PhDs: The tortuous truth

Nature’s survey of more than 6,000 graduate students reveals the turbulent nature of doctoral research.

This has nothing explicitly to do with data, but I believe it explains some of the forces in the job market that are a little bit unusual in our field. All other primary functions of an operating business are staffed with people who have batchelor's or master's degrees, but it is not at all uncommon to find a data science team stocked with PhDs. I believe these survey results (and specifically the answer to the above question) point towards the cause: there is a mismatch between career ambitions and job availability within academia. Many PhDs have advanced quantitative skills, and find that data science is a natural (and lucrative) transition from a weak academic job market.

This begs the question: if one's career is ultimately the point of the degree (which is by no means always true), then wouldn't it make more sense to get a different degree? PhDs are extremely personally costly.

There is certainly a much larger conversation to be had here, and my point is not to discourage applications to PhD programs. Rather, I think it's important to have a realistic understanding of the job market and make well-informed life decisions. To be super-clear: you don't need a PhD to become a great data scientist.


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