So, you’re thinking about going to grad school to do a PhD. It’s a big commitment, and not a decision that should be taken lightly. That said, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience and is one of the best decisions I’ve personally ever made (so far!). Here are some things you should consider when deciding whether or not to pursue your doctorate.
Pros of Doing a PhD
1. You have 3-4 years to learn about something you’re passionate about.
You’re basically getting paid to read about and research something you should be pretty obsessed with which is very fulfilling!
2. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people who share your interests.
From people in your research group or your course, to others who are doing interesting research outside of your field, you’re likely to make deep connections with people who are going through similar experiences to you.
3. In addition to learning about your topic, you’ll also gain a lot of highly transferrable problem-solving and communications skills.
Things will break and generally not go as planned and you’ll have to figure out how to fix them. Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty useful skill in the real world too.
4. You may increase your earning potential.
Particularly in the tech industry, a PhD can help you earn more money.
5. You’re likely to have more flexible working hours.
Unless you’re working in a lab, you’re often free to make your own schedule as long as you get your work done.
6. It’s a requirement for some jobs.
A lot of machine learning engineer jobs, for example, require a PhD.
7. You get to fill out “Dr.” on forms.
This one may sound a bit silly, but I’d count it as a big plus. (And you’d be surprised how many people decide to do a PhD just for this!)
8. You get to contribute novel knowledge to the world and make a difference in our understanding of it.
You’re likely to be the first in the world to do or discover something which is just pretty cool.
9. You get to postpone “real life” for a few years.
Having worked a “normal job” for several years, I can confirm, student life is better.
10. You can explore other passions alongside your PhD.
Universities will have other clubs, societies, workshops, and classes you’ll be able to participate in. You’ll also have access to careers advice and trainings that you would otherwise have to pay loads of money for.
Cons of Doing a PhD
1. It’s hard work and can be very frustrating at times.
Things will go wrong and problems will seem intractable. This is where having a good supervisor and colleagues comes into play.
2. If you don’t get funding, it can be very expensive.
In the UK, a lot of people do have to self-fund. If you’ll take out loans to cover the cost of your education and living, it might not be worth it. However, this will depend on your situation, of course! A lot of top educational institutions are in very expensive cities, so definitely factor in the cost of living!
3. Depending on your field, it may make you overqualified for jobs you’re interested in.
Doing a PhD may not increase your earnings more than getting 3-4 more years of work experience in the field would). Potential employers may not hire you because they don’t want to pay you more for your higher level of education.
4. Depending on your subject, you may be required to keep regular working hours and then work long, additional hours on top of that for meagre (or no) pay.
Working in a lab will require you to be in attendance during normal hours a lot of the time. And then, after that, you’ll likely still have more work to do. Some supervisors are also incredibly demanding and expect you to put in longer hours than others.
5. If you’re not truly interested in your topic, it’s a long time to be studying it and you could get bored.
This is why it’s so important to do a research project you’re interested in. I’d caution against doing a project just for the sake of getting funding if you’re going to get bored of it after a year.
6. As with everything, there are a variety of risks.
There’s a chance you could fail, you could not get along with your supervisor, not finish on time, etc. Some universities have more safeguards in place against these kinds of issues than others, so this is a good area to research beforehand.
7. It could negatively impact your mental health.
If you’re prone to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, there’s a decent chance a PhD could exacerbate them if they are not properly managed. It’s crucial to take advantage of university and other resources to make sure you stay healthy throughout your PhD. It can also be a very sedentary job, so make sure to schedule in regular exercise as well.
8. University administration can be difficult to deal with at times.
Particularly in large universities, things don’t always work properly. You may be paid late for TA-ing, certain forms may get lost, you might not have access to the buildings you’re supposed to, etc.
9. It can sometimes feel like you’re “falling behind” your friends who are advancing in their careers over the course of your PhD.
While they’re getting promoted and their salaries are increasing, you’ll likely be on the same stipend for several years in the same position (this can also be an issue socially if your friends are all earning high salaries and you’re on a minimal stipend). But don’t worry, you’ll catch up once you graduate (and start at a higher-level job). However, it is important to consider the role of work experience in getting jobs even if you have a PhD. Many places still value this so, if you go straight through your education rather than taking a break to work, you could be at a disadvantage in some fields.
10. Having to explain to everyone why you’re doing a PhD and having many people not care about the topic you’re devoting your life to.
A lot of people will question why you’d bother doing a PhD and generally not understand your decision. Furthermore, when you try to explain your topic to others they simply won’t be anywhere near as interested as you and their eyes will likely glaze over.
I hope this helps you in deciding whether or not to do your PhD! For further help making a decision, be sure to check out my post on what a week in the life of a PhD student is actually like and my post on a day in the life of a remote computer science PhD student in London.
As always, comment below if you have any questions!