Should I leave my well-paying job for further education?
Friday, April 6, 2018
Am I crazy to leave a six figure salary to get a PhD in computer science?
While you are not necessarily crazy, this does not sound like a great decision to make. I am not even thinking about whether this makes economic sense, which it probably doesn't, but rather, what can you expect to get from a PhD experience at this point in time.
Let me start by saying that getting a PhD in CS makes perfect sense for a lot of people. Hell, I even got one! But those people are usually in a different situation than yours, as a matter of fact, the PhD will allow them to get to where you are (see Xavier Amatriain's answer to Knowing what you know now, would you still get a PhD if you had the chance to go back and do it over again? Why or why not?).
So, why would someone like you want to get into a PhD? Whenever I talk to people in your same situation (yes, there are many), I hear things like:
I want to do "pure" research.
If I do a PhD I will be able to gain more understanding on topic X
If I get a PhD I will have access to better jobs
I want to publish
I want to eventually become like Yoshua Bengio or one of these other famous Professors/Researchers
They are all ok reasons, but, honestly, they don't stand on their own and they respond mostly to a romantic view of what PhD is than to the harsh reality of PhD life.
As Sean Gerrish pointeed out in his answer, chances that you become that very famous researcher/professor are very slim. You might as well take on baseball, and try to make it to the Major League, for what is worth.
Also, a PhD is very unlikely going to unlock access to better jobs. There are very few places where having a PhD is going to be a requirement (mostly academia). Having a research publication track record might matter to have access to some kind of jobs. Not that I would particularly recommend those jobs. But, if that is your dream, having a few good publications could be a good investment. That said, investing 4+ years of your life for getting a few good publications seems very low ROI to me. It is probably much better to carve some time on the side to collaborate with a research lab or professor you know, take a sabbatical, or even try to publish something you are working on.
Finally, while a PhD is likely to increase your knowledge on a very narrow topic, this is hardly ever useful. I can't tell you how many PhD's I have interviewed who could only talk about one particular aspect, but had forgotten even the most basic things in their knowledge area. Being super knowledgeable about, say, Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) while not knowing anything at all about Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) or more basic ML models (e.g. Logistic Regression ) will make you more employable for a very, very small number of jobs.
Also, it is important to note that many people that I have known who want to go back to college to do a PhD they suffer some version of the Impostor syndrome. They feel like they don’t know enough about a given topic, and they feel they will improve by doing a PhD. However, most likely they know as much as any PhD student on the topic, and going through this will not increase their knowledge significantly. Besides, there are probably much more efficient ways to increase knowledge on the topic if that person really needs it.
So, unless you are ok with ending up with adding 4+ years of ok experience just to end up more or less where you are in terms of employment (or worse, taking on a mediocre academic position), my advice would be to keep learning while on the job. I am sure you will have many opportunities to grow in many different directions.
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