Although I can only speak with any real knowledge about my field of chemistry, several comments in this thread should be emphasized:
Originally Posted by Joffrey
Mods please rename thread to, "Don't Go Into Academia". . .
This is certainly the case in the physical sciences and chemistry in particular. I forget the exact number, but IIRC 75% of professors at the top 100 chemistry programs graduated from the top 10 institutions in the NRC rankings. If you don't have credentials, don't even think about an academic job. Even if you have credentials, you're playing the lottery because there are so few jobs available. And manton is correct about the baby-boomers dying on the job. I know of one large state school where 38% of the chemistry faculty are over 70, no longer research active, minimally engaged in teaching, and won't retire. Anyone wanting an academic job should be informed of the odds as early in their careers as possible.
Originally Posted by Gibonius
It is certainly very difficult to get a research professorship. However, you really do stand to gain a lot in the some of the sciences with the PhD over a BS. A lot of fields have a pretty hard ceiling on advancement for people without the advanced degrees, justified or not. There's a very large jump in salary, both average and lifetime earnings, if you complete your PhD. This obviously varies by field, I can only really speak for chemistry. You also get out of grad school with no debt and you make ~70% of the average BS chem starting salary while you're a grad student. Not a bad deal overall, quality of life while in grad school notwithstanding.
It's still chump change compared to more lucrative fields, but that's another story.
+1 to this. It is virtually impossible to go into management with a BS in chemistry and no advanced degree. PhD chemists should view the degree not as the first step to a career as a research professor, but as an entree to a management position. Whether or not there is a better, quicker, or easier path to that position is a different question (and the answer is almost certainly 'yes').
Originally Posted by Dewey
The world definitely needs many, many more Ph.Ds in the sciences.
We also need many, many more Ph.Ds in math.
I can't emphasize those two points enough.. . .
If someone is really interested in a humanities Ph.D. right now -- considering that this means they will finish around 2019 or 2020 -- I think it might not be the worst gamble, in a buy-low kind of way, provided that they are willing to conduct not a national job search but a global
job search. Our BA programs may be matched by more schools overseas, but American Ph.D. programs should retain their edge for another decade or two. Already I am hearing anecdotal evidence that I would be better paid & generally live larger were I to take my humanities Ph.D. & higher ed experience abroad.
I am ambivalent about whether the world needs more PhDs in the sciences since my crystal ball is broken, but I agree that people should think globally, as job opportunities in the US are declining rapidly. For the first time since WW II, the unemployment rate for US chemists (not just PhD chemists) last year was higher than the overall unemployment rate. The pharmaceutical industry used to be the largest employer of chemists in the US, but they are downsizing and outsourcing overseas. If the downsizing turns out to be permanent, then producing more PhD chemists would only contribute to their unemployment or underemployment. Nonetheless, the immediate strategy for anyone graduating with a science degree at any level and wanting to optimize job opportunities should be to search for a job globally (the pharmaceutical industry is moving to India and China).