T Nation



I recently found out that getting a Ph.D. is free, plus you get a stipend and health benefits to do it. I always planned on just getting a Master's after college, but that doesn't sound too shabby. I was wondering how many of you guys have gotten a Ph.D., what the experience was like, and was it worth it?

5 years of more school really troubles me, but maybe the payoff will offset the time. Personally, mine would be in chemical engineering and I want to focus on research.


I've found it to be a very rewarding experience. I'm also a ChE, and I'm finishing up my MS in May and starting at a new school in August. I have to warn you that there is pretty much NO funding for MS projects in chem e, so you'll have to take what you can find. Where are you looking at?


I am still an undergrad, but I honestly can't imagine anyone regretting the decision to get a PhD once they have it. You can't really be out of work if you have a PhD- at the least you could be an assistant professor somewhere.


PhD programs are not necessarily "free". This is very much dependent on the school you are planning to attend and the department in which you plan to study.

In some cases, you can either get funding without doing much other than being a student (for a few years) ... this is generally called a fellowship. In other cases, you can get either a teaching or research assistantship in which you will teach (or TA) a class or you will assist a professor with his or her work.

In either case, you will put in about 20 hours of work a week on your duties (of course the 20 is the "textbook" statement .... in reality you might do 10 .... or, if you have a bastard of a professor you are working for, maybe 40). In addition you will be doing your coursework (about 3 courses per term) ... and coming up with your own research ideas (unless your area overlaps with the professor you are working for).

In chemical engineering (and any science, engineering, or mathematics), you are likely to be able to get an assistantship ... if you are lucky you can get a fellowship. In the arts (philosophy, theater, English, etc. etc.), you will need to be the best and brightest to get any funding. In those disciplines, you may well have to pay out of pocket.

I highly recommend you have some other goals to accomplish during graduate school. If the only thing you have after six years is a PhD, you will have wasted your time. My wife has her PhD and I will have mine in about four months. Trust me on this ... our PhDs are (will be) nice pieces of paper. The other things we've done ... are far more valuable.



Good stuff. I've been doing research as an undergrad, so I would like to continue the same sort of research as a grad student.

Blitz: I haven't really looked into schools yet. I'm only a junior, so there's still time. I will mostly be looking at schools with large research budgets. My school has been great for the undergrad experience, and even though my advisor is editor for Applied Catalysis B, I've got not plans to stick around (though I hope to use that last fact to get me in somewhere else).

Do you have any recommendations?


Schools with big research budgets are a good place to start looking; however, as Feanor alluded to, there is a significant part of the experience outside of the lab. finding the right location for you is crucial if you plan to spend 4-5 years there.

I'm sure your advisor would be able to help you pick out a few schools that suit your research interests.

Depending on what you're interested in specifically, I can try and give you the names of a few faculty/programs who are strong in that area. Just let me know.

If you want, you can look up a few professors whose research interests are in line with yours and e-mail them. I've found most are more than willing to help answer questions, although the time it takes for a response will vary.

Almost all chemical engineering departments will give you full tuition and a living stipend as a PhD student, although I haven't encountered one with health benefits yet.


I am in undergrad, but I am pretty seriously considering pursuing a PhD after undergrad.

Here's my opinion on the matter, just from PhD students I have talked to: the financial gain after getting your PhD is nothing compared to the work you will put into it. You will be one subject's bitch for a good number of years. There's a sick, masochistic part of me that actually kind of enjoys being in the lab or the library until 5 AM, so that's part of the reason it appeals to me.

I have wondered about the financial aspects as well. I am an EE student, so I think I can get a TA position to help pay for it if I decide to do it. I can only hope anyway.

I say, if you are really into the subject, and are slightly masochistic, go for it.


Assuming you are American, you are one of the few students that continue on to graduate study. Schools will be competing against each other to attract you to their program. Don't be afraid to apply to top schools as you will most likely be accepted and get a good offer from wherever you apply.

I would advise you to apply directly to a Ph D. program. You can expect to get tuition waived and be paid at least $15-20k per year. If you don't pass the doctoral qualifier or otherwise don't measure up to Ph D. standards, you will often be awarded the MS as a consolation prize before leaving.

The most important thing is to find an advisor you get along with who also does research you are interested in. Be sure to talk to his current students to see how they are treated. Spending 5 years working for some arrogant jackass would be hell.

BTW, I am within a year of finishing a Ph D. in EE.


I'm glad you know this already :slightly_smiling:

Now multiply this masochistic pain by 10, and if you still think you would like it, go for it.

Good luck!

You'll need it.


If you are looking at it from a financial standpoint it's not worth it..better off getting your masters,working and then getting an MBA. In my opinion, the best way to find out if a PhD is your cup of tea is to go do a masters where you are doing some research. If during this process you fall in love with your research than a PhD is for you.

Otherwise you will still get a masters degree out of it. Also if you are currently doing research at the undergrad level and love it then this is also a pretty good way of being able to recognize if the PhD is worth it for you.

Once again don't do it for the money..you have to do it because you fall in love with your research..otherwise the long nights in the lab won't be bearable. I got mine in 2003(aerospace eng) and I loved every minute of it.


I'm in a PhD program in Physics and Astronomy right now, and I'm really enjoying it. I am funded through a teaching assistantship, and I'm loving the teaching. Plus, I'm learning all the good stuff that we didn't get to in undergrad.

I'd say go for it, and like was mentioned before, if you get a few years in and don't want to continue, you will have a Masters waiting for you.

But, you are looking at six years or so of making $20k, and working your ass off... So yes, you HAVE TO enjoy it, or else you will be miserable.


i just have to finish my dissertation to receive my phD in economics

but you are miscalculating something, sure it is free in the sense that tuition is waived and you get a job being a research assistant or teaching assistant, but their is a huge opportunity cost

in my case, im at least smart enough that i would have gotten a pretty good job with my undergrad degree in econ and my math minor

this job would have paid well and i would have gained experience

by attending grad school im giving up quite a bit of money


I'm in the first year of my PhD program in immunology. It is a pretty sweet deal, I must admit. I get free health care, a tuition waiver and a $23,500 stipend. As some people are saying there are draw backs, you could probably get a better paying job with your undergrad degree. Secondly, since my PhD is in a science field when I'm not in class I am usually in the lab, doing research. I'll tell you right now that between classes and research I have well over a 40 hour work week, not to mention I am often in on weekends, so don't expect to have much of a life. Going to the gym is about the only thing that I get to do that isn't school related. With all of that being said, if you are strong enough to handle all of this you will probably be better off when you get out. Just putting in my two cents here, feel free to ask me any questions and I'll answer them if I can.



This is the primary hinderance in my mind. I definitely want to do research and development type work as my profession. Specifically, I want to do consulting work like my dad (who is an EE). He gets called in to help on a WIDE range of projects, gets to travel, and gets fat paid.

It seems like I'll be trading research for money with research for study. Here's a question: What benefits do you get from a Ph.D.? Why not get a Master's?


I've thought about going back and getting a Phd in Math Education (teaching people how to be math teachers). But, as my wife pointed out, "You're now 52, white, and male. No one will hire you."

Since I'm a department head, teach Calculus and Physics at a private school, I probably will stay put. But, it'd be fun to pursue in retirement.


Is it wrong that I have no idea what a Ph.D. is or how a person "gets" one?


Unless you want to do research for a living, you're probably better off with a Master's. That's what I thought I wanted when I entered as an MS student. However, if you think Ph.D. students have it bad, MS students have it that much worse (especially in chemical engineering).

  1. No funding for Master's projects. Very few, if any, faculty will be willing to take you into their research group. They are simply not willing to risk investing a significant amount of funding on somewhere who is not going to be there very long. As such, you will most likely get assigned an advisor, rather than have your choice (as was the case for me).

  2. No financial support. There are very few institutions that are willing to grant stipends to Master's students. I was fortunate enough to find one, but they don't like to do it.

You'd be much better off getting a job and having your company pay for your non-thesis Master's.



The benefits I get from a PhD is that in my field, for the most part, you can't do research without a PhD. Everybody in my branch(outside of the military guys who get assigned here) has a PhD. You won't get hired to do research in my field without one. Simple as that.


"Since I'm a department head, teach Calculus and Physics at a private school, I probably will stay put. But, it'd be fun to pursue in retirement"

if you can teach calc and physics, a program in math ed would be trivial for you. i think you should enroll part time if you really want to do it. why put it off


Ph.D. Study is not necessarily free, it very much depends upon the type of work you will likely be doing after you get the degree. Schools fund Ph.D. students based upon the liklihood that those students will improve the reputation - and by extension bring the number and or quality of applicants
up, as well as the amount of outside funding a school is able to secure.

Since your focus in research, you may well be a fully funded Ph.D. student should you choose to go that route. As has been previously pointed out the tradeoff between time spent in school and level of pay is probably best at the Masters level, however the word of a Ph.D. researcher is often far more influential than that of a Masters holder, but as your area is chemical engineering, I am not sure how well this would hold to be true.