When the PhD path leads to career struggles

I did not reflect on his motivation at the time, but my track coach was a young guy, and he was probably giving me advice straight from his own life, as a parent trying to raise his own young children. I did take computer classes in college and ultimately received a PhD in chemical engineering. I always remember that conversation as being a kind of turning point.

Earning a doctoral degree is a life commitment of great proportion. It can take, as Miller notes, between four and seven years. If we think of working life as roughly between the ages of 22 and 65, then a PhD requires more than 10 percent of a person’s working life. People need to think carefully about that investment.

Two powerful arguments in favor of the path of science, technology, engineering, and math are that there tend to be more STEM jobs for PhDs, and many universities’ STEM departments are generous in covering their PhD students’ tuition and cost of studies, including a stipend toward food, rent, and other expenses.

Stuart Gallant


Not much has changed in 30 years

As I prepared to graduate in 1995 with a doctor of education degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, my mother memorably said to me, “Of my four children, you are the one with the most education and the smallest salary.” Apparently not much has changed in 30 years.

I must congratulate these students, however, on following their passion rather than following the money. I can’t help but think that their lives, though stressful, may contain greater happiness.

Peggy Clark


Lawyers & electricians & philosophers, oh my!

Kara Miller’s column on the career challenges for people with doctoral degrees generated more than 260 comments on Boston.Globe.com. The following is an edited sample of readers’ reactions:

Lots of law school grads are underemployed as well. (PL)

So true, PL. The market in Massachusetts is flooded with talented lawyers seeking work. (Roforma)

Supply and demand, the market at work. (guk)

Investing in education and research in all fields is the hallmark of a society with staying power. Disinvesting from these endeavors signals decline and decay. (Massachusetts citizen)

Electricians, plumbers, mechanics, and other skilled technical professions have no problems getting $100k jobs with great benefits. (ramsen)

Not enough turnover from tenured professors, leaving little space for new faculty. Although the tenured, well-established professors are needed, it’s the junior faculty who are hungry and with new ideas that help build new programs. The whole graduate program model is a bad model. I worked two jobs, had my tuition and some type of minimal student health insurance and could barely cover the rent with my stipend, and the second job paid for everything else. Though I was working on many faculty projects, it was the faculty who said this would be good for me. Never did they say it was also good for them. (TravelerofNJ2)

I just retired from a tenured faculty position in science. I’m in my early 70s. I have colleagues who are still doing what they do well into their 70s, a couple approaching 80. There is no active incentive from the university to move the older faculty on, to make way for a new generation. (Lola-lola)

The next step is for adjuncts to go on strike across the nation and hold colleges and universities accountable. The current system is completely absurd. (Wordsmith2358)

Universities should be required to release disclosure data about the fate of their PhD graduates. (davidman820)

I knew an attorney who managed a Cheesecake Factory. She had worked in food services through school. As an attorney, she really did not make that much money and was not doing the field of law of her choice. How many real estate closings can you do without dying of boredom? She went into management in the food industry and makes the same salary. (Antietem)

It was always a question and puzzling to me why people study philosophy. (Blazer27)