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Should I join PhD after my masters?

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Student with Entry-Level Experiencea month ago

I'm in my last semester of my master's program. One of my professors asked me if I was interested in pursuing PhD. I like to write code and learn to build software rather than learning from theory. I like the idea of research, and I know if I pursue PhD focusing on ML, I will be able to learn a lot and break into the ML/AI industry much easier than my current state. I'm only worried about not being able to earn substantially for the next 4-5 years until I complete the PhD and join the industry. Given the current state of IT market, and also being an international student who eventually wants to remain in the US, I feel, PhD might be the right choice. Can someone help me evaluate the pros and cons.

Some additional context that I think I should have mentioned. I love the idea of pursuing PhD. I have always liked research work. I'm not considering it only as an alternative. I just don't like the idea of a prolonged study while not able to earn as much during the same period.

The main question that I am trying to answer is: Will a PhD help me in the long run? How valuable is it compared to having work experience during the same time?



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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a month ago

    A PhD will definitely help you in the long-run. The question is more around opportunity cost and your preferences. Here's a breakdown of reasons for and against:

    For Doing A PhD

    • You genuinely enjoy doing research and have a great professor/advisor lined up
    • You unlock specialized roles in tech companies (e.g. there are some jobs in the ML space that specifically require a PhD)
    • You generally get to skip the first level or 2 when joining industry (1 skip at top companies like FAANG, 2 skips at less prestigious companies)
    • The field you're interested in is more abstract, undefined, and theoretical, meaning that industry doesn't have a lot of relevant roles yet (i.e. you need to go to school to dig deeper)

    Reasons Against Doing A PhD

    • PhD is never the optimal path when it comes to overall career growth (level + compensation)
      • Let's say your Master's + PhD takes 6 years, so you go to Meta as an E4 (mid-level) at age 28 and you make $275k. Not bad right?
      • Well, the new grad who went to Meta immediately after doing an internship + Bachelors at age 22 got promoted all the way to E5 (senior) during those 6 years (this is literally guaranteed due to up-or-out). In fact, they didn't just get to E5, they got to E6 (this is fairly common among engineers who joined Meta right out of school, especially as returning interns). They are making $600k, more than double what you are making with your PhD!
    • It takes a long time, and it can be super thrashy if turns out your thesis isn't meaty enough (one of my best friends went through this with their PhD and it sucked) or your advisor quits or whatever other crazy reason. 6+ years is quite a while!
    • You are getting paid peanuts during the entire time, far less than what you're worth given your educational attainment and skill
    • It's super stressful in general and you work long hours, often more than people in industry
    • You don't like academia as it's more in the theory realm as opposed to the practical realm, which is what top tech companies overwhelmingly care about and pay big bucks for 🤑

    When it comes to higher education, there is an immigration angle as well, but I unfortunately can't comment there as I was born in the US.

    Overall, I think PhD is generally a weaker option in software specifically given its more pragmatic nature and blistering innovative pace. But again, it's about what makes you happy. If you love research and you have an incredible thesis in mind, go for it! Having a PhD is also a general signal of "I am smart" (I just assume anyone with a PhD is smarter than I am 😁). But don't go into a PhD believing that it'll unlock insanely senior engineering levels or top pay "for free".