When and if to get a PhD in climate science during career

In a field in which we experience things like climate skepticism and a rising need for clear, transparent and quality research and analysis, it feels like scientific rigour and academic experience are often essentials.

As someone with a background in physics (Master’s), now with 3 years experience working with climate data and applying data science day in, day out for climate model outputs (CORDEX, UKCP18, for example), I’m wondering where a PhD comes in to my development.

I want to learn the necessary essential foundation of climate science (with a healthy dose of qualifications) that establish me comfortably in the space while giving me confidence to apply for larger positions, if that’s possible (I’m currently acting Lead Environmental and Climate Data Scientist for a small team).

What’s not clear is how much of a barrier a PhD is to developing further - without one, would I be limited to data sciencey roles instead? But also, how do people tend to balance a drive for a career in the city with a PhD, as I recognise the financial support for one doesn’t typically come near traditional salaries, not to mention it’s length to complete. Any feedback or experience from people here would likely be really valuable to hear about!

If you’re working in climate science, does it feel necessary to get a PhD? If you don’t, will it always hold you back in more senior positions, without that authority?

Many thanks for reading


What are your long term career goals? What does developing further mean? What does ‘larger positions’ mean? I can only offer my own very anecdotal experience as someone who worked throughout my graduate education at various levels: local government, government labs, tech start-ups. None of my four professional jobs so far have required me to have a PhD. Right now I am a Deputy Manager at one of the NASA data centers. If ‘larger positions’ means management, that will depend on your leadership and people skills. Yes, having domain and technical expertise is helpful, a PhD can provide that, but more education does not translate to becoming a more effective leader.