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

#1

A simple question… is it worth doing a PhD for 3 years? I am looking at doing a PhD within the field of economics. I’m just wondering what the future career prospects are for a person with a PhD? Would a person with a PhD be preferred over a person with more expereince? Any advice people?

#2

I believe it all depends on where you want your career to go and what you are doing now. And of course where you want to live and work. Also depends on what your first degree is.

#3

A PhD is definately a good thing from an employer’s point of view. It can demonstrate that you have a number of skills which are very important to employers such as:

  1. Project planning. A PhD is essentially a research project and as such involves a lot of planning, organisation, problem solving, vision and commitment. These are all very valuable skills to employers, including in your field of study.
  2. Team work. PhDs involve close collaboration between the student and members of the workshop staff, supervisor and other members of the supervisor’s research group. This shows to an employer you can work in a diverse team to achieve a common goal. Virtually every job you can imagine has this as a requirement to some degree.
  3. Individual Responsibility. As well as teamwork though, PhD also involves a lot of working on your own, managing your own workload, solving problems etc independently. It also requires great individual commitment. Again, this is very valuable to employers, especially for higher level roles in management etc to which I guess you are aspiring. It shows you understand that sometimes the buck stops with you, and you can motivate yourself and take responsibility accordingly.
  4. Presentation skills. PG students have to give presentations on their work to the department and usually to national/international conferences as well. Many also have a viva as part of their assessment (viva is essentially a long presentation of your research to a group of academics). This skill is like gold dust to employers. So many people hate doing presentations that if you can demonstrate you are comfortable with this it is definately going to appeal when you are looking for jobs.
  5. Writing research reports. Publishing research papers and, ultimately, a PhD dissertation requires writing skills, the ability to present an argument in a logical order, and the ability to use a word processor, spreadsheets etc. All extremely important to employers.

I am sure there are more skills which you would develop which would be transferrable when looking for employment.

#4

TribologyFan has made some excellent points. Something else I would add is that, whilst experience is important to employers, that doesn’t mean you should not do a PhD. Why not consider doing a PhD and doing a part time job to help fund it. You can do this work with an employer within your field of study so you can get some work experience alongside your degree.

You could also look to do some industrial work within your research project. For example, you could approach a company and volunteer to some tasks for them which would help their business, help your research and give you work experience. A lot of academics who supervise PhDs have industry contacts from their own research grants so could put you in touch with such companies and help devise a way for you to work with them. In fact, when you are drawing up your research proposal as part of your application for PhD, this is exactly the sort of idea that Universities like to see candidates proposing. It is great for the candidate as it can really develop their research and skills much more than sitting in the University library would, but it is also good for the University as it can only help strengthen their links with industry.

This way, once you come to apply for jobs you have both the experience AND the degree to back your application i.e. you would be a very strong candidate.

#5

Just found some facts that may interest you which are specific to the economics field which you mention:

  • In 2005 postgraduates accounted for 25% of the sector’s total graduate intake.
  • Some universities have invested heavily in their postgraduate opportunities and provide state of the art facilities. Many offer teaching from lecturers who have very recent work experience.

When you bear in mind how many people actually do a postgrad degee of any sort by comparison with the undergraduate only route, the 25% is an impressive statistic. Clearly you could also have access to be people with relevant work experience who could be very useful contacts when it comes to getting work. The fact Universities are investing in it shows that postgrad study is important to employers - Universities are now very focussed on turning out graduates of the calibre employers want and on graduate employability in general (e.g. offering personal development opportunities as well as academic study) and this can only be because industry is demanding this of them.

#6

In addition to previous comments, in the US for instance, a PhD is generally counted as work experience.

Besides, the number of PG has greatly increased in recent years. So, having a PhD will set you aside and will definitely open new doors.
You’ll increase your employability, your prospective remuneration and not least, your respectability within the work place.

To answer your question directly, Economics’ field is a very good choice. You could work for Hedge Funds, Banks & financial institutions (e.g. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc. Insurance companies), Stock Markets, various international development agencies and of course, major Consulting Houses (BCG, Accenture, etc.)

Trust me, you will not go wrong on that one.

#7

Whilst I agree with all of the points above and the fact that a PhD actually says a huge amount about the individuals ability to manage their own time and to take personal responsibility, I would issue a few words of caution which I think are relevant. Many of my friends and colleagues have completed PhDs and on the whole they have found them to be positive experiences although not always helpful when it comes to getting a long term job in industry. The issue that seems to be relevant is whether or not they have suitable work experience to go along with the PhD as there is a fear that someone who has simply worked their way through academia may not be able to undertake ‘real life’ work. Is this something anyone else has any experience of?
I would say though, from my experience that the PhD qualification is a real sign of excellence but be careful not to rely on it solely as employers want to see evidence of practical application as well. Part time work (outside of lecturing) may be helpful for this purpose or even consider doing the PhD part time over a few more years whilst working if you really want to prove the point!
Hope that makes sense
S