Sunday, February 5, 2017

#Education - is a PhD losing its value?

The question is not to offend current PhDs. But I have observed many low-ranking and poor research institutes offer PhDs just for their rankings and statistics. Is it not a threat to those who sincerely are contributing to science and technology?

Rishabh Jain, MIT PhD
Updated Oct 23, 2015 · Upvoted by Jessica Su, CS PhD student at Stanford
In general the OP makes a great point. The overall value of a PhD (as defined today) is definitely reducing.

Here is why:

1) Oversupply: There is direct evidence that the labor market for PhDs is heavily over supplied. Statistics show a growth in postdocs across disciplines - which shows there are too many PhDs for the number of permanent positions. This economically means a reduction of value for the PhD.
In fact many companies are now asking that 'PhD Scientist' role applicants have a post-doc as well! (Novartis - Job details)

2) Reduced Salary Differential: Related to the above point, given the increase in postdocs, one would hope that there is a large increase in the marginal salary differential between bachelors/masters degrees and PhDs. This is not the case. You can look up summary statistics, or what I think is a generous proxy is looking at MIT stats (as these tend to be at the higher end, for both PhD and non, so give an idea of 'the better case outcome'). MIT Global Education & Career Development

3) Content of PhD too Focused: The final point I want to bring up, is there is stagnation in the academic market, or at least low growth compared to PhD labor supply. So, training only to perform good research is insufficient in today's economy. I think PhDs need a more holistic training set to enable them to add value in other parts of the economy more easily. I wrote more about this here: What opportunities and skills should a graduate student try to have and develop during their Masters/PhD?

Finally, my outlook on PhDs is not negative despite my negative sounding answer. However, it is important to be honest about the current situation, so we can improve upon it. PhD training has an amazing opportunity to do much more for those receiving it.

I believe we can enable a very high value output by thinking of ways to change the training process, and educating the rest of the economy on the skills a PhD can brig to their industry!
Scott E. Fahlman, Professor Emeritus, Carnegie Mellon, LTI and CSD
Written Sep 24, 2015 · Upvoted by John L. Miller, B.S., M.S., PhD with 25 years industry experience

In my field, computer science, back in the 1980s, a PhD from a good school used to give you a very good shot at getting a faculty position in at least a decent school.  Jobs at the very best universities have always required something special, but the field was young and fast-growing, and a lot of schools were trying to build up their core faculty.  Now CS is more mature, and most departments have a lot of tenured faculty and are growing more slowly, if at all.  I think that a lot of other technical fields have a similar temporal profile.

The good news is those geezers from the 1980's will be starting to retire soon, and industry is hiring some senior faculty away, creating openings.

Post-docs in CS used to be pretty rare, but now there is a large pool of people doing post-docs, waiting for a shot at a faculty opening.  So even if you have a good PhD, you may have to wait in line for a while, and won't be earning a lot while you're in the holding pattern.  So the PhD itself is worth less in this respect: if you do get a faculty job, it may not be immediate, and you've lost a few years of high earnings.

There seems to be less real, long-term research going on in companies these days, and my impression is that a lot of companies would be happy hiring mostly people with masters degrees.  A few still put a premium on a PhD degree, but maybe not enough to make the added years of research apprenticeship worthwhile.  A lot of the action is at startups that mostly couldn't care less about whether you have a PhD degree.

Finally, as you mention, there are more lower-tier universities churning out PhDs.  In the academic world, these degrees have never been worth much, and now they are worth even less -- supply and demand.  Of course, if you do some great research, you can overcome the poor reputation of the school that granted your PhD, but you will have more to prove.  That degree, by itself, won't open a lot of doors.

Source: QUORA Quora

School of Graduate Studies | University of Toronto

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