Getting A Doctorate Degree Instead Of A Fancy Tech Job

Education is the key to freedom for all of us. Therefore, I’ve made the decision to pursue a doctorate degree instead of seeking a fancy tech job. Specifically, I plan to earn a Doctorate in Business Administration with a focus on real estate from UC Berkeley.

Considering my MBA from UC Berkeley in 2006, my ownership of various types of real estate since 2003, my extensive writing about real estate, and my deep passion for the subject, I thought, why not?

One of life’s goals is to discover our ikigai, our reason for being. I believe I’ve found mine through this program at Cal.

There is a structural housing shortage in America that I’m committed to addressing through policy proposals. Housing is a fundamental need, and by increasing the availability of affordable housing, we can enhance financial security and stability in our country.

The challenge lies in determining the most effective incentives to achieve this goal. My hope is getting this doctorate degree will give me the time and resources to solve such an important problem.

The Original Plan Was To Get A Job In Big Tech

Since 2022, I’ve been striving to secure a position at a major tech company such as Meta, Google, Microsoft, or Apple. With my daughter beginning full-time school in September 2024, I’ve been planning ahead for the transition. Once she’s in school, there will be a void to fill.

Recognizing that I haven’t held a W2 job since 2012, I understood that finding a well-paying job after such a long absence from the workforce would be quite challenging. Therefore, I reasoned that a two-and-a-half-year job search would be sufficient to secure one of these lucrative multiple six-figure positions.

In 2023, I reached out to my pickleball friend who works at Google, along with her boyfriend, to see if they could assist me. Fortunately, they did and made some introductions. Their lifestyle, playing pickleball on weekdays between 10 am – 1 pm or 2 pm – 6 pm, inspired me to pursue a role at Google.

Their example led me to believe that the concept of FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is becoming obsolete for many knowledge workers. After all, if you have the flexibility to work from home and play, why bother with early retirement? Just continue to make as much money as possible while enjoying a great life!

Couldn’t Get A Job In Big Tech

Unfortunately, securing a job at Google and Meta is exceptionally challenging. Not only do I lack the relevant tech experience, but I’m also in my mid-40s, old for someone taking a mid-level job. My window of opportunity to help optimize user engagement is closing fast!

However, perhaps the most significant obstacle in my job search was the fact that both companies were undergoing significant layoffs, a situation that persists.

For instance, Google recently underwent another round of layoffs in March 2024. My friend received two months of WARN Act pay, 14 weeks of pay plus an additional week of pay for each year he was there (nine years), along with 300 hours of PTO accrual as part of his severance package. While not a bad deal, with foresight, he might have been able to negotiate two weeks of pay per year.

In my attempt to break into the tech industry, I also applied to several artificial intelligence firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, such as Anthropic, OpenAI, and Databricks. Despite having little to offer these companies, I felt it was worth applying to avoid any future regrets.

If my children inquire in twenty years why I didn’t work in AI during its early stages, I can at least tell them that I made an effort. Here’s one of the rejection emails I’ll show them for proof. It’s undeniably challenging to re-enter the job market after years of retirement.

A Doctorate Degree As A Great Solution

Back in 2012, the year I departed from finance, I contemplated pursuing a PhD in the arts or securing a journalism fellowship at Stanford University.

I distinctly recall sitting in on a Master’s degree class in journalism, where the professor taught her students how to utilize WordPress, the content management system I operate on Financial Samurai. It was then that I realized further education in writing or journalism wasn’t for me, especially since I had been managing Financial Samurai since 2009.

Furthermore, I didn’t feel financially affluent enough to pursue a doctorate degree. When I left my job, my gross passive income amounted to $80,000 annually, which was comfortable for an individual living in San Francisco, but far from wealthy.

I also didn’t believe we were financially secure enough for my wife to retire early. Consequently, we made a pact that if circumstances improved three years later, by the time she turned 35, she too could retire early after negotiating a severance package. She successfully did in 2015.

The World Changed And Delayed My Doctorate Degree Plans

After my wife left her day job in 2015, we embarked on even more travels around the world. Who had time to pursue a doctorate degree when freedom awaited? Then, in 2017, we welcomed our first child, followed by another in 2019.

Soon after, the pandemic struck. It was a challenging time, but we made the most of it by embracing our roles as stay-at-home parents and homeschool teachers.

Amidst all this, I also embarked on writing a bestselling book titled Buy This Not That, totaling 110,000 words. I figured, if the government was going to lock us down for who knew how long in 2020, I was determined to make the most of a suboptimal situation.

Buy This Not That Book Reviews

Getting Into A Doctoral Program

Buy This Not That includes three chapters on real estate, which caught the attention of admissions directors at Cal. Despite my average grades and unremarkable test scores, they found my real-world experience to be unique compared to other candidates.

Furthermore, writing a popular book with a top publisher and imprint carries significant weight in academic circles. After all, academics often adhere to the motto “publish or perish.”

A PhD thesis (or dissertation) typically ranges from 60,000 to 120,000 words (equivalent to 100 to 300 pages). The admissions directors and professors expressed confidence in my ability to complete my dissertation, given that it seemed like I had already completed one.

Finally, Financial Samurai possesses a vast amount of historical and real-time behavioral finance data, as it receives approximately one million pageviews per month.

They let me in! My dream of being addressed as doctor took one step closer to reality.

Finally Rich Enough To Get A Doctorate Degree Now

Thankfully, since 2012 when I first entertained the idea of pursuing a PhD, we’ve experienced a robust bull market. My net worth has grown along with the rise in stock and real estate prices. Consequently, I finally feel financially secure enough to pursue higher education again!

It’s ironic how one must feel rich to afford spending 4-7 years pursuing a PhD. Unless you’re entering fields like quant trading, data analytics, or AI, PhD holders don’t necessarily earn significantly higher salaries.

Pursuing a doctorate degree is primarily driven by a passion for learning, with financial gain taking a back seat. Thankfully, I love to learn and to teach. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written over 2,300 articles on Financial Samurai since its founding in 2009.

Earnings and unemployment rates by education attainment, how much do doctoral degree holders make versus master's degree, bachelor's degree, associate degree, high school

The Allure Of Becoming A Professor

Perhaps one day, I could secure a tenure track position as a professor at a top 50 university. After all, being a professor is one of the best occupations for income and status. People respect professional educators, especially parents.

Then there’s the money side of things. Think about Sam Bankman-Fried’s parents, law professors at Stanford, who are able to afford a $15 million vacation property in the Bahamas on a professor’s salary! Sign me up for that. But instead of the Bahamas, I’d buy my mansion in Hawaii, my favorite place on Earth.

Getting A Doctorate Degree Instead Of A Fancy Tech Job! - Being a professor can afford you a nice house in the Bahamas like Sam Bankman-Fried's parents
One of the bedrooms at Sam Bankman-Fried’s parents’ house in the Bahamas

Many of my peers who write finance books under the same imprint as mine (Portfolio Penguin) are professors, such as Cal Newport (Georgetown), Adam Grant (U Penn), and Scott Galloway (NYU). Some literary agents even say Portfolio Penguin is the “Harvard of non-fiction imprints.”

I understand the challenges as a non-white individual in gaining recognition as a writer and securing tenure, as the majority tends to favor their own. It’s a matter of simple math, really. Even if only 12% of a 60% majority support you, that 7.2% still outweighs 100% from your 7% minority population.

However, I like to remain optimistic and ask myself, why not me too? Why not Dr. Sam at UC Berkeley, Stanford, or Santa Clara University? Believing in yourself is the first step towards success!

Let The Journey To Enlightenment Begin

I’m eager to embark on this new journey starting in the fall of 2024. My goal is to obtain my doctorate degree by June 2028. Although getting a doctoral degree may delay my goal to regain financial independence by January 2029, I think it’s worth a shot.

I hope that by witnessing their old man studying and working diligently on his academics, my children will be inspired to take their academics seriously too. As a parent, leading by example is one of the most effective ways to motivate our children.

Financially, I anticipate earning approximately $40,000 a year as a research assistant or teaching assistant in my second or third year. However, given my experience, I may secure a job as early as the first year.

As for tuition, it’s covered except for some nominal student fees totaling less than $3,000 a year. Berkeley has tremendous alumni benefactors who help support graduate work. I’ll be residing in San Francisco and commuting several days a week to meet with my advisors.

I’m thrilled to embark on this new journey and share it with all of you. I’ll continue to publish at least twice a week on Financial Samurai. However, I may reduce the frequency of my newsletters to every two weeks and my podcast episodes (Apple and Spotify) to once a month to accommodate my studies and research.

Thank you, everyone, for your readership! It’s been a wonderful journey since 2009. Let’s strive to make each day better than the last. Happy April 1.

Reader Questions

Do any of you have a doctorate degree? If so, what is your field of study, how long did it take to complete, and what is your income level? Did you receive funding for your doctorate degree? Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

Given the current state of inflation, how do young adults manage to afford the time and expense required to pursue a Ph.D. these days? In a sense, I see parallels between this dilemma and the decision between young adults and older adults having children. Each path comes with its own set of challenges, as well as advantages and disadvantages.

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