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3 Reasons to Finish Your Ph.D.


By SMU Graduate Studies on January 23, 2020

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Working towards your Ph.D. is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years of commitment, self-discipline, and sacrifice to earn a degree. However, for those who make it to the finish line, the benefits are abundant.

Keep reading to find out why many people find it beneficial to make the commitment to pursue a doctorate and to see it through to the end.

Finishing Your Ph.D. Leads to Better Job Prospects

One of the common misconceptions about graduate school is that a Ph.D. only leads to one career path: teaching and performing research at a university. Although getting a doctorate often does lead to a career as a college professor, that is not your only option. Many Ph.D. recipients pursue other career paths.

The skills in research, teaching, advising, presentation, collaboration, and leadership that you acquire while pursuing a Ph.D. prepare you for a variety of careers and can open the door to these different career paths. In fact, many jobs above entry level now require a graduate degree of some sort and typically start at a higher pay grade because they require specialized skills and knowledge. Earning your Ph.D. may delay your formal entry into the job pool, but as you complete your studies you’re gaining valuable and transferable experience for these highly sought-after jobs.

While a master’s degree can get your foot in the door, a Ph.D. has the ability to increase your salary over time. Some assume the time to complete a Ph.D. strains your earning potential. This may be true during your graduate study since most students are covering living expenses through stipends and grants. However, research conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce demonstrates that those who earn doctorates can potentially earn nearly 20 percent more than their counterparts with only bachelor’s degree over the course of their lifetime. Ph.D. recipients can usually expect to see a return on their investment early in their careers.

Are you just starting to apply to graduate school? Check out our Guide to  Graduate Admissions to get all your questions answered! 

More Opportunity to Perform Cutting-Edge Research

In 2012, the National Research Council reported that 60 percent of Nobel prizes had been awarded to scholars affiliated with American institutions. In order to maintain that caliber of impactful research and take it to the next level, universities need highly skilled graduate students to help them conduct the work.

Research institutions work on grants through the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, and other significant agencies and organizations who are seeking improvements to current methods of operations. As a result, many institutions house impressive state-of-the-art resources (that are difficult to find elsewhere), which allow them to conduct their studies.

Furthermore, those who participate in long-term projects as graduate students learn how to manage complex studies and can take that experience with them when they’re looking for academic or industry jobs.

The Joy of Being Part of an Intellectual Community

One of the main benefits of pursuing a Ph.D. cannot be measured numerically — the enjoyment you receive from being part of a community of people who are pursuing their passion for the same topic and are committed to the pursuit of knowledge. A doctoral program is an opportunity to make friends and acquaintances who share your interests and goals.

The other students and faculty in your program are one part of this community, but, through the networks provided by your program and the professional organizations that serve scholars in your field, you will enter into a larger community that will nurture your interests and intellectual pursuits. Regardless of the career paths they choose after completing their Ph.D., the relationships doctoral students make as part of these communities often stay with them throughout their careers.

Full Disclosure: Not Everyone Will Finish and That’s OK

Many factors can affect your progress towards completing a Ph.D., and some students realize along the way that completing the degree is not the right decision for them. The numbers vary widely from field to field, but, in total, about 75 percent of those who enroll in a Ph.D. program complete their degree.

Although universities are making progress towards being more inclusive environments, the statistics show that women and minority students are still at greater risk of falling through the cracks. For these reasons, it’s important that students have a good network of mentors who can guide them through the challenges and difficult decisions they will face while pursuing their Ph.D.

Graduate schools are working to compile more data on how their Ph.D. degrees function in the private and public sector and are tailoring their programs to make them more effective for the world around us. Once a narrow pathway leading only to a career in academia, a Ph.D. can now take you a multitude of places that can lead to a fulfilling career and many different opportunities.

Are you interested in starting a Ph.D.? Read our comprehensive guide: Choosing, Applying for, and Thriving in a Ph.D. Program!

Read the Guide


SMU Graduate Studies

Written by SMU Graduate Studies


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