The PhD: Worth It?

I know a lot of people talk about the shortage of women in high level positions in the STEM fields.  While a lot of this is definitely due to the patriarchal nature of the discipline and our culture, perhaps there's more to it than that.  As I approach the end of my Masters I find myself questioning my decision to continue for a PhD.  As much as I would love to do it and as many questions I still have about entomology that I'd love to find answers for I also wonder how I will be able to pay this lovely mountain of student debt that I've acquired along the way.  Being able to choose your field really is a priviledge that people such as myself don't really have. 

Here's an excerpt from a rather thought provoking post: 

""People who “choose their job” are people who can afford, quite literally, to choose programs and positions that give them an unwavering, consistent ”professional identity.” Privilege is recast as perseverance: It is no coincidence that 80 percent of companies bemoaning the surfeit of “unqualified” candidates prefer them to have completed at least one internship. But the consistent professional identity that companies and universities value is one that most of us cannot afford if it means a series of unpaid internships and low-paid positions.""

Before you dismiss these thoughts as only applicable to the humanities or social sciences, keep in mind that I'm receiving these posts and insight from fellow entomologists (male and female) who have received MSc's within the last year.

So, I ask you women of a PhD really worth it?

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  • I've been told by a few in industry that the PhD is the way things are heading.  My concern is if I somehow find a decent paying job (with opportunities for advancement) with just the MSc that I will eventually reach a point where I am either bored to tears with the job (10+ years later, etc) or that I will simply reach a point when the position has maxed itself out as far as direction/pay/etc.  If I were to leave with just the MSc then I restrict myself when that point comes along.  If I get the PhD I'm strangely enough also restricting myself.  How on Earth is that logical? 

    I've heard from a number of graduates with experiences similar to Patti.  When they find a job they love but the pay is barely better than that you receive as a student and you're still surviving on ramen.  Aren't we trying to get these degrees so we're NOT eating ramen or kraft anymore?  I want to do something I love but I also want to be able to pay the bills and have something left over. 

    Silly cats aren't willing to pay rent so I need to cover their expenses too.  I ask them to chip in but they just stare at me and then go poo.

  • I don't know if this is actually true in today's job market, but it feels like a PhD is the going price of admission... What jobs can you get with a Master's? I can think of some but I wonder if they pay enough to pay off your student debt or if they come with much chance for advancement if the starting salary isn't ideal. I got a wonderful job right out of my Master's as an Extension Assistant at a university. I LOVED the work but the pay was dreadful. I was running down to the last penny every month (and some months had to put expenses on credit cards). I got tired to the stress of that, no chance for advancement (universities don't build people up from within to rise up the ranks!) and I was having to write 4-5 grants a year just to cover my salary. So.... I went back for a PhD and now have a job that pays very well in Industry. With just my master's I did see some interesting, rewarding job opportunities but I couldn't make the economics work.

  • My answer to this is that it depends on what you want to do: does it require a Ph.D.?  If not, then consider whether getting one anyway is worth the time and money or can you get what you think you want in a career without one.  Nothing is stopping you from learning throughout your life, but a formal piece of paper may hold the key to the kind of work you want to do.

    Interesting that the characteristics of those "who are “problem solvers and can plan, organize, and prioritize their work” are not restricted to the attainment of any particular degree.  

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