A PhD prices you out of the Market

One thing that came up in previous posts was about how PhD’s do not often command higher salaries than those with Masters degrees, sometimes even those with a Bachelors. This was the quote we used from the Economist,

PhD graduates do at least earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. A study in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management by Bernard Casey shows that British men with a bachelor’s degree earn 14% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to. The earnings premium for a PhD is 26%. But the premium for a master’s degree, which can be accomplished in as little as one year, is almost as high, at 23%. [emphasis added]

Since I’m currently applying for jobs, I can illustrate this fact using my area. Incidentally, I’m a researcher in Machine Learning. Machine Learning refers to algorithms that are designed to analyse data automatically.

These are some of the jobs I’ve been looking at, and would like to apply to eventually.

In no particular order, we have, Chief Data Scientist, Vibrant Media. We learn,

  • Master’s Degree or PhD in Statistics, Mathematics, Physics, or related discipline required
  • Minimum 4-7 years of hands-on experience in model development, statistical methodologies and quantitative analyses
  • Minimum 2-3 years’ experience leading an analytics team
  • Experience with statistical software such as Matlab, R, SAS, or SPSS and SQL, relational database design and methods for efficiently retrieving data from databases

The educational qualification is plain to see is only of several things being asked for. It is also the only thing the company is quite ready to compromise on – Masters or a PhD, and on the area, the thing is wide open – basically any quantitative discipline seems to be OK with them. [Stats grads beware – you have no inherent advantage in the Job Market for Data Scientists]

It only goes downhill from here in terms of educational attainment. For instance, look at this job posting from Apple for a Machine Learning Data Scientist.

Key Qualifications

  • 2+ years commercial machine learning experience (not necessarily in a production engineering role).
  • A strong understanding of machine learning theory.
  • Mid-level programming experience. You do not have to be able to write highly scalable production code (you will be working with engineers who can do that) but you do need to be able to build prototypes and be able to understand the existing code base. Python, Java or C++ experience is highly desired.
  • A principled approach to solving algorithmic problems with a focus on what will make users happy.
  • A pragmatic approach to rapidly evaluating new algorithmic ideas.
  • A very high attention to detail and ability to thoroughly think through problems.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills on both technical and non-technical topics.

Educational Attainment is not even being listed in under Qualifications! It is listed though later on,


BA/BS or higher in Computer Science Masters or PhD in Machine Learning or Statistics highly desired.

Anything from a BA/BS to a PhD is OK!

The message the industry is sending is clear – we do not care what degree you have, or in what area that degree is – as long as you have the skills, you are good to go.

The question is, Are Academics listening?

Look at this position for a Senior Data Scientist at Bark. It does not even list education at all!

At Adhark, the situation is similar to Apple. In terms of education, they simply write,

  • BS, MS/PhD in Computer Science, Applied Math or related fields.

Same at Kitware here.

Some other places wish to discount those with only a Bachelors degree, but express no preference for a doctorate. See Damballa, R&D Data ScientistAlert Logic, Senior Data ScientistTwitter, Data Scientist and Etsy, Data Scientist.

This should also make those pursuing a PhD think of something else. If the Industry is placing no premium on your degree, then it is a given that you will end up working alongside people who have only a Masters or even only a Bachelors, and it is entirely likely they may be drawing a salary as much as yours, or even greater.

[It is skills and experience that is being valued – not degrees. If someone with a Bachelors or a Masters is more skilled, then why would they not be paid more?]

A PhD program teaches few marketable skills, and overspecializes you in one narrow range. None of these jobs require that kind of specialization – it is in fact, a generalist they all desire.

To put this another way, yes a PhD degree is valuable, but its worth is so high, that no one is ready to pay the appropriate price.

Ms. PhD candidate, you! You have priced yourself out of the market!

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