Why do so many current Ph.D. students and recent PhDs strongly advise against pursuing one?
A Ph.D. is a good idea only if you are interested in seeing the research process firsthand. If not, you are squandering your efforts.
Discouraging a course of action due to a desire to make money is simple. True, a tenured professor usually receives a generous income, a generous retirement plan, and unrivaled job stability. In reality, you won’t become a multi-millionaire in academia unless you are at the very pinnacle of your area, winning prestigious grants and getting advisory posts in academic institutions. You’ll feel at home if your education level is one or two notches lower than this, but a Master’s degree and a job in industry will give you the same level of confidence in your abilities. So, I think an alternative route might satisfy your need to make money. You will likely be dissatisfied with the outcome of this professional path. The money you make won’t reflect the time and effort you put into the work.
Low Job stress
It’s much simpler to provide bad advice if you want to find a job with less stress. Once again, success will come quickly if you are a leader in your profession. You may be able to go right into tenure-track employment after finishing your Ph.D. During this time, you may have to settle for a postdoc job. However, most individuals who want to live this kind of life are forced to take two or more low-paying postdocs before getting a tenure-track position at a medium- or low-tier institution.
There will be pressure to complete the dissertation, write the dissertation, establish a CV, and apply for postdoctoral opportunities. Once you’ve secured postdoc roles, you’ll alternate between focusing on increasing your research output during one year and looking for additional postdoctoral or tenure-track posts during the next. You’ll need to go through this process repeatedly to get a tenure-track job. You will then enjoy a stress-free three to four years, during which you may increase your research productivity. Once that time comes, you may start preparing your tenure case.
The typical graduate student can certainly do all this, but they will encounter plenty of challenges. Even if they are good at their institution, many of fellow graduate students still find themselves unable to cope with the strains and tensions they face. Even if you succeed in landing that coveted tenure-track job, you can be sure that getting there won’t be easy. Many individuals quit throughout the postdoc or tenure-track stages of the job search.
Pursuing a Ph.D. is a good idea if you have always been curious about a particular topic and want to one day contribute significantly to that area or, at the very least, see what it takes to get there. Participating in a Ph.D. program is the only way to get such expertise (maybe some of the current industry giants like Google can provide similar training, but they are few and far between). Understanding what competent individuals have done to push limits and then finding new perspectives on those ideas to make them even farther is a skill you will develop when you spend hours reading over technical concepts in a particular topic.
It’s a thrilling sensation to have those thoughts form in your head. This achievement is on par with developing a novel approach that completely transforms a particular field. Developing new ideas remains the same, even if the outcomes aren’t as significant and will only be comprehended by a small group of individuals.
Even if you fail, if you don’t obtain that tenured post, if you don’t end up working in academia again, you will have experienced something very few people ever do. There is no stigma attached to getting a Ph.D. if you don’t plan on staying in the academic field. But you shouldn’t reveal that in your Ph.D. application; departments don’t take too kindly on that viewpoint; they want to churn out as many academics as possible.