這篇2010年底經濟學人(The Economist)上的文章"The disposable academic - Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time"，引發不少迴響和辯論，是個不錯的參考資料。在此為各位考慮念博士或是已經上了賊船的學子們作個整理：
For my Ph.D. students, please read the article and the comments -- either quit Ph.D. and find yourself a real job immediately, or stop complaining and focus on your research！
以台灣的學術界來說，除非你天縱英明，否則念完博士後，找教職很困難。然而，台灣在電腦這個領域，由於電腦越來越複雜，以及近年來電腦產業研發門檻和需求大幅提昇，業界越來越受重視學有專長能夠獨當一面的博士級研究人員，這是目前和其他領域有很大不同的地方。很多公司都找我要研發人才，光是近半年來談過的就有IBM, HP, Qualcomm，Intel，趨勢，廣達，英業達，聯發科，晨星，資策會，工研院，缺人缺的很嚴重。
(Rand0) "One Ivy-League president, asked recently about PhD oversupply, said that if the top universities cut back others will step in to offer them instead."
I'm confident that Harvard PhDs are in strong demand, as almost every university wants "PhD, Harvard University" to appear on their faculty roll as many times as possible.
Don't go to a school that would never hire its own graduates.
(Rand0) Its the exact same for PhD programs. Don't get a PhD because you don't have any better prospects (and certainly don't pay for one if you don't), it won't help you in the long run.
(HuskyPhD) I got my Ph.D. a few months ago in a scientific field. I didn't want to stay in research, but I figured with my credentials, I could easily land a job. I applied for around 40 jobs, and I received exactly one offer.
(quasimetric) Here's the solution: find an industry you want to work in, make contacts in that industry, ask them what questions they're thinking about. Make the answer your thesis.
(Bowl Weevils)Much of this problem could be solved if US universities actually hired faculty at a rate equal to the demand from students. American production of PhDs may have doubled since 1970, but there are also 100 million more Americans, many of whom are young and are increasingly told that they must get a quality university education to survive.
(Albert Dutch) I happen to have a PhD; and a great career in industry. My experience could not be more different to the correspondent's: I have always felt privileged, and the PhD was the beginning of my beautiful journey. I have worked in areas which are exciting and beautiful. A good combination when added to a nice salary. It's true that some people get higher salaries, but very few of them love what they do as I do. This is the beauty of a PhD: you love what you do.
Very few people in life are as lucky as PhD students. The luxury to work on something they like, expanding the boundaries of knowledge and learning a set of skills which will make a difference in their careers. My advice for to-be-PhD students is to be aware of that, and enjoy the experience. If they do not, then quit.
(Carpjaws) I did a lab-based PhD (admittedly about 20 years ago now) and, overall, it was an enriching experience. I currently don't work in as a lab researcher, but I think some of the skills learned have been useful in my different lines of work since. Lab-based research can teach useful lessons in teamwork, diplomacy and camaraderie, more so perhaps than say a history PhD spent alone in an archive. In my day, it was also often over pretty quickly (I was 24 when I was awarded my PhD, hardly too old to go looking for changes in direction).
(pmkim) no sane person does a PhD for an increase in salary and the numbers toted by the author are well known. Perhaps a better indicator would be job satisfaction. University professors have a famously high job satisfaction rate (among the highest in the US) and higher echelon researchers at large companies (the sort that usually has PhDs) also do.
(David Karger) [Professor of CS at MIT] It makes no sense to talk about PhD's in terms of salary bumps. Getting a PhD, and even more so going into academia, is a lot like going into art: it involves a willingness to sacrifice earnings in search of other kinds of fulfillment. Anyone with PhD in the hard sciences is smart enough to make plenty as a quant on wall street; they've made a decision that certain kinds of job satisfaction matter more to them than money. By the same token, it's silly to whine about low pay rates for PhDs. To take a job you love and then expect to be paid really well for it is asking for a double portion.
(davidstuart) You don't have to be a genius to earn a PhD. One does have to be smart, and what is most important is the ability and willingness to learn independently, apply oneself over a long time to a difficult problem, overcome complex and frustratingly difficult hurdles, and to stick with the program and to love your work. If you want to hire a person to conduct a multi-year project of a difficult and highly technical subject, what better selection criteria could there be than someone who has earned a PhD? If you want to work in such an environment, how better to learn and demonstrate your qualifications?
(Boguespierre) "Since then America’s annual output of PhDs has doubled, to 64,000."
Followed two paragraphs later by: "In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009." I can see why you decided upon theoretical ecology rather than mathematics.
(pmkim) the author contends that universities are overproducing PhDs. The mere fact that unemployment among PhDs is by far lower than for bachelor or high school graduates flies blatantly in the face of this assertion. Last figure I recall is that PhD unemployment has been steady below 2% for many years (Science & Engineering PhDs). While it is true that only a small fraction stays in academia and eventually becomes a professor, the overwhelming majority then pursues a great career elsewhere.
(mbmusgrove) All PhDs aren't the same. Sounds obvious, but by the title of this article, it isn't to everyone. The difficulty of acquiring them as well as their demand are all over the spectrum, as is the pay, which is often averaged into 1 figure, as in this article, which is inaccurate at best and worthless and misleading at worst. A History or Econ PhD isn't going to make nearly what a marketing professor is, for example. Ironically, Econ depts are the ones churning out armies of PhDs and lowering the value.
(MacJr) I got my PhD recently from a top university and right after graduation got a position as an assistant professor (tenure-track). It felt great at that time. But now I am growing disillusioned with the academic career. Don´t get me wrong. I love what I do and my research is getting slowly published. But what disappoints me the most is the pay. You work 6 days a week, 10h/day. And you make relatively good money that affords you a middle class type of life. But the effort/benefit ratio seems way too high in this career. I can´t help but think that I am doing a terrible use of my intelligence and effort. The outside options (own consultancy company) just seem so much better. Not only a less socially isolated type of work, but also way more financially rewarding. As a signal, a PhD degree is still great. But career-wise can really be a completely waste of time.
(Count7) I would suggest a satifying alternative to the Ph.D. is to get a master's degree in several fields. Ph.D. programs are often so specialized that your knowledge base has limited application in the real world.
(mbmusgrove) I have an MBA and my wife is about to wrap up her PhD in marketing. She is in a University of 30,000 students and is THE ONLY STUDENT in her graduating class. Other marketing PhD classes here have between 1-3 students, and by the time they're ready to defend, that # will probably be knocked down to one or two (historically)as well, due to the difficulty of the program. She'll have her dissertation done in March, graduate in May after 4 years, and an MBA on top of that. I won't say the name of the school because that isn't the focus, which it would certainly become, but it isn't a top 10. She has already signed a contract for a tenure-track position at a major US University for next fall. Her income will be over three times the local per capita, and her schedule is 'flexible' to say the least. She had 14 interviews for a tenure-track marketing position this fall.
(rstanny) We were having exactly this discussion thirty years ago when I took my PHD. They said if we could just hold on till the 90s there would be lots of retirements among the Korean War vets. (Didn't happen--or, if it did, the effects weren't detectable.) My advice is don't do it unless you're both driven to do research or teaching and have a plan for finding happiness coping with the significant probability of becoming flotsam in the struggle for academic survival. If you do decide to try: (1) do not spend anything on your advanced degree except GI Bill money (or other surplus money you could never, ever, possibly need for food, shelter, or other important stuff), (2) do not marry before achieving tenure, except to a tolerant, easily self-employable professional (such as an MD), who will be willing to relocate, several times, to wherever it is you need to go during your periods of academic wandering, and (3) for goodness sake don't marry someone in your field, who will only be job-market competition, and who will probably be as smart as you, not to mention better looking.
(Pebbles8) I was putting in far too much work for the pay and abuse I was receiving and looking at jobs prospects in my small city (I wouldn't want to move since I am married and prize strong ties with my family) it was unlikely I would be able to get one making more than 32k with a PhD. I left with a masters, 4 publications and a more practical outlook on the world. I am now working in research and development at a small biotech company (~40 hours a week) for more than a post doc (at least 60 hours a week) would pay and getting much better job experience than if I had finished the final 18 months of my PhD (probably mainly kissing the behinds of my committee members.
Many of the comments say that the situation must not be that bad since intelligent students are still choosing that path. What they fail to mention is these are intelligent, idealistic 21-23 year olds who have never failed and who think they are they ones who will succeed.
(P.Allen) Unless you are really exceptional, your life as an academic will be hard work. You may not have all that much timetabled work, but you will get referee requests, requests to organise conferences, administrative duties and student problems on top of the timetabled teaching. You will not be judged on your performance in any of these (for promotion: but do them badly and your colleagues will hate you), and only to a fairly limited extent on your teaching performance. To get a promotion or another job, you must do research, and it has to be at least reasonably good and in some quantity. You will not be able to do this on 40 hours a week total. You will need to be thinking about your research at weekends, during your family holiday, over Christmas, and in the evenings as well as 9-5. What's more, you need to accept that maybe 95% of the time you spend thinking will simply consist of finding out that a certain attack does not work - that's valuable information but almost never publishable. You will not be paid well for this: you could almost certainly make twice as much money without working any harder in a finance job.
On the other hand, you are doing it because you enjoy it: it's rewarding to discover something new, it doesn't feel like a 'daily grind' to do research (though writing it up can, and especially rewriting it after the referee report comes back). You have a lot of freedom to choose your working hours, you can work with friends (usually), you can usually get paid two or three times a year to go to some interesting (though usually cheapish) place for a conference and combine it with a holiday.
This is how an academic also expects a PhD student to behave: but you can't really tell by interviewing if your prospective student will work hard enough. You might be lucky, and get hold of an obviously brilliant student who will do well even if they are lazy, but probably you won't. You have to gamble that you get a student who will actually help your research, who will be willing to put in the time making many failed attempts to solve their problem before they finally find a solution, instead of giving up and stopping working (that's common enough). If you get a student who isn't willing to put the time in - well, what can you do? You can be honest, and tell them to quit (but then they may well complain to your boss that you aren't trying). You can try to make them quit by dumping scut-work on them and making it obvious you don't rate them (some academics are not nice people). You can do all the hard work on their problem yourself, and tell them to do the final calculations and write-up (and they will never feel the reward that comes from actually solving something). Or you can let them run on until the funding runs out.
So - taking a PhD student is a gamble. It pays off more often than not, so academics will keep doing it. But if you start a PhD expecting it to be easy, or because you want to stay a student (which means: you don't want to work a 40 hour week, let alone a 60 hour week), or just because you didn't know what else to do - then you will probably be the academic's bad gamble, and there isn't much chance it will go well. At the end, what will your supervisor write for a reference? Either something bland, or something honest, and neither will go far to getting you a good job.
(J2Bryson) Good PhD students are essential to academic research, but bad ones take time and hold you back. Nevertheless they are seen as essential to the prestige & bottom line of our institutions and we are pressured to take them. Still, you are entering into a long-term, close, asymmetric relationship with someone whose career / life you will have profound impact on, so I always try to be honest about the outcomes and to be sure a candidate's motivations are sensible. Maybe consequently I wind up with a lot of mature students who know what the alternatives in life are and are really making an informed choice -- and also already have another career to go back to if they need to. I hate seeing universities recruiting their own best undergraduates to stay directly after graduation -- that is the worst thing for everyone. The students would learn more from experiencing another institution, and if the institution can't attract PhD students from other peer or superior institutions then they don't deserve to have them. One positive note on the economics -- more and more people in my field (AI) are writing grants for graduate research officers rather than PhD students. This allows candidates to be paid more than a PhD stipend and just pay their own fees (which in the UK are quite low for EU students) out of their salary. By the way, one totally incorrect part of the article -- PhD students do NOT bring in funding. WE have to fund THEM. That obligation is what keeps us up all hours writing grants.