Keystone logo
Six Reasons to Do a PhD -- Even If You Don’t Want to Work in Academia

Six Reasons to Do a PhD -- Even If You Don’t Want to Work in Academia

  • Education
Joanna HughesOct 8, 2018

When most people think of PhD studies, they think of the academic career track. However, this isn’t the only way to go. In fact, there are many great reasons to pursue this degree -- even if you have no plans to be a professor. Read on for a roundup of six benefits of getting a PhD beyond laying the groundwork for a career in academia.

1. You will acquire great and unique knowledge.

PhDs have paramount subject matter expertise. If you are motivated by true curiosity, the desire to learn, and the goal to advance knowledge in your area, a PhD is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. The takeaway? In addition to having professional value in today’s knowledge economy, doing a PhD also has priceless personal value.

2. PhDs are in increasing demand in industry.

Of course, all the knowledge in the world isn’t worth much if no one wants it. But that may not be something you have to worry about, because many industries are looking for workers with advanced credentials. After all, if master’s degrees are the new bachelor’s degrees, then PhDs are the new master’s degrees -- meaning they open doors to new jobs.

While PhDs have value in every field, they are in particular demand in four fields, according to US News & World Report: physical therapy, criminal justice, nursing, and computer science. Of the latter, one computational biology department head said, “In many cases, the company has an idea of what they want to do but they don’t know how to do it. They need somebody to figure out how, and that’s not something you can do with an undergraduate education. That’s ultimately what a PhD is about -- figuring out how to do what has not been done before.”

3. You will get to contribute to society.

To that end, while we often think about PhD degrees in terms of their academic luster, doctoral studies can have very practical and positive implications. Confucius once proposed, “The essence of knowledge is having it, to apply it.” When viewed through this solutions-oriented mindset, PhDs have world-changing potential.

4. Your earnings potential will increase.

PhDs can command a significant paycheck in industry -- in many cases more than master’s degree-credentialed counterparts. In fact, according to US Census Bureau data, the difference in average salary for master’s degree and PhD students can be as much as 33 percent.

Over the course of a lifetime, this seriously adds up: Over an adult’s working life, people with bachelor’s degrees can expect to earn an average of $3.4 million compared to $2.5 million and $2.1 million for people with master’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees, respectively.

5. You will have higher self-esteem.

According to Forbes contributor Margie Warrell, data suggests as many as 70 percent of people have suffered from “imposter syndrome” in their lives. Academics are often among them. Because, while contrary to common misconception, high self-esteem isn’t the key to high achievement; rather, the opposite is true: The more people accomplish, the better they feel about themselves. The opportunities to support both achievement and self-esteem are manifold.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "I'm a great believer in luck, and find that the harder I work the more I have of it." While some people are drawn are drawn to the rigor and structure of academia, industry can be a perfect environment for embracing a more flexible approach to your discipline

Psychology Today suggests, “Repeated achievement reinforces itself. It cultivates a mindset that anticipates success. To observers it might look like you have amazing luck, but they'd be wrong. The circumstantial luck of fortune is passive and uncaused. What flows from effort, acting on opportunity, and following through is resultant luck.”

6. You will develop transferable skills.

From “hard” skills like writing to “soft” skills like time management, doing a PhD is guaranteed to help you be stronger in these transferrable and sought-after areas. In other words, even if you don’t end up putting them to work in academia, they will be valuable in nearly any career context.

While working in academia has many allures, it’s not the only option. The good news is that whether you’ve decided to step off the academic track or if you never planned to work in academia in the first place, a PhD can still lead to profound benefits.

Are you a PhD graduate working in industry? If so, please share your experiences in the comments section.

Learn more about studying for a PhD here.

Joanna Hughes

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.