despite what you may have heard, getting a STEM PhD is still a good idea part II

This is an extension to my last post that argues that a PhD is still a good investment [Link].

I found an interesting NSF report [Link] on the science and engineering workforce that is useful for my argument that a PhD is still often worth it, at least in the US (HT: Gene Expressions blog). I’ll show evidence of low PhD unemployment rates and high PhD salaries. As I did in my last post, I will focus on recent PhD graduates, since trends in the past are not necessarily applicable to students currently considering a PhD.

ScreenHunter_04 Mar. 14 10.22

Unemployment for recent graduates in 2008 captures unemployment for those who earned their PhDs in 2003-2008. The overall unemployment rate for PhDs is 1.5%. It is 0.9% for computer science and math and 0.8% for engineering. Unemployment is 0.7% for those with an MS in computer science and math (slightly lower than for PhDs) and 2.6% for engineering (much higher than for PhDs).

ScreenHunter_05 Mar. 14 10.22

This post shows additional evidence of low unemployment among recent PhD recipients.

Unemployment rates according to years since degree. For recent graduates, look at "1-4 Years since degree" in 2003. This refers to PhDs who graduated in 1999-2002, which is a bit out of date, but it's relatively recent. Note that the unemployment is 3% for this group compared to 5% for BS degree holders.

Unemployment rates according to years since degree. For recent graduates, look at “1-4 Years since degree” in 2003. This refers to PhDs who graduated in 1999-2002, which is a bit out of date, but it’s relatively recent. Note that the unemployment is 3% for this group compared to 5% for BS degree holders.

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 14 10.21

Salary distributions for BS, MS, and PhD degree holders. Again, this lumps together recent graduates with older graduates, so it doesn’t show that the PhD offers a salary premium for recent graduates. See the next figure for that.

ScreenHunter_03 Mar. 14 10.21

See “1-4 Years since degree” for recent graduates. This figure shows a modest salary premium for PhD degree holders as compared to MS degree holders. Getting a PhD 30+ years ago seems to have been quite lucrative in terms of salary, but I would not necessarily forecast those salaries for people getting PhDs now. Those with PhDs will, on average, earn more than those with MS and BS degrees, but I am not sure if it will make up for the ~5 years lost while in grad school.

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