To Do (PhD in Bioinformatics) or Not To Do? That is the Question

To Do (PhD in Bioinformatics) or Not To Do? That is the Question

Reader Mark asks:

I have a Masters in bioinformatics. I have been accepted to several top 10 programs for PhDs starting in the fall but have a full time job paying ~$80K a year. I am about to be 28 and am very torn between whether or not I should do the PhD at this stage in my life or not.

I have no interest in academia, I want to be in industry for life, and would only use the PhD as a stepping stone to a higher level position than the “technician” (actually my title is scientist, but I understand that it’s basically a technician/specialist ceiling with a masters) role that I am delegated to. I want to be a director of research or a VP in industry not some academic developing algorithms and earning $70-80K my whole life.

What the hell do I do?

Instead of telling you what to do, let us list various things to consider:

A. Opportunity cost

You are currently earning $80K/year and salary may increase to $90K over the next four years even in your supposedly ‘stagnant position’. A PhD program will give you ~$25K of stipend. If your PhD takes four years, the opportunity cost of doing it is ($85,000-$25,000)*4 = $240,000 minus taxes. If PhD takes five years, you are down by $300,000 minus taxes. Also, your professor will most likely ‘encourage’ (sell) you a post-doc after your PhD, because that is how most professors got their academic jobs. That will add another $60K to your opportunity cost. Can you instead save $360K (minus tax) over 5-7 years, and start a business related to what you are doing?

B. You Will Meet Many Smart People in Universities

Biggest advantage of joining a PhD program is to meet smart kids, who are thinking about potentially game-changing solutions to today’s (or tomorrow’s) problems. You may start a business as in ‘A’, but that business needs bright ideas to succeed (not a necessary condition).

Good example: Moleculo story

C. The Academic System is Run through Government Grants

Most frustrating aspect of academia is that it is run by government money, and that makes life miserable for those who are enterprising. You will find that very few professors are spawning biotech companies like Steve Quake or George Church, and most see business world as something undesirable. So, your future goal (‘I want to be a director of research or a VP in industry’) may not fit well with your PhD adviser, who sees yourself as a post-doc in lab next door.

The best way to make your decision is to talk to few students, who are about to finish their PhDs in bioinformatics or already completed it. If any of our readers are in similar position, please advise Mark on what you see as pluses and minuses of doing PhD.

Written by M. //