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Posted July 24, 2012

To PhD or not to PhD, that is the question...

To PhD or not to PhD, that is the question: To have as much free time as you wish, Or to live according to a strict schedule.

To be short of money for 3-4 years, Or to get a job and earn 3-4 wage concessions.

To push yourself and catch depression, Or to remain inspired through constant external stimulation?

Hamlet once said: “To be or not to be...”

And for any student who has just finished his or her master’s degree this translates as “To PhD or not to PhD...”

Deciding on whether to undertake a doctorate or to find a professional job is an existential question of the same rank as the one Shakespeare was wrestling through Hamlet. We are not here to resolve that question for you, but we will provide you with some useful information to help you with your struggle.

One of the first questions to consider when deciding on “To PhD or not to PhD” is how undertaking a doctorate will help you to improve your personal qualities and develop yourself intellectually. If you think of a doctorate as your chance to invent great ideas and reveal your brilliance to the world, you may get disappointed because the reality is somewhat less romantic.

GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR DOCTORATE The aim of a doctorate is to turn you into an academic if you ever decide to become one, and to teach you all the skills necessary for that position. That means you will be taught how to write papers and master specific research techniques, and being too imaginative and too creative may be a big disadvantage in that case. Because as an academic you depend on funding, and people who award funding are not impressed by highly brilliant ideas they can’t grasp but by something simple that they find plausible. If you actually want to become an academic, you will get the most out of your PhD by working on a fairly simple project that is less likely to go wrong and that will result in a few publications. Just look what happened to Einstein. Because of his exceptional ideas as a student no university wanted to give him an academic position until the invention of his theory made them change their opinion.

Even if being a PhD student will not give you an unconditional intellectual and creative freedom, you will still have much more freedom than if you decide to get a job. You will be undertaking your own project and depend on your own decisions, you will be able to dictate your own working schedule, you will need to be your own inspiration, and you will be largely responsible for correcting everything that goes wrong with your project. This will give you some mental toughness and increase your capacity for problem solving. More importantly, it will teach you the distinction between what works only in imagination and what works in reality.

The CONCLUSION: if you are an idealist and you compare the intellectual benefits of studying for a PhD to your idealistic views, you will get disappointed. But if you compare them to having a professional job you will be positively surprised.


Another question to consider when deciding on “to PhD or not to PhD” is whether getting a doctoral degree will make you earn more money compared to having a master’s or a bachelor’s degree. In a 2004 study, Peter J. Sloane and Nigel C. O'Leary found that men with a PhD earn 31 % more than men with secondary education, whereas women with a PhD earn 60 % more than women with secondary education. However, men and women with only a master’s degree earn 29 % and 55 % more than men and women with secondary education respectively.  This shows that the difference between a doctorate and a master’s degree is not very large, and whether a PhD may be financially advantageous over a master’s depends on what field you are in.

For those interested in medicine or sciences, getting a PhD may give you a big advantage in earnings compared to having a master’s degree. However, for those interested in engineering or technology and in architecture, getting a PhD will actually make you earn less compared to having a master’s degree.  Why is that so?

Let’s try to answer this question by considering the personal experience of a University of Cambridge student in engineering who wishes to remain anonymous. When applying for a job in an airline company, he was advised not to undertake a PhD because that would make him too “academic” for the position. It seems that many technology-related companies prefer practical experience over a research degree, and some claim that in today’s economic climate ENTREPRENEUERSHIP may become the “PHD” of the future. This means that having an entrepreneurial experience may soon become a more valuable asset than having a PhD degree. After all, how many of the richest people in the world have a PhD degree? Not many of them.

Even if in some cases getting a doctorate may not be financially beneficial for the person, the question remains: “How much the society as a whole benefits from the holders of PhD degrees.” When you think about some of the most important discoveries that have pushed our society to where it is today, what comes to your mind? The theory of gravity, relativity, DNA, penicillin, radioactivity, quantum mechanics and so on. Most of these discoveries were made by people with highest academic degrees, and a large percentage of the world’s economy is based on the knowledge contributed by people with a doctoral degree. Without those who think on a very high level the world would not become as profound as it is now, and if you have a PhD it is much more likely that you will have time for such profound thinking.

To PhD is to be, But only if you are patient enough for it.


Ismaila Attahiru Aug. 14, 2021, 4:01 a.m.

I have ambition to have online phd on Noise pollution or on any of the environmental management courses sir

Charlotte King Aug. 25, 2021, 6:38 p.m.

Hi Ismaila – here is a link to all the Environmental Management PG courses available to study – and some of them may include modules in Noise Pollutions:

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