Best Doctoral Degrees that can set you for life


Overall, the highest paying PhDs can not only give you the opportunity to secure higher PhD stipends and research fellowships and funding, they can definitely help you transition to the industry by making you eligible for lucrative jobs that need your particular skill set. Such PhDs can help you attain more credibility and say in an innovative team as well as quicker opportunities up the ladder.

The table below enlists 51 highest paying Doctoral Degrees. You can sort and search the list to view the highest PhD stipend in your field of study.

Whenever we are deciding to take a new path in our life-especially the one that can impact our future greatly-we try to consider the best options. However, every best option out there cannot be the best for everyone. When we graduate with our bachelor’s or master’s it is perfectly okay to think about the next step in the academic ladder-the PhD.

Your love for your subject is a good thing, however, pursuing a PhD can be greatly due to a certain post-PhD outcome in mind.

With many complaints out there of PhD grind and lack of proper job prospects for PhD graduates, it is good to be cautious before taking the PhD path.

Interested in joining industry after PhD: What Employers Really Think About PhDs (Rumors VS Reality)

There can be many reasons for today’s grueling job market for PhD graduates. We can blame the government or the state of how we as a society value science.

Still, every aspiring PhD applicant wants to secure his/ her future and would like to pursue the field with a little bit more certainty. Especially when the post-PhD career is uncertain both intellectually as well as occupationally.

We all want to secure our future and if you are like me and belong to a middle-class family. You must consider the PhD path deliberately.

So why is a PhD all about “Uncertainty”?

Let me explain with data from Nature PhD Survey- 2019.

Here are a few statistics that indicate the financial suffering of PhD students as well as graduates

  • 79% reported uncertainty about job/career prospects
  • 67% reported deep concern for financial worries after PhD (cost of living, inability to save for a house, children, retirement)
  • 70% PhD students reported concerns about available faculty research jobs beyond post-doc contracts.
  • 31% reported uncertainty about value of their PhD
  • 63% reported PhD and academic research funding climate discouraging and 41% expect the academic salary to be too low.

Discover More: 25 Highest PhD stipends in the US

If you are a recent graduate, you are in your prime years or in your defining decade. Your interest in your major or master’s does matter but being a middle-class student you must think about how well you take care of finances. This is certainly crucial in today’s market with PhD holders struggling to get hired.

Further Readings:

So Google as much as you can and ask as skeptically as you can about the PhD and what you can make out of it.

I compiled this list of best PhD degrees-both by PhD stipends as well as Post-PhD salaries. I took great care in

  • setting and measuring the PhD stipend actual worth when compared to the living cost in the region.
  • sorting out best Post-PhD positions that you can get hired for after graduating.

I agree that PhD is not about the money you earn. Still there is no harm in considering lucrative PhDs that can secure your life.

Although nothing is guaranteed and life works in unpredictable ways, these PhDs are most likely to secure your future. At least numbers from job growth rate are saying so for these PhDs.

Chart 1: Highest Paying Doctoral Degrees – By Post-PhD Salary

Three points to note in this post-PhD salary chart are

  • PhDs that pay best have much higher salary than average starting salary in these professions with a bachelor’s degree.
  • These PhD degrees can get you hired for many lucrative positions and someone with a bachelor’s degree may not be able to get this level of compensation.
  • Some people can attain these levels of compensation and can get promoted for these roles, however, we also need to consider further growth potential in the career.

A PhD in the following fields can really give you an edge in yearly growth, thus, leading to higher lifetime earnings.

Read More: Which country pays PhD students the best?

“To be fair, there are valid reasons to reject candidates based on their advanced degrees and training. A Ph.D. holder in a low-level job is less likely to embrace that role for life, and no one wants to hire a candidate who might leave soon.”

When Ph.D. stands for Problematic Hiring Detriment

Chart 2: Best Doctoral Degrees -By PhD stipend

Many people argue the opportunity cost of pursuing a PhD. I agree with that side of the argument too.

In fact, I have written and spoken in many places that the opportunity cost of a PhD is really high. Also, it’s really hard to prove the “what-if” factor. What if the person with PhD has pursued a more lucrative path or got hired in a growing industry.

In such a case, we may not be able to justify pursuing a PhD.

However, by looking at higher PhD stipends in some of the most lucrative and indemand fields we can see that the opportunity cost may not apply in these cases.

The reasons opportunity cost argument may not hold in the case of highest paying PhDs are

  1. These PhD degrees with best stipends out there are still compensating more than $67,690 (the average living wage in the US).
  2. The desire to explore a certain topic in your field and answer a particular query for 4-7 years or more may be much more for you than mere high compensation for your work.
  3. The desire to work in your topic of interest and not grind in a 9-5 job may be more stronger than the high earnings in your prime years (20s and 30s).
  4. The life time higher earnings for PhDs in the best doctoral degrees might let you get ahead in terms of early retirement(the effect can be reverse too) and other benefits you can get from PhDs in these lucrative fields.
  5 Reasons To Do A PhD In Germany And Settle There?

Below you can see the highest PhD stipends offered as well as the real worth of a PhD stipend in terms of living cost.

PhD stipend to living wage ratio is a number that can let us determine how higher a PhD stipend is above the minimum living wage in a particular region.

The higher the value of PhD stipend to living wage ratio is the higher the real worth of a PhD stipend. So please take a close look at the red line to notice the real purchase power of a PhD stipend.

The benefit of a good PhD stipend to living wage ratio is that you can justify the opportunity cost of pursuing a PhD, especially in financial terms.

I explained the PhD stipend to the living wage ratio in detail here.

Read More: Do PhD students make a lot of Money?

You can compare these stipends amounts with salaries you are now getting with your bachelor’s or master’s degree. The comparison may help you make your decision in pursuing your PhD.

“The discovery that you’re overqualified for many advertised jobs often comes as a rude shock.”

Moving down the career ladder

Read More: Problems that PhD Students Face

PhDs prepare you for very versatile careers so do not consider yourself limited by certain roles and job positions.

I researched these jobs carefully that can really make the most out of your PhD degree. There are many more out there and you just need to search in your particular field what kind of profession you can get into.

The table below shows these top-paying PhDs, their PhD stipends, and the high-paying jobs after completing these degrees.

The idea here is to not guarantee that you are set for life, life will always bring its ups and downs. You may not be the person 4-7 years down the road or the market may change.

However, the intention is to really think about your PhD and what options can it give you down the road.


Highest Paying Doctoral Degrees

PhD
Highest Reported 1st Year PhD Stipend
PhD Stipend to Living Wage Ratio
Post-PhD Position
Median Post-PhD Salary (2022)
Neurophysiology$52,0001.8Psychiatrist$218,000
Computer Science$62,0002.7Software Architect$127,000
Geological Sciences$50,2201.8Petroleum Geologist$107,000
Physics$80,8163.1Nuclear Physicist$104,000
Comparative Biomedical Science$52,0002.3Patent Agent$101,000
Immunology$35,0001.5Immunologist$100,000
Pharmacology$57,3752.4Pharmacologist$98,000
Data Science$37,0001.5Data Scientist$97,000
Civil Engineering$43,7001.6Engineering Project Manager$96,000
Neuroscience$52,7041.9Neuropsychologist$95,000
Business Administration$39,4002.0Management Consultant$90,000
Earth and Planetary Science$43,3001.6Astronomer$90,000
Chemistry$55,0001.9Materials Scientist$89,000
Earth, Energy & Environmental Systems
$46,0001.6Energy Manager$89,000
Biochemistry$41,9001.4Toxicologist$88,000
Biotechnology$34,0001.6Product Designer$86,000
Statistics$43,0001.5Quantitative Analyst$85,000
Aerospace Engineering$38,2001.5Aerospace Engineer$85,000
Nursing$30,8001.4Clinical Nurse Manager$85,000
Clinical Psychology$60,0002.7Clinical Psychologist$83,000
Criminal Justice$30,0001.3Cyber Security Analyst$83,000
Internal medicine$47,4872.2Medical Scientist$82,000
Operations, Information and Decisions
$37,0001.5
Information Technology (IT) Consultant
$81,000
Genetics$50,0002.1Geneticist$79,000
Entomology$44,2911.8Healthcare Consultant$79,000
Economics$48,0002.0Economist$78,000
Electrical Engineering$41,9101.5Electrical Design Engineer$78,000
Computational Biology$37,7501.4Biostatistician $78,000
Chemical Engineering$48,0001.7Chemical Engineer$77,000
Oceanography$38,1441.4Marine Surveyor$76,000
Molecular Biomedical Science$48,0002.1Medical Writer$75,000
Education$49,0001.8Policy Advisor$75,000
Mathematics$47,2801.7Operations Research Analyst$75,000
Management & Organizations$37,6001.6Business Development Manager$75,000
Finance$41,0001.4Financial Manager$75,000
Material science$49,6401.7Process Metallurgist$74,000
Mechanical Engineering$46,5002.0Industrial Production Manager$72,000
Political Science$40,6001.6Public Relations Manager$72,000
Biomedical Informatics$45,0002.1Biomedical Scientist$71,000
Ecology$39,0001.8Senior Ecologist$70,000
Biomedical Engineering$71,0003.3Biomedical Engineer$69,000
Agronomy and Plant Genetics$48,4262.1Agricultural Engineer$68,000
Engineering Education$52,6952.5Education Consultant$67,000
Environmental Engineering$48,0002.0Environmental Engineer$67,000
Epidemiology$41,2001.4Epidemiologist$67,000
Brain and Cognitive Science$38,2421.4Behavior Analyst$64,000
Atmospheric Science$42,0001.9Geospatial Analyst$60,000
Anthropology$40,0001.5Clinical Social Worker$60,000
Organismic and Evolutionary Biology$39,2001.4Environmental Consultant$59,000
Plant and Microbial Biology$41,9501.5Soil Scientist$57,000
The table enlist top 51 highest paying PhD degrees. The PhD stipend as well as Post-PhD Salary for Highest Paying PhDs may vary from the average mentioned here.

Source: PhD Stipends, Payscale.

Read More: 5 Common Questions Applicants ask about PhD stipend?

“For most jobs, a PhD is unnecessary. I, and many of my PhD friends, dropped the title soon after our release into the real world. The initial buzz of having Dr. before your name dims with time, and using the title in a non-academic context exudes more than a whiff of self-importance.”

Is a PhD the right option for you?

Discover More: Is Getting a Ph.D. Worth the Financial Cost of Graduate School?

Overview of Careers in Highest Paying PhDs

1. PhD in Neurophysiology

Neurophysiology studies the nervous system and its functions. It answers the questions of how different components of a nervous system works together. Neurophysiology studies neurons, their functions as well as communications between them.

Other than high-workload-low paying academic post-docs a PhD in neurophysiology can get you into very lucrative careers such as

  • Psychiatrist
  • Clinical Neurophysiology Specialist
  • Program Manager in Psychological Pathology
  • Intraoperative Neuromonitoring Technologist
  • Surgical Neurophysiologist

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Neurophysiology = $52,000

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Psychiatrist = $218,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 13% from 2020- 2030 (drastically much higher than other physicians and surgeons)

2. PhD in Computer Science

Computers science is the study of automation and information. It has changed the world in the past few decades and this field is not going down in near future.

  What should I do after doing a PhD in the UK?

In fact, it is likely to be the cusp of innovation in the 21st. Computer science has various subfields such as hardware systems and programming languages and with a PhD in computer science, you can specialize in any of them.

There are many pros and cons of a computer science PhD and only you can determine whether it is best for you or not.

Read More: 7 Reasons to Go For a Ph.D. In Computer Science

Other than high-workload-low paying academic post-docs a PhD in computer science can get you into very lucrative careers such as

  • Quantitative Risk Modeler
  • Software Architect
  • Quantitative UX Researcher
  • Computer Vision Engineer
  • GPU Performance Engineer
  • Computational Mathematician for Scientific Computing
  • Decision Scientist

Further Reading: How Much Will You Earn With a PhD in Computer Science?

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Computer Science = $62,000

Median post-doc salary for Computer Science = $64,932

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Software Architect = $127,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 22% for Computer and Information Research Scientists (much faster than average for all occupations.

Further Reading: What is life like for PhDs in computer science who go into industry?

3. PhD in Geological Sciences

Geology works along with many other sciences such as physics and chemistry to understand the making as well as the history of our planet. Geology helps us study the phenomenon which shapes our earth like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and soil erosions due to rivers. Geological science also explores materials on Earth to locate useful resources like natural gas and oil.

Other than high-workload, low-paying academic post-docs, a PhD in geological science can get you into very lucrative careers such as

  • Petroleum Geologist
  • Process Mineralogist
  • Paleontologist
  • Economic Geologist
  • Hydrogeologist

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Geological Science = $50,220

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Petroleum Geologist = $107,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 7% from 2020-2030

4. PhD in Physics

Physics is interested in understanding the properties and phenomenon of matter with respect to space and time. It explores many fundamental questions about the physical nature of everything around us. Physics also explores the nature of energy and how it is converted into other forms.

“… Don’t get a physics PhD because you want to be a physicist; get a physics PhD because you want the experience of earning a physics PhD.”

To PhD or not to PhD (in Physics)

Other than high-workload, low-paying academic post-docs, a PhD in Physics can get you into very lucrative careers such as

  • Nuclear Physicist
  • Materials Scientist
  • Computational Physicist
  • Beam Physicist
  • Laser Interferometry Physicist

Must read for physics graduates: Is science graduate school right for you? (Physics)

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Physics = $80,816

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Nuclear Physicist = $104,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 8% from 2020 to 2030

More than half post-doc scholars-the next step in an academic career after a PhD-have a negative view of their career outlook according to a nature survey. 32% of respondents said it was worse than they expected.

Postdoc survey reveals disenchantment with working life

5. PhD in Comparative Biomedical Science

Comparative Biomedical Science studies the health of humans as well as animals. It deals with issues like reproductive physiology, immunology, and developmental biology. Comparative Biomedical Science becomes more and more important as we become more and more sensitive to our health and the health of animals from which we consume food.

“The number of biomedical PhD scientists undergoing training and graduating far exceeds the number of academic faculty positions and academic research jobs. “

Navigating the path to a biomedical science career

Other than high-workload, low-paying academic post-docs, a PhD in Comparative Biomedical Science can get you into very lucrative careers such as

  • Patent Agent
  • Biostatistician
  • Investigative Pathologist
  • Pharmaceutical Product Development Specialist
  • Computational Scientist in Health

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Comparative Biomedical Science = $52,000

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Patent Agent = $101,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 6% from 2020 to 2030

6. PhD in Immunology

Immunology studies systems in an organism that function to protect it from various microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Immunology is interested in innate and adaptive systems and how they work. Immunology plays a key role in developing vaccines for viruses like Covid-19 and help prevent epidemics and pandemics.

Other than high-workload, low-paying academic post-docs, a PhD in Immunology can get you into very lucrative industry careers such as

  • Junior Product Manager
  • Bioinformatician
  • Immunologist
  • Pharmaceutical Product Development Specialist
  • Clinical Pharmacometrician

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Immunology = $35,000

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Immunologist = $100,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 30% from 2020 to 2030

… a postdoc is essentially high-quality cheap labor for the machine that is modern-day science.

The price of doing a postdoc

7. PhD in Pharmacology

Pharmacology investigates the chemical composition of drugs and their interaction with the body of an organism such as humans. Pharmacologists are interested in drug targets in order to identify how drugs affect the human body and what chemical changes they bring. They are also curious about how drugs are modified in the human body.

Besides the precarious chain of high-workload, low-paying academic post-doc contracts, a PhD in Pharmacology can also get you into very lucrative industry careers such as

  • Vitro Pharmacology Scientist
  • Translational Quantitative Pharmacologist
  • Clinical Pharmacologist/Pharmacometrician
  • Quantitative Systems Pharmacology Modeler

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Pharmacology = $57,375

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Pharmacologist = $98,000

Job Projected Decline Rate = 2% from 2020 to 2030

Read More: The Science Careers guide to consulting careers for Ph.D. scientists

8. PhD in Data Science

The focus of data science is to make sense of large chunks of data available to us today. This large data comes in many different forms but modern digital technology has enabled us to collect large data as well as process and analyze it to get insights. Data science is an interdisciplinary approach involving many different concepts and tools from statistics and computer science to answer questions by using data.

  PhD or a Job in the Industry- A Definitive Guide

What can a PhD add to your data science career? (And what does it cost you.)

Besides the precarious chain of high-workload, low-paying academic post-doc contracts, a PhD in Data Science can also get you into very lucrative industry careers such as

  • Computational and Data Science Specialist
  • Data Scientist in People Analytics
  • Applied Social Scientist
  • Data Scientist – Customer Data Science

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Data Science = $37,000

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Data Scientist = $97,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 22% from 2020 to 2030 (much faster than the average for all occupations)

9. PhD in Civil Engineering

Civil engineering includes the designing, planning, construction, and maintenance of the infrastructures. There are several sub-disciplines of civil engineering such as structural engineering, water resources engineering, and transportation engineering.

The Edge with Doctoral Degree: A PhD in Civil Engineering can grant you opportunities to work at the innovative edge of construction. You can get the opportunity to work on various advanced industry projects in Coastal Engineering due to sea-level rising or a purification and waste management plant to protect our planet earth.

Discover More: Getting a PhD as an Engineer or Not?

Besides the precarious chain of high-workload, low-paying academic post-doc contracts, a PhD in Civil Engineering can also get you into very lucrative industry careers such as

  • Geotechnical Engineer
  • Engineering Project Manager
  • Project Engineer, Structural
  • Civil Infrastructure Engineer

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Civil Engineering = $43,700

Median Post- PhD salary in industry for Engineering Project Manager = $96,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 8% from 2020 to 2030 (about as fast as the average for all occupations)

Should you choose to do an MBA or a PhD after your engineering degree?

10. PhD in Neuroscience

Neuroscience is interested in studying the most complex object in the universe, the human brain. Neuroscience gets its insights from various different domains from biology, chemistry, psychology, and behavioral science. Neuroscience is interested in exploring the functioning of neurons to understand human behavior, emotion, and cognition.

The Edge with Doctoral Degree in Neuroscience: Why Do Students Pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience?

A PhD may let you earn more than a masters or Bachelors. However, its difficult to consider the “what-if” here. “What-if” these PhDs didn’t spend this time and pursued something more lucrative.

Besides the precarious chain of high-workload, low-paying academic post-doc contracts, a PhD in Neuroscience can also get you into very lucrative industry careers such as

  • Neuropsychologist
  • Scientific Reviewer
  • Behavioral Scientist
  • Clinical Leader – Neuroscience
  • Neurosurgeon
  • Neurologist

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Neuroscience = $52,704

Average post-doc salary in the US for Neuroscience = $50,500 to $64,500

Median post-PhD salary in industry for Neuropsychologist = $95,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 8% from 2020 to 2030

In my opinion, it really boils down to two reasons why you should get a PhD:

(a) you’re positive you need a PhD to get to the next step in your career

(b) you’ll just really, really love 5+ years of intense research and the value that will bring to your life

To PhD, or not to PhD?

11. PhD in Business Administration

Business administration consists of different further branches that deal with successfully managing and running businesses in modern society. The subfields of business administration are many including management, supply chain, accounting, organization, human resources, and marketing.

The Edge with Doctoral Degree in Business Administration: A Business administration degree can give you an edge in the age of decision and strategy making with the help of data. Businesses need more and more analysts and consultants to solve complex and ever-evolving problems from manufacturing to supply chain and logistics to marketing to targeted customers.

Discover More: PhD in Business Administration – Be A Social Scientist Of Organizations

Besides the precarious chain of high-workload, low-paying academic post-doc contracts, a PhD in Business administration can also get you into very lucrative industry careers such as

  • Business Coach
  • Management Consultant
  • Business Transformation Manager
  • Customer & Business Strategist
  • Regulatory Affairs Specialist
  • Consultant Operational Excellence
  • Business Analysis Manager – Performance Analytics

Highest reported 1st year PhD stipend for Business administration = $39,400

Median post-PhD salary in industry for Management Consultant= $90,000

Job Projected Growth Rate = 18% for Financial Examiners, 22% for Market Research Analysts, 11% for Training and Development Specialists, and 14% for Management Analysts. All much faster than average for all occupations.

Wrap up

There are many websites listing many different PhDs as high paying. However, what I feel lacking there is the unavailability of data that can back the author’s claim.

In this post, I tried to sort a list based on real data of the highest paying PhD stipends and highest-paying jobs you can get after them. This data can at least assure us of a certain and financially secure future.

I think while pursuing these PhDs you should be aware of how to invest in your PhD years with relevant internships, training, etc. to get the best deal out there when you graduate.

Another thing is many of these best-paying PhDs offer you other benefits like health insurance and external fellowships to increase your earning potential during PhD years. The extra perks and benefits are common for in-demand PhDs because the advisors and departments are able to get a high number of grants in these research fields.

These extra perks can mitigate the opportunity cost of investing your best years in these highpaying PhD degrees.


Notes:

  • A quick search at Simplyhired.com can give you an information about nature of duties you need to do after your PhD.
  • A quick search at Payscale.com can give you good analysis about the worth of your job in labor market and industry.
  • A quick search at PhDstipends.com can give a good idea about how much you are going to give up by pursing these best PhD degrees.
  • A quick search at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can give you firm idea about the prospective job growth rate in your industry in the coming decade.