Job in Google/Facebook or PhD in Stanford/MIT?

Raghuram Sukumar Career 10 Comments

job vs phd

Following Question is posted in Quora.

I got a job offer from {Google/Facebook/Microsoft} and I also got accepted into the PhD in Computer Science program at {MIT/Stanford/Berkeley}. What factors should I consider while making a choice between the two?

Answer 1

I was in your position a year ago – I was 22, had a job offer from Google in hand, and was accepted into the Computer Science PhD programs at Stanford and CMU. After a lot of thought, I chose to go to Stanford. Here’s why:

Academic freedom: This is the big one. I want to have the freedom to pursue the topics that I find interesting without worrying about how they benefit a business. Grad school affords this freedom much more than any company can.

Ownership: I want to feel that my work is my own, and I want to find out what I can accomplish as an individual. This is much easier to do in grad school (or at a startup) than it would be at a large software company.

Exclusivity: Google hires thousands of people per year. Stanford admits around a hundred students to its CS PhD program each year. I think that earning a PhD from Stanford (or MIT/CMU/Berkeley) is more impressive than working at Google for the same amount of time.

Personal freedom: I’m not ready to be chained to an office every day for the rest of my life. I want to be able to sleep and wake when I please, and to work whenever is convenient for me. Google and Facebook give more freedom in this respect than most office jobs, but a grad student still has a lot more personal freedom than a Google engineer.

Ease of switching: If I decide in a year or two that the PhD is not really what I want then it would be relatively easy to find a job. On the other hand, if I had gone to work for Google and realized after a couple years that I really wanted a PhD, I think that getting readmitted to Stanford would be much more difficult.

Answer 2 from Google Employee

I think the question boils down to “Do you want to do research or build things?”

If you want to do research, do a PhD.  Your day to day work will be research, so once you’re done with your PhD you’ll be really good at research. (Although Google could be an option if you want to work on things like  Google Spanner)

If you want to build things, work for Google or FB.  You’ll build things every day, and in a few years will be very good at it.

If you aren’t sure, work on your PhD while you decide.  Switching from academia to industry is easy, but switching from industry to acadmeia is hard.

Over To You

I know several HSB readers have to face exact situation. Some of you will have campus placement jobs and admission from colleges in USA.

I have always said to go for Higher Education.

Action Items

  • Do you have to face such dilemma in your career?
  • How did you pick one and why?



  1. This is purely my perspective and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or sentiments on this.. If the job offer is in India, then please don’t give a second thought not even for a second and go for Phd. The above confusion should arise if the job offer is in US.

    If it is latter, then you need to debate. If you are absolutely clear on pursing academics and have an idea on what you plan to do in research, then opt for Phd. Remember that monetary return might not be immediate and you need patience for them to come. If at a later point of time, if your goal is come to main stream jobs and earn money, then I would say go for job in Google/FB in US. You learn a lot about real world engineering problems, working in collaboration with others, learn management skills and at the same time have time to study on your interested areas along with earning good amount of money.

    I agree others might have different ideas.

  2. This is completely my personal opinion. I came to the US to pursue my PhD after working in India for two years after my Bachelors.
    The point mentioned about the freedom to do what you want to do is actually true to the very core. Industry will always be driven by profit and hence the work will always be tailored or structured to achieve that goal. The very goal of academia is to work on new things and hence the directions to explore and the freedom to do them is plentiful.
    There is another aspect as well. No matter how lucrative the job offer is one should always consider that in today’s world the value of being able to keep options open is the greatest. A PhD will place you in an elite band of people in the entire world because if statistics are looked at we can see what a minuscule percentage of people in this world have an advanced degree that too at the doctorate level. Once done with PhD one can target the industry as well as academia. But the reverse is not at all easy as has been aptly pointed out in the article.
    Another practical aspect that is more than evident to those who have worked for sometime is that once you start earning to garner the motivation to leave that and go into the relative financial downgrading of a graduate student is hard to cope with, especially when the years go by and other responsibilities of life like marriage, kids come into the picture.
    Hence, in my opinion, it all boils down to what your bent of mind is. If you are drawn to academics even in the least bit then do seriously consider giving up immediate financial gain of a cushy job for pursuing a PhD. If you find its not for you, you can always drop and get into the industry with a Masters but to make the reverse a reality is an order of magnitude harder.

  3. don’t be impulsive. you need to be practical. why do we study? to earn. always choose job over education.

  4. Woh job offer in Google vs PhD in MIT/Stanford ! Having the luxury of choosing between these two itself would be a dream come true for me ! That said, I feel that the choice of having to choose between industry and a higher degree is a bit more complicated for non CS branches.
    I rather in this case that the reverse if true, a guy working in industry would be able to go to grad school whenever he wanted, but a PhD/Masters guy may not be able to enter industry as easily. This is because with advanced degrees, the number of positions available to you diminish. That is why many companies prefer to hire freshers rather than Masters or PhDs.

  5. Starting from the day this blog started, this post has been the best ever.
    I expect these kind of posts from this blog. However this blog always heads somewhere else.

  6. Whoa!! Job offers from Facebook and Google?
    And u wanna do Ph. D that too in MIT/Stanford?

    You,sir,are an inspiration. 🙂 🙂


  7. Dear Raghuram sukumar,
    what a nice question and answer , yes certainly if i were in this situation, i will certainly go for PhD, it is not only challenge but way ahead of money and position, it will help me and my fellow humans if i can find some thing awesome and thus helps a better life to one and all, you are one i not only admire but love, cherish, keep coming with new thoughts that will pave a new path, thanks

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