Is a PhD worth it now in 2023? [the data]

Deciding to pursue a PhD is a decision not to be taken lightly. Whether or not it is worth it for you depends on a number of circumstances such as your career goals, financial stability, stage in life, support networks, interest in the subject, ability to self-motivate and so much more.

Arguably, for most people, a PhD is not worth it. If you want to enter academia you have no other option than to do a PhD. However, there is often a much better return on investment from other educational pathways such as master’s, professional degrees and work experience.

For some people, the act of getting a PhD is more than for financial return or reward. They have a deep connection with the subject and want to research it. They are willing to put up with the sacrifices required to do a PhD because of their drive for a particular research field.

 These types of researchers are relatively rare.

This article will go through everything you need to know about whether or not PhD is worth it in 2023 and the most important things you should consider before launching into your PhD application process.

Should I Get A PhD?

Deciding whether or not to pursue a doctoral degree is a huge life decision. It can easily take up to 7 years to get a PhD in some countries.

This is a time when others are laying the foundations of their life and have a job starting to build up experience in their professional field.

Doing a PhD delays adult life for most young PhD students.

PhD regret is a real thing and in my youtube video, I share all of the things you need to be aware of when making the decision to do a PhD.

Study referenced in the video: click here.

A doctorate requires an immense amount of work and dedication. And therefore you need to be absolutely certain it is the right decision for you.

If you have a passion for:

  • research,
  • teaching at a university,
  • public service,
  • or your job has pay scales that can only be reached with a PhD

then getting a PhD may be a perfect choice.

On the other hand, if you are looking for career advancement opportunities or increased earning potential, then it might not be right for you.

There are other options such as a Masters, graduate diploma, or work experience that could potentially open more career advancement opportunities.

Is getting your PhD worth it for your career?

A PhD is certainly worth it for many careers, especially those in academia, research and education.

A PhD provides you with the skills to:

  • perform academic research independently,
  • write for peer-reviewed publications,
  • present findings to peers
  • manage a multi-year project with multiple stakeholders
  • teach undergraduate classes
  • and much more

These skills are incredibly valuable and well compensated in some careers.

It is also important to consider that a PhD can also help you develop specialized skills and knowledge that are highly valued in certain industries, such as data science and analytics.

A PhD can open up doors to new opportunities that undergraduate and masters degrees do not.

However, a PhD doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be compensated better in the workplace with a higher salary.

Let’s take a look at whether or not a PhD is worth it for your finances.

Is a PhD worth it for your finances? Whether a PhD will boost your bank balance. 

Whether or not a PhD is worth it for your finances highly depends on what you’re using your PhD for.

In my experience, a PhD does not guarantee higher wages upon graduation. In fact, it is often a better return on your investment to get a master’s degree and a couple of years of experience in a career to maximise your earning potential.

This is backed up with data.

You can see in the graph below that, on average, the maximum earnings someone can make is with a Masters or professional degree.

IS a PhD worth it? The data of earnings with different levels of education across fields.
Average salaries by educational level and degree (data from the US Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2009-2011)

Across all of the different subject areas, it is often better to get a professional degree that is directly related to your career rather than pursue a PhD.

It takes many more years to get a PhD and quite bluntly – it does not make financial sense to do a PhD.

For many, the stipend associated with being a PhD student can help to pay for grad school and other expenses during their studies but there is a huge shortfall compared to the wage if you had started a job.

Even if you don’t go into academia, many companies recognize the value of having a PhD but may not offer a financial benefit.

Why is a PhD a bad idea for most people?

Arguably, a PhD is a bad idea for most people because it requires a tremendous amount of time, effort and money to complete, and there are very few job opportunities in academia available.

Also, as we have seen above, it is quite often not financially sensible to pursue a PhD.

Many students embark on a PhD program with the expectation that they will get an academic job upon completion of their studies, but this is not guaranteed. And, is in fact, the exception.

The competition for postdocs and other academic jobs is high and there is no guarantee of job security once you get one.

Having an undergraduate degree already makes you eligible for many jobs outside academia so getting a PhD may not be the best use of your time or resources.

For all these reasons, many people opt out of getting a PhD and pursue alternative career pathways.

What are the Risks of Getting a PhD?

Earning a PhD can be costly both in terms of time and money, and it may take several years to complete a successful doctoral program.

Also, there are many other risks and costs associated with getting a PhD that are not talked about.

These include:

  • return on investment
  • opportunity cost
  • reduced earning potential in early years
  • reduce networking with professionals
  • and many more.

In my YouTube video below I talk about whether or not get a PhD is worth the effort:

Furthermore, there are risks associated with getting a PhD. One risk is that the long timeframe of earning a PhD may lead to burnout or fatigue for the PhD student.

Another risk is the fact that the value of a particular Ph.D may fluctuate over time, so it’s important to consider whether or not the Ph.D will be worth it in the long run.

There’s always a risk that humanity’s understanding of certain fields could change suddenly, rendering an individual’s doctoral degree obsolete or less valuable than anticipated.

For these reasons and more, individuals considering getting a PhD should evaluate their options carefully before making such an important commitment.

Have you thought realistically about your job prospects?

Some people can get very excited thought of doing a PhD. However, this excitement is incredibly short-lived once they realize that there are no job prospects upon graduation.

When considering job prospects, it is important to think realistically about the opportunities available for when you graduate.

For many PhD students, the dream is to secure a tenure-track position in academia. However, this can be difficult with so many PhDs vying for limited positions in universities and colleges.

Therefore, it is important to consider other options outside of academia as well. This isn’t something that many young PhD students want to hear – but it is where most of them will end up.

Many PhDs have found success in fields such as healthcare, finance, and technology.

Additionally, some PhDs have even gone into non-traditional fields such as teaching English abroad or starting their own business.

I chose the pack of starting my own business and have had a much more fulfilling life and satisfaction from that than I ever did during my years in academia.

No matter what path you choose after completing your PhD, it’s important to remember that there are many opportunities out there for PhD students – both inside and outside of academia.

They may not be obvious at the beginning – just keep searching into you find one that excites you.

PhD Degree Alternatives

There are many alternatives to getting a PhD that can still lead to successful career paths in different fields.

Sure, they may not be as prestigious. They may not even be particularly exciting – but for your career, they offer a much better return on your investment both in terms of time and money.

 We have seen, above, that it is actually much better to settle into a career with a Masters and then upskill with various professional degrees until you reach your desired earning potential.

It PhD is not a guaranteed ticket to a higher-paying job – building up credibility and experience in a particular role is.

There are many other degree alternatives including:

  • Masters
  • graduate diplomas
  • professional degrees
  • vocational courses
  • a much more

that can help boost your earning potential.

However, there truly is no alternative to a PhD if you want hard-core research experience and to open up the career pathway to lecturing and research.

For people that want to enter academia I often say that they should have a fallback plan so that when their ideas of becoming a researcher fall away they have a comfortable and realistic backup plan that they would enjoy.

You’ll be amazed how many people don’t know what they would do if they won’t in academia. In today’s highly competitive world that is not good enough.

It is important to explore all of one’s options before committing to pursuing a PhD degree so that they can make an informed decision about their future career path.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about whether or not a PhD is worth it now and all of the important questions you need to ask yourself.

You need to look at your career goals, the financial gains you expect to make with a PhD and what other opportunities open up upon graduation.

However, there are some extreme costs that come with letting a PhD including reduced earning potential for many years, stressing and anxiety, reduction in professional experience, and many others which will need to be addressed if you decide to go down the postgraduate PhD route.

Whatever you decide I hope that this article has provided you with enough formation to help make a decision one way or another.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.