As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve met a number of undergraduate students who are trying to figure out what they’re going to do once they graduate. They’re often intensely curious about environmental careers. One student was particularly insistent about getting my opinion about the financial advantages of a master’s degree. If you spend 2 years in grad school, sacrificing a full salary (such as it is), how soon do you recoup that investment?
Honestly, I don’t know. I went for a master’s degree so that I wouldn’t limit future career options, rather than because of specific financial calculations. And even if I did know that I could make x more money with an advanced degree, I started out with a different degree and in a completely different geographic area than the student who was interrogating me.
What you’re paid depends on the local market, the sum of your academic and work experience, and how you present yourself to the hiring manager. You can fool around with various salary comparison websites to see approximately how much money a geologist with a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree may earn. But just because I’ve worked in the industry doesn’t mean I’m a universal expert on compensation.
I also think that if you’re going for an advanced degree, you should be going for more than just a theoretical financial payoff. But maybe that’s my perspective as an older student who waited until she was emotionally ready to go back to school.