Why a PhD and not a Masters? Do I really want to study for 5-6 years?


That'd be an awesome degree!

When I was looking into post-graduate degrees, I ruled out the Master’s degree immediately for a plethora of reasons.

  1. I am an international student and fellowships for US citizens, let alone international students, in Masters’ degree are few and rare. I did not want to be in a situation where I did not know whether I would get full funding or not.
  2. Having a Master’s degree isn’t enough to get a job in research or academia. For my topic of interest, even though a Masters’ is the minimum requirement, I would be competing with people who had PhDs, PhDs and postdocs or with Masters’ degrees with a ton of experience.
  3. My staying in the US was contingent to my job or study. I could have done OPT which is a one-year term of work on something related to my academic major. But I thought that I did not only want to work for one year and with this economy, who on earth was going to hire me? Besides, in my heart I always felt that graduate school was an inevitability–might as well get started now.
  4. Many Masters’ degrees cost a ton. Since I did not look into Masters’ programs I don’t know what my potential programs would have cost. But I did not want to depend on my parents for money for school anymore, at least that I was very certain of.

People do PhD programs for different reasons. Some are already employed but are getting the degree to advance their career. Some don’t know what else to do with their lives. Some are genuinely interested in their topic of interest. The question of why am I willingly giving years of my life to a graduate program is always something I’m asked. When I tell people that I will be basically in school for another 5-6 years, they go wide-eyed and look at me as if I had admitted I was a drug addict. (Or a masochist.)

"Seriously? Another 5 years?"

I like bullets so you’ll see a lot of them 🙂

  1. PhD programs usually give funding to you regardless if you are an international student or not. With a PhD program, I could study my topic and *also* gain financial independence from my parents. Even though you won’t be swimming in money (Graduate program stipends are set-up so that you can live comfortably), at least you will have a roof over your head and food in your stomach. I really advise current graduate students to suck it up and live in someone’s house for at least 2 years in order to save up money and gain some financial stability. Having no savings suck.
  2. As an international student, you don’t have to worry about how you will stay in the US after college. I had many friends who decided to work (OPT) here or work abroad for at least a year before applying for graduate school. Personally I’m not ready for a 9-5 job. I feel like right now is the time for intellectual stimulation while my brain is still sharp and that work is an inevitability that I’m not in a rush to hurry along. They may be earning more money than me currently but the thought I might finish my program earlier than them is a nice thought. Then I’ll be *really* earning 🙂
  3. Intellectual stimulation. Like I mentioned above, this is the time for me to really push my intellect. I don’t have familial responsibilities yet, I am living by myself (technically with the landlord), and I am in a position where I can know the scientific community. Right now many of my friends who are working complain about feeling like a zombie and missing the learning that happened in college. Maybe we are all just nerds but I genuinely enjoy studying, learning and discussing it with my peers. If that sounds like you, a PhD program maybe the right thing 🙂
My main reasons for doing the program are usually the financial independence and the international student reason but I think the intellectual stimulation is a pretty good reason too.
What are your reasons for pursuing a PhD program? 

2 responses »

  1. thanks for your sharing. Even though I am an undergrad student, but I definitely want to go to a PhD program for economics study. Similar reasons as yours, a Master degree simply costs too much and I need to catch the time to study more when my brain still works fast. But I do have one more interesting reason. My culture, Chinese culture, puts a lot of bias on woman who get high degree like PhD. Many people simply think that a woman with PhD degree is boring and doesn’t look pretty. I just want to prove that those people are wrong. 🙂

    • Hi, thanks for your comment! I’m also from an Asian culture (though won’t specify for anonymity reasons) and I understand the whole notion of the patriarchal system that permeates in Asian societies. I think that people who think that “a woman with a PhD is boring and doesn’t look pretty” isn’t worth my/your time anyway so I don’t really care what they think 🙂 In my program, there are many smart, intelligent and usually married women or women with fiances/serious boyfriends/girlfriends in my program so if some people DO think, its obvious that not ALL people think that. Studies show that the largest factor that keeps a couple together is level of education 🙂 My honey right now has a PhD and a MD so I think thats (anecdotally at least) true 🙂

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