Take the job or stay for a PhD?

Hi all— I'm here on behalf of my lovely son, as there seem to be a lot of people “in the know” here.

My son is going to graduate in Feb., with honours, with a dual-degree: computer science/computer systems engineering. He's in the top 1% of all undergrads. He's currently an intern at a super-great (industry-leading) place who are promising to keep him on as an intern through March of next year. He is being paid $30 per hour + super (being paid, to learn!).

After his final thesis presentation, he was approached by someone from a uni dept. asking him if he'd ever considered staying to complete a doctorate. Apparently, he can go direct if he has the right stuff in place there (looks very good he does). There is an area there which he is interested in, which is inline with his final thesis on deep machine learning.

He has been told that while pursuing the doctorate, he will be paid a very nice stipend ($30,000) which may actually be increased w/additional uni funding.

Later the same day, he was contacted by a company he'd applied to online (first real job he'd applied to!) & he was their top choice. They have offered him a job with them, starting at $60,000 with increases according to how he does with them. I saw what he did for them for their “pre-test” that they wanted him to code from scratch. He's really good. However, the job will see him only using the one language he hates & there's no one there he can go to as a mentor because he's the only one working on the software-side.

a) neither of us has any idea what sort of bargaining ought to be done on the job side. As a first job, does he just accept what they offer, or…?

b) both of us are trying to decide if staying at the uni would net him better prospects moving forward. I said to him that he may never get this chance later if he begins his working career now. The way education keeps getting slashed, that offer could vaporize by the time he were to try to go back (& how do you work full-time AND do the full workload for the degree?). Also, out of that $60k will be payback of his HECS. So, after tax & 5% to HECS it's only about $45k.

Opinions appreciated. We just found all of this out before the weekend and are out of our depths. After saying it's important & to take time to think it over, the job then said, "we need an answer— in two days"!



  • +4 votes

    As an IT manager, I hate working with academics. In nearly every case, they haven't been able to understand the most fundamental aspects of business. The other few have been able to understand commercial realities and are generally a pleasure to work with.

    Academic IT people would probably do well in designing high-frequency trading algorithms though.. That's worth a lot if you can get into it.

  • +1 vote

    If he's their top choice he probably has room to negotiate on terms (not only limited to salary).

    Is it possible for him to do the PHD then join the company down the line?

  • +8 votes

    60k seems pretty low for someone who is the top 1% of all undergrads. Also what opportunities would he lose if he doesnt go for his phd. He should look into that as well.

    • +2 votes

      That's pretty good for entry level programmer.

  • +10 votes

    In order to succeed in IT one should concentrate on getting commercial experience rather than putting a laminated piece of paper on their wall.


      It isn't just "a laminated piece of paper" on a wall.

      He will be studying with a lot of very knowledgeable people in the field of deep machine learning. Being as that is becoming red-hot right now, he'd be in at the start. As I say above, he'll also get the stipend of $30-40k + tutoring work.



        Look like your son is academic who enjoy studying so he can do his Phd then later down he can get a job in uni as well.
        But if he want to enjoy $$, then its all about experience. 4+ year industry experience can get you $100k job easy, depend where you are.
        As many would say, its a personal preference thing.

        1. by the time he graduates, the technology will be obsolete.
        2. In order to succeed, your son needs to take care of himself, rather than you engaging yourself in these conversations (no offence).
        3. There is not much value in the PHD with 0 commercial experience these days, I would rather suggest to start gaining experience as soon as possible, potentially going for PHD when he's in his 40s or 50s.

        IT is all about experience.


    "As an IT manager, I hate working with academics. In nearly every case, they haven't been able to understand the most fundamental aspects of business. The other few have been able to understand commercial realities and are generally a pleasure to work with.

    Academic IT people would probably do well in designing high-frequency trading algorithms though.. That's worth a lot if you can get into it."

    Not sure what, "not able to understand fundamentals of business" means? Can you elaborate? He'll end up working on whatever he's asked to— it won't be about running a business or such. In fact, what he does will likely mean a lot of solitary work. He's quick & he happens to be a really nice kid— always been sought after when help is needed somewhere.

    "If he's their top choice he probably has room to negotiate on terms (not only limited to salary).

    Is it possible for him to do the PHD then join the company down the line?"

    I thought they'd at least wait until his internship had ended. So, if they need his answer in two days, I would say "no" on them waiting.

    "60k seems pretty low for someone who is the top 1% of all undergrads. Also what opportunities would he lose if he doesnt go for his phd. He should look into that as well."

    That's OUR question. But where do you get that answer? He's trying to arrange a few meet-ups with people at uni he trusts & respects. Hopefully, someone will be able to better guide him. In my gut- I want him to go for the PhD, while the money is on offer. It's only $200 per week, but that'll help keep our bills paid. He also will have tutoring work at uni, he was told. That, could be anywhere from $80- $140 per hr. & probably about 8 hrs. per week.


      200 + 80*6 AVG week tutoring is 640 a week

      No matter what you tell him chances are he already knows. Try the coin flip trick, heads PhD, tails work. If he is disappointed at the result go the one he wanted.

      I would go the PhD personally with some night work in a club.


      Doing a PhD is very stressful and takes a lot of time. I don't recommend doing a lot of paid work during PhD. Tutoring is valuable because you have to learn the theory before teaching people but it also takes a lot of time to prepare. I did a lot of teaching as I had a family to feed and it took me longer to finish as I had to convert to part-time eventually.
      It's not like uni where you can study and do paid work.
      I say start the PhD and try to finish it as soon as you can without doing a lot of paid work.
      I did mine in life sciences so it may be different than IT but the basic principle is it's Piled Higher and Deeper, and it's very stressful.
      However, positives outweigh the negatives when it's all done.
      Hope this helps


        And $30K+ stipend is very good and it's tax-free


    Given your son is doing so well I’d encourage him to go for the PhD. Work can wait, if they want him now, they’ll want him even more later. Also 60k for a top 1% student seems a little on the lower side. Yup all signs point to PhD.

  • +7 votes

    Your son has a lifetime of working ahead of him. New work opportunities will present themselves in the future. Do the phd.

    Source: I have a cert II in hairdressing at Kangan TAFE


      BEST comment!

  • +1 vote

    The PhD in deep machine learning has a lot of practical applications. I recommend this option because many job opportunities will present itself afterwards, including academia if he decides he wants to pursue this pathway after the PhD.


    I have a friend who literally went through this exact same scenario.

    My friend was working whilst studying and was on a decent salary. He really enjoys research so it was a no brainer for him as he went for the PHD.

    Its a personal preference thing. If he enjoys studying/research then I'd recommend doing a PHD as you dont get any other opportunities in your life to be able to live off $30k a year for at least 3 years.

    He will also travel a lot for conferences which seems like a fun part of it. But in saying this, a PhD is a huge commitment

    Also, I think $30k per annum is actually tax free for PHD students which makes it closer to being on $40k if that makes you feel any better.

  • +1 vote

    OP, how old is your son? I respect the fact that you want to guide him in the right path that might get him the best possible future' but the decision is his to make, not yours.

    Have you tried having a conversation with him? What is his preference?

    • +1 vote

      To build on this - does he love learning concepts - or does he see his learning as a means to secure a job (if so, what job). It sounds like he needs to answer some higher order questions before deciding on this junction.


        I'm not sure if "love learning concepts" is apt, but he learns easily. Most of what he's had to do has been "a pain in the butt" as usually the people requesting have less know-how than he does. He just puts his head down & does it. Well.


      We've done nothing BUT talk about it. He appreciates & seeks my advice. He's 23. He's not sure what to do, which is why I've posted this here & at other venues to gage the gut reaction of many as a way to see what the general consensus is. I've forwarded this thread to him. The decision is his & he knows I'm behind him, either way.


  • +1 vote

    I have a PhD in Engineering. PhD graduate would typically end up in Research or as a Uni Academic.
    Companies that employ a Bachelor graduate would probably not want a PhD graduate in the same position
    but may have other positions available. I found that the critical issue was gaining work experience for a few
    years before doing a PhD. Also there are typically more PhD 'vacancies' available than graduates wanting to join.

    A PhD is a personal achievement thing. Uni Depts cannot survive without PhD students. A huge proportion are International students.


    I would recommend the PhD too. Hurts to do more work with up to 3x less pay for 4 years but it's worth it in ge end and the ceiling is much higher.


    pretty much recommend doing a PhD, I'm doing my PhD in medical imaging / deep learning as well while working, shoot me a pm if you want to have a chat :) In saying that, just be cognizant that PhD is a huge commitment and your son will be overqualified for most entry level jobs after he graduates, BUT, machine learning is hot and there's ample opportunities out there because the Australian IT industry is in its infant stages in terms of ML/AI applications.


    With his chosen field I think he will have a lot to gain by pursuing his PHD. A lot of people will tell you its hard to attain this later in life while working at the same time.

    Most top tier jobs nowadays have a PHD as highly preferable so it will do him good in the long term.

  • +3 votes

    I work in product and software development as an engineer.

    Tell him to find a job and work as a junior software engineer, developer, systems engineer etc.

    Doing a PHD is a waste of time in this industry. My company trains people in AI, so there's little point in doing a PHD. Microsoft, Atlassian, Google, Resmed, GE, Pfizer, Symantec, Philips, Exxon, Dell, HP all do the same type of internal training. I know you are trying to help him, but it's best you stay out of his decision making, because parents seem so focused on money.

    The first salary is irrelevant. If he's good, he will get promoted and earn more. You can't expect a company to pay him more just because he did well at university. The best students aren't always the best workers. If your kid can't handle an agile sprint then he is useless to me.

    He can do the phd in a few years time if he wants to. He might not like the pressure one would face in a development setting with managers breathing down your neck and your every move watched on boards like Jira.


      I'm not focused on money so much as knowing that once he goes off into the workforce, the time required (should he later wish) to pursue a PhD will be much harder, maybe impossible.



        the time required (should he later wish) to pursue a PhD will be much harder, maybe impossible.

        Not true at all. My cousin did a PHD in computer science at 40 with 2 kids and a wife. He did it part-time.

        Why do you want him to do a phd anyway? Try not to give your opinion if you don't know the industry.

        He doesn't need a phd to be successful in the workplace.


    Your son sounds very switched on! In my view a PHD is an extremely big commitment for something that doesn't necessarily result in better employment prospects down the road. unless he is interested in pursuing a career in academics, then getting real life experience would trump the 3 years of pressure he would be placed under to complete his thesis.

    it really is up to his goals at this stage. does he see him self working at uni? does he enjoy teaching? these are some questions you may want to ask. Long-term, academic positions are also very competetive. He does seem to excel in this area, however it is riskier to pursue employment in this sector (which is headed towards casualisation) than it would be to move into other work due to limited number of roles.

    Not sure of his history, but another factor to consider is that phd students are more likely to suffer significant mental health challenges. this may be a non issue for your son, but i thought it worth mentioning.


    Things to consider:

    1. Will he regret not doing a PhD in the future? It's usually hard to go back to research. If he makes the cut now, he should do fine in the future. I have mates who completed their doctorate working for Amazon and Google.

    2. There are some reports that PhD will be useful. The Australian and NOUS.

    3. Westpac has a scholarship for PhD students which would help your son keep a foot in the industry

    Source: A suffering PhD student


    It really depends on what your son might enjoy more, because he's going to be stuck doing it for at least a few years (any less and it'll look bad to any future employers/universities).

    If he is in the top % of his cohort, in such an in-demand field, I would think that his prospects going down both paths will be equally bright, but caution says to take the job now, because while PhD be valuable for his career also - that career is the ultimate goal unless he wants to stay an academic.

  • +1 vote

    I'm not in the same field, but as someone who had been in uni for 7 years, having done a little bit of research during and after finishing my courses, I would highly recommend taking the job option. Many friends, in multiple different fields, who have taken the research pathway (Honours, Masters, PhD) seem to be struggling to find employment opportunities despite being highly 'qualified' (academically). Given universities no longer have capping of student numbers, with more and more graduates entering the workforce, the bottleneck in transitioning from study to work will only get worse.

    I think your son sounds like he will succeed no matter which option he chooses. In my experience, a PhD will almost always be available should he wish to pursue it later on, especially given his good grades, but the same job opportunities may not be. The best of luck to your son and his promising future!


    Thank you— ALL of you for your input.

    I'm forwarding this thread to my son.

    I'll let you know what he decides.



    A few things to add:

    1. Let him make his own decision so that he won't end up blaming you if it doesn't work out in the end. (It's his life after all.)

    2. It may actually be harder for someone with a post graduate degree but little work experience to find a full-time job than a fresh graduate with only a bachelor degree because many employers would see the applicant with a higher degree as being over qualified for an entry level job but not qualified for a more senior position for the lack of relevant experience.

    3. Doing a PhD requires a strong desire to answer that one question you choose as the topic of your thesis. It's a very lonely experience as you're essentially working alone with your supervisor. Can't even bounce ideas off your fellow PhD mates.

    4. Doing a PhD also means that he might end up as an academia (which can be competitive). He needs to decide if that's what he wants. (Although depending on his chosen topic, there might also be opportunity in the commercial world post-PhD.)

    5. If the uni wants him as a PhD student now, they (or another uni) will probably still want him a few years down the track.

    6. He might also consider if it is an option to do the PhD part-time. (Yes, it's gonna be tough to juggle a full-time job as well as a part-time PhD, but it would offer him the best of both worlds if he can pull it off.)

    7. Even if he does decide to do the PhD full-time, it would be helpful to try to gain as much real-world experience as possible (be it more internships or get on projects that are jointly run/funded by uni and commercial organisations).

    8. As for the 60k job. I would have thought 60k is pretty good for a fresh graduate (although I don't know what the going rate in the IT field is). However, to be stuck using the one language that he doesn't like does sounds like a cause for concern. First, he'll be stuck with that while he's in that job. Secondly, he might be pigeon holed into being a specialist in that language and limit his options when it comes time to look for the next job (which is very likely to be in a few years time since it doesn't sound like there is any room for him to grow in that organisation either).

    Source: My own experience.

    I was offered the opportunity to do a PhD when I finished my undergrad. Decided to gain some work experience first (already got a job offer by then). Started the PhD a year or so later (as I didn't like the work I was doing) but ended up quitting a few months later because I realised I didn't have that quest towards the question I was to answer and the prospect of spending the rest of my life in the ivory tower scared me (+ facing some personal issue at the time, which I won't get into). Instead, I rejoined the workforce and did lots of professional study alongside work (had close to no leisure time for a few years). A good few years later, I did the opposite - studied for a master degree full-time while working part-time.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine started his PhD after having worked for a few years. He is now an academia and am loving it.


    PS: I'm in no way making his decision— it's all his.

    What I'm doing is finding the pro's/cons of each by posting here & elsewhere, allowing those with possible experience to weigh in.

    He's also contacting people he respects at his uni & internship to get their feedback, too.

    Thanks all



    If it was any other field I would say take the industry job.

    In this case, take the PhD. I see it opening way more doors (and even ones into other industries as well).

  • +1 vote

    Hi all, as promised, the decision. He has decided to take the position.

    All we can do is guess, but he thinks it'll allow him to see what a real job entails, I agree. He emailed back a counter-offer of reviewing his salary every six months— the only change. There were 50-75 applicants.

    He spoke with the main owner & was told that he was clearly head & shoulder above the others. Keep in mind my son does NOT code in C#. Still, he simply adjusted & wowed them. The owner said that the person who devised the test was impressed. So, it may be my son can improve what they've thought was good.

    I'll leave you with his letter, received before his decision. I'm as proud as I can be. He is a great person, honest, kind, sweet, crazy-funny, & completely non-bigoted.

    You really impressed us during the hiring process. It was our aim to find a pragmatic, talented, ethical and motivated grad who I think tops an average senior dev every time. We had a very strong applicant group and we’re fortunate to have a number of people fit that criteria. The fact you stood out above the others is something you can be proud of. XXXXXXXX would like to offer you a role as Software Developer, we are still writing up the contract but have included the key elements below:
    - $60,000 salary plus super
    - Perth CBD Office, flexible working arrangements
    - Standard 4 weeks annual leave plus public holidays
    - Start date is somewhat flexible but we would want you on board before your XXXXXX internship finishes.

    In addition we are offering performance incentives including:
    - 12 Month pathway to achieve a salary of 70k by hitting agreed targets (we can negotiate these, they will be reasonable but require some stretch beyond a normal grad’s expectations)
    - XXXXXXX employee incentive scheme which rewards staff when the business does well (essentially a profit share with equity offered to staff)

    I understand you have a few jobs applications on the go and I am guessing we wouldn’t be the only business keen to offer you a role. I’ll try to put my mentor hat on here and be unbiased, it’s important to all parties that you make the right choice and commit to it. What we can’t offer:
    - Exposure to the widest range of languages and technology stacks
    - A ground up development project
    - Enterprise style software delivery experience
    - On premises senior mentors

    That said, I think there’s some distinct advantages of the role with us
    - More immediate impact on the product and the business effect
    - Greater autonomy in development decisions, methods etc
    - A high level of input into architectural decisions
    - Exposure to the whole team including the exec managers within a successful SaaS startup
    - A higher, altruistic purpose (reduce the environmental impact of buildings and infrastructure)


    I found myself ina a very similar position even though a different field.
    It is a completely mentality…working for a company or doing PhD research. PhD might sound not as safe or reassuring as research dou…
    work might get you good carreer and a good paycheck…but i feel the satisfaction of further education and PhD research has a different effect on you rewarding area of the brain! lol