The following are eight things to consider when thinking if you should or should not pursue a PhD based on my reflections and experience. Please note that the context of these is based on my first year experience studying PhD in Politics (International relations and organizational governance) in the UK. Other programmes in other countries will probably have something else to say. In my case, I just want to share these advices to help one decide whether PhD is something they should take.
Eight things I wish I knew before applying in a PhD programme:
- Do it if you genuinely love to learn. There are many things to read if you are planning to do a PhD particularly if it is in social sciences. That does not yet count the 80,000 to 100,000-word thesis that you must write (about 50,000 if in the sciences).
- Beware if you have existing mental health issues or other issues (i.e. marital concerns, financial issues). According to several PhDs that I have talked to and researches done, PhD aggravates existing issues you have with yourself and with others. So if you already have existing issues, be warned that it can get worse.
- Do it if you want to contribute to answer a question (or discover something). You may be the person that the world has been waiting for so if you have an idea to solve cancer or world peace, PhD is one of those spaces that can help you discover things at a deeper level. Assuming you choose the right supervisor and school, you are in good hands to discover something that no one has ventured into. After all, that’s what they emphasize in PhD anyway – an original contribution to the body of knowledge.
- Think twice of doing a PhD if you are planning to have a family or already have one. PhD is a demanding job especially in terms of time. It is a job more than a schoolwork, so it expects a certain kind of focus as if you are fully paid to do it. Though there are options to do it part time, you have to consider your capacity to juggle different things in your life especially if you have a family. If you can bear the idea of finishing the PhD around 3 to 4 years (full time) or 6 to 8 years (part-time), then maybe yes, you can still do a PhD.
- Go for it if you want to build your character, skills and discipline. A PhD is more than the thesis that you produce at the end of the 3 or 4 years. It is character building since your research forms your beliefs and lens on how you view the world around you. It also forms your skills especially on research and writing. It also teaches you great discipline in managing yourself and your time since a successful PhD (the one which you finish with yourself intact) is really in terms about forming habits.
- Do not do it if the intention is to impress. It will be hard to keep on going if your reason is to impress someone/people because you will be a doctor. Pursuing and surviving a PhD is more of an internal rather than an external drive.
- Do it if you really want it. PhD will always make you question your life choices and why you decided to stay in the academe rather work outside. It involves a lot of self-questioning so if you are not convinced yourself that you want to do it, you will struggle in keeping yourself motivated to do your research.
- You are taking it to get a better job opportunity. PhD is not a guarantee of a higher paying job or even a job after you graduate. Sometimes, it can even disqualify you since companies will think that you are overqualified or that you need to be paid more.
- Push for it if your goal is to contribute to the society and/or saving the world. Research is usually neglected in the decision-making process especially in the development of policies. We are now at the verge of human extinction because our leaders have disregarded the researches related to climate change. Although not all PhDs have the mission of saving the world, it helps to have a bigger reason on why you are doing it.
- Don’t do it if you are just escaping the world of work. Yes it might be frustrating to find a decent job so you go for a PhD rather than joining the work force. Well, guess what? A PhD is also work. Although it is flexible in terms of time, the amount of work needed is similar to what is expected when you work. Sometimes even worse cause you will keep thinking about it even while you are in the shower. It requires you to regularly read and write. You also need to teach, present your work and publish at some point. This is the reason why a lot of PhD groups are trying to push for benefits given to staff since we’re almost doing the same thing.
The title says eight so why I have ten? Well, that’s what a PhD is, you end up with something different from when you started. Spare yourself from the constant doubt of, “why did I do this to myself?” Instead, have a clearer reason to why you think it is necessary to PhD. Hopefully, it is something more than gaining benefits for yourself but also for the betterment of the society.