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Saturday, January 14, 2017


I'll tell you why I got a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree.  We all have different personal objectives and one of mine was to attain the highest educational degree possible.  I almost went into law, but was never interested in becoming a medical doctor.  I did not realize, though, that this particular badge would enable me to have a life of satisfaction and security not otherwise attainable with anything less.

None of the top five 2016 Forbes billionaires has a PhD.  In fact, #1 Bill Gates ($75 billion) and #2 Amancio Ortega ($67 B) never graduated from college.  Neither did Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Ellison.  #3 Warren Buffet had two business degrees, while #4 Carlos Slim Helu ($50 B) and #5 Jeff Bezos ($45 B) are engineers.

The odds on becoming a billionaire, though, are long, very long.  Dividing 7.4 billion people by 1810 billionaires gives you 0.00002446%.  Or, that is one chance in more than 4 million.  Actually, as of this very moment, there are almost 7.5 billion humans on Planet Earth, but these numbers don't change much.

If you're black without a high school degree, your chances drop to less than 1%, or 1.7% if caucasian.  A graduate degree and your chances improve to 37%.  At 15 Craigside, the odds must be much higher than 50%, for couples need to provide $600,000 just to move in.

Anyway, one does not get a PhD just to get rich.  There are easier ways.  Yet, one reason I went into chemical engineering was because, historically, ChEs got the highest starting salary.  That was the case when I graduated in 1962, continuing to today when Forbes reported that these graduates began in 2016 at $63,389/year (that's the average for all degrees from B.S. to PhD).  #2, incidentally, was Computer Engineering and #3 Electrical Engineering.

In the U.S. three percent of us have a PhD or equivalent.  In the world, closer to 1%.  In 2000 only 1% of those in the USA had this degree, so there has been a sudden inflation.  There is concern that there are not enough jobs for those with these advanced degrees.

The Princeton Review had a report on why you shouldn't get a PhD:
  • tenured-track academic positions are difficult to obtain, and you probably won't be able to live where you want if you do succeed
  • most grad students need to juggle part-time jobs and a tough academic schedule
  • most quit at the masters level
From my experience, add:
  • finances:  I was fortunate enough to get a full fellowship, with a wife working as a registered nurse
  • passing that written exam towards a doctorate was very difficult:  I studied harder in my three years of high school than four years at Stanford, but that year preparing for these comprehensives was by far the most challenging
  • the language requirement was intimidating:  
    • Spanish was the easiest, but many failed this test several times
    • some never earned a PhD because of this lack
    • I chose French because of the romance, never having had this language before
      • spent a month taking a course just to pass this requirement
      • was instructed don't guess because the test tries to fool you
      • answered every question anyway because I always did
      • and, to this day, I don't know what happened, but I passed, mostly through pure luck
    • the foreign language requirement has been relaxed, if not eliminated
  • it takes from 5 to 6 years in graduate school to earn a PhD, but I got out in less than 4
  • however, CBS reported:
    • it takes an average of 8.2 years in graduate school
    • you can get exploited by your mentor
    • only 57% earn a PhD within 10 years of study in graduate school
    • you could end up on food stamps--33,655 in 2010
    • between 100,000 doctoral degrees were award in the U.S. from 2005 to 2009, and only 16,000 new jobs were created
    • only 14% of doctorates in the life sciences land an academic position within 5 years of graduation
    • however, non-tenure track positions now account for two-thirds of all faculty appointments
    • tenure could be eliminated in the coming years
    • openings in industry are also difficult to find
    • the average debt at graduation is $37,000
    • you can write obscure papers that only a handful of people will read, but can't eat prestige

If I had to re-do my life and analyzed the reality, I would have gone to the University of Hawaii and certainly not Stanford.  In addition, if the sugar industry had not supported me to get a graduate degree, I would never have gone on to Louisiana State University in sugar engineering (they had the only such program in the world), which allowed me to shift into biochemical engineering for my PhD.  And, after paying my salary for a year, the C. Brewer asked me to write them an environmental report one summer to forgive everything they gave me.  No wonder they went broke.

But I learned confidence at Stanford, and that there is something beyond just surviving life.  A PhD further bestowed the gall to try to save Planet Earth and Humanity.  If I merely earned a B.S. in engineering at the University of Hawaii I would never have challenged NASA on how best to discover extrasolar planets, write the initial Senate legislation for ocean energy and hydrogen, start the wind engineering program in Hawaii, initiate an international global climate change remediation program (that was a quarter century ago), organize a team to make Hawaii a world lead for marine byproducts and spearhead the coming Blue Revolution.

On the other hand, this blog site, SIMPLE SOLUTIONS FOR PLANET EARTH AND HUMANITY, has miserably failed:  Donald Trump will gut global warming and renewable energy, pushing forth coal and tweeting about environmental hoaxes.  Worse, I seem to have segued into food, travel and entertainment, with occasional, and feeble, attempts at trying to inspire all towards sustainability and peace.  Hey, but I've been around the world more than ten times  (with my next global journey beginning at the end of March) and enjoy a lifestyle and reputation that would not have been possible without a PhD.



Paul Toth said...

I earned a Doctorate in Business Administration and retire shortly after! I love the freedom of retirement.


Yes, retirement is wonderful, the best 17 years of my life.