To PhD or not to PhD?

22 Sep 2009 · By Anant Narayanan

PhD Comic

Every Master’s student in a research university would have had to face this question at some point during their stay. For some, it’s been a no-brainer. Not for me, it’s easily the most difficult decision I’ve ever faced in my life.

On one hand, there’s the opportunity to work for a corporation, draw a handsome salary and help millions of people today by writing great software. On the other hand, there’s the opportunity to spend the next 5 years of my life with just enough money to survive on ramen, working on a really hard problem no one knows the solution to and derive satisfaction from the fact that my work might help millions of people tomorrow.

Computer science is also one of those fields where getting a PhD doesn’t mean you have to become a professor. Not that I don’t enjoy teaching, as a matter of fact I love teaching, but it’s comforting to know that you can always go back to what you sacrificed. The fruits of research in computer science typically reach mass consumption much faster than other fields, and several silicon valley companies specifically target doctorates for recruiting. Not to mention, you could always dropout – aren’t a lot of great institutions founded that way? ;)

All of this tilts the scale a bit towards PhD, but this decision requires many more months of thinking! What are your thoughts on the matter? Have you had to make such a decision? What did you choose and why?

 

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