Should you get a master’s degree or should you go on to get your PhD? If you’re considering getting even more education, be aware of some of these misguided assumptions surrounding the elusive PhD.

MYTH #1: Getting a PhD guarantees a job.
It is true that people with doctorate degrees have lower unemployment rates on average compared to people with less education ( Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). However, this fact does not guarantee that you will find employment after you earn your PhD. Among recent doctoral recipients, 34.4% of respondents reported no definite commitment for employment or postdoctoral study after graduating with a doctorate degree. The bright side of this stat is that 65.6% of new PhDs reported having definite employment commitments upon graduation (National Science Foundation, 2012).

MYTH #2: Getting a PhD guarantees a high paying salary.
It is true that people with doctorate degrees have higher median weekly earnings than people with less education ( Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). However, this does not mean that you are guaranteed to rake in the big bucks with a PhD. It simply means that compared to people with less education, people with PhDs make more money. If you’re among the 65.6% of new PhDs with definite post-graduation plans, you can be expected to make a median salary of $58,000 a year ( National Science Foundation, 2012).

MYTH #3: Getting a PhD will earn you respect.
If you are thinking about getting your PhD because you think people will respect you, you are getting a PhD for all the wrong reasons. People respect hard work, cooperation, creativity, and passion. It is true that you are probably going to need all of those things to earn a PhD, but you can certainly be a respectable person without the alphabet soup after your name. In fact, no one likes that person who always introduces themselves as, “Dr. so-and-so,” especially if it’s to an audience of people who hold the same level of education. It’s pretentious and implies that people must respect those with doctorate degrees. It’s just not true.

MYTH #4: Getting a PhD is expensive.
Yes, getting a PhD can be expensive, but this is not always the case. A lot of programs offer full funding to the best and brightest students. Although these programs are difficult to get in to, these programs are usually the higher quality programs. If you get an assistantship paired with a tuition waiver, you will most likely not need to take out any student loans. Among recent doctorate recipients, 63.1% said they graduated with zero graduate debt ( National Science Foundation, 2012). Okay, you may be thinking, “Time is money! So getting a PhD really is expensive!” If you look at it that way, you are correct; see below.

MYTH #5: If it is a 5-year PhD program, you will graduate in 5 years.
Just because a program says it is a 5 year program does not mean that you are guaranteed to graduate in 5 years. Across all fields, the median time it takes to get a doctorate since starting graduate school is 7.7 years, and the median age at time of earning a doctorate is 31.8 years ( National Science Foundation, 2012). Yes, there are those who nab a PhD in 4 years, but it’s rare.

MYTH #6: You can do the same thing with a master’s degree as you can with a PhD.
This may be true in some fields but not all fields. In some cases, getting your PhD is your ticket in the door. It’s very rare in academic positions, for example, to grant someone tenure with a master’s degree. Because of this, most posted jobs are only for those with PhDs. Also, just because you might be able to do the same thing with a master’s degree, your pay might be significantly less with a master’s degree compared to a PhD (see Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). Often times, a PhD gives you freedom from needing a supervisor over your shoulder or constantly asking someone for approval. With a PhD, you get to call the shots.

MYTH #7: Getting a PhD just isn’t worth it.
Some blog posts may be discouraging by preaching doom and gloom to anyone considering getting a PhD. Yes—it is grueling. Yes—your outcomes are up-in-the-air. Yes—you have to deal with a lot of crap. But if you love your field of study, you have a solid career plan, and you can afford it, it is totally worth it!! Don’t let the gloom and doom get you down. If you can’t do what you love without a PhD, get your PhD and know that you are on the right track!

In my next post, I will explore some questions you should ask yourself before embarking on a PhD track. What are your thoughts? Are there any other myths out there regarding getting a PhD?


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