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Doing a PhD: Still Worth It?

As a PhD student I feel like I should be slightly biased when answering this question. But as I have recently been helping out prospective PhD students, I feel like it's important to be honest about the value of doing a PhD. So, without further ado: "Is doing a PhD still worth it?"


Value of the Degree The value of the degree of a PhD, meaning you are a Dr. (insert name here), has not decreased. To many people outside of academia, this title indicates you are an expert in your field (those in academia with similar titles know better...). If you're doing the PhD purely for the title, I suppose it is still worth it. However, you need to keep in mind that for some employers (non-academic) it is difficult to understand what exactly it means to have done a PhD for 3+ years. If they have little to no experience with a PhD or PhD graduates themselves, this degree and the accompanying title might help you a lot less than expected. Regardless of who understands what you've done and what you haven't over the past 3+ years, no one can take the title away, you will be Dr (name again), PhD (name of field), topic of (insert topic here). You'll have both experience and a title. And the latter can be carried through for the rest of your life. You can be fired from a job, you can't be fired from using the title. Is doing a PhD still worth it for the sake of having the title? Sure, the title still invokes a lot of respect. Just make sure it actually works for your respective job sector.


Exclusivity/Cohort Size If your motivation is to do a PhD because it feels very "exclusive" and like you're in a league of your own, well, you might be surprised. In your specific topic, sure, you are likely to be on your own. No one in my cohort, nor in my research group, is doing anything on contactless, or payment methods in general (although my supervisor has written multiple papers on credit card usage). However, exclusivity towards doing a PhD in general is fading. Why? Well, a lot of people are drawn to doing one. In behavioural economics/behavioural science alone there are multiple cohorts in the world: UK (several), the Netherlands (several), US (several), Germany (Max Planck Institute) and Switzerland (Zurich, Basel). And those fields are relatively niche! I got hired in a cohort of 35 people. I'm now cohort 3 (3rd year PhD student). Cohorts 2 and 1, which are now made up of second and first year PhD students respectively, were even bigger. Doing a PhD is still a very competitive and exclusive thing, especially when compared to a job title such as being "a banker." I'm sure there is more bankers than PhDs in behavioural economics (or maybe even any PhD?). Anyway, doing a PhD seems to become more common. And don't make the mistake thinking that these people are all going into academia. Because I don't think even half my colleagues want to. And that sentiment carries across different institutions and countries. A lot of them want to get back into business, so let's discuss that: Is doing a PhD still worth it to be part of an exclusive group of people? It still is, but this exclusivity is decreasing (not rapidly, but decreasing).


Competitive Edge So why does everyone and their mom suddenly want to do a PhD? Well, as the job market is becoming tighter and tighter (more competitive) anything that sets you apart from the rest What you have to watch out for here is what I have mentioned before, both here and in other PhD articles: some people will not understand what having done a PhD in a topic means. So, if your main goal is to get a great job through obtaining a PhD, you really need to check if that works in the market sector you are operating. Some companies will not be able to value your effort, your research and your time. Some companies just see that you have coding skills and hire you as a data cruncher. There is nothing wrong with that, but often that's not what fresh PhD-grads want. Especially not against an entry level salary. Is doing a PhD still worth it to obtain a competitive edge? This really depends on the job sector. So, do your research!


Merging of Fields There have long been mumblings of a merger between academia and business. The former providing insight, deep knowledge and rigour. The latter providing resources, applicability and profitability. It's a good merger, and I do look forward to both fields coming increasingly closer together. However, as this merger progresses, it might mean that the PhD holds increasingly less value. To do a PhD is to spend years studying a phenomenon, but who says the same cannot be achieved within a company? In a company it is also possible to be studying a phenomenon there for years and years. Especially if such a company would be doing this in collaboration with an academic unit, who is to say that one is more expert than the other? Funnily enough, if a company were to have employees that would want to study a phenomenon for a longer period of time, especially with certain levels of rigour, they are likely to engage a University and an academic to do a PhD with. This still reflects immense value for both the research, the employee, but also the company. I currently still think the title, experience and degree hold a lot of value and reflect a certain expertise. However, it is difficult to predict whether this will still be true, or to what extent this will still be true in 50 years. Is doing a PhD still worth it when academia and business will increasingly merge? The merger of fields that I have mentioned has been going on for decades, and it will take several more decades to complete, if not centuries. As a current/prospective PhD student, you don't need to worry about this, yet.


Becoming an Expert It seems that to a lot of people the PhD title reflects the ultimate expertise. But, for those who are in, or have done a PhD, this statement makes very little sense. The more you research, the less like an expert you feel. However, if you ever read a general news article and it is mentioned that Dr...... thinks this of the crisis, or Dr..... warns about the influence of this drug (I don't know man), it carries weight. They are assumed to be experts. A "random person from business" needs a lot more credentials before people put any value to their statement. Does this mean anything with regards to expertise? Hell no. To be an expert is to study something rigourously for years or even decades. That makes an expert. If you can publish results and findings from time to time it can make you an increasingly recognised expert, which is what academia aims at. However, plenty of experts from business have managed to publish results and reports in academic journals. Some have even published world renowned books, not being almost manuals for other companies and/or researchers. This is partly due to the fields merging, but also due to the emphasis that is being increasingly placed on rigour (which is a good thing!).

Is doing a PhD still worth it to be considered an expert in a field? Not necessarily, although again, the title seems to hold a lot of value. As mentioned before, the fields are merging, and many experts are not PhDs, but people who have spent years studying a phenomenon, possibly through the "business route." What you prefer really depends on you:


Alternative Routes As has become clear above, you really need to be aware of how the job market you want to find yourself in functions. Some really value PhDs, some do to a lesser extent and some might not value them at all. If after careful research, you find that there is really no set route to becoming what you want to become, you can choose to do a PhD because of the value the degree reflects. However, if there's multiple routes and the PhD really isn't speaking to you, maybe pick one of those alternative routes. Some job sectors are riddled with different routes to reaching similar goals and job titles. In comparison, becoming an academic has a pretty rigid route: undergrad, postgrad, PhD, post-doc, assistant professorship and then hopefully full professorship (eventually...). At least, that's the route if you want to be an academic for life. It is also possible to hold a combination of those degrees, have a lot of work experience and then go back into academia, but that (again) heavily depends on the job sector. It has to be mentioned, however, that many full professors hold PhDs, and that currently, a lot of PhDs have to do multiple postdocs, or are assistant professors for a loooong time, before receiving anything that looks anything like tenure.

Is doing a PhD still worth it when there is alternative routes available to reach your goal? This again really depends. If the alternative routes give you just as high a chance of reaching your goal, and you'd enjoy those routes better, go for it. Not everyone suits doing a PhD. However, if the PhD would really increase your chances of reaching your goal, it would definitely be worth doing one.


I think that's all I can think of for now.The main take-away message here is that you really need to do your research, especially if you don't want to be an academic, because you'll almost have to "convert" your degree to something non-academics would understand and value accordingly. If you're still not too sure about doing a PhD, please read the following articles: - To PhD or not to PhD - Reasons NOT to do a PhD - Biggest Misconceptions about doing a PhD - FAQs about Doing a PhD

If you have any more questions about doing a PhD that are not being answered in any of these, please do reach out using either the forum, or my socials!


Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



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