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[D] Doing a PhD is not worth it unless exception circumstances exist

This is a throwaway account since I don’t wish to reveal my affiliation.

I am currently a PhD student at one of the top 10 groups in ML in the USA and am loving my studies and really wouldn’t want to be doing anything else at this current moment. Given this, it’s an extremely specific set of circumstances that led me to do a PhD. To be blunt, outside of top tier programs, I don’t see any benefits of doing a PhD. I have interned at a top company and every single employee I worked with had come from the same set of about 50 labs, with many publications in the same top 3 conferences. I have realized that there is a very small set of (extremely) high paying research jobs for a very small selected amount of outstanding PhD graduates. Publications in theoretical ML are also dominated by a very small amount of universities and groups and if you are not in one of these groups you are unlikely to ever come close to these conferences.

If you are offered a PhD in a group that does not have consistent excellence in the top tier ML conferences, you do not have a shot at these research scientist roles (where we hear about the 300k+ salaries in ML). Everyone else I have seen has ended up in very traditional data scientist roles that could have been easily gained out of a masters or undergraduate degree. These roles do not require the research skills that we spend 4-7 years learning during a PhD and these research skills could even be a detriment to most commercial applied ML roles (since most of them are engineering oriented). Work experience is also extremely valuable in these roles and can present opportunities for raises that double your salary in the equivalent time to complete a PhD.

I hear a lot of “I have a PhD/MSc in a related field” on this forum, but these credentials do not honestly carry any weight in getting the top tier research jobs that the media likes to discuss. Do a PhD because you would love to make major theoretical contributions and have a supervisor that has the ability and track record to guide you to those contributions. If the right formula exists, the money will come also.

As a side note, concerning PhD admission, I also hear here that publications are not essential. In the current year, almost every admitted student had a top tier first-author conference publication during undergraduate studies. It is absolutely essential without interning at your target lab for 1+ years before applying.

submitted by /u/FutureWatch4
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