Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

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gwg
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Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by gwg »

I want a PhD. I enjoy the intellectual freedom and challenges of research, and I've recently been accepted into a great CS PhD program. But as software engineer, I could probably make 80-100K more per year than my stipend. Furthermore, I don't want to go into academia. In a perfect world, a PhD would eventually allow me to lead a team of R&D researchers or quantitative analysts (e.g. data scientists) in industry. That said, I'm worried about whether it is financial suicide given my current profile:

Personal
* 30-years-old
* Single, no kids
* 105K salary

Program
* CS PhD, MS Eng along the way
* Ivy League, CS program typically ranked in top 5-7 worldwide
* Offer: 27K guaranteed for 5 years

Savings
* Safety net: 10K
* Down payment: 2.2K
* Roth IRA: 7K
* 401K: 4K
* Checking: 3K

I'm mostly concerned with my savings and age. I had to pay off 55K in student loans before I could consider a PhD. I paid them off less than a year ago, and I've saved nearly 20K since then. It doesn't feel great to think about halting that. And ~400K delta between earnings is daunting. The only way I could make that back would be a top job in finance or technology. Otherwise, it's almost certainly a loss financially.

Is this track crazy given my career, age, and current wealth?
swl
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by swl »

PhD is useless if you can get a good job offer. Four years experience is worth far more than a piece of paper. It's a good delaying tactic, however, if you can't get a good offer. Let's you try again in four years with a clean slate.
livesoft
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by livesoft »

You will become enormously wealthy with your CS PhD while having a very satisfying career.
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stm
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by stm »

I guess I'll go out on a limb - as compared to the typical boglehead I'm the wrong kind of doctor, but right kind in your case :)

Nearly all Ph.D. programs, especially at R1 schools like where you are likely attending, are in the business of training people for academic careers, specifically academic research careers. Much of a Ph.D. is learning about research methods, but you're learning those methods from a theoretical perspective and the application part will be more skewed towards academic publishing.

It seems odd, but in many academic fields, a lot of attention is paid to rigor, but less to relevance. In CS, where publishing in good conference proceedings allows more flexibility in this regards, you could do things that are more current. But the academic world as a whole, where you will be training, still struggles with relevance.

Now don't get me wrong, the credentials do play a role in your end goal. But it's a huge opportunity cost that I believe wastes a lot of your potential if you don't intend to be in academia. The time is better spent getting real-world experience in analytics and going from there.
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market timer
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by market timer »

Definitely not crazy, but I think it was a mistake to wait until age 30 to start the PhD. It will not be fun to be 35 and with essentially no savings.

Livesoft is right in emphasizing that you'll probably have a very satisfying career if you choose to get a PhD. Hard to put a price tag on that. Either way, you won't starve.
plantdr
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by plantdr »

I really can't comment too much about cs since my phd is in science (not computers). I don't know why you can't pursue both at the same time. You could go to school part time. It will take forever, but might be worth it. You could even work part time and school full time. Since you are single, you could put the time in. Your employer might agree to it if they want to keep you.
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InvestorNewb
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by InvestorNewb »

I know someone who did a masters in computer science...he is now a police officer.
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Stormbringer
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Stormbringer »

Fellow CS grad here.

I have consistently earned $250K+ a year for many years now as a software developer doing contract programming. Literally none of the work I do requires a PhD or even a Master's degree. All it requires is having a knack for it (I'm sure you are aware of the immense productivity differences between programmers), developing a reputation, and keeping up on the latest high-demand technology.

That said there are probably some deeply satisfying and highly paid jobs in the Valley (AI research, autonomous vehicles, etc.) that require a PhD. I think step 1 is figuring out what kind of career you want, and work backwards from that.

The bottom line though is that if you are going to chase the money, the value of a PhD is questionable. I don't think you will face financial suicide, but you would emerge from school a bit behind the curve, financially, and no guarantee of any greater income.
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YttriumNitrate
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by YttriumNitrate »

deleted.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by itstoomuch »

IMO, yes.
DS lost opportunity when he did MS at R1 tier school, and he had a free ride, 2007. He had a heck of a time finding a job in 2008 and that was with research and practical experience at Big Software. He had a double major as undergrad at R1 university.

Experience counts more than degree.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by goodenyou »

Go for it. Most surgical residents don't get out until they are 32++years old. Many of them have $200k+ in debt. You'll probable make a lot of money with your credentials.
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quantAndHold
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by quantAndHold »

You'll be fine either way. A PhD with work experience should be fairly lucrative, and if you like academic work, then go for it. That said, if you're interested in that kind of work, you can probably get it with a MS degree, or even a BS and the right work experience.

The other thing is that nearly every CS PhD I've met finishes in much less than five years. Are you sure you need a program that takes this long?
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Clever_Username
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Clever_Username »

I hope not; I have a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

The fact of the matter is that yes, for those years you're in graduate school, you'll probably earn less than you would have in industry. You may or may not be able to supplement the stipend with side work, depending on your schedule, advisor, and possibly other factors. I certainly did (my advisor even encouraged it). You won't be able to replicate the industry salary or benefits without switching to a part-time Ph.D., which very few advisors will allow.

Is it financial suicide? Not really. Your salary when you exit the program will likely be high, and you'll be used to living frugally (I hope that's what your doing now, but given your salary and savings, maybe you're not, or you had a mountain of debt you recently paid off, or something).

Is going for the Ph.D. going to be better, salary wise, than if you had stuck with industry for those 4-5 years? No. But it may be hard to get the job to lead a team of data scientists with a M. Eng -- although I know people who have done it. And that job satisfaction should be worth something.

As for my own lifestyle: I was naturally cheap as an undergraduate, but I sometimes wonder what my financial life would have been like if I hadn't gone to graduate school. Unless I experienced a dramatic lifestyle inflation had I worked instead of going for the doctorate, though, it would only have affected my savings rate -- and maybe the timing of buying a house (and perhaps the city I ended up living in).
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freebeer
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by freebeer »

gwg wrote:I want a PhD. I enjoy the intellectual freedom and challenges of research, and I've recently been accepted into a great CS PhD program. But as software engineer, I could probably make 80-100K more per year than my stipend. Furthermore, I don't want to go into academia. In a perfect world, a PhD would eventually allow me to lead a team of R&D researchers or quantitative analysts (e.g. data scientists) in industry. That said, I'm worried about whether it is financial suicide given my current profile:

Personal
* 30-years-old
* Single, no kids
* 105K salary

Program
* CS PhD, MS Eng along the way
* Ivy League, CS program typically ranked in top 5-7 worldwide
* Offer: 27K guaranteed for 5 years

Savings
* Safety net: 10K
* Down payment: 2.2K
* Roth IRA: 7K
* 401K: 4K
* Checking: 3K

I'm mostly concerned with my savings and age. I had to pay off 55K in student loans before I could consider a PhD. I paid them off less than a year ago, and I've saved nearly 20K since then. It doesn't feel great to think about halting that. And ~400K delta between earnings is daunting. The only way I could make that back would be a top job in finance or technology. Otherwise, it's almost certainly a loss financially.

Is this track crazy given my career, age, and current wealth?
I don't think it's "financial suicide" but given that you are already 30 I think it's likely not going to maximize your total lifelong earnings. But, it seems you already know this. If you want to go into industry and lead a team in a top lab such as a Microsoft Research then sure maybe the PhD will be important but there are very few of these and a lot more places where most of the staff doesn't have PhD so whether you do or not will be less important than whether you have demonstrated the leadership and management skills.... if you take 5 years for a PhD then I think you will be "behind" most of your age cohort in going past leaf-node individual contributor roles into management roles.

But, if it floats your boat then you should do it. A top CS program is a probably going to be a great experience. And, always remember, Don't Settle! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35AqneH6RI8
madbrain
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by madbrain »

It's far from suicide, but just don't overestimate what the PhD degree will really get you.

I'm a high-school dropout working in the valley as a software engineer for 20 years. I have interviewed many PhDs that evidently couldn't code or debug to save their life. They were not hired. IMO, the piece of paper will help you more earlier in your career, to get in the door at certain companies, or with filters that some companies/recruiters/HR departments may use. But the years of experience will still count more.
jackholloway
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by jackholloway »

Many of the top megacorps hire and pay well for Ph.D. students. Whether it is worth five years of lost wages, I cannot say, but many of my peers seem happy with their life choice.

Do, though, make sure the school pays for your degree.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by TomatoTomahto »

InvestorNewb wrote:I know someone who did a masters in computer science...he is now a police officer.
It is rare that one can, in one move, change the average IQ of two groups.

Sorry, but it struck me as funny. No offense intended.

OP, good luck. The heart wants what it wants, and so does the mind. Go for it.
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beyou
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by beyou »

I have only a BS in CS, closer to retirement than college.
I have never felt held back financially and in fact started a masters once (for the money),
and dropped out when I relocated for a higher paying opportunity that did not require the masters !

There is a certain lifestyle to living in a college town, having a day to day life of an academic that is either very appealing,
or not. If doing this just for the money, I would not do it. If you like the idea of living on a student budget,
having the relatively lower day to day stress of academic research (vs time pressure often faced in business related tech),
could be a very nice lifestyle, that will also lead to career opportunities that seek such personalities.

This is more a lifestyle decision than anything, personality matters more than following a set "right" path.
Personally I am excited for you to have such a great opportunity, but as you indicated, it is not right just because
it is offered to you. Only you can decide.
Afty
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Afty »

I have a PhD in computer science and have worked at a well known tech company since graduating in 2011. I'm really happy with my career: I work on exactly what I've always wanted to do, I get paid incredibly well for it, and I've done well enough that my manager is building a team around me. I currently have 3 reports, all of whom have excellent credentials, and am hiring 2 more. So I'm essentially living your goal of leading an R&D team.

Having a PhD helps get your foot in the door for certain kinds of highly specialized work. Also, honestly, I enjoyed the process of getting a PhD as I really liked going deep into a problem and learning everything there is to know about it. I also enjoyed (and still enjoy) going to conferences and meeting others with similar research interests.

I can't comment on the financial aspects of this other than to say it's a lot easier if you don't have kids. It's probably not the optimal decision financially, but it may make you happier in the end.
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HomerJ
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by HomerJ »

livesoft wrote:You will become enormously wealthy with your CS PhD while having a very satisfying career.
LOL. And women will swoon, and men will bow down.

All guaranteed if you get your CS PhD.

Oh wait, nothing is guaranteed.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by livesoft »

HomerJ wrote:LOL. And women will swoon, and men will bow down.
I forgot about those things, but they happen so often that it's easy to take them for granted.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by itstoomuch »

PhD's come to DS for a referral.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by physiorol »

Try and factor in the personal satisfaction you will gain by getting a PhD. Monetarily it may be hard to justify. Is not getting your PhD now something you will look back on and regret not having? Will having your PhD allow you to get into a more satisfying, if not more lucrative, type of work in the future.

I think if you keep your expenses significantly lower than your income you will be in good shape financially either way. Except, of course, for the low standard of living during your PhD.

If you hate the process of the PhD you can always leave early with the MS. Or do you already have that?
NightFall
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by NightFall »

A PhD is something that is very difficult to do part time. Most grad students end up working 50-60 hours a week. The average length of a computer science PhD is 5-6 years at top schools. If you have a masters, you might be able to reduce that by a year... might. Getting a PhD isn't really about the money. You may or may not be rewarded financially for the decision. I've seen recent CS PhDs with no industry experience with starting salaries around 140K depending on the company and location. However, as you point out, that's not that far off from what you're making right now. Personally, I think a PhD gives you the opportunity to work on more interesting problems. So I view it as a quality of life issue rather than a financial one.

Note that a PhD isn't for everyone. You may or may not have been exposed to research prior to this point. A PhD is all about research. Some student excel when problems are structured and well-defined. Yet these same students may fail horribly when confronted with the unstructured nature of research. You will also need to specialize within CS. However, if you're already accepted, your statement of purpose almost certainly gave the university an indication of what you're interested in.
Texanbybirth
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Texanbybirth »

Do it! It sounds like you're a perfect candidate (you like the research and the "intellectual freedom"), and it's something that others (the program that accepted you) think you would succeed at. Try to tuck away a little savings here and there if you can, and get ready to hit the books HARD. You've already demonstrated an ability to pay off debt that you accumulated, so I'm betting you'll be smart enough to sock away money to "catch up" on retirement when you're finished. You're also in a great position personally, no spouse and kids who would depend on you. Life isn't all about money and big bank balances.

Best of luck to you!
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killjoy2012
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by killjoy2012 »

Two CS degrees here w/ a MS from a "top 2" CS university. The degree may open the door for an interview, but that's about it. Don't expect mega bucks or some dreamy job offer just because you have a PhD from some Ivy League school. Especially without any real world industry experience.

Outside of academia, the market for CS PhDs is incredibly small. There's always a chance, but odds are high that you'd need to move to SV in order to see any market/advantage of the PhD. Sure, you could apply for local IT-related jobs, but I would bet none-to-almost-none require a PhD.

Now if you wanted to become a CS professor at the university level & live a very low stress & comfortable life, a PhD would make a ton of sense. But it doesn't sound like you're leaning that way.
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Taco Knight
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Taco Knight »

Defer a year. Live off the proportion of your salary that would be your stipend. And invest the rest. Let this ~$70K build and grow for the four years you won't be contributing more. Solves both problems.
stoptothink
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by stoptothink »

I'm sure CS is its own animal, but I kind of did something similar. I started a PhD program at 28, after having been out of school (finishing my MS) nearly 5yrs prior. I was in a much better financial situation, but I was also going through a divorce when I started. It was a "fun" 4yrs. I had zero interest in academia (though I now teach one class a semester at a local university), was well aware that it would probably do zilch for my career, but it was just something I wanted to accomplish for myself. I can't say that it really helped further my career, but I am doing OK.

So, my totally irrelevant experience is that it might not be financially best decision, but you'll never regret it.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by 2Birds1Stone »

From a purely financial/opportunity cost standpoint I wouldn't do it.

If you are already making $105k/yr, your income is likely to increase substantially over the 5 years you would be making $27k as a PHD candidate.

If you simply lived as though you made $27k/yr while banking the difference in income over the 5 years you will be halfway to financial independence by age 36.

I'm in a similar situation (stay at work in a good job, or go back to school to try to get a better job) and for me the #'s worked out in favor of sticking to my current gig.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Valuethinker »

gwg wrote:I want a PhD. I enjoy the intellectual freedom and challenges of research, and I've recently been accepted into a great CS PhD program. But as software engineer, I could probably make 80-100K more per year than my stipend. Furthermore, I don't want to go into academia. In a perfect world, a PhD would eventually allow me to lead a team of R&D researchers or quantitative analysts (e.g. data scientists) in industry. That said, I'm worried about whether it is financial suicide given my current profile:

Personal
* 30-years-old
* Single, no kids
* 105K salary

Program
* CS PhD, MS Eng along the way
* Ivy League, CS program typically ranked in top 5-7 worldwide
* Offer: 27K guaranteed for 5 years

Savings
* Safety net: 10K
* Down payment: 2.2K
* Roth IRA: 7K
* 401K: 4K
* Checking: 3K

I'm mostly concerned with my savings and age. I had to pay off 55K in student loans before I could consider a PhD. I paid them off less than a year ago, and I've saved nearly 20K since then. It doesn't feel great to think about halting that. And ~400K delta between earnings is daunting. The only way I could make that back would be a top job in finance or technology. Otherwise, it's almost certainly a loss financially.

Is this track crazy given my career, age, and current wealth?
It is a financially crazy decision. Say you save 200k over those 4 years, then if you spreadsheet it, you will see it's almost impossible to catch up (assuming positive returns in every year)- -if you run a spreadsheet comparing the 2 options.

It may not be a career crazy decision.

You should understand that Phds in any discipline largely prepare you for a life of teaching and research. There are few jobs in industry in most fields that require same.

The reality is you can't know what your salary and opportunities will be down either life choice in 5 years. All you can say is that you might find the Phd very fulfilling. However in career terms being out of the job market 30-35 is not usually a good idea (earnings tend to peak 45-50, after that you have either "made it" into senior management (but the axes come often for upper middle managers) or you are scrambling to hold your job against younger competition).

But you might be able to get that job that you seek with a Masters. It seems to me that's the key: you know what your end job goal is, can you find a way there that does not involve doing a Phd? THAT is the thing you need to compare against.

A lot of time in a Phd is wasted: your Comp exams for one and writing up are both time consuming exercises that don't fit to the main thrust of your research-- which is to become the best informed person in a tiny area of your field. And Phds tend to wear people down: partly I think the exposure to academic politics and competitiveness.

Remember that life is a journey, the destination is the journey. So that's worth thinking about in the context of this experience.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Nowizard »

Your question was slanted toward the financial side, appropriate for this site. There are many reasons to get a Ph.D. other than money. Mine is in an area where some financial benefit accrued, but the primary gain was/is personal satisfaction. An Ivy Ph.D. should be considerably more valuable financially than one from another school. It is not just the degree but the networking with other students, many of whom will be from wealthy families with businesses. An IL education is somewhat of an ongoing job interview itself.

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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Bungo »

How does the $27k stipend compare with the cost of living where you will be studying? You will be taking a big pay cut for five years and without much savings, so you will have to be able to live on that stipend. When I was in my 30s, I left a job with a similar salary for a PhD program, and found that it was much harder to adjust to the low income than I had anticipated. That was one reason I bailed on the PhD after a year. (There were non-financial reasons as well.)
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by biturbo »

Do you have a clear plan of what you want to focus on and who it might be useful to?

A PhD can be rewarding in this industry, but this is also an industry where you can get incredibly far (both in terms of salary and interesting stuff to work on) without a PhD. If you have a pretty good handle on what you want to focus on and know that employers value it, then I think it can absolutely make sense to go for it - and you're in a good position to do so with a few years of industry experience, no debt, and no family obligations. If you just want a few more years of school and hope the PhD title will be useful, then I think it becomes more debatable.

That is the financial side. On the personal satisfaction side - this stuff is really fun and interesting, and I often wish I had the time and flexibility to go back and do something like that.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Bill M »

Another CS PhD here (retired). If you are interested in going the management route (a step or two beyond that described in original message), it isn't clear that a PhD would be helpful; but if you stay in a technical/research position, it is certainly worthwhile. I think the key question you need to ask yourself is how much job mobility you currently have. That salary sounds like a golden handcuff, and maybe you're happy to stay in place. With a PhD, that salary would be easily obtainable at other labs.
stochastic
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by stochastic »

I think the OP will have a financially secure life either way and it looks to me more of a lifestyle choice. Research is great and life as an academic, being able to spend my days thinking about questions is really fun. But I wouldn't advise anyone to do a PhD unless they enjoy that, it's really not for a lot of people and can be pretty high stress.

I work in a top statistics department and can tell you the experience of PhD students here which has a fair bit of overlap with CS particularly in machine learning. Of those who go into industry I'd say about half get lucrative silicon valley jobs and earn 250k+. The jobs are both substantially better paid and much more intellectually fulfilling than what our masters or undergraduate students can get. Not everyone is as successful though and it depends a bit on the subfield and set of skills. Students have also found that they can get such jobs midway through the PhD so some, particularly those with families leave before graduating into good jobs. With an extra 5 years experience as a software engineer if you do well you could certainly be earning more but probably more from moving up in the ranks rather than doing the most intellectually stimulating work.

Overall I'd say again that you should be fine financially regardless of your choice but should think about how you want to spend the next 5 years.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Valuethinker »

killjoy2012 wrote:
Now if you wanted to become a CS professor at the university level & live a very low stress & comfortable life, a PhD would make a ton of sense. But it doesn't sound like you're leaning that way.

I have a couple of friends who became CS academics (in Canada).

I'd have to say "low stress and comfortable" does not define any academics I know in CS.

They manage huge teams of people, they spend a lot of time on grant applications, they work 7 days a week. It was worse before they got tenure-- didn't really hear from them for 6-7 years. There's increasing pressure in funding to demonstrate relevance and industry connection-- so you have to fight for that.

Tenure track academia is not an easy ride, in fact it's a hellish ride. Being some kind of adjunct teacher at a business school with consulting interests would lack security but would give more freedom.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by evarrr »

You shouldn't get a PhD for financial reasons. Downsides include impostor syndrome, stress, lower standard of living, and missing out on fun (and expensive) activities with your friends, so you have to really love what you're studying. If you're more concerned with wealth accumulation, then don't do it. On the upside... $27k is a hefty PhD stipend :wink: so if you adjust your standard of living you can still max out your roth IRA every year!
cheesepep
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by cheesepep »

It is stupid. Most people who do such a thing just don't want to leave school and go work in the real world.
cheapskate
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by cheapskate »

In tech, there are probably < 10 companies where a PhD will give you a significant leg up : Google, Microsoft Research, IBM TJ Watson, a handful of other labs attached to large companies. Everywhere else, a PhD will not command a significant premium in pay/position/role. Given you will graduate from a top notch program, good chance that you will land one of these companies/labs. You should make sure you pick an area to work on that is likely to remain "hot" over the next 20 years post PhD (machine learning and AI are the things to be in now, not sure if that will be sustained over the next 25 years).

Another thing to remember is that in Tech, 45 is considered old, it is extremely rare to find people doing technical work at age 50. Age 55 is retirement age. At 55, it is mostly impossible to find work. At least in Silicon Valley, there is rampant (but always covert) age discrimination. Since you will start building your retirement finances at age 35, you should think hard and make sure you will have enough of a retirement nest egg by age 50 (definitely by age 55). The $400K in lost wages will be a significant hurdle to overcome in that endeavor.

One more thing - unless you are a academic research luminary (and are in the top 2-3 names in that field), PhDs are made to go through the same interview process as other candidates. So you need to make sure that you can code and code quickly, be able to debug well, be able to do whiteboard design etc, when you graduate from the PhD program.
inbox788
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by inbox788 »

gwg wrote:* Ivy League, CS program typically ranked in top 5-7 worldwide
I wondered which program this could be, and it was odd to me that I haven't heard of notable figures or achievements and I couldn't name the top Ivy CS programs (I'm sure there are, just not widely publicized, or its just my ignorance). The student dropouts are far better known. They're all very good programs, but just not at the very top of the rankings (Stanford, Cal, MIT, CM). Regardless, the cachet of an Ivy League name is probably helpful overall.

#6 Cornell University
#8 Princeton University
#15 Columbia University
#18 Harvard University
#19 University of Pennsylvania
#20 Brown University
#20 Yale University
#40 Dartmouth College

http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandr ... e-rankings
Rodc
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Rodc »

It will not be financial suicide. We are not talking a PhD in Medieval Garden Art Appreciation. But it may not maximize your income.

Who cares? It would be a mistake to get a PhD simply for the money one way or the other. With or without you will have enough money for any mere mortal, with any luck.

Get one if you would enjoy the work of getting one.

Get one if you would enjoy the sort of work it would allow you to do, or that would improve your chances of getting.

There is so much more to making computers do cool things than simply cranking out code. Good coders are worth a lot of money, and if what you want to do is crank out code then a PhD might not be for you. If you want to be a world expert in some new form of AI or whatever, then maybe it is for you.

I have a good friend who is a professor at one of the top universities in the world, is a recognize expert is certain areas of machine learning, and has a lab with maybe a dozen or more grad students all doing really cool things. He happened to be a very good coder as well though I doubt he does too much of that now. He seems to be having a really good time. Too bad as I would love to rehire him.

I would add that I have a PhD in theoretical math, and while I decided to do applied math because it is hard to make a good living doing theoretical math, and while now I manage a team of research engineers, I do not regret at all the time I spent in grad school. I got around to getting a "real" job in my early 30s and in less than 25 years I had enough money to retire if I wanted to. It would have been possible, though more difficult, to get to where I am with a Masters. And so hard to know if the PhD helped or hurt. But no regrets.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.
Rodc
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Rodc »

Valuethinker wrote:
killjoy2012 wrote:
Now if you wanted to become a CS professor at the university level & live a very low stress & comfortable life, a PhD would make a ton of sense. But it doesn't sound like you're leaning that way.

I have a couple of friends who became CS academics (in Canada).

I'd have to say "low stress and comfortable" does not define any academics I know in CS.

They manage huge teams of people, they spend a lot of time on grant applications, they work 7 days a week. It was worse before they got tenure-- didn't really hear from them for 6-7 years. There's increasing pressure in funding to demonstrate relevance and industry connection-- so you have to fight for that.

Tenure track academia is not an easy ride, in fact it's a hellish ride. Being some kind of adjunct teacher at a business school with consulting interests would lack security but would give more freedom.
As a general rule this is true. I had many friends go the academic route in math, and a few in other disciplines. Both a few/several decades ago and more recently. This is the primary reason I went into non-academic research.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.
livesoft
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by livesoft »

^We have had threads on academic careers. I think the conclusion I came to years ago was stated in those threads: A professor is running a small business. They get some venture capital money (from the university) and lease space (from the university) in return for some teaching and research. Their product is research papers and they must sell to grant agencies in order to keep the business going. The VCs expect a 10% or more annual return (in the form of overhead taken out of one's grants) from the money invested in the start-up. They can hire and fire their employees (grad students, post-docs, research associates) just like any other small business owner.

Running one's own business can be hard and time consuming especially when it is hard to know what the granting agencies (buyers) want for a product.
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Rodc
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Rodc »

livesoft wrote:^We have had threads on academic careers. I think the conclusion I came to years ago was stated in those threads: A professor is running a small business. They get some venture capital money (from the university) and lease space (from the university) in return for some teaching and research. Their product is research papers and they must sell to grant agencies in order to keep the business going. The VCs expect a 10% or more annual return (in the form of overhead taken out of one's grants) from the money invested in the start-up. They can hire and fire their employees (grad students, post-docs, research associates) just like any other small business owner.

Running one's own business can be hard and time consuming especially when it is hard to know what the granting agencies (buyers) want for a product.
And it is challenging when the VC guys plan on starting twice as many companies as they know they will keep running and they will just prune the less successful, even if all are successful.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by mouses »

I'm very out of date, but decades ago some of the major companies had computer science research labs. This is research, but not academia. Do these places still exist? If so, a PhD is pretty much mandatory there.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by mouses »

cheapskate wrote: Another thing to remember is that in Tech, 45 is considered old, it is extremely rare to find people doing technical work at age 50. Age 55 is retirement age. At 55, it is mostly impossible to find work. At least in Silicon Valley, there is rampant (but always covert) age discrimination.
Not really covert. After a company I worked for imploded in the 1990s, I went job hunting when I was 55. I got told more than once that I was too old. I also saw a spectacularly qualified and accomplished older friend go to work for google, and be shunned by his younger coworkers to the point that he was forced out of the company.
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TomatoTomahto
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by TomatoTomahto »

^ age discrimination is one of the few remaining forms of discrimination that otherwise evolved people allow themselves.
I get the FI part but not the RE part of FIRE.
Afty
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Afty »

mouses wrote:I'm very out of date, but decades ago some of the major companies had computer science research labs. This is research, but not academia. Do these places still exist? If so, a PhD is pretty much mandatory there.
Yes, they still exist. Microsoft Research is probably the most prestigious/successful, but many other companies have research labs.

Newer companies such as Google and Facebook tend not to have separate research organizations and instead integrate PhDs into product teams.
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Mudpuppy »

cheapskate wrote:In tech, there are probably < 10 companies where a PhD will give you a significant leg up : Google, Microsoft Research, IBM TJ Watson, a handful of other labs attached to large companies. Everywhere else, a PhD will not command a significant premium in pay/position/role. Given you will graduate from a top notch program, good chance that you will land one of these companies/labs. You should make sure you pick an area to work on that is likely to remain "hot" over the next 20 years post PhD (machine learning and AI are the things to be in now, not sure if that will be sustained over the next 25 years).
I was also going to point this out. The market for a CS Ph.D. outside of academia is somewhat limited, although one can add government agencies to this list as well. I'm also concerned about the long-term viability of a data science/AI/ML focused degree. It seems like institutions are churning out far too many graduates in this area and not enough in other areas of CS. The OP is accepted to an Ivy League institution though, which should help him/her rise a bit above the rest.

As for the process of a CS Ph.D., I won't lie and say my experience was all fun and games. It was hard work and the politics could get quite wearisome at times. There was no doing the degree part-time, and most of my roommates (myself included) continued work when we got home. We actually had a little block of CS graduate students living in the same apartment complex (it had dedicated T1 lines in the days before DSL was common... we were like moths to flames), so it was common to get together and do work at the complex. I can also recall having to be on campus on the evening of Christmas Eve to meet with my advisor, and there was a line of grad students waiting to see him.

That said, the Ph.D. can enable a certain future, so having that in mind can make the more tedious and downright aggravating parts of the process easier to bear. My goals became my mantra to make it through to the degree, and I still sometimes feel like I just made it by the skin of my teeth (which may be the imposter syndrome talking, or may be because my advisor didn't sign off on my dissertation until 3 days before the filing deadline).
Mathcop
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Re: Is a CS PhD financial suicide for my profile?

Post by Mathcop »

TomatoTomahto wrote:
InvestorNewb wrote:I know someone who did a masters in computer science...he is now a police officer.
It is rare that one can, in one move, change the average IQ of two groups.

Sorry, but it struck me as funny. No offense intended.

OP, good luck. The heart wants what it wants, and so does the mind. Go for it.
As a twenty-five year veteran police officer with a master's and two bachelor's degrees, including one in mathematics, I am not offended. However, the mathematician in me screams to point out that your observation would have been much more funny if the punch line was "in one move, raise the average IQ of two groups."

I will also say that when you need a police officer, you really want a police officer, and not a computer scientist, to show up.

I concur with your advice to the OP. Cheers.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you ... and always look on the bright side of life! - Eric Idle
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