Interesting thread, and interesting discussion about the societal merits of a Ph.D.
After getting my Ph.D. in a science field, I built my own niche consultancy business. Would I do it again? No regrets, although my true love was academia.
As an undergrad, I developed an interest in research and found a great mentor. I ended up being a first-author for a publication in a renown journal. This got me into a first-tier grad school where my new mentor turned me loose to continue my research. By the time I got my Ph.D., I had the publication history to position myself for an assistant professorship at an R-1 university. However, love got in the way, and I instead chose to remain near my love.
I ended up getting a job working for a governmental agency and found my work very interesting (for a while). I learned some very valuable lessons there, including that I was too impatient and entrepreneurial for civil service work. I also discovered that my skill set and experiences could be valuable to a wide variety of governmental and commercial entities. I obtained my MBA, and left to pursue my life as an independent consultant.
Creating my own business was a terrifying journey. After all, I was a scientist at heart, not a business person. Success was not instantaneous, and I had to learn how to effectively market my services and what were the true market needs.
My career enabled me to work with every level of organizations from janitors to CEOs and Boards of Directors. Each engagement was different, but all involved using my scientific training to help the organization solve a problem that was perceived to be important.
Throughout my career, I maintained my interest in research, and published several articles in professional journals. Eventually, I decided to retire (FI), and was able to sell my business to another professional who wanted to continue my life's work. Selling the business was icing on the cake.
Pros of working as an independent consultant
--You own your successes. Every time the phone rings and your services are sought, it is a validation.
--You don't work for only one boss. Yes, you work for many different bosses (clientele), but if one fires you, or you fire them, there are still many more sources of income.
--No one can restrain your energy and success.
--Your profit potential is unlimited, and you decide when to invest in yourself vs your business.
Cons of working as an independent consultant
Adjusting to the vagaries of the marketplace.
Learning to cope with the inevitable cycles of too much work and then too little work, and then too much work once again.
Never being able to take a vacation without having a cell phone charged up and responding to client needs.
Actionable Issues for Ph.D.s:
You have a skill set that allowed you to obtain a Ph.D. There is a marketplace for those skills that extend far beyond academia. Understand your specific talents and how to monetize them, and you will have a long career that will be interesting and lucrative. Good luck.