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Academic vs. Industry Career Track

April 16, 2012

As T approaches the end of his PhD, it is a good time to ask ourselves: Was it worth it?

This isn’t speaking generally.  I have no idea if a PhD is right for you or anyone else.  This is also from my perspective rather than his (because it is my blog and he isn’t interested in making a guest post).   Keeping in mind we can’t see the path we didn’t take, and I think we would have had a great life either way,  the answer is still yes*, it was worth it.  Here’s a few reasons why:

1 – It got us to California, which is an incredibly good fit for us.  I’ve experienced so much living here that I otherwise would have had a hard time doing.   Maybe we would have got here anyway, but probably not.  It is much more likely we’d be somewhere else, possibly still in the Midwest.

2 – He missed out on a lot of income, BUT he still made some income and ended up with a net postivite gain.  The financial part was mostly opportunity costs.  These are significant, but we didn’t pay anything specifically towards his education.

3 – He loves it. I have a feeling he would have brought passion to whatever path he had chosen, but it is clear this really makes him happy and he’s been really successful at it.

About that asterick… T has some great opportunities for next year, and he’s taking them. If these end up NOT leading to a tenure track position at a top school in a location we want to live, I might demote the “yes” to a “sort of”.  That is the ideal outcome, and  we will be  very lucky if it happens to work out.  The “location we want to live” criteria doesn’t have a large intersection with “top schools in his field”, and even smaller if you add “that are hiring next year” into the mix.    Still, I’ve seen how he works, his passion, his talent, and his willingness to market himself, and I have no doubt he’ll have opportunities no matter how these things turn out.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephanie permalink
    April 16, 2012 3:10 pm

    My husband is also finishing his Phd this year, and I am having a lot of the same thoughts. “We will be very lucky if it happens to work out.” —I swear this runs through my head every day. If things don’t end up working out at all, then it definitely will not have been worth it, as my husband could have made a pretty decent living without it.

    • April 16, 2012 4:59 pm

      right – strictly financially speaking, there is probably no way this was ‘worth it’ in the long run. But taking into the lifestyle we may have when/if he is a professor, it could be. we’ll see. 🙂

      I’m also an optomist who is naturally inclined to look at the past with a positive view rather than regrets, so this is hardly an objective an analysis!

  2. bluecollarworkman permalink
    April 17, 2012 6:09 am

    My sister got her PHD and her big complaint is that it did put her 5 years behind all her age-peers at making money and saving for retirement. She makes a reasonable wage now in industry, but it sounds like it’ll take time to get caught up, if she ever does. But she liked getting her degree and had fun. (? I don’t know how school is fun, but she says it was)

  3. April 24, 2012 9:17 am

    My husband and I are both pursuing PhDs and so are very familiar with the opportunity cost! I don’t think it will be “worth it” financially, even though we are being paid decent stipends and have started our retirement savings and all. But it’s definitely worth it life experience-wise and educationally. I think it was great for my husband to leave CA for a few (uh… several) years, even though we want to move back. My husband is about a year away from finishing and is wavering between wanting to stay in academia and going into industry (I’m rooting for start-ups!), but the fact that he doesn’t seem singleminded about pursuing academia leads me to think he’ll end up in industry because it is SO competitive to get a TT position. Plus we really do want to move to San Diego and for a starting academic position you just have to take whatever comes your way. I have no idea what I want to do (except definitely NOT become an academic), but I have a little more time to keep exploring.

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