What to say when someone asks you: “Should I do a PhD?”

“Do you think I should do a PhD?”

It seems like I can’t go to a party without at least one person asking me this question – does this happen to you too? I probably shouldn’t be surprised; according to a recent government report the number of people undertaking a research degree in Australia has increased by 41%  over the last 10 or so years.

There’s no doubt that some students start without realistic expectations of the amount of work that is involved and how it may affect their life, which is why I was pleased when Dr Ehsan Gharaie, a lecturer in the school of property Construction and project management at RMIT, sent me this guest post.

As a recent PhD graduate in a field which is relatively new to this form of education, Ehsan tells me that he is often approached by people who ask him how to get into a PhD program. Ehsan tells me he replies: “tell me why and then, I will tell you how” – this seems like a good answer because PhD study is not for everyone.  I hope you will send you Ehsan’s list of diagnostic questions to the next person who asks you: “should I do a PhD?” (American readers please note – this post refers to the dissertation writing part of the PhD Program only)

Can you work without anyone telling you what to do?

A PhD is way different from Bachelor and Master Programs. There is no lecturer telling you what to do and you are not asked to do an assignment or sit for an exam. If you have been working in industry or government, you have probably got used to having a boss who tells you what to do and having staff who help you do your work. Here there is no boss, and no one helps you out. You have a supervisor who, if you are lucky, advises you and guides you through the process and that is all. Thus, think about yourself and see if you can work without anyone telling you what to do. There are many decisions that you have to make in the process and you should be ready to take on that responsibility.

Are you ready to work by yourself for four years?

Many PhD students work in isolation most of the time. There is no official classmate or peers. Your first and best friend is your computer and you have to spend years with it. The second person in your list of acquaintances is your supervisor which you interact with probably dozen times a year. Are you looking for the third person? The answer is none. Thus, be ready to work alone for four years.

Have you thought of your family commitments?

When you are an undergraduate student, your main concern is your study and the rest is just fun. But PhD usually happens when you have more important commitments. If you are not married, you are probably thinking of it. If you are married and have not had children yet, that is probably the next thing you are thinking of. Do you have children? Then you certainly think about them way more than your studies. There are even PhD students who have to take care of their parents. Further, you probably have a good job and thus, income and financial comfort and you should think the effect of your studies on your financial situation. You see, there are always life commitments, and the issue of study-life balance should be extremely important in your decision in doing PhD. You have to get your head around them before you start doing your PhD.

What is your career plan?

People usually study at universities to become trained and get a degree which has a clear set of professions or jobs attached to them. A PhD, like other university programs, is a training process; you will be trained to be a researcher or an academic. You learn how to do literature review, how to find a research problem, how to figure out a research methodology and method, how to follow and implement that method, how to present your result and at the end how to write a thesis that covers all your arguments and demonstrates all your efforts during past four years of your life. Thus, if you are interested in these “how tos” and if you want to become a researcher or an academic in the future, that would be the path to go through. But if you are thinking of some other things, you better think it twice.

And finally, why do you want to do it?

Getting PhD is not easy. It needs passion and patience. The only driver in the whole journey is your self-motivation. So what is your motivation? Is it the title of being a “Doctor”? Do you have a brother or sister with PhD and you feel you have to have it? Are you pushed by your family? If you are not convinced yet that you really need to do a PhD or you have doubts about it, wait for a while and do not rush to it. After all this is going to be at least four years of your life and you need to make sure that you will not run out of steam at the middle of way.

I hope this post will be read by a lot of people thinking about doing a PhD, so do you have advice you would like to offer? Pop it in the comments!

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241 thoughts on “What to say when someone asks you: “Should I do a PhD?”

  1. AmandaMichelleJones (@AmandaMichelle) says:

    omg, the whole bit about getting one’s head around study-life balance is SO critical! i came into my phd having resigned myself to the idea that i would have no social life, no partner, and probably not time to clean up after myself. while this is mostly true, i nonetheless have found myself battling the need to balance these very things! i found a partner unexpectedly (rather, he found me; it’s a cute story of resistance), my classmates all want to get together every so often, and even the department has social activities that we are “strongly encouraged” to attend. and, as i’m realizing the importance of things like dishes, i still have hardly any time to clean up. i can’t imagine what it’d be like with kids or impending marriage in the picture…

    my advice thus far: enlist the support of those who are a year or two (or four) ahead of you. they are invaluable sources of advice, encouragement, and great for reality checks. if, like me, you are prone to distraction, i also recommend enlisting the help of anyone in your circle who is willing and able to help you with both of these two things: stepping back from the ledge (at least for a little while) & getting back (or staying) on the horse. finally, the pomodoro method is saving my life ~> http://ht.ly/7kFTp

  2. Dr Karen McAulay (@Karenmca) says:

    Yes, that last point is very true, Ehsan. Would-be PhD students really must ask themselves: Who wants them to do this PhD? You have to want it for yourself. No-one should ever start a PhD out of a feeling of obligation to parents, tutors or other relatives. ‘They think I’m capable of it’, isn’t a good reason, either.

    Also, bear in mind that you don’t have to do a PhD straight after your first degree or Masters. Leaving it a few years, then going back to studying can improve your motivation mightily.

    • Ehsan says:

      The problem with advising people on the last point is that they usually hide their motivations. They never tell you they want to do it because their brother is a Dr. Thus, I thought this post might help them face the truth without revealing their motivation.

    • marieandtheappletree says:

      Im at the tail end of my Phd and my one brain cell left is flapping about madly trying to eke out some words to write the damn thing. Its so long and BIG!. Also because you are so emersed in your topic, you suddenly belong to a very small group of people that understand what your saying, so you have to suffer through everyones ridiculous attempts at conversation and smile politely. EXHAUSTING!!!!
      Good luck to all the new PHDers out there, Im sure we are making the world a better place in our own way !

      • Helen Steele (@steeleHL) says:

        Ah, so familiar! “Its so long and BIG!” <- yes!! Oh what I'd love to go back and tell my shiny new first-year self. It is such a journey and you need to have the right attitude, motivation and companions from the start. And even then you will be challenged in ways you could never have imagined. I have two months til submission and when I do leave the house (rarely) the attempts at conversation are indeed exhausting. I know people mean well, but jeez…my tongue is almost bitten in two!

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m trying not to be too critical of you, because I admire that you’re doing higher research.
        BUT – by the same token, you should know the difference between your and you’re.

      • tassie_gal says:

        True – but honestly, do it because you have a burning itch to know WHY about something. Not because you think that you should, or because you think its expected of you.
        I have a PhD – and am working in an area more related to my Masters. I don’t regret the PhD because it satisfied a burning question which I had and it is opening doors I never expected…but its not my bread and butter (yet) and I am definitely fine with that.

    • Ehsan says:

      Most of the time this is what should be said. But since you are doing it, it is really hard to tell them do not do it.

  3. Jess says:

    Awesome post! I will remember these points next time I get asked.

    I particularily like and agree with the last point. I had an old boss who said to me (before I started mine): “You need to have a good reason to do one (PhD). You will be trialled and tested and you will need to rely on that reason to get through.” She was completely right! Whenever it gets a bit tough, I remind myself why I am here.

  4. stephaniemz (@stephaniemz) says:

    I agree with most of this, but in the United States I most definitely has classes, assignments, and a preliminary oral and written exam to complete before being allowed to work on my dissertation. Not to mention a cohort of other colleagues.

    But it is a very isolating journey at times 🙂

    • ingermewburn says:

      Yes – as I noted in the intro, the PhD degree awarding system is different here and in the UK. We have 3 year bachelor degrees in many fields, an extra honours years and then masters by research for 2 years prior to a PhD. Although there is the option to upgrade from a masters to a PhD and effectively skip a year or two.

  5. Larry Irons says:

    If you aren’t ready for a four-year hazing ritual don’t do a PhD. Otherwise, it will turn into a decade or longer quest.

    • ingermewburn says:

      Hazing ritual is quite a good analogy in a way – there is a ‘hidden curriculum’ in the PhD which means you are meant to somehow absorb the knowledge, not have it made explicit in things like assessment rubrics. There’s a lot of debate about this at the moment too.

  6. M-H says:

    For me, PhD is something I do. It’s not my life – I have a house and a garden and a family and a relationship and a full-time job. I take holidays! It’s something I chip away at, bit by bit, on a regular basis, on a timetable that is flexible but has deadlines built in. At times it can take me over for a short time, while I nut something out, but I refuse to let it cause the kind of stress that I see others reporting. It’s only a PhD, and if you are feeling over-stressed by doing it, you’d better try and ensure you don’t have any major life crises, like deaths or illness in the family. I’ve had those, and they are much much worse than anything to do with my thesis could possibly be.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the process and wish I’d had the chance to do it years ago.

  7. Music for Deckchairs says:

    As someone who gets asked this question a fair bit, my answer is usually to try to be very frank about the career prospects in case becoming an academic is the primary motivation. Prospective candidates in this position are often those who have enjoyed their university experience to this point and have really enjoyed engaging with academics, and it’s usually pretty mutual. So the conversation most often occurs at the high point of good feeling for all concerned.

    But if you actually want to work in an industry, you need to know how that industry is planning for its own future. There are signs in Australia that the PhD is no longer the basic standard for employment, with so many postdocs on the job market and so little growth in hiring. The shift to a demand-driven undergraduate system means that flexibility is going to be a institutional virtue for some time, and this means that the other warning sign to watch is the planned and systematic casualisation of teaching, which in a practical way reduces the burden on universities of salary lock-in. So anyone wanting to do a PhD to become an academic might need to think hard about how it will feel to do all this and not get the job it’s a training for because the job isn’t there.

    For me, the better reasons involve the topic and the project. The most successful PhD projects I’ve been involved with have been those driven by curiosity and conviction that the world will be a better place when the project is complete because we will all know more about something that the candidate really cares about. Go for it: properly supported, the PhD is still one of the most impressive opportunities I know for creative and intellectual adventure.

    • tarotworldtour says:

      Yes, this is the “right” answer. People have to have a global expectation in order to undergo this, because they are taking 4-5 years out of the prime of their life, and wiping $50,000+ of potential earnings (assuming they are getting funded for the PhD) and more in net worth out of their lives.

    • Audrey says:

      You make many good points that I would love to see followed up. Job prospects amidst massive industry changes are making me seriously question starting a PhD even though it is required of me in order to continue my current job. I’m 35 with years of experience in my field but it might be too much of a risk and a sacrifice to attempt to stay in academia.

  8. badblood says:

    These are great questions to ask and an interesting read!

    Just a quick suggestion though – relationships of all kinds are important, not just marriage… readers might be LGBTI, or a single parent, or a carer for someone with illness/disability.

  9. RoseQ (@RoseQ) says:

    I have just embarked on a PhD (Jan2011) but can already see how true these comments are. In South Africa we generally have no course component- sounds similar to Aus.

    I consider myself lucky to be part of a cohort program which forms a support structure and gives a ready pool of fellow candidates and facilitators to call on. This can be extremely valuable and helps with a lot of the supportive elements which you suggest an individual may find they need (i.e. opposite of the “lonely road”). Facilitators & students meet for 6 weekends a yr and discuss relevant input for the stage we are in, comment on each others work and have time just to spend on the research. Should add, we are all doing it part-time. In addition we still have our own supervisor(s) who may/ may not be part of the program. A good option? Very dependent on the individual PhD student- as it isn’t for everyone – but can be really useful if it suits your personality, how you like to work and has the mix of people you need.

    Thought I would add it as an option for those trying to work out what choices there are? Perhaps should also state that I know there are numerous cohort models – so investigate the details if you find one and are considering it 🙂

  10. Amy Bohren says:

    I tell them that unless it’s required for their occupation or desired occupation, don’t do it! It’s not worth sacrificing so much at such an important time in your life. You only realise once the years have gone and you see how much you’ve missed out on. And I say that as someone who’s continued to work, volunteer, socialise and travel throughout my studies.

    Those of us who work in universities are so surrounded by others doing PhDs or who have PhDs that we think it’s just the next normal step to take. It’s not. In most cases it’s not necessary, and universities have their own motives in increasing enrolments.

    Although I’m still fascinated by my thesis topic, in hindsight, I should never have done it.

    • Michael Perre says:

      The fundamental problem is the same as the one you encounter when you tell your little child not to touch the stove. The child doesn’t really understand until they have a “little touch”.

      It took me a year to understand what was really required to do a PhD and in another years time, I’ll probably give you a different answer.

      You don’t know what you don’t know.

      Looking at the questions:

      Can you work without anyone telling you what to do?
      -> Everyone can. I can make a cup of tea all by myself. PhD is just a bloody big cup of tea.

      Are you ready to work by yourself for four years?
      -> No one knows the answer to this until they have done it. You might think you can, but you don’t really understand the domino effect of issues that arise. Also, by-yourself means many different things depending on the quality of your supervisors and the controls schools put in place to ensure appropriate and adequate supervision.

      Have you thought of your family commitments?
      -> In relation to an activity you have never experienced before by someone who has never done the activity? How can one know the impact to family commitments?

      What is your career plan?
      -> Might be relevant. Isn’t in my case as my plans evolve as my skills, ability and knowledge do. You never know whats around the corner.

      And finally, why do you want to do it?
      -> Good question. Probably multifaceted, probably also changes over the course of the PhD experience.

      Nice post Inger. Very thought provoking.

      Can anyone join your posts? I have a few PhD student friends in the states that would love to join.

      • ingermewburn says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful additions Michael – and yes, the thesis whisperer is a global enterprise! We have many readers from the USA. Although our system is different, most posts will be useful for those who are doing the dissertation stage. I would love people from the US to contribute guest posts, so far, aside from Australia where I am based, we have have had contributors from the UK and Europe.

      • Ehsan says:

        “You dont know what you dont know”: this a statement true for any situation and for any decision in the future. This is not just for PhD decision. This post only tries to put this decision in perspective and ask right questions from someone who is thinking of a PhD. They might not know the answer, but questions will help them to know what they should expect from their PhD.

    • gugs says:

      I’m with you. Maybe if my result had turned out better or something I would feel different but I have to say it was absolutely not worth it. When I was 25 I didnt really care about things like money, or owning a house and being grown up really, I felt that I had all the time in the world. But now that I am nearly finished I really cant believe I wasted all those years on an essentially meaningless pursuit.

  11. Vijay says:

    Thanks for the useful post. I was like that an year ago asking every one, whether I can fit in to PhD considering my nature – I was not good with my studies. I started my PhD in the month of July, 2011.
    I must say that I came to PhD not because I want to do but because of the circumstances. After my Master’s I was looking for a job but the recession hit Britain have no professional job for me then I ended up in working with super market that I disliked. I have no other way to turn except the PhD. I thought to give it a try and was accepted in few places and I chose Australia. Now I am a PhD student (cant believe that I am doing PhD) and according to my supervisor I am doing well :D. So the point I want to mention is that one doesnt have to be really smart/ one doesnt have to be very disciplined say from under graduates onwards. The best thing about human being is that they adapt to all the circumstances:) including if one end up in pursuing PhD.

    For those under graduates reading this post – I just wanna say that dont be afraid about PhD. Its not a big deal – it just need lot of hard work:) thats it.

      • Kelly Mekwunye says:

        its actually very possible to start enjoying something from the minute you start. I am currently doing my Msc and before I started, I was really really scared mostly because of the project that I would have to do at the end of my programme. Now that I have started (I started in September 2015), I absolutely love it!!! Its challenging in its own way, but then again what isn’t in life?? I haven’t done a PhD so I cannot give much advice, but this is what I feel: I feel that if you are focused from the onset, start the PhD with the mindset that these next 4 years are not going to be easy and most importantly start early!! because I feel that most people that get stuck during their programme, started it off with the wrong mindset and they realised late how much work they had to put in and so the process would turn into a 4-yr long nightmare. Another thing i disagree with is the common notion that by the time you are done with the PhD your mates would have more successful. I believe that the same way there are people that have been more successful, there are also people who would not have made it. A lot of the people I graduated with decided not to do Masters because they wanted to earn money quickly, which to me is not a valid reason.
        I believe that nothing in life is a waste, and that the main aim should not be where that PhD can take you, but how you can use those 4 years to better yourself all round. Don’t run away solely because you feel like its a lot of work, I feel that once you have gotten into uni, life is not going to get any easier, because after uni, you start working 9-5 monday to friday.
        Basically my advice is this, and this applies not only to PhD but to life in general: start early, be focused and be patient! and everything would fall into place 🙂

  12. DrBekMarketing says:

    I am glad I did a PhD, it gave me a job as an academic which imreally like. How many jobs are that allow you to only be at work for a few hours a week (teaching) for 26 weeks ago, the freedom to pursue topics that look intereting, to make friends in countries all over the world, to work with some really cool people, to be treated as an expert by the media AND get the opportunity to influence the next generation? It’s a huge amount of work and it often takes over your life, but I would never pick another career. My PhD made this possible.

  13. timjohnson says:

    I decided not to do a PhD for a lot of the reasons you mentioned (I did a second masters instead, which was very frustrating). I knew I would not be able to say no to the demands from my work and that I didn’t want to miss what little time I already spent with my family. I also didn’t want to work for six years on something important to me and then have it destroyed at the viva. I’d still like to do a PhD, there are some questions that can only be addressed through that form of study. I guess it will have to wait ’till I retire 🙂

    I’d like to add that a whole range of social media now offer PhD students a chance to create an online support group. Quite often you are the only person in your University who is working on anything like your subject but by going online you can find others with similar interests.

    • Helen Steele (@steeleHL) says:

      good point on social media! Even in this late stage of my PhD I have found the support and motivation from blogs such as this and lists on Twitter incredibly helpful.I would encourage any PhD student starting now to take full advantage of such online resources right from the start! If it helps stave off at least some of the feelings of isolation, then it really is worth it.

  14. rachel says:

    I started a PhD and stopped because I wasn’t getting enough support from my tutors. I was forced to study a subject i knew little about because my tutor did not want me to do what I was interested in but to do something related to what he was studying.

    I would advise that you need to make sure you are researching something that you are really enthusiastic about and make sure you get a supportive tutor. remember you are paying to do the course, so you are the customer and you should demand good service.

    • KinDn3sS says:

      I would be interested to understand why would your tutor direct you to study something other than what you initially targeted your PhD towards. Isn’t you who will make this final decision? I thought that tutors are out there to guide your initiative, and not to destroy your path. I would like to hear from you, Rachel! I’m about to consider PhD (I’ve just graduated with MBA in IT Management degree), but I am yet to identify whether PhD is something I really want to do; first I need to find what I want to do my research/thesis… on. Second, motivation and ambition exists. I’m very strong from this perspective. But if I don’t know what I want – I won’t proceed with the unknown.

  15. Karen LaBonte says:

    I wish I’d understood that a PhD is basically a training program in becoming a researcher — or, more accurately, a guild-like apprenticeship.

    • Jessica says:

      I’m entering my 3rd year of a PhD, and I also wish this was conveyed more clearly. I never had interest in academia, but academic advisers and professors all said it would be good for ANY career, and that I wouldn’t get hired doing anything besides X-ray tech without a PhD.

      My reason for grad school was “get a job,” not a love of science, and it’s hard to stay motivated when you realize you don’t need it for that reason alone.

      • linda says:

        My thoughts exactly, may I ask how u manage to continue working on the PhD, and if u believe we (u an I and thousands of others) can successfully complete a PhD following this shattered perception of needing a PhD for a future career?

        • Jessica says:

          Well, I’m actually taking an expedited path out– trying to graduate in 3 years and then leaving science to stay at home with our new baby.

          I think completing the PhD is do-able, but really THRIVING during the process isn’t realistic without some intrinsic motivation. Writing the extra grants, putting in the crazy hours, doing all the things you need to do to get a good post-doc… I just can’t see how that’s feasible without a passion for science.

  16. Mikalee Byerman says:

    No advice to be found here, as I “only” have a master’s degree — but I do think this list is valuable for people considering the path. I know it’s a rigorous, often lonely road…

    • KinDn3sS says:

      How do you determine the answers? How did you even started if you were already struggling with those questions? What kind of questions? 🙂 You must be done with your PhD by now, aren’t you?

      • LIGHTHONEY says:

        I’m curious too. I’m about to consider PhD, and this post and comments really inspire me. I can’t find the answer. I’m working with part time researcher for 1 year after finishing master’s degree, because I couldn’t find the motivation and reasons for PhD. I think I love science and knowledge itself(especially Neuroscience which I’m in), but in little doubt about its final purpose for human being. I want to study more with my inner motivation, but I’m afraid that I would fall in doubt in the middle of my study 🙁 Am I too cautious?

  17. pursuenaturalny2008 says:

    A student joined the PhD program in my department because I was having a wonderful time as a PhD student. A year later, the student left and blamed me saying, “Your smile is deceptive. This is not a fun program. It goes nowhere. It is a waste of time. I am going to become a teacher instead!”

    I am still having fun, researching the wonders of life and my smile may be broader today.

  18. gamesfemme says:

    Great post! 🙂 I’m currently finishing up my fourth year in a PhD program, and while I’ve enjoyed it, I’m definitely ready to be done. I emphatically agree that doing a PhD is intensely isolating. This is something I wasn’t really prepared for when I began my program, and I’ve struggled to adapt.

    For any other potential doctoral students out there– seriously consider whether the life of a researcher is right for you. It can be a very lonely place.

  19. tarotworldtour says:

    One thing that is often overlooked is that if you do have a radical idea that you wish to give some legitimacy to through using the official channels of academia, it will likely be squashed by the consensus and committee nature of the vetting. I would like to see people burned by the system to go on and found their own universities on a small scale and attract nontraditional students in order to solve the world’s problems.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I question the whole PhD process; in my view it is very inhibiting and although it ostensibly purports to make a contribution to knowledge, the architecture of the process is more to do with box-ticking (in the UK anyway). Trying to do something new or different is not encouraged and can end up with you presenting yourself as a threat to increasingly insecure academic staff who are desperate to keep their research outcome stats up. Be careful.

    • Ehsan says:

      Contribution to knowledge is only part of the picture. In many cases, it is the process and research training which is important. Ant here is the misunderstanding. People start doing PhD because of their self motivation and then the system pushes them to do other things. Hopefully this post solve a bit of these misunderstandings.

  21. Andreas Moser says:

    I will one day study for a PhD just because I love studying, I love reading and writing and learning new things.
    I have studied law and then worked as a lawyer for a few years, until I took a break and returned to university. I am now studying philosophy and development & economics.
    But I am only 36 and I am saving the PhD option for later in my life (50 or so) when all my peers will be bored to death. I won’t be.

    • Ehsan says:

      Thanks Andreas. Just remember that PhD is only a degree and a training process. If you love reading, writing and learning, do not wait for PhD. Just do them.

  22. Winnie Chan says:

    I salute people who seek a PhD as it is increasingly uncommon with the current state of the world economy. I think it can definitely be useful; one should do lots of research beforehand in order to make sure they are making the best decisions possible

  23. underwhelmer says:

    Good points. A lot of people don’t understand the commitment it takes to see a PhD program through. That’s one of the reasons I became a wizard instead. Just kidding 😛 the avatar is just a coincidence. Seriously though, a PhD is a major commitment in time (not to mention money) that most people won’t have the perseverance to complete. Life happens fast and it has a knack for getting in the way of higher education sometimes.

  24. ogirl says:

    This is a beautiful and useful piece. I’ve recently started my masters and am applying to be a teaching assistant. I’ve always thought I’d want to be an academic. I’m glad I’ve seen this piece. It will reaally help me think about this clearer.

  25. ferniglab says:

    There is some moderately useful advice on the “lab” tab of my blog, but for really useful advice go to PhDcomics.com. Amongst the many vignettes of a PhD, is the direct coupling of the economy and applications to graduate school!

    A PhD and the careers that depend on it are a way of life and either you want it or you don’t. If the idea appeals to you, then test it out with a PhD. At another level, in a truly civilised society, everyone would do a PhD at some point in their lives, either after completing their studies or later on in life. We are not there yet…

  26. Cathy says:

    PhD is not for everyone. People nowadays seem to assume that getting one could automatically make them richer. They have to realize that it’s not the sole basis as there are also other factors involved. 🙂

  27. dpgoodfellow says:

    This post makes me feel considerably lucky that I am un-married, without children and quite young and still doing a PhD. Ehsan made some very good points and I definitely be directing future questions here.

    • Dr Karen McAulay (@Karenmca) says:

      DPGoodfellow, you’ve just demonstrated how different we all are! I’m married, with 3 boys & a full-time job, and I graduated with my PhD aged 51 after 5 years of study. I felt very lucky to have had a second chance to do a PhD and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. No regrets.

    • Ehsan says:

      Lucky you! However, I dont think being unmarried would stop you from thinking about a relationship. The marriage is an example. As mentioned in a comment before, the point that makes Phd a bit complex is the relationship management.

  28. Emily929 says:

    I’m almost finished with a Masters in English Literature and Rhetoric and I’m strongly considering pursuing a Ph.D. Your blog post really made me stop and think about why I want that degree. After a little reflection, I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m so extremely passionate about the subject, and after many years of receiving wonderful information, I want to contribute something valuable to my field. Thanks for posting!

    • Ehsan says:

      I have written this post with the hope that someone like you would read it. So happy that you found it useful. I found contributing to knowledge and paying off for the knowledge that we have received a motivation for my own Phd. Good luck with your journey.

  29. sellingtruthsfornada says:

    “Get out of my head!”. I am in a PhD program now. Swamped with thinking about building a family and whether or not I want to keep my day job. I love being in the PhD program though! Decisions, Decisions.

    • Ehsan says:

      Phd is full of these kinds of decisions. Your story is a great example. Hopefully you will make the right decision. Good luck!

  30. Mosé Barlibò says:

    An absolute thruth well said! When I started my PhD in Philosophy in Italy at 27 years old, I didn’t think about all those implications, I was very far from the questions you recommend. Thank you very much for the frankness of your speech!

  31. Eve Maria says:

    Really interesting post. I think the problem with these questions – although I agree they should be asked- is that you can never answer them, only in hindsight. I tried to answer those questions before my research masters and my personal circumstance changed dramatically due to circumstances out of my control, so any answers I gave myself previously were invalid anyway.

    • Ehsan says:

      Yes, that is true that no one knows about the future, but we make our decisions based on the things that we know. However, in many cases, we dont ask ourselves right questions. This post is written for that reason.

  32. Mika says:

    I’m still currently pursuing my Master’s Degree and WAS already thinking whether or not I should go for a PhD after I graduate. Thank God for this post! It made things pretty clear, so now I know what to do.

  33. kev07wan says:

    I find MYSELF asking this question non-stop! Here in the US, it’s just such a LOONGGG commitment, and there are way too many horror stories about it not paying off in the end..

  34. uponatlas says:

    I’m nearing the end of high school and starting to seriously think about my path through university. This post is pretty insightful as yes, I was pondering myself whether or not a phD is worth it after a Bachelor and Masters course.

    I’m wondering though, does this information on the phD course stay the same throughout each university in Australia? Or does it differ in time per state/uni?

    Insanely useful and insightful. Thank you for the post!



    • Ehsan says:

      I guess that is the case in most of Aus Universities. Inger knows this better.

      Just note that, as mentioned in point one, PhD is different from Bachelor and Masters. This post should not affect your decision in going to Uni.

      Good to hear that you found it useful and thanks for your comment. 🙂

  35. Bree Kornblum Katz says:

    Thank you for this practical and thoughtful piece. Although I do not have a Ph.D., I would also add, “How much do I enjoy teaching?” The Ph.D. candidates I know are all being funded through their universities as TAs, and many of them eventually wind up teaching the 101-level lecture courses entirely by themselves. This is on top of the work they are doing on their own research and writing.

    After putting myself through the wringer of Ph.D. applications in the past couple of years, I started teaching at a community college. My dissatisfaction with my job combined with my growing doubts about pursuing a career in the field for which I was applying convinced me that the stress was just not worth it, at least not now.

  36. couturerin says:

    If you have to ask “should i do a PhD” you’re probably not ready. It’s a massive commitment and the stress it causes, the isolation and the self motivation that you must have to do it also is not for someone who just decides “well I don’t want to get a real job”

  37. jseaford says:

    Great post Inger. Currently @ RMIT and throwing around the idea. The blog touches on many of those considerations I’ve been mulling over: I’ve a newly wed; I’ve found a good job; and, what on earth can I research that hasen’t been done a Kazillion times before…

  38. srikripik says:

    If someone asked me the question, my answer would be: (1) do the research about the program, the university, and the academics who might be your supervisor. (2) do it thoroughly. If possible, send email, ask questions or contact the academics about their research interest. The Phd candidate should do research about their would be supervisor first! Do the would be supervisors have good publications (books, journal articles) on the subject or topics? Etc… If not, then you should seek other university or change the topic! (3) be careful of “office politics”. Sometimes conflicts among academics in the department could derail the student’s plan! Office politics does exist even in the university!

  39. Katherine says:

    This is so helpful! I graduated from my PhD three years ago now, and while I had adequately answered all the above questions, I found I wished I’d known three further things.

    1. That having a PhD doesn’t qualify you to do anything. It only qualifies you to start publishing, networking, working sessionally to try to qualify to get a post-doc to then try to qualify for the bottom rung of the lecturer scale.

    2. That the last 6 months are a trial by fire. However isolated, hard working and committed I was for the majority of the writing process, the last 6 months were triple. Only when I was in it, and after, did lots of other people agree that they had had the same experience. It’s a taboo to admit it, like people who had a hard time in childbirth. If this is you, you are not alone.

    3. Getting a PhD is a major handicap in your job search if you decide to move sideways from the straight academic/researcher path. My ambitions were always in a university policy/admin direction, and in job interviews I get asked questions like ‘how do you deal with drudgery?’ and ‘how do you deal with people who aren’t as clever as you?’ They aren’t talking about the salt mines or idiots, just about the normal day to day work of professional roles working with intelligent and competent co-workers. I always have to be careful to address these issues explicitly in interviews, even if they aren’t asked (I am a nice person and a hard worker–it’s only the Dr that raises this spectre), and am beginning to think about removing my PhD from my CV.

    It’s great that you’re telling people that it’s okay not to get a PhD–especially in Australia where the pressure is to get people to sign up because goodness knows, we need the enrolments!

  40. Jian says:

    Having just finished a PhD myself, I have to say that the most important question is the last. “Why do I want to do it?” It’s something that I thought about the entire time while I was working the in the lab and even more so when writing my thesis. If you don’t have a solid reason, you will get demotivated during the whole process. Even with a solid reason you will still get demotivated, but at least you will have something to hold on to.

  41. pattyabr says:

    congrats on Fresh Pressed. I have thought about PhD for 25 years. If I don’t commit to it in the next 5 years I might as well forget it. I have maybe 15-17 good years of work left in my career. It is a commitment that I will have to figure out if it is worth my time and effort.

  42. Fuzzy Logic says:

    I’ve always had a PhD in my mind, and I’m still in third year of my undergrad. I really enjoy my line of studies and I would love to enter research. But there’s this part of me that also wants to explore the industry. In my head, ideally, I will finish a Master’s, work at some industries, and then head to PhD/academia line.
    It’s strange, I know. But I would love to explore this and enjoy the industry atmosphere before plunging into research.
    Does that makes sense? O.o

    Congrats on the Feature! And this post has helped me quite a bit.

    • Mark Vermeer says:

      I would strongly reccomend you to not persue this. In an industrial environment, you are trained to recieve orders from your boss. Besides, you normally get a good salary. When you start a PhD later on, might lose a lot (or even fully) your salary, depending on where you persue your PhD. Furthermore, since you’ve been trained to recieve orders, it will be very hard to turn and make your own decisions.
      I only recommend making the step from industry to PhD if you really feel out of place in an industrial environment after trying it (reasons as limit of freedom). Otherwise make your choice at the end of your graduation.

  43. gillbest says:

    I recently graduated from my PhD, and though I loved the experience, and loved what I produced, I am finding it difficult to get work, though with the economy being what it is, I’m sure that’s not helping. I studied Creative Writing for my PhD, and am finding that when potential employers (who are not in academia) se it on my CV, they do a double take. So, as I continue my search for gainful employment, I’m putting my skills to good use and writing a blog with my mother about living at home together as adults.

  44. abuasem says:

    Dear Dr. Inger
    Thanks for this nice post. It is really true. I am also being asked frequently this question.
    I have directly translated your post into Arabic and put it on my blog so that more people in the world be benefited .

    If you have any objection to my action then please let me know so that I will remove it.
    Best Regards
    Prof. Ahmad Almansour

  45. Eve Redwater says:

    Thank you for posting. This has definitely helped me out. I’m now certain it’s something I want to pursue in the future. It makes me all the more determined to achieve a PhD.


  46. whatsaysyou says:

    Great post, Dr Mewburn. I have come across a few people who say their motivation of getting a PhD is to get the Doctor title to make their former classmates to look up to them and respect them during some high school reunion. As a recent graduate, I hope to someday pursue a PhD but not now. It is totally not because of the Doctor title but I have a motivation to work hard, challenge myself and learn new things along the way. Most of all, I love to write and do research too.

  47. Chrissiemusa says:

    Thanks for the post and it’s totally true but the same questions could be applied to studying at university. Alot of people have the wrong perception about what unviersity work actually requires and are shocked to find out that university is not all parties but serious study and it is a lonely process. Your discussion on self-motivation could never be more true. It is the passion and desire we have to achieve a degree or a PhD that can either make the process a living nightmare or an insightful journey that is difficult but not without its rewards.

  48. Jean says:

    I would only say to somone, you must be passionate about your subject to pursue a PhD. Otherwise, don’t. It’s a serious investment of time and money of which there really is no job guarantee to pay off a huge loan. (if you have one)

    Master’s level degree is helpful for some industry areas/jobs. ( I have a Masters and it has helped me advance in my career.)

    Best of luck in your studies and career thereafter!

  49. Mark Vermeer says:

    I guess it is all a matter or location and the field you are working on.

    I am currently doing a PhD in the Netherlands. I work for 40 hours per week, and I have a social life besides that (playing soccer, going out in the weekend, see family, etc). I share a room with 3 other PhD students, we help eachother out and making a lot of fun together. In the practicals I am assisted by a few technicians, and sometimes fellow PhD candidates.

    For me, the difference between a job and a PhD is that I make the decisions on which direction to go (with guide of my supervisor), and that I have to do more writing to make papers / PhD thesis later on. Besides that I see no difference (also, In the netherlands the payment is very good, at the same level as a starter in a company)

  50. EscapeTheOrdinary says:

    I don’t think that taking PhD will be this complicated. I thought that it was as easy as Bachelor, come to the class and listen to the teacher. But, I am shocked. Perfectly difficult.

    Nice article. 🙂

  51. rubyophelia says:

    Thank you for posting this, it’s so difficult to get these honest answers from people, especially the working alone for four years scenario, so thank you for making it all a little clearer.

    Great article, and congratulations on the response to it!

  52. Michele Arduengo says:

    As a holder of a PhD, I can say there were many times I wondered why???? It’s a tough row to hoe, and you need to be passionate about the subject and have an idea of what you are going to do with it after you are finished. I do not recommend it for everyone. I do not even recommend college for everyone–I think we have lost a lot by not fostering a love and respect for craft and trade (carpenters, etc.) in our modern society.

    That said, the skills you get (at least with a PhD in the research sciences)–learning how to learn, learning how to ask questions, troubleshoot problems, come up with creative ways to address difficult questions, speaking and writing experience, teaching and mentoring skills–these things, not the specialized knowledge— are the “marketable” parts of the PhD. So I disagree that a PhD only prepares you for a career in academia, but you need to market the right part of the experience when you are interviewing. And, if you are not in a program that encourages you to develop those skills along with your specialized knowledge, find a new program.

    No educational degree confers an advantage if you do not show initiative and know how to be a self-starter. Don’t listen to the admissions personnel; a degree never guarantees a job or a minimum salary. What you do with the learning experience, how you network during your education and how you market your experiences after you graduate, determine your success.

    • Antonio says:

      I think this is the best post made. In the field of biotechnology (where I work in), 80% is going to industrial environments after a PhD. They however have learned how to do science, how to explore new things, how to work for themselves and how to report their findings. These skills can be learned in the industry, but a PhD certainly helps you on the way. You will find that in biotechnology most scientists and project managers in the industry have a PhD.
      But, as you say, people should do what they are best in. Meaning that if you are not good at sitting behind a desk most of the day, thinking about science rather then doing it, or if you rely on ideas of others, it is better if you stay at a lower graduation level and shine there.
      Like we say in our industry, a scientist is only as good as it’s technicians. If everybody was a scientist, no work would be done.


  53. waldbeere says:

    I’m doing a PhD in Germany (I’m right over my second year) and I happen to be in relationship & living with someone who is doing a PhD at my same Institute. Obvious to say that our daily routines basically spin around our jobs, our work rhythms vary quite a lot (when I’m feeling productive he is just wanting to relax, and viceversa), and our daily lives are full of stress. It’s not like arriving home to someone who does something entirely different, we hardly ever disconnect from our PhDs, and at times one of us has been fantasizing about dropping it and forget about it… yet we carry on. I guess “normal” jobs are just not for everyone, and even though I get quite stressed (and quite a lot feeling “guilty” about not being able to keep something close as “office hours”), it’s right the thing I want to do!

  54. mpbulletin says:

    Thank you for th post! This is something I’ve tossed around for a while now…TO PhD or Not to PhD 🙂

    I’d say it really comes down to the commitment question. Can you do it? Are you up to committing yourself to the research for a number of years? You really have to gauge what the near future holds for other aspects of your life to figure out if you can focus on the PhD.

    A lot to think about.

    I thought your description of one’s training in a PhD program in your second to last paragraph was interesting. It sounded much more like my Master’s experience here in the US. I’m always curious about the differences as to how academic programs operate in differnt countries. I’ve heard 2nd hand about a Master’s thesis defense in the Netherlands I believe where the student defends their research in a crowded auditorium against a university professor in a what seemed to be a full fledged debate situation.

    Once again…an interesting and informative post!

  55. IM_Author_of_TheDetour.info says:

    It’s amazing to see how different countries had different roles about PhD. What really makes me sad is when a friend of mine lost his PhD degree in history just because he wrote about a controversial subject. Facts such as he had gathered enough evidences to support his theory and he was totally objective were not taken into consideration.

  56. gbake783 says:

    I have a PhD and people ask me this same question periodically – I always pass along advice given me when I started, “If you’re doing this so you can be called Dr., it’s not worth it.” Boy, was he right! This post is 100% accurate – you will work mostly alone for 3-5 years. You’ll spend many lonely hours in a library on Saturday afternoons and Friday evenings. And when you’re finished, only your closest friends and family members will know what you accomplished. The education was worth the sacrifice. But whatever prestige has come with the title certainly was not.

  57. Peter Thomas says:

    More times than I can count I have tossed around the idea of progressing beyond and moving forward with my education. I have never seen anything quite like this though, and for that, I thank you.

    I don’t yet have my Master’s, so a doctorate is still a ways out of my future yet, but these are great things to consider, some of which I wouldn’t have prior to reading this article. Thank you again for such a valuable resource.

  58. tolstunka says:

    I agree with the author, before proceeding, ask yourself what is it that you really want to achieve. Is getting PhD the best way to get there? I know many happy stay-at-home Moms with PhDs (mainly in social sciences) and no serious plans for pursuing a career. I also know several women with PhDs in science/math-related fields who wish they could be stay-at-home Moms.

    Also, consider the field of study: Among my friends who are pursuing a professional career, a greater proportion of those with Masters degrees in business administration and/or engineering achieved higher/more prestigious positions (and higher income) compared to those who earned PhDs in social sciences. [This is just a personal observation and is not meant to imply any general trend.]

    Another thing I noticed is that high-achievers (in any arena, work or personal life; this includes stay-at-home Moms) always keep learning–from their experiences, by taking workshops, obtaining certificates, etc. So if you have a passion for learning something, improving yourself and contributing to the society, consider that there are multitudes of ways to channel this.

    The key is to enjoy all of our experiences, as they always happen for a reason and for our highest good. 🙂

  59. theliteraryman says:

    Everyone I knew at Columbia was taking 6-8 years from start to finish. No one was unhappy per se, but learning to live, essentially, at the poverty level in New York City is extremely difficult. This might be easier in other cities, but by and large a life of physical austerity seems a prerequisite for the life of an academic.

    However, the work of an academic is probably its own reward. You don’t feel the need to find happiness through money because your work and research is fulfilling on its own terms. In this way, the life of an academic is perhaps most similar to the life of an artist. I say go for it!

  60. trialsinfood says:

    I had the opportunity to do a PhD, but didn’t have the passion to continue what I was working on during my masters. I have to partially disagree with the being alone. I think it depends on the supervisor and the program. When I did my masters, there was a lot of interaction with others in the lab and even collaboration with other labs.

  61. maia says:

    great post. so many good points here. don’t think i have anything to add that hasn’t been said already. thanks for writing it!

  62. osozereposo says:

    Wow, this is really timely for me. I’m really want to pursue a PhD program, but I’m worried it might be a bad decision. I hit every item on the checklist, work well on my own, supportive husband, desire to work in academia and deep interest in the subject. Still, I’m hesitant. I’ve been burned by grad school before. I’ve got a master’s, and furthermore a master’s that virtually everyone told me would lead to a nice steady middle class job, but I can’t find full time work. I’m in the US, so I know the job situation may be very different from that in Australia. I work as a writing tutor to graduate students. I love my job and love teaching on the college level. I know if I want to do this full time, a PhD is the way to go (My masters is not conducive to adjunct work.) and I should start now while I’m still fairly young, but I’m just terrified of taking on more student debt and finding that nothing has changed. After all, when I started grad school the first time everyone told me, “While you’re in school, the economy will get better.” Ha!

  63. mohanmohan says:

    A cheaper alternative is to go to the court house and file to have your first name changed to “Doctor”. It’s a lot faster, too, and it would relieve some of the pressure on overcrowded universities. I’m kidding, but I think it is a good answer to the question if you want people to really think about what they are contemplating doing.

  64. Mark Drechsler (@markdrechsler) says:

    Good post – as a failed PhD student (well technically I guess you never fail a PhD, you just never quite get around to finishing it) I wish there had been more information like this when I attempted mine back in the mid-nineties.

    I’d add in a couple more into the mix:

    1. How likely is it that you will find a good supervisor in your field?

    I look back at my attempt as a 21 year old and realise that I needed a hell of a lot more coaching and mentoring if I was going to make a fair go at it. Totally different from the ‘sprint’ of my Honours year, I needed someone who could either support me through the process more, or counsel me away from it until I was older. If now-me could go back and talk to then-me I’d be telling him that attempting a PhD straight out of Undergrad was not for him – not that he would have listened…

    2. How difficult is your PhD topic likely to be?

    This again comes back to your supervisor in part. My choice of topic was something where if the original thesis of my work failed (which it did) then I would have been left with no real alternative directions to take the research (which I wasn’t). I looked at my topic in comparison to some of my peers who always seemed to either have relatively straightforward topics they were analysing, or who always seemed to find offshoots from their original research question which helped them to keep their research happening. When mine effectively died I was left scratching my head about why I had chosen such a pig of a topic, and faced with the prospect of going all the way back to square one and starting again on a new topic, so I quit. The moral? Unless things have changed significantly (which they may have) then not all PhD topics are created equal – choose yours carefully.

  65. Michelle says:

    I have read almost all the replies, and am now even more confused. I agree that it is crucial to know WHY you want to do a PhD, otherwise you will get demotivated during the whole process, which can be just as difficult even if you have a good reason.

    I have lost my only reason to do a PhD (i.e. teaching at university level) after having had ~2 years of teaching experience, and am seriously contemplating on quitting. Many “repliers” seem to argue that unless you have a rock solid reason, you would better off leaving the program before you have wasted too much time. Others suggest that PhD training allows you to gain valuable transferable skills, and that you never know where your degree will take to. therefore it is worth sticking to it.

    I still don’t know what I should do….

    • ingermewburn says:

      I guess this means there is no one answer for everyone. Unfortunately, it’s a gamble in lots of ways. After the fact I know I got a lot out of it, but I am a working academic. I might not say the same if I was doing something else.

  66. marellasunny says:

    oops,this question has already been answered by you.But,can one get into a phd without a masters?If I do a killer project and get myself noticed and pass tough entrance exams,will that suffice for getting into a phd?btw,i quit my masters 2 months back having passed all the courses.I hated the program but love the math.

  67. Sina says:

    awesome post, it gave me a complete different view… but is it true that a doctor can only participate in university and research activities?
    isn’t it possible to continue in other fields?

  68. aline says:

    Hi Inger,
    I really liked your article, – thank you! I am currently pursuing my Master’s in the US and really hope to get into a PhD program. Your article really opened my eyes on many things which are waiting for me if I decide to do my PhD. Sometimes students just think, well, it would be cool to become a PhD, but they forget about many things you wrote about! I know if will be hard, but I will do my best and I hope that one day I will become a great researcher and teacher.

  69. Dharmesh Faldu says:

    Dear Inger,

    I am heading towards Australia for my doctoral research in neuropharmacology. And reason for working towards PhD is that I answered your question!!! 🙂

    Can you work without anyone telling you what to do?
    Ofcourse, I can work. Research is timely combination of sole role and responsibility with sense of team work. This is what I learned during my past research. I guess PhD can be tailored in way that students like me can be trained towards understanding and approaching responsibility and make them INDEPENDENT RESEARCHERS of tomorrow. And I am heading to learn these qualities, so I would happy to work with own responsibility!

    Are you ready to work by yourself for four years?
    Brief answer is YES! Yes, I am ready cause I personally love the laboratory and my research. I understand the sense of MY research and that makes curious and more involved in the stuff I do. I can spend even longer, if research demands it!

    Have you thought of your family commitments?
    Of course, I do! Indeed, my girlfriend (soon going to marry) is also looking forward for PhD in Chemistry. As like last research she synthesized series of molecules to be tested and I tested for biological/pharmacological activity! We both again doing same, she will work longer hours in chemistry lab, while I am testing molecules in pharmacology lab!! So, in case, our family consist of me, my girlfriend, chemicals, and laboratory animals!!!! 🙂 We are happy making lab our home!

    What is your career plan?
    Career = more research! I wish to looking forward for continuing the research and looking forward as independent researcher. Let me quote (Please write this quote in some of your blog, so readers actually read it) “Bachelors degree gives you JOB, while doctoral gives you CAREER!” [isn’t it true??]

    And finally, why do you want to do it?
    Cause, while working on masters project, the outcome of research was so keenly positive that inspire us lot to work forward get a real medicine out of that. Believe me, there’s big hope and we will do it!! Simply, I want PhD, cause I have more research to do!

  70. Mathilda says:

    Yes I agree that it is just something I do. I work 9-5 each day and that is it. I am not going to stress myself out. Tom me it is like a 9-5 job which leaves time for many many other things. I do yoga 4 times a week, go on holidays, weekends away, go out for dinner, spend time with my partner and enjoy my home life! I have worked 9-5 for yeasr so it really is no big deal for me. But there are many perks, if you are disciplined and motivated there is nobody telling you what to do, when to do it or when to be in. You can work from home whenever you want, take time off (if it’s a sunny day) whenever you want, then just make the time up when it rains. The only thing I don;t do anymore is drink alcohol. I had to give that up, as I need every functioning brain cell and can’t afford to be hungover. I have two other very poart time jobs that I do a couple of times a week, I even finished off a masters course and did a random A-leve in a completely unrealated topic that I was interested. You have to be up for the committment of it and when a deadline does call, not to feel resentful if you have to work at the weekend to meet the deadline and for example miss a friend’s birthday party. But day to day, it;s a very nice life! Don;t know it – it’s a really priviliegded position to be in (if you are funded, that is). 🙂

  71. Anonymous says:

    سلام من یه سری سوال داشتم.could you read Farsi Dr Ehsan?can i send you a mail? I couldn’t find your mail address.

  72. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Eshan. I agree completely with your post. But there is one little thing that has been misplaced……. Majority of people who pursue a PhD are well aware of their personal commitments and they are probably the best time managers on the planet. They can also obtain substantial “extra-curricular” teaching or research to support themselves and their family financially. What has been left out is the fact that Universities prevent most PhD students from being too independent and free to self motivate themselves. Undergoing a PhD myself, I had developed so much results on my own account and I had written my thesis well ahead of the four year deadline. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to publish anything without the permission of the university or the supervisor, including my thesis. So at the end of the day, you can be as self motivating as you want to be, but you are still going to get smothered by the bureaucratic system. My advice would be…. If you think you are the right person to undergo a PhD (once considering all the responsibilities and financials), then research the available universities you want to conduct your study in (they are the dominating factor in how well you will do). At the end of the day, there is no point pursuing a PhD if you cannot reach your potential!!!

  73. Avril says:

    Hi there
    I read your comment with great interest. I have been longing to work on a PhD for many years. Everything you said about work commitments and then family life on top of work commitments are correct. What has to come first? Well everyone else except me!

    Now I have grandchildren and and i’m back to everyone else coming first. I really long to extend and then end my studies with triumph, hopefully being awarded a PhD.

    I’m 60 and I still can’t shake of that long held desire. I still feel a need to reach that goal, am I being stupid?

    Well I don’t think so. I have worked on a one to one all through my years in ITU. I have helped and heard all the worries of many a post graduate working hard long hours. I’ve heard their cries of despair and done what I can to ease their worries of time running out before presentation of their work.

    I’m a nursing sister, RGN; a midwife SCM;, a specialist midwife in neonatal intensive care, PG; and a geologist, BSCc (Hons). I have worked in all these areas and loved every minute of my life doing so.
    I know how difficult your research studies can be. However I really do enjoy working on my own and I really enjoy putting everything together. My problem is how do I narrow things down when I am interested in so much? OK, I have narrowed things down to marine science now after doing a Masters of Reseach in Marine and Freshwater Ecology but I still can’t pick a topic to focus in on.

    At 60 I feel I should be able to go up to someone for help to put together a research proposal but i’m lacking courage do to ageism. Am I to old??

  74. just graduated says:

    Hello, I am also thinking of doing a PhD. On the one hand, I love doing research and learning new stuff every day. Writing my Master thesis was stressful, but at the same time I enjoyed it. However, I definitely need to work on my time management skills, and the thought of pursuing a PhD scares me so much! I’m not sure if I can handle that stress for 5 years. I think the waiting-advice is a good one, but now my university has posted a really interesting and innovative research proposition that I’m interested in. My other option is to study a second Master programme. So should I wait or take the chance and apply?

  75. tristan says:

    I tumbled upon this forum while searching around the internet for comments on “should one do a PhD”. I hope some of you who have already done it can give some advice here. Here is my real situation and desire: I am a single male just turning 31 today. I have been working with a banking industry in the past few years and I have a Master in Economics. However, I was laid off earlier this year and still unable to get a new jobs (mainly because of my old job being too specialized and the salary was pretty competitive for the current markets. Some employers would say I am too qualified or they can’t afford my level of experience). My old job was an equity and macro researcher and I still want to find an economic research related jobs. However, I stand a good chance of not getting such a job for a long time ( I am saying even for another 6-12 months). I am thinking of returning to school and do a PhD in Economics. There are three main reasons (frankly): 1- To not wastefully idle in prolonged unemployment; 2- I am sincerely open to the idea of having an academic/teaching job or private sector job or NGO job upon graduating with the PhD; 3- There is a part of me that want to do or create something meaningful in life instead of just working and make a living.

    Now my dilemma is: by the time I finish the PhD, I would be 35-36. I do have a peer pressure issue when I compare with my other friends who will be advancing in their private sector jobs and earnings decent income when I will not only earning nothing but also spending a chunk of earned cash on the course. Sitting idled with no job or compromising for some meaningless jobs just to be employed will not make my life a happy one either. Getting a PhD has been an option eve since I started my Master degree but was never as strong as right now.

    Anybody who has gone through similar experience or of the same age group, can you share your thought?



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  77. Ranjana says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am also at the tail of my PhD and every other day I say to myself soon there will be a day when I wont be thinking about studies….really it is challenging when you have other commitments in your life.

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  79. Louise Durkin (@louisekdurkin) says:

    To PhD or Not to PhD, this question has been occupying me for some years now – so long I could have my PhD by now! From reading all the comments here and elsewhere on the web, and talking to my department colleagues, it’s clear that everyone has a unique experience and there are many factors at play. I don’t aim to be an academic (more because of the competition out there than thinking I wouldn’t enjoy it), but I want a PhD to improve and diversify my research skills, because I truly love field work and research, and to hopefully manoeuvre myself into a better position for Natural Resource Management jobs. With the current political climate in Australia, some people have told me ‘it’s a good time to be a student’, as there’s no jobs around anyway. But of course there may not be in 3-4 years time when I am a freshly minted Dr. It appears to be a gamble no matter how much reading and consideration you give it beforehand. My most honest answer to whether I have the self-motivation to carry me through 3-4 years of independent study is ‘I really think so’. The stand-out point from the comments, from Michael Perre, is that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. So I’m planning on taking the plunge being as prepared as possible for the highs and lows ahead. Wish me luck!

  80. mana says:

    First of all, thank you so much for your helpful advices, I was really undecided of studying PhD or not. Also, I completely agree about the Australian structure. I already have two masters in art and just graduated from Griffith university, but I moved to the United states, now my friend have persuaded me to study PhD online while I’m living here, I really don’t know how it could be, does it worth to spend some years and how, having a PhD from Australia could be effective in my career in USA? It would be great if give me some advices.
    thanks a lot

  81. Mohaideen says:

    Thanks Ehsan,
    My problem is simple, i need 2000 usd/month for my family while doing phd in mechanical engineering. Can any one help me in achieving this through any universities in Europe

  82. ratherhelpfuldugong says:

    Reblogged this on RHD and me and commented:
    Consider your thought process when you first decided to enrol in a research degree. Did you know what you were getting into? I certainly didn’t – and although I am enjoying the process and the new skills I am developing, I wish I had researched what exactly I was signing up for in the first place. The Thesis Whisperer has become one of my “legitimate uses for break time”, and I think this post offered some insight into exactly what we’re asking of ourselves for our research degrees.

  83. Jayanthi says:

    When I was young, I was compared by my father, with others, for not being the better one in term of studies and exams. I am now almost 50 and just graduated with an MBA, thinking of being a highly learned person and wishing to continue with a PhD is in line to that.

    This post has kind of answered my question of why I need to do my PhD. This post has made me question myself if I was going to do my PhD because of my father or because of my own self. I came to a decision that it was because of me. My father was just there to make me aware of certain things that are important in life. Maybe the thinker came in a bit late, but I suppose its better late than never.

    So, everyone out there who might be reading this, wish me luck. It might sound weird, but, I would like to say that I will venturing into Phd to find happiness.

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  89. Ali azarnia says:

    I finished my degree,master, and PHD in electrical engineering, computer engineering (IT) and telecommunication engineering. After 10 years study in university and spending so much money to finish the PHD, I found full time job in college with salary 600$ USD. Its really funny. if i work until end of my life i cannot earn money i have spent before. now I am 30 years old and all my friends and families who didnot go university or didnot study PHD have good life. but i have to start save money from zero now. all of them bought car, house, shops, or married but I still single and dont have 100$ usD in my packet. I am really confus now. I just think I waste my life for nothing.

  90. Wahyu says:

    I should read this 4 years ago, when I started my PhD. I am already running out of steam now and struggling to refill it.

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  93. preeti says:

    I have to apply for phd and they are asking for reasons behind it . so help me out of it to write the best one.

  94. LIGHTHONEY says:

    I’m about to consider PhD, and this post and comments really inspire me. I can’t find the answer. I’m working with part time researcher for 1 year after finishing master’s degree, because I couldn’t find the motivation and reasons for PhD. I think I love science and knowledge itself(especially Neuroscience which I’m in), but in little doubt about its final purpose for human being. I want to study more with my inner motivation, but I’m afraid that I would fall in doubt in the middle of my study 🙁 Am I too cautious?

  95. Christina Cowan says:

    I am 38 years old and have a Masters degree in school counseling. I’m having a hard time finding a full-time position after working only part time as a school counselor for 10 years. My kids are in school now and I don’t know what career path to take. There are a million different directions I could take and PhD came to mind but after reading what you wrote, I’m not sure that is the right direction. I am just lost, any suggestions?

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  97. Hayley says:

    Committing to a PhD is not a decision to take halfheartedly! I have just submitted my thesis and am awaiting my viva and my God it’s been a hell of a journey! I’ve summarised the top 5 reasons for and against doing a PhD based on my experience here- http://lifeasabutterfly.com/phd-5-reasons/ Great post by the way-very helpful for anyone just starting out!

  98. Hunter says:

    Phd opens opportunities in endeavours other than research and academia eg
    .companies looking for someone with phd skills. Nothing wrong with doing it to be called doctor because that is a prove to yourself that you r a success, also and depending on the society u live in being a doctor gives you an edge when involved in projects. And if you nail your phd that means you hopefully are much smarter as your critical thinking and analysis abilities are at much higher level. So stop being so romantic by saying don’t do a PhD if your intention is to be called doctor! Nothing wrong with that and big population of doctors did the study to be called like that.

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