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Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 6:20 pm
by Tom FT
Hi Everyone,

I currently have a BS in Biochemistry, 1.5 years experience at a CRO, and have worked in an academic lab for 1 year. I would like to work in the biotechnology industry and am deciding which route to pursue. I'm 25 and am well aware of how difficult a PhD can be.

I'm worried about reaching a ceiling in industry with only having a MS. I've seen a previous post from 2006 where there were mentions of ceilings, have things changed?

Thanks
Tom

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Sun Oct 09, 2016 4:30 pm
by Dave Jensen
Tom, over the last decade, the knowledge of the "PhD conundrum" has expanded, and more people are willing to give non-PhD's a chance to move up in their organizations. But, that may still be in other areas, and not R&D. For example, a MS in Biochem/Protein Chemistry might advance to the Director level in Process Development for downstream operations in their scale-up area. Or, to the VP of Manufacturing for a bacterial fermentation process with the right degree. Or in Business positions, sales/marketing, etc. But in hardcore R&D, not as likely. The MS will still be working under a PhD leader in discovery, and this is unlikely to change.

Dave

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2016 9:41 am
by Steven Z.
A PhD can be a very risky endeavor.

First you have all the serious issues in PhD programs with sociopathic PI's who are accountable to noone abusing their grad students and creating deplorable conditions. This forum and many others are full of such horror stories.

Second even if you get through it and graduate you may end up over-educating yourself into a corner. PhD's are having an awful time trying to get a job especially without previous industry experience. Also, there is a large overabundance of PhD's compared to PhD level jobs and most companies won't hire for non-PhD level jobs as they worry you are overqualified and a flight risk. Also, PhD level jobs are highly specialized so if your topic is not relevant to industry you are out of luck big time.

I generally don't recommend getting the PhD in science at all and especially not without getting some industry experience first. A PhD with no industry experience often gets relegated to post-doc purgatory.

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2016 5:36 pm
by Dick Woodward
I think that Steven Z is perhaps overly pessimistic. It is still eminently possible to get a good position with a PhD. I think that the important thing is to determine what it is that you wish to do with your PhD.

The fact is that most people major in science as undergraduates because it is something that they liked and were good at in high school. They get to the senior year and start to wonder what the next step is. For many, they are still interested in science, and are interested in advanced work in research; thus the PhD track. I am not certain how many people starting the PhD actually know where they want to end up, and even if they think that they have a goal at the start, it may not be the same goal 3 years in. During the early years of my PhD studies, I had dinner with one of my classmates. After a couple of glasses of wine, we admitted to each other that each of our goals was to win the Nobel Prize (I doubt that anyone would admit that if they were entirely sober...). Let's see how that worked out. We both got PhDs - I've had a successful career in business and she is a highly rated pediatrician.

The bottom line - the PhD study teaches a degree of intellectual rigor - what you do with it is up to you. However, being convinced that the deck is stacked from the beginning is not a good way to proceed.

Dick

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2016 9:40 pm
by Dave Jensen
Thanks Dick for your comments on this post by Steven. I felt it was way over the balance-bar in pessimism.

Like you, I think it's a personal decision but there are many successful people out there with PhD's. Just came back from Biotech Week in Boston, with 3,000 people in attendance, and so many of them have PhD's and sure seem happy to me. It's a difficult decision, and an important one, but there can be a happy life on the other side of a PhD as well.

Dave

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2016 9:10 pm
by RGM
Tom FT wrote:Hi Everyone,

I currently have a BS in Biochemistry, 1.5 years experience at a CRO, and have worked in an academic lab for 1 year. I would like to work in the biotechnology industry and am deciding which route to pursue. I'm 25 and am well aware of how difficult a PhD can be.

I'm worried about reaching a ceiling in industry with only having a MS. I've seen a previous post from 2006 where there were mentions of ceilings, have things changed?

Thanks
Tom



Tom,

Before you apply for a PhD, quite honestly decide what you want to do with it first.

You have to decide if the opportunity-cost of spending all that time in PhD world and possible Post-Doc land are worth what you could have been doing instead. Such as earning a living, establishing yourself with 20 years of productive, industry work etc etc.

I would advise against the PhD, it will likely limit a person.

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2016 10:19 pm
by M.W.S.
Hi Tom,

I will give my experience as a PhD level scientist (with extensive academic postdoc experience) at a very large international biotech. If you go the PhD route:

1) Pick a project/lab with industry relevance and a PI with industry connections

2) Network with industry experts from day 1 (including 1 on 1 informational interviews and follow up with these people, don't make it a one time experience also use larger networking events that are common to biotech hubs).

3) Seek opportunities to collaborate with companies during your PhD

4) It is a competitive industry and companies can often times find the talent they need in the local community (think about how many scientists want to work in industry and are at top notch academic institutes within a few miles of Kendall Square). What I am trying to say is pick your graduate school/postdoc geography wisely.

MWS

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Fri Nov 04, 2016 3:22 am
by Ana
Different careers require PhDs or not. As Dave said "hardcore R&D" has a strong ceiling for non-PhDs, other careers don't have that problem.

Those degrees can open or close doors depending on the career you are pursuing. You should rephrase your question as "do I need a PhD or an MS to get into career x?"

MWS advice for how to get the most of of your PhD if you want to go to industry is excellent.

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Sat Nov 05, 2016 7:32 am
by Raphael Mueller
Hi Tom,

I have been playing with exactly this question for years and I have made following observation:

a) People worked hard for their PhD and they sometimes for no reason put it in every signature and try to infiltrate it in every "candidate requirements". So it's importance has been artificially raised in certain fields. But HR (sometimes) knows this.

b) When you ask in a science forum for this you will get a biased response. Same thing as if you ask in BMW Forum if you should buy a Chevrolet or a BMW.

With this in mind I can fully support what Dave said:

Dave Jensen wrote:more people are willing to give non-PhD's a chance to move up.... [...]... Or in Business positions, sales/marketing, etc. But in hardcore R&D, not as likely. The MS will still be working under a PhD leader in discovery, and this is unlikely to change.
Dave


I would just like to add the factor "age" into your decision. For laboratory heads the companies usually have a very narrow and "model-CV" hiring process in my experience.
PhD then 2-4 years postdoc in the US (for us here in Europe) in a top lab. Good publications and aged between 30-35.
If you don't fit this box, it will be hard as the other 299 applicants will be eventually closer to this model.

So my recommendation if you can still fit this model and hardcore R&D is really your Nr1 decision go for the PhD.

For other fields such as Sales,Marketing,QA,Clinical Operations there are other ways up. Example: know the right people, deliver, be willing to relocate and change job every 2-3 year & evtl. do in parallel MBA if needed. When you reach a certain level the managers know who you are and they don't care about what you did 10 years ago. This again is outside of hardcore R&D.

Re: Deciding between PhD and MS

PostPosted: Sat Nov 05, 2016 12:05 pm
by RGM
Raphael Mueller wrote:
b) When you ask in a science forum for this you will get a biased response.


This is not an accurate reflection of the responses I have seen here over a number years in my opinion, even before Dave arrived as forum head. There is rarely a push from the majority of responses telling a person to get a PhD.

If anything people here try dissect out from the person the reasons the OP thinks they should or should not get a PhD. I have a PhD, I never tell people they should get one for a variety of reasons.

About the only time I see the majority of people tell the person "get the PhD" is when that person is close to finishing (1-2 yr away).