Is PhD useful ?

Google where had
Dec 29, 2018 30 Comments

I joined industry straight out of undergrad, and I quite like working in the industry. Yet, there is also a 'what-if' feeling inside about having done a PhD. Also, many times, I get asked by people doing their undergrad for advices on whether they should join a PhD program or join the industry.

To me, it seems that if one joins the industry and continues learning interesting topics themselves, it pays far more than a PhD program, both in monetary terms and knowledge terms.
A PhD program only seems worthy if one wishes to go to academia, or maybe pursue a really specific job (like a researcher in Deepmind, etc). This seems true regardless of how prestigious the university is.

At Google, I see many people with a PhD degree doing the same work as people with just a bachelor degree. It's possible I am biased here.

What advantages a PhD graduate has as compared to one in industry, assuming similar intelligence, work ethics etc? Does the answer change if the university is considered an elite one vs not so elite one ?

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TOP 30 Comments
  • Facebook -unicorn-
    Yes, it is definitely helpful. You experience how slave life looks like and appreciate whatever you have next
    Dec 29, 2018 4
    • Google where had
      OP
      Hehe, can you explain more ?
      Also, some may consider a job as a slave life. How's a life as a PhD slave different ? Less pay ?
      Dec 29, 2018
    • Facebook -unicorn-
      You work crazy hours with a lot of pressures to get enough money to pay rent, food, bills. You totally broke month to month. Good luck when you are sick. Constantly worried about your future. If your advisor is not famous in the field, your are totally fucked (read as no matter how good your paper/journal is, it won’t be accepted). After 5-6-7 years, you are now over qualified for most of the jobs. You probably need to hide your phd to find a job.
      Dec 29, 2018
    • Apple / Eng Eckel
      @unicorn - sounds like you got hosed on your PhD, or know someone closely who got fucked. Care to share the story?
      Dec 29, 2018
    • Facebook
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      Not sure what's up with unicorn, but it seems like we hire plenty of PhDs (just look for people with "research scientist" titles).
      Dec 29, 2018
  • Cruise Automation newstar
    Pretty spot on observations from what I hear from PhDs. There was a thread from a G/FB PhD complaining they wasted their time for the exact reasons you listed.

    If you can get into a workplace that's willing to fund cutting edge research and pay you 10x or more than stipend, seems like an easy decision.

    Have you asked any of your PhD peers?
    Dec 29, 2018 5
    • Google where had
      OP
      I did. However, they all seemed happy they got a PhD. A few also told they left their earlier jobs to get a PhD.

      This made me feel maybe I am completely wrong in my understanding of the values of PhD.
      Dec 29, 2018
    • Facebook ytr21haj
      At FB I went through the same dilemma. I was on a PhD heavy team, 3/4 regretted it strongly that I asked
      Dec 29, 2018
    • Facebook Whatinthew
      Regretted that you asked or that they got a PhD
      Dec 29, 2018
    • Cruise Automation newstar
      The question isn't if they are happy, it's what value was derived from it and does it match what you personally value.
      Dec 29, 2018
    • Facebook uenxow
      Well of course, if you only ask PhDs who are currently working as software engineers of course you will get a biased sample
      Dec 29, 2018
  • Capital One 💩show
    Think also about opportunity cost. Every year you spend slaving away for your thesis is one less year of salary.
    Dec 29, 2018 0
  • Apple magikarp16
    Yes. PhDs rock!
    Dec 29, 2018 0
  • Drive.ai slerp
    I wouldn't say it's a waste of time. However, you do need to be quite strategic about it and have a long-term plan. You must know in what way your PhD will be useful to you (e.g. if not in a relevant area, then you'll only get a minor career impact from it), and you need to have an exit strategy. Moreover, the bar for the good "post-PhD jobs" is really quite high. If you don't meet it, it will not be worth it. There are plenty of people with decent PhDs out there that end up getting normal SWE jobs. The frustrating aspect of getting a PhD is that even if you're "successful" and get papers in top journals or conferences, there is always someone better, and the bar for either becoming a professor at a good university or getting a good industry research job (e.g. MSR) becomes insanely high. The probability of failure at a normal job (where typically objectives are more tangible and easier to realize) is usually a lot higher.
    Dec 30, 2018 1
    • Drive.ai slerp
      ...usually a lot lower.*
      Dec 30, 2018
  • Microsoft
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    There would have been more of a benefit for you if you’d gone straight for your PhD because PhDs can initially come in at a higher level (at least at MS). It probably wouldn’t give you as much of a bump now. If you care about levels then staying working gets you there faster.

    What’s your role though? Whether you’d get much more pay also depends on what options you have open in engineering, data science, or in UX Research. Also if you want to work as a researcher or on an experimental development team then having a PhD gives you more flexibility when hired, when networking, and when applying research methods (though you can teach yourself the research methods).
    Dec 29, 2018 1
    • Google where had
      OP
      I am in Eng. I am not asking for myself though. I do get the feeling of missing out sometimes, I know I am not gonna go for a PhD. I was asking because I get asked this question a lot by undergrads, most of whom have no idea what/why they wanna do the PhD. I think most are attracted to the prestige of doing a PhD, or are bored of their jobs 1-2 year out of undergrad.
      Dec 29, 2018
  • Cisco xceM43
    PhD is worth it ONLY if you really like doing research and like your research topic. Otherwise, useless.
    Dec 29, 2018 1
    • And less than 2% of CS jobs are research, the ratio between PhD grads and research jobs is 10:1.
      Dec 30, 2018
  • Think about starting your career six or seven years late. Think about paying higher taxes for your entire career. Think about 6 or 7 years of retirement savings and growth that will be lost. PhD is only valuable if you're going to a foreign country - you can get on the VP track quickly. The USA over produces so many ph.ds. there is no benefit. The chance of a faculty job is 10%. The chance of a good faculty job is 2%. Most of these chances are determined by what school you attend and the genitals between your legs BEFORE grad school! I have seen absolutely brain-dead PhD presentations by foolish Stanford grads who were immediately offered top-10 jobs because oh it's the advisors fault oh it was a bad topic oh she's a woman in CS give her another chance!!!!!! I have seen my office mate offered a faculty onsite interview just for showing up at a conference, after being asked "are you graduating soon?" She was appalled, in a year when there were 400:1 and 1500:2 applicants to positions odds. The academic job market is really a fucked up place ...
    Dec 30, 2018 0
  • Amazon / Eng Chad🕶
    There is no benefit if you simply want to be a software engineer. I think doing research in college gives you exposure and experiences to things you'll never get in regular software engineer positions. But you don't have to do phd to get that. I'm assuming at most if not all colleges, you can work as a research assistant during undergrad. Depending on how involved you are, you may even end up writing papers that get accepted to conferences and published in journals.
    Dec 29, 2018 0
  • Salesforce BoNk86
    If you like Industry then no, even if you want to highly specialize, you can do it with a masters and relevant experience. In many cases, a bachelors and relevant experience.
    Dec 29, 2018 0
  • Barefoot Networks gxxxx
    Did my PhD in a good University with a star adviser but feel it was waste of time. Now I envy my friends that joined industry straight from college. The are now Managers at FB and Google and I'm just starting at 30. Heck even faculty members (professor level) now join google (though it is L8). So even for those that love research I argue that places like Google and Fb are better.
    Only if you like teaching and dealing with students then waste 6 years in PhD (only in MIT or Princeton) to go to academia for half of TC you could get in industry.
    Dec 29, 2018 0
  • Google where had
    OP
    Wow, such negative emotions were completely unexpected. I mean, I thought if PhD was a losing option in comparison, it could be quantified to about 1 year at most. Kind of like what happens when one gets a bad team in a company.

    However, seems PhD is even more a losing option.
    Dec 29, 2018 1
    • I've enjoyed my phd, work in research now, and am happy I took that path. Can't measure the value in terms of income, but don't really care. If you're ok with that, then you don't have much to loose: if all works well, you'll get new and exciting career options. If not, you can always return to engineering.
      Dec 30, 2018
  • Facebook randox
    Is calculus useful?
    Dec 30, 2018 0
  • Microsoft 🐟FishyFish
    Waste of life for most
    Dec 30, 2018 0
  • Facebook Teddybear1
    If you want to be a leading a ML team as a manager or director etc. it is very useful to have a Phd. Hiring PhDs onto your team is much easier (assuming you are a good leader in other ways). It kind of gives you street cred. So in certain researchy roles in industry it's really a requirement to do well. Of course, once you get past director level to VP level you are usually leading and end to end product, and just having ML specialization is not too much of an advantage.
    Dec 29, 2018 0
  • Amazon / Eng 46+2
    Yikes!
    Dec 29, 2018 0
  • Amazon hy5ry
    No
    Dec 29, 2018 0