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I am 35 years old and I've just got a bachelor in Science. I will pursue higher education in Physics but I have my doubts if either a PhD or a master is more convenient for me. My areas of interest are Plasma-Fusion Physics, Condensed Physics, and Applied Physics. If I enter a PhD program, will take me around 6 years to complete it and probably I would be kind of old to take advantage of the other hand If I choose the master (which is shorter in time) probably won't help 'cause Universities and Companies in these areas mostly look for doctors. These are my doubts and concerns. Please help with your expertise.

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closed as off-topic by jinawee, Chris White, Waffle's Crazy Peanut, Brandon Enright, akhmeteli Dec 21 '13 at 19:02

  • This question does not appear to be about physics within the scope defined in the help center.
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about life choices rather than physics per se. Perhaps Academia would be a better fit, or you can ask informally in our chat room (with 20 rep). – Chris White Dec 21 '13 at 18:18
Ah good, I also wanted to close this but didn't want to do so unilaterally. – David Z Dec 21 '13 at 19:29
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I am currently a 5th year PhD student (almost done, I hope) and I would recommend going after the Masters degree. I believe this is a very subjective matter so other answers may be completely different and in the end you're going to have to decide on your own. But I will like to give reasons for my opinion below. I am not trying to persuade you one way or the other but just offering my opinion. This is not to say I regret getting my PhD. I am very happy that I have come this far in my degree.

I have recently started my own job search and I have seen that any job that you want to get with a physics PhD you can get with a physics Masters. So what's the big deal with the PhD? What I've noticed is that your starting salary is higher for PhDs. This is especially true for government positions. A PhD might get you started around 80K where as a masters may be around 70K. The other main difference is that when you take the job with a PhD you can apply for promotions more quickly (perhaps after only 2 yrs on the job), but with a masters it might take longer (4 to 5 yrs). Note these numbers are really for gov't jobs I can't say I have such specific knowledge of the private sector.

Another issue with the PhD is that some private sectors companies will think you are too academic. That you can't think in terms of the real world. They actually prefer the masters degree because this shows you can handle the extra work, and that you're not completely academically minded.

My advice would be to think about what you want to with your PhD. If you think you want to stay in academia then you MUST get the PhD. If you want a private sector job a masters is plenty good. Not to mention, if you start a PhD and find out you don't like doing research you might just want to leave after 3-4yrs with a masters anyway.

I also know that a lot of physics departments will not accept only masters students. So you do have to apply for the PhD program. That is fine. Apply, see how it might love it, but if its not for you I have know plenty of people that leave with their Masters.

Again, this all really depends on how you want to apply the degree.

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It sounds like PhDs don't really pay off, then. – Geremia Oct 21 '14 at 3:26

This kind of advice is always going to vary from person to person, so obviously you should sample everyone's advice here.

Broadly speaking, I would suggest that if you knew in advance whether you would stay in academia or work in industry it would make the decision more straightforward. In academia, at least in my field of high energy physics, a PhD is 100% expected/necessary in order to progress. In industry a masters is often sufficient, but depending on which industry as a PhD you would be in a position to expect a higher starting salary and also more opportunities. If I were you I wouldn't worry about your age if your opportunities would be vastly improved.

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