Author Topic: Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?  (Read 3595 times)

cranilation

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Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?
« on: November 24, 2014, 09:00:09 AM »
I've got some options that I am weighing, and I'd like some advice from people a bit further along in their careers.

I'm 29 and I have a master's degree in Industrial/Organizational psychology - specifically process improvement, instructional design, and human motivation.  It's... been a little difficult finding work in my town (moving is not a short-term option) with that degree, partially because I'm not so hot at networking, and partially because my skillset doesn't really fit in any HR boxes.

I've got two pretty interesting opportunities that I've been pursuing. Of course I am putting the cart a little before the horse with both of these, because neither of them are a sure thing - but, I feel like its important to make a decision so that I can avoid burning bridges by using my contacts to go part-way through the application process, and then dropping out.  I don't think I'd get a second chance, so I want to save these contacts for when I'm sure I know what I want to do.

Opportunity one is to join up with the international consulting firm Accenture. 
Pros:
  • probably good $, right away
  • make great connections
  • learn "The Accenture Way" which would look good on the old resume
Cons:
  • travel away from my home which is a HUGE negative
  • with the increased income comes a big increase in required spending - suits, networking, car, etc.
  • competitive environment - I don't care about "climbing up the food chain"

Option two is to get a PHD in evaluation.
pros:
  • I would have funding so I wouldn't have to take out loans
  • I would LOVE to be "Dr. Cranilation"
  • right here in my town, no moving required
  • This would also put me into a field with a lot of work
Cons:
  • It would delay entering the job market for another four years
  • the pay is paltry, enough to keep on top of my living expenses and student loans but not much more
  • Having another degree doesn't guarantee me more jobs - just like my last one did.  Maybe I am trying to solve the wrong problem (qualifications instead of networking) and once i graduate I would have the exact same problem I've got right now.

I'm hoping that a golden ray of light will burst through the clouds and tell me either "Getting a PHD is fine, don't worry! you have your whole life to live - if you love learning, go learn! the future will take care of itself, and even moreso if you have a PHD" or "You have everything you need already, stop being afraid of getting out there and trying new things! Learning more is good for a while, but eventually you have to start building your career instead of your brain!"

mak1277

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Re: Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2014, 09:13:18 AM »
My brother is an almost 30 year old, poor, PhD student.

I'm a 37 year old lifelong (thus far) Corporate cube/office dweller who is hoping to retire within the next 5-7 years.

We both envy parts of each other's lives.  You just have to sit down and decide which of the two options will contribute more to lifelong happiness.  You're obviously smart enough to figure out the pros and cons of each...it's going to be tough for anyone else to tell you what makes you more happy.

I do think the longer you stay in academia, the more likely it is you'll end up an academic.  Not making a value judgment on that, just saying that if you're looking for a lucrative professional career, I'd probably lean towards taking the job now and seeing how it goes for 18-24 months and seeing if you can defer the admission to your PhD program.

Jellyfish

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Re: Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2014, 09:14:20 AM »
Your choices are not forever mutually exclusive, so you should think about which one makes the most sense for you right now.  Consulting is a tough lifestyle and few people make a long term career out of it (make partner).  Most will do it for a few years to gain the experience, until the road warrior lifestyle becomes too much, then they move into industry or do something else, such as pursue a PhD.

You could easily work for Accenture for a few years, then go back to school, or into an internal HR/Org Dev role somewhere.  Or you could pursue the PhD then try your hand at consulting. Plenty of consulting firms hire PhDs with your type of background into their Human Capital practices. 

I was a consulting road-warrior for 8 years in my 20's while single and it was great for that time in my life. Saved a ton of money (firm paid expenses while on the road, high salary), learned a lot, great resume fodder, but once I got married and had a kid it was untennable, and I got out.  Was the perfect launching point for a high-wage career that has put me on my track to FI. Combined with frugality it's a great combo, if you do it right.  But the travel does grind a lot.  A LOT.   

elnion

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Re: Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?
« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2014, 09:36:44 AM »
5th Year PhD student here.  On the flip side of Jellyfish's comments:

Fields vary, but in general, a PhD is not for the faint of heart.  They are long, poorly paid, and ego-annihilating. They are not about learning, although that happens incidentally, they are about creating new knowledge, most of which nobody else will ever care about.  It's an all-or-nothing deal: leave part-way through and you get nothing.  They're also not really about intelligence.  While you've got you to be somewhat above-average intelligence to make it through, getting a PhD is mostly about persistence.  Maybe organization psych is particularly fast, but 4 years is uncommonly quick to finish, too.  I'm graduating at the end of this academic year, and will be tied for fastest to ever graduate from my program.

They're really only worth doing because there's a specific (or several specific) jobs you can point to that you must have a PhD to do.  The standard example, of course, is "Professor".  Note that competition for Academic jobs is an absolute bloodbath, and the usual result of doing a good job after getting a tenure track job is to be denied tenure - i.e. fired.

That's not to say don't do it, while there are a number of things I would change about my going to graduate school, I would probably still do it again.  But it's not a simple decision, and it's best to have very specific reasons in mind for getting to the end, because otherwise you'll get three years in, and wonder why the hell you're putting yourself through it all.

Glenstache

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Re: Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2014, 10:22:11 AM »
10 years out from my PhD, in consulting. I'm going to echo a lot of what elnion said above. Basically: get a PhD if the actual work associated with getting it (research, long hours, the specific topic) are intrinsically motivating enough to make you want to do it without the carrot on the stick at the end. His comments about persistence are pretty spot on. Having Dr associated with your name becomes normalized and not a big deal far to fast to have that be a motivator in the long run. As to the career choices, it seems you have a handle on that. From a $$ perspective, it does not sound like the PhD will get you appreciably ahead.

That said, I would make the choice to do one again in a heartbeat. But, it is definitely not the right choice or path for everyone.

greaper007

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Re: Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2014, 11:45:33 AM »
My wife has a PhD in Clinical Psychology.    She now owns a consulting firm where she does strategic planning, implementation science etc.    It was a painful road, but it has worked out for her.    She pulls down a 6 figure salary and currently employs 3 other people, and sits on the board of a global implementation group.   Her classmates have a hard time understanding why she wouldn't want to go into academia or not for profit.   Then again, she probably pulls down $40,000 a year more than they do.

I'd say do it if you have a very specific reason.    Like you want to manage people, create programs, teach, do research etc.    Don't do it just because you're not sure what you want to do (doesn't look like that's your issue though).   

If you decide to go into IO, that could be a really lucrative decision.    From what I understand, IO psychologists probably have the highest earnings of any psych PhD.    People from my wife's department that studied IO were pulling down 100k+ working for large corporations.   

Then again, neither one of us would ever be interested in working for large corporations.

studentdoc2

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Re: Should I get a PHD or go into consulting?
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2014, 01:19:18 PM »
5th Year PhD student here.  On the flip side of Jellyfish's comments:

Fields vary, but in general, a PhD is not for the faint of heart.  They are long, poorly paid, and ego-annihilating. They are not about learning, although that happens incidentally, they are about creating new knowledge, most of which nobody else will ever care about.  It's an all-or-nothing deal: leave part-way through and you get nothing.  They're also not really about intelligence.  While you've got you to be somewhat above-average intelligence to make it through, getting a PhD is mostly about persistence.  Maybe organization psych is particularly fast, but 4 years is uncommonly quick to finish, too.  I'm graduating at the end of this academic year, and will be tied for fastest to ever graduate from my program.

They're really only worth doing because there's a specific (or several specific) jobs you can point to that you must have a PhD to do.  The standard example, of course, is "Professor".  Note that competition for Academic jobs is an absolute bloodbath, and the usual result of doing a good job after getting a tenure track job is to be denied tenure - i.e. fired.

That's not to say don't do it, while there are a number of things I would change about my going to graduate school, I would probably still do it again.  But it's not a simple decision, and it's best to have very specific reasons in mind for getting to the end, because otherwise you'll get three years in, and wonder why the hell you're putting yourself through it all.

MD/PhD student here. I second everything said above.