March 14, 2013
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.
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).
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 This refers to PhDs who graduated in 1999-2002, which is a bit out of date, but it’s relatively recent.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.
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.
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.