The doctorate degree part 2

A student wrote to me: “How long will it take to get a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) in Computer Science in the U.S.? I just graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and planning to continue my study in the U.S. My parents want me to get the highest degree possible but I need your advice.”

Answer: On the average, it takes about eight more years to complete a doctorate (Ph.D.) degree after you get a Bachelor degree. Earning a doctorate requires a lot of works and efforts but based on your email, my question is: “Do you want to get a Ph.D degree or it is your parents' wish? What do you plan to do with this degree? This is your future and you should be the one to make the decision. Study for the highest degree is a personal choice and there are many different views and no one would agree with others. But there are few things you need to consider:

From the economic' s perspective, a Ph.D is not a good financial investment. It takes more time, more efforts, more risks, and more challenges then end up making much less than the bachelor's degree. Today a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in computer science can make $80,000 to $90,000 USD a year (2015 data). After eight years, an experienced software professional could make about $165,000 to $210,000 depending on the skills and area of expertise. But a Ph.D graduate can only make about $130,000 to $145,000 USD, if he can find a job. During the eight years of study, he does not earn any money so he loses the potential of earning about $800,000 USD. (opportunity cost).

From an academic's perspective, there is a high risk in pursuing a higher degree. According to the U.S. higher education report, only about 57 percent of doctoral students get their PhD because many drop out and quit half-way. Even after getting a doctorate degree, few would be considered as experts, many would continue for a post-doctorate research to build their reputation and expertise. It usually takes 2 to 4 more years for a post-doctorate in research so it would take about 10 years or more to establish a reputation in the academic world.

From a career's perspective, the higher degree will limit the job opportunity. Most companies prefer to hire graduates with Bachelor's degree because they can easily be trained to do any type of work. With a Ph.D degree, you will have difficulty finding a job in the industry because only a few companies would hire workers with a higher degree. Most companies consider people with the highest degree as overqualified and under experienced to work unless they are getting a job in a research laboratory.

Most people who study for Ph.D. would like to teach at university level. But currently teaching jobs are much more difficult because many professors would teach until they are over 70s and few would retire so there are fewer opening at the University. According to the U.S. Higher Education report, the U.S. produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2010 and 2015 but during that time, there were only 16,000 new professorships were created.

Today the academic model of tenure is obsolete. Most U.S. universities already abandon the “guarantee job for life” of tenured faculty. Non-tenure-track jobs now account for 72 percent of all faculty appointments in the U.S., according to the American Association of University Professors. Because there are more doctorate workers looking for teaching position, many universities only offer part-time jobs. Currently more than 56 percent of faculty positions are part-timers because the school does not have to pay for their health insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits. Most part time professors make less than $70,000 USD.

Of course, having the highest degree will satisfy your family's wishes and you are respected as the expert in your field. A Ph.D will fulfill your intellectual satisfaction. But the degree may not necessarily help you get a job or make a living when your friends are already established their career and well position financially even before you complete your studying.

I do not want to discourage you or anyone who would like to pursue their dream of advance their study to the highest level but I only want to present the facts of what is happening in the academic world so you can make an informed decision.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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