Smart Ph.D Options to Consider

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Pursing a graduate or professional degree is not the right choice for everyone. A terminal degree requires years of focus and hard work in a very specific area, so one must not only be mentally tough and determined but also highly interested in a particular field. Additionally, there are downsides even for those who successfully complete a Ph.D. or doctoral program including over-saturated job markets, low paying adjunct positions, and limited research funding. However, if you think you’ve got what it takes to be a Ph.D. student there are some smart degree options that offer promising job opportunities and competitive pay.


Epidemiologists monitor and investigate public health problems including infectious disease, chronic disease, bioterrorism, and injuries. They collect data through observation, samples, surveys and interviews. After analyzing information, they develop prevention and control plans. About half of epidemiologists work for local, state, or federal government. Others work at hospitals, universities, and scientific research firms. Epidemiologists earned a median annual wage of $63,010 in 2010 and growth of 24% is projected through 2020.*

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineers design health systems, instrumentation, prosthetic body parts, and artificial organs. The field is experiencing rapid growth- 62% projected through 2020-mostly due to an aging population. Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most biomedical engineering positions, a graduate degree is required for those wishing to conduct independent independent research or advance to more lucrative roles. Biomedical engineers earned a median annual wage of $81,540 in 2010.

Computer and Information Science

The field of information technology offers promising job options for those without a terminal degree, but Ph.D. holders are much less common and therefore have a greater advantage when vying for research positions. Many computer scientists work for the federal government or computer systems design firms, researching solutions to information technology problems or designing new tools and software.  Computer and information scientists earned a median annual salary of $100,660 per year in 2010, and 19 percent growth is projected through 2020. And thanks to the practicality of the field, those wishing to teach and research at the university level can also expect good prospects.

Physical Therapy

If you’re looking to get into the booming medical field, physical therapy is a great option thanks to rapid growth projection and solid pay. The demand for physical therapists is expected to grow rapidly, with 39% growth projected through 2020. Physical therapists earned a median annual wage of $76,310 in 2010. A professional degree is required, in addition to state licensing. A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program generally lasts three years and is designed for those interested in careers as physical therapists. Practicing physical therapists with an interest in research may obtain a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy or Rehabilitation Science. Visit for more information about career and education options in physical therapy.

Deciding to pursue a graduate degree is not something to be done on a whim. A doctoral student must not only be interested in the subject of study, but also accept the risks associated with investing so much time in a degree that is not guaranteed to pay off. But by making smart decisions and working hard, a doctoral student can reap huge rewards throughout his or her career.

* Salary and job growth data from Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013