By Tang Lu Wee
Which should you pick?
“But it doesn’t matter which I pick, right?” you say.
“After all, a PhD is easily worth RM500,000 over the span of four or five years and a fresh graduate at a multinational company get between RM50 – 70,000 a year.”
In a way, you’re right. Both opportunities are equal in dollars and cents and reputation in the first couple of years. When you compare the dollar value of a PhD with the first couple of years as a fresh graduate, it would look almost the same.
But what happens years after that?
Let’s imagine for a moment that you have spent another four or five years in college and now have a doctorate’s degree. At the same time, imagine that your best friend from college didn’t get a doctorate’s degree but went straight into a multinational company.
By your best estimates, who do you think will have a bigger chance of becoming a life academic or researcher and who will have a bigger chance of progressing with the corporate ladder?
And who do you think would make more money on their fifth or sixth year after their bachelor’s degree?
Think about that for a minute.
Who do you want to be? You? Or your friend?
What I really want to say is this
If you’ve just graduated with good grades or you think you’ll graduate with good grades, think about who you want to be five or ten years from now. Many people around you will tell you that getting a free PhD is a good bargain.
And in many ways, they’re right. In many countries and for many people, education is not free. However, education does not work in your life alone. Education is often paired with its less apparent cousin: opportunity cost.
What is the opportunity cost of education?
The opportunity cost of education is work experience. The more time you spend on getting yourself educated, the better you are as an academic and the worse you are at a being a manager. And vice versa.
The trick here is to find the balance between education and work experience. How should you divide your lifetime between work and education?
The answer is this
Which do you find most satisfying?
1. Teaching and researching; paid poorly with little career growth
2. Working on business problems; paid highly with a lot of career growth I’m sorry to lay it out so plainly for you but it is the truth that most academics are paid little relative to the number of hours they work. It is only when you love teaching so much that this would not matter to you.
If that is you – that you don’t care about money much and love teaching and researching along with all the administrative tasks that go along with it – then you should pick the free PhD.
But if that is not you – that you do care about money and don’t like teaching and researching or any of the administrative tasks that go along with it – then leave that free PhD on the table for other people who do.
But what if I don’t want to be a Dr. and I don’t care about money?
Then you’d better not be Asian. Because being born Asian almost automatically puts you in a life-time competition of education, salary and position with your close (and sometimes distant) cousins.
But I digress.
If you don’t care about being a doctor or earning a lot of money in a reputed company, then my advice to you is this: work on what you want to be until you fail. Then try again. The path you are thinking of taking is the most rewarding among the three. However it is also the one with the highest risk.
To win, you have to adapt the mentality of a gambler who has lost all his money. Build businesses, projects and movements like you have nothing to lose. Then when you do lose, go back again and do it all over again.
Good grades can open many doors for you. But just because doors are open doesn’t mean you have to enter. You have a choice. You always have a choice.
Just because something is free doesn’t make it worthwhile if it doesn’t fit into your life plans. Even if your family and friends tell
you you are stupid to give up on something free and prestigious, don’t go for it if you don’t care about it at all.
On the other side of the coin, even if something makes you a lot of money doesn’t mean you have to go for it. Dollar values aren’t the only things you should look at when you make decisions. There are many other valuable things not measured by money that you can pick for.
In any case – choose wisely and never let other people make the decision for you.