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I enjoy learning new things, and thus I want to pursue a career where I can continue to do so. I'm currently doing my Master's thesis and will finish my degree beginning of next year. After that I'm at a crossroad of what to do next.

My examiner wants me to continue my academic studies and apply for a doctorate degree, and I can't say I'm entirely against it; where can you learn more than by doing research? At the same time, however, I imagine that you'd get more practical experiences by going to industry. Then again it is always the risk of ending up in the guinea pig wheel and doing mindless work and never progress. And at research you might only research just that and never look at anything else. And let's not forget the higher salary in industry (at least when you compare the pays in Sweden, but I am willing to work for less if I get to learn more).

So what to do?

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You can avoid the guinea pig wheel by ensuring the company you join has some really interesting people working on really interesting projects. Startups generally are more likely to have these projects, but not always. –  TrojanName Aug 24 '11 at 9:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I think the most important question is a different one: what is it you want to do?

Do you really want to research really complex and exciting things, do stuff that nobody has done before? Then you may want to go for that degree. The downside: less money, you'll work on theoretical concepts that may never see real-world application, and once you have that degree you may have a hard time finding a job because you're 30 and all you know are highly academic topics that have no value on the job market (this depends a lot on what exactly it is you'd be researching).

Do you really want to build software that people actually use? Where usability, design and performance matter? Then get out of academia. The downside: you'll very rarely get to use really interesting, complex concepts. Most of your time will be spent dealing with unclear requirements, badly-structured code (some of it written by yourself) and bugs.

What caused me to never consider a doctorate degree was exactly the realization that I wanted to write software that actually worked, whereas my experience in academia was that sofware was generally written as proof-of-concept that didn't have to be useable, robust, performant, or even work at all outside a few very narrow usecases.

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+1 Good points, this ties in well with my answer. Work is not better or worse than academia, but they are certainly different. –  Steve Haigh Aug 24 '11 at 12:56
All valid points; this has given me more to consider. Thanks. –  gablin Aug 25 '11 at 18:16

At this point you have to ask what it is you want to learn. I think once you get beyond the bachelors degree stage it is not possible to say you will learn "more" doing a Ph.D compared to working in, say, a software company. If you do a Ph.D in X, then you will learn a lot about X, maybe become a world expert one day. If you go to a software company you will learn about working as a professional developer, you'll learn about the domain(s) the company works in and you will also pick up software related skills.

Rather than thinking about how to learn "the most" I would think more about the kind of work you enjoy. This is hard if you have never worked in a company (not sure if you have or not, I'm guessing not from what you say). So, maybe the best thing to do would be to get a job after your masters, work for a year or 2, then think about if you prefer that to academic work?

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Good answer. The only problem is that once you get used to higher income, it's VERY difficult to revert to the lower again. :-) –  TrojanName Aug 24 '11 at 9:06
Indeed it is... I'm still "trying out" working in s/w... 15 years since I finished my masters... –  Steve Haigh Aug 24 '11 at 12:54

There is no reason not to do both. If you want to pursue a PhD, consider getting a couple of years of practical experince first. It will give you a perspective those who don't have any practical work experience don't have. It will also give you more career options. PhDs are limiting in terms of employment. As far as getting used to living on the higher salary, don't. Live as if you earn the salary that you expect to get after your PhD and put the rest away to help pay for the PhD.

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