sure how these would apply to your situation (wanting both MSc and PhD), but basically I immediately enrolled for post-graduate studies afterwards. I didn't pick any topic for dissertation or anything like that - for the next 7 years I basically did all the required coursework. Typically it was like 1 or 2 seminar courses each semester, so it was typically one afternoon a week. I didn't really have a study plan as such - seminar courses were interesting for their o

  • no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kwikrick (755625) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @03:45AM (#40994295) Homepage Journal

    I have a Ph.D. in CS, and although I am highly respected by my colleagues, and currently involved in interesting projects, it did not help me much when looking for work. During various job interviews I got the impression that years of experience in the software business is considered more valuable than a Ph.D. When I did get hired, the interviewer actually had a Ph.D. himself, so he did see the value. If you look at CS job descriptions, a Ph.D. is almost never a requirement, except for university positions and some research positions, but those are scarce (in the current economy). So, a Ph.D. is no guarantee for an interesting job. There are lots of Ph.D.'s out there doing work that they are overqualified for.

    A Ph.D. is really a training program for an academic career, not for a business career. The subject of a Ph.D. is often highly specialised or even obscure. So, unless you happen to know (and if you have a choice for a Ph.D. subject) what research area will become important at the big software companies in three or four years time, the subject of your Ph.D. is irrelevant, or even detrimental, for your career. (That also goes for university careers: its very difficult to fight your way into a different specialisation).

    That said, I loved my time as a Ph.D. student and post-doc researcher. You should only do a Ph.D. if you are passionate about a subject. So, if you have the opportunity to do a Ph.D. and you can afford to do it, and you are inspired by the subject and driven enough to finish it, then go for it. But it's not necessarily a good career move.

  • First reference: One Professor taught you long time ago. He definitely not remembers you but you may visit him and invite him to lunch for a brief chat. He would be gratefully referring you if you told him your research plan. You may even get valuable opinions from them.

    Alternatively, if all professors taught or supervised you were retired or dead, as in my situation, you may ask around if you happened to have any friends that attended higher level of academic with honors, and ask them to help.

    It would
  • In this age of the bottom line is everything your best bet is to sit down and calculate the odds that you will earn more by furthering your educated versus the odds that you won't. Choose wrong and you will be eventually be labelled as just another one of those who were not intelligent enough to survive in today's economy, choose right and you could find yourself among the infamous 1%! Got a coin to flip?

    • Why do you assume more money is his goal? When I can pay my bills on $50k, a good job is getting paid $100k for doing something I enjoy, work is doing something I hate for $150K.
  • This word "worth" means different things to different people. In fact it has different value at different times in the life of each person.

    So in the end, for me a PHD in the middle of my life where I have other distractions is more than too hard, but I do enjoy learning, and in fact I am partaking in Algorithms [coursera.org]. Then again I am not you. I expect most of the constructive replies to simply try and pin down the value of "worth"

  • by acidfast7 (551610) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @04:43AM (#40994525)

    1. The opportunity cost is huge, as you'll earn, at best, 30k/year for 4-7 years.

    2. The intellectual stimulation is unrivaled. You're essentially paid to think all day without actual work getting done usually without any time pressure, unlike anywhere in industry

    3. You'll be more employable (great) for a smaller number of positions (not so great).

    4. A proper PhD is a degree in philosophy. If it's done correctly, the real "skills" you should learn are field-independent ... you should be able to sit down for a period of time, process the leading research in any field, determine what the big questions are and write a grant to get into the field (whether it be birds or circuit design.)

    5. Using a PhD to get into a particular position is a horrible idea.

  • by ciurana (2603) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @05:21AM (#40994673) Homepage Journal

    Hi there!

    Speaking from experience here -- I have the US equivalent to a masters degree in computer engineering. Other than my permanent residency paperwork for my US green card and my Russian permanent worker permit, nobody has ever bothered to really go into what school or what degrees I hold. I started programming/building systems in 1984 (I was 17), and was working hands on with cool things by 1988 (real-time controllers, a windowing system for character based terminals and RM-COBOL, etc.). Since then I have seldom worked with run-o-the-mill business applications development. I spent my whole career building/designing infrastructure-type software (compilers, network/system management tools, industrial robots, big data analysis and knowledge discovery) and the common theme has always been that it's been up to me to both stay current and to figure out the areas that I will find interesting. I've been chief architect at a Fortune-5 company, and have been involved in all kinds of cool development projects/startups/companies because I keep sharpening the knives (my skills). I managed to do this by investing time in these basic two items:

    1. Always learn something new. I spend at least 8 hours/week researching new things to apply at work -- if I know it, I'll find a place to implement it
    2. Don't underestimate relationships! Go out and meet new people. IRC (irc://irc.freenode.net in particular) has been huge for business and professional development for me

    In development relationships -- get involved in 2 or more open source projects that you find interesting. Contribute. Challenge. Use them. Contribute some more. Become a trusted voice. Be generous with advice, and learn as much as you can from others. Go to your local users groups. If you're near Silicon Valley or some other tech hub, join a business association or two, and go schmooze. Get yourself invited to speak at a conference or two. Become a domain expert. Start a newsletter or blog. Develop a network.

    Luck is what you find at the intersection of readiness and opportunity. Go to school (yey! I wish I could do that again!) but, most important, remember that your career is your responsibility and that you must invest time in developing it so that interesting and lucrative things come your way. The most important thing, regardless of how you decide to gain new knowledge, is that you find your problem domains interesting and fun. Otherwise your career will stagnate regardless of your educational level because you won't be engaged. Every time I did something just for the paycheque, the return on my time/energy investment was low and those projects didn't last long. Every time I've done something that sounds fun and challenging I end up getting a bigger payout (economic, professional, etc.) than I expected. In my latest venture, for example, I get to work shoulder-to-shoulder with PhD super boffins from SRI International and other places. On paper I'm the intellectual pigmy -- but in practice we just work together, get things done, and I just found out that the work I did made them decide to include me in two patent filings. Works for me -- and my career.

    So -- PhD, MsC, BBQ - whatever you do -- make sure you're passionate about it, that you have fun, and that you invest the time and energy necessary to make you proficient at it. The rewards will follow.

    Cheers!

  • 1) Is a Ph.D. a near-guarantee of a spot in a skunkworks type of job (Microsoft Research and the like)?

    No, as mentioned above. Only a small fraction of PhDs end up at top places, industrial or otherwise. A strong record of publications or impressive projects (and a good degree) is still no guarantee but is more important that the answer to "PhD: yes or no?" There is a big difference between a degree from a strong institution and from a lower-tier one as well. Also, the level of finishing students varie

  • Concerning letters of recommendation: they do not have to come from professors or from a boss. When I went back for my MSEE, I used letters of recommendation from two colleagues and one from a friend. If letters specifically need to come from someone you've worked for then that will be stated in the requirements for entry from the particular graduate school you apply for.

    You'll need to get official transcripts from each of the colleges you've attended. Typically these are required to come in envelopes wi

    • by azadrozny (576352)

      That is good advice on the letters of recommendation. Most schools have some kind of an open house. That is going to be a good opportunity for you to ask about their specific requirements. You may find that they have alternatives for people in your situation.

      Another option to consider is enrolling in a non-degree status with the school. You might be able to take a few classes, before having to be formally admitted as a degree-seeking student. There are perks to going this route. It allows you to get mo

  • Is a Ph.D. a near-guarantee

    There are no guarantees. At one point your job stops being so much about your degrees and it becomes much more about the soft skills you demonstrate as a person. I've met many people near the top of my field who are absolutely useless outside a very narrow set of parameters. But they have lots of degrees and graduated with top honors from excellent schools. They're not stupid, they just don't know how to apply their knowledge.

    While a degree can certainly help if you have the time and resources, it's not a

  • I was working a full-time job that related to my undergrad major before I started grad school. I was then in a hurry to get started on a PhD thinking I was already on the old side of things (I was the oldest grad student in my starting class). I ended up setting myself up for abuse and neglect by not thinking through the process adequately and finding a mentor who would really mentor me and meet my career needs.

    That left me with worse credentials for what I wanted to do next than what I had going in, a
  • by selil (774924) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @07:24AM (#40995153)
    I was 28 years old when I entered university. With a background in law enforcement and military the idea of being some prep-school university type was not something I wanted to do. In my late 30s I received my Masters degree in computer science and saw a significant increase in perception of how my income was made. After the dot.bomb I was doing pretty good but shrinking staffs, horrible hours, executives who ran IT shops like they were slave pens, had me burning out pretty quick. I'd stepped out of doing the stuff I thought was fun and started getting paid to do stuff nobody thought was fun. I took a mid-university professor job, but they wanted me to get a PhD. A masters degree is sort of like being a journeyman. You've mastered the discipline. A PhD is about defining the future of the discipline. There are a lot of junk PhDs out there. I've read their dissertations. There are a lot of good people with bad degrees and bad people with good degrees. Look at the trends to define rather than specific anecdotal evidence like my case. Don't mix up the history PhDs with the Computer Science or Technology degrees. What I would say was that I took nearly a 66% cut in pay to become a professor and full time researcher. I got the opportunity to do what I want, when I want, and how I want. After I got my PhD I ended up in one of the top engineering schools in the world, have done tours at major science institutions and government agencies, and turn down opportunities to work with others. So, yes a mid life PhD can be a great thing for your career. You will find that people who don't have a PhD don't have any clue what it means to have one are either jealous or ignorant. A research based doctorate (PhD) versus an applied doctorate (DSc) will give you a broader understanding of what research is and how it is done. I was just speaking at a major national lab to a bunch of masters degree students about why they should get a PhD. I told them "don't do it." Unless, you love research, are willing to commit 5 to 7 years towards the goal, have your employers buy off, family buy in, and time management skills to die for. Nobody listens but the PhD is really about what you put into the effort. That will be obvious when you finish the longest test of your life. The dissertation. In the end that will determine whether it was worth it.
  • by NothingWasAvailable (2594547) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @07:59AM (#40995301)

    I started my PhD at 39, and completed at 46, doing all of the work part-time.

    I work in R&D for a very large computer company, and found that a mid-career PhD was very useful.

    First and foremost, in my own mind, a PhD put me on an equal footing with the large numbers of PhDs that I work for (and with) on a daily basis. I "found my voice" once I had a PhD.

    Second, I happened to select a topic that grew in importance after I completed my dissertation, making me one of the company experts in the field.

    What did I learn while doing my PhD? Given the point in my career when I did the PhD work, the coursework provided me with a complete refresher course in CS (especially since my undergrad was Electrical Engineering). I also learned that a PhD doesn't mean you're smart, or make you smarter. A PhD is supposed to teach you to perform independent research. But it's primarily a measure of stubbornness.

  • Let's look at it from a costs/benefits perspective. Suppose you are making $70k/yr and it takes you 7 years to get a Phd. (3 years masters + 4 years Phd if you take the traditional route). Suppose in the end after scholarships, grants, tuition, room and board etc. you end up spending 70k. In addition you will have lost $490K in income for a net cost of $560k. Suppose you double your salary of $70K/yr to $140K/yr. It would take you 8 years to recapitalize on your education. Of course YMMV and the quality of

  • Up to a master's degree, "job-qualifying" seems to be pertinent. For a doctorate degree, however, it becomes very much less about checking a box than really exploring a particular discipline, in ways you cannot anticipate.

    I got my DCS at age 40, primarily to explore a particular topic in software engineering, but also to credential myself for university teaching. Since, the teaching thing has gone to the ditch, between university politics and this push to do everything 'on-line', both not for me. I now w

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