Each person should assess his or her own career goals when considering this decision. If one's goals include conducting research and publishing in academic journals, then by all means go for the PhD. If one's goals include someday returning to academia as a lecturer and/or researcher, a PhD will be an essential qualification.
But if one's goals are to obtain employment in the private sector as a working engineer, involved in the design, development, testing and/or manufacturing of for-profit products, the value of the PhD is less clear, and there could even be some negatives associated with it -- pricing onself out of the market for certain jobs, or giving the impression of being too specialized.
My thoughts on this are from a U.S. perspective and the situation may be quite different in other countries. The degrees themselves are, I think, perceived differently in different countries. It is my impression that it is more common in Europe, for example, to find PhDs working in product development than it is in the U.S.
Frank, I appreciate your points. I think even in the US, perhaps more in Silicon Valley, there are more PhD's working in the industry than in other places.
I spent three years of my life in academia and I do miss it. Working in the industry that too in startups has been more rewarding though not financially!
Max, is the student's name Razi or Ravi? You very well know there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip! Nonetheless, it is that proverbial fork in the road that one comes to in their life time. My generic advice would be to make a choice that gives you the most flexibility to go either way at any stage in one's life!
Let's differentiate "working in industry" from "developing products." At the risk of over-generalizing, I would say ask a member of a U.S. IC design and/or verification team how many PhDs were involved in their last project and the answer will mostly likely be zero. Go to the EDA companies whose tools they used to design & verfiy that IC and ask them how many PhDs were involved in writing & testing that software and again the answer will most likely be zero. But ask them who developed the algorithms that those tools use for logic synthesis, timing analysis, power analysis and automated place & route, and the answer will most likely be "a bunch of PhDs."
@Frank: I agree, it depends on the company and product type. If you step away from the EDA businesses, there are many examples where PhDs are engaged in product development including hands-on coding. Google & Yahoo are great examples where you find an abundance of PhD's doing handson work!
Unless the student is pursuing a career in academia, I can't see the downside of going out into the working world and getting some real, hands-on experience. He will get a better understanding of what it is to be an engineer and what it is he likes and doesn't like about doing the work. It would be a pity to rush into a graudate degree only to find out that isn't at all what you really want to do.
@kfield: I can't see the downside of going out into the working world and getting some real, hands-on experience.
I think it's true that having some real-world, hands-on experiance benefits everyone -- it woudl give the person in question a richer perspective if he/she subsequently decided to return to academia. The big downside is that once you are out in the world earning a wage, it's really difficult to return to an academic environment (unless you are independently wealthy)
In general, my thinking is that people should get as much formal education as they can afford (in money, but also in effort!!). It becomes invaluable later.
Like Frank said, when you ask people who developed the algorithms for all the complicated gadgets they are designing, it will be those with lots of formal education under their belts. So unless you're happy letting others do all this heavy thinking, the closer you can get to that level, the better. IMO. It gives a better understanding of the underlying concepts, and it invariably gives the designer a better perspective, i.e. a better understanding of what can be done in the universe of possibilities.
The downside is that if you go into industry, you will often not be able to exploit all of this hard-earned knowledge. At least, not all of the time. But in my view, it's never wasted. I've never subscribed to the notion that maximizing one's career earnings is all that matters.
Thanks, Bert, for improving my productivity! All I can add is that to get at some of the more advanced development work, it doesn't hurt to have a Master's or even a Ph.D. in some cases (semiconductor process work, for example). Someone else pointed out that Google and other companies hire people with doctorates, such as for the Google[x] team, for some interesting work.
@garydpdx: Someone else pointed out that Google and other companies hire people with doctorates...
The only thing I would add here is that -- over the course of my career -- I've obviously met less-able folks who didn't have BScs, Master's, or PhDs -- and I've met some very clever folks who did have BScs, Master's, or PhDs...
BUT ... I've also met folks with PhDs who I wouldn't trust to turn my kitchen light on when it comes to using common sense ... and I've met folks without any sort of academic qualification who can blow me away with regards to knowing "stuff" and actually getting "stuff" done.
Of course having a PhD makes it easier to get some jobs -- but I really appreciate the companies and managers who look at the person in addition to that person's academic qualifications.
I never had the intention of working in academia but decided to get a PhD in EE and I'm glad I did. For jobs developing new technologies it is much easier to get a job if you have a PhD. Other jobs it doesn't matter. I recommend to your graduate to look at the sort of job he wants and see if the people getting hired into those positions have PhDs or not.
Max, I completely agree with what you have mentioned in the last para: follow your heart (and wallet) :). After graduating in EE (in 1999) I also asked the same questions to my seniors in the industry and in academia. Mostly I got the answer from a person working in the industry favoring higher studies and got the answer from a person in academia in favor of industry. I was really confused. I wanted to do masters and PhD., but was little more concerned about my wallet and thought of checking industry first. I thought I could always switch over to academia later. After I got into the job and started earning, it was always difficult to make a concrete decision to switch over as I became more and more concerned about wallet.
But, I have stronger feeling that I should have done PhD,,,that was what I wanted. But it is difficult for me now, because I can't leave my job. What I feel is if the heart says "do higher studies", it is better to complete it and then join industry, otherwise it would be difficult later.
@Sanjib.A: Really don't know whether the wallet is "bulging" with enough notes or not...always feels less isn't it? :-)
Tell me about it ... they say that money doesn't buy you happiness ... but I think it buys you a lot more happiness than does poverty LOL
At the end of the day I feel really lucky -- I hav ea roof over my head and food in my tummy -- and I have enough money that if I see a book I want on Amazon I can usually afford to buy it -- life doesn't get much better than that :-)
If the last thought about the last written row in the table comes in your mind while thinking or deciding about industries or academics, then you should start knocking the doors of industries as academics is not for these kind of persons. Academics is for delivering if you are on acceptance side better you should think of industries.
I am a Ph.D. in industry. I am here because I made decisons in an emotional state. Now to answer the question, "Ph.D. or M.S.?" If you pursue Ph.D stay in academia. The reasoning is that to pursue a Ph.D. you have a natural mentality to like that environmnt. A Ph.D. in industry is out of place. Your work will be judged by people who do not have the same mentality, ie, mismatch. Secondly, only the largest of the large companies do any R&D. So stay in academia. For the M.S. only track, industry is where you want to go. There you can make more money than a lot of PhD's.
Apart from 'listening to heart (and wallet)' another thing important in my opinion is the timing. Now companies are hiring well, and the economy looks better than what it was during 2008-2009 timeframe. I know some of the PhD guys who struggled to get jobs inspite of having excellent academic records because hiring had stopped in many companies. People also mention that it is best to go to school when economy is not doing good.
My suggestion would be to go for industry now. Maybe work for an year, and decide if that is the cup of tea he prefers and enjoys. If he does not like the Industry culture then he can get back to Academics and anyways he would have earned some money in the one year that can come handy during his PhD days.
Timing constraints aside, I think it's very difficult to get out of school, go into industry, and then jump back in for a PhD. Especially in an engineering or science field. My personal advice would be to stick with academia until you're done with that phase (assuming you do want to go into industry).
Your less formal education will continue for the rest of your career, so that's not the issue. It's the rigor required for a PhD that I'm talking about. It's a lot easier to pick up practical knowledge AFTER you've had your ivory tower existence, than vice versa.
Well I don't really agree with that. I too had taken a 2 year break getting some Industry experience before embarking on higher studies... And I have seen many people who do ti as well. Also, even Professors in many schools look for people with prior experience for RA work. This is especially true when it come to Analog Circuits or VLSI. I think it depends on individual experience on what worked for them and what didn't.
Surely, getting abck to college after working for w while takes a lot of courage and determination. It is certainly not easy. But if it were to be easy, then what is the fun.
In today's world perhaps more than any other time (probably not), quality is second to well money, fame and just producing stuff (sheep get bored quickly so we just have to keep pumping out stuff forthem to buy).
If your choice of real-world experience is little more than hacking something together (when your capable of so much "moire"), then may academia is the best place to stay until you find a company that actual needs quality deliverables. The converse is true as well, your academic institution will very most probably require you to do some teaching (and I hear that can be rewarding), so that is a PRO, isn't it? Your academic institution may also be hoaring themselves out to the local cancer-like company and want you to help them devour what they can. For instance you may be asked by the local attack industry company to help develop a guidance system with the SRS stipulating that although it would be nice if the weapon-of-mass-destruction hits its target, don't worry too much about it since we will be firing it a some third-world country which is surrounded by a few other thrid-world countries so meh!
Sidenote: The Wii joystick is a great device as long you don't mind kids, drunk people and well anyone smashing your $2000 tv. They still haven't added the label "Put the strap on fool or you'll break your....ah who cares we sell tvs as well."
In short I would say follow your heart and do what you feel passionate about (assuming you are passionate about anything other than trying to survive), and hope you don't get a "self-taught" boss who removes the comments from your code because he thinks it bloats the compiled code.