Career options after a ph.D

Let me first try to dispel the most commonly held myth, "Ph.D is a training to become an university professor". This is not true. If a professor graduates 5 phds in his lifetime, and if all of them get employed in academia, then the size of academia needs to increase five fold. However, this does not happen. The proportion of phds that join academia is not very large, and is definitely not the most preferred option or the last resort.

Before delving into this issue further, we need to understand that a Ph.D is just not a degree. It is the training that is valuable than the actual "Dr." stamp itself. In a good Ph.D, it is exected that the candidate would have engaged in state of the art research. He or she would have understood deep research issues, and would have made a modest effort to solve a few problems. Furthermore, he would be used to putting long hours at work, solve extremely complicated problems, and handle frustrating situations with ease. These skills are just not required to be an academic, they are required in almost all other disciplines such as industrial R&D, finance, and public service.

The addition of a Ph.D to a resume is two-fold: knowledge and skills. Any job can utilize either of these to different degrees. Let us look at the common career options.

Traditionally, the most preferred jobs for Ph.Ds have been industrial R&D Labs, university positions, and start-ups. Industrial R&D facilities typically have large exclusive Ph.D-only groups. These groups engage in research, design new products, and also take part in long term strategy decisions. The average salary in an industrial R&D lab is much more than in pure development centers. In India, research lab salaries are about 50% more. This means that a person with a Ph.D joining a research lab at 27 years of age is significantly better paid than his classmate with 5 years of experience after B.Tech.

Along with exclusive R&D labs, a lot of development centers hire Ph.Ds with more or less research lab salaries. They fit Ph.Ds in their hirearchy by hiring them in relatively senior positions as compared to their classmates who were hired directly after B.Tech. As per the author's estimate, Ph.Ds get a headstart of about 5 to 10 years. This has a significant bearing on the salary structure and the designation.

Since the last ten years, the marriage between academia and start-ups is becoming stronger and stronger. There is a lot of movement between them in either direction. Secondly, start-ups have also become formidable engines of innovation. Consequently, a lot of Ph.Ds join start-ups directly, or join them after some years in academia. Sometimes, Ph.Ds join the university system after working for 5 to 10 years in a startup. They  bring in a lot of new ideas with them in the process.

Another interesting trend has emerged in the last fifteen years. A disproportionate number of Ph.Ds in computer science are joining the finance and business consulting industries. Some of the jobs that they are hired for are analysts, consultants, and auditors. The finance industry uses their superior analytic capabilities and compensates them very well for the services that they render.

Lastly, I should mention that academia has always been a favorite choice of Ph.Ds primarily because of the freedom. Salaries in academia in India have been rising steadily. Considering free accommodation, a permanent job, and all other perks, the salaries are now fairly competitive with industry. Secondly, it is also possible for Ph.Ds to pursue academic job opportunities in other countries also.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is just meant to elucidate the fact that a Ph.D is hired for his superior analytical skills, and for his power to solve complex problems. He has the choice of doing challenging jobs in his discipline or he can move other areas like finance if he so desires. Furthermore, the prevailing salaries in India and a large part of the western world are highly biased in favor of phds.