Deciding to embark upon a PhD and committing the next 3-5 years (and possibly more) of your life to study of a particular topic or issue is a big decision. Not only are you signing up for a funding struggle and years on a low budget, you subscribe to the notion that self-motivation is the way forward. Yet despite the difficulties, 12 thousand of us still decide to take on doctoral programmes in the UK and EU every single year.
But is the knowledge, independence and qualification really worth it? Here are a few pros and cons of studying for a PhD which you should consider before signing straight up.
It’s best to be aware of the facts, so first up we have the cons of your future as a doctoral student:
Following your passion through study means that you’ll be working on your own for the vast majority of the time, and this can lead to a lonely life if you’re not careful. Whilst your friends may be off working in large corporations which focus on dynamic company culture and team bonding, you will succeed or fail on your own.
Lack of certainty
When beginning a PhD, there is (in most cases) not a set period of time by which it needs to be completed, and this will often depend upon the quality and quantity of data you’re able to obtain. Whilst this can be exciting, and motivate you to get as much as possible done in the shortest possible time-frame, it can also engender a sense of uncertainty and lack of future security.
Whilst you’re more likely to get funding for the sciences that the arts, in all cases you will have to fight your corner to get full funding for your proposed PhD, and may have to compromise on what you’re actually studying in order to obtain financial backing. Even if you are ‘fully’ funded, this will likely only just cover living costs and leave you scraping the barrel, whilst your former classmates in city jobs advance up the salary ladder.
Not all succeed
Whether studying in the UK or elsewhere, PhDs have a notoriously high drop-out rate, and in some UK institutions the percentage of those failing to obtain the qualification exceeds 40%. In the United States, only 57% of PhD students achieve success and completion within 10 years of their enrolment. So ask yourself if you have sufficient perseverance and determination if you do chose to pursue a doctorate.
Whilst these disadvantages may be sufficient deterrent, there are a whole host of reasons why you should stick to your guns, follow your passion and get your PhD!
Follow your passion!
Taking a PhD gives you the opportunity to study what you love for years on end, in your own bubble away from many of the pressures of the outside world. You can focus on yourself and growing your own knowledge, rather than constantly working for someone else simply to grow the output and revenue of a huge corporation.
Choosing when, where and how you work can be a hugely attractive element of further study, especially if you’re not a fan of being managed.
Whilst you may not know how long it’s going to take, being secure in the knowledge that you’re on a set path for the next few years can be hugely reassuring. Once you’ve obtained funding, you also know that (however small), you do have a guaranteed source of income for the next few years, for which you are not daily accountable to a line manager.
Science PhDs in particular are a long term investment which will boost your employment prospects. Bernard Casey has found that PhD’s bring men a 26% rise in earning potential. Whilst a master’s degree was found to bring almost as much of a rise (23%), pursuing a career in scientific research will almost certainly require a PhD.
So, consider the facts carefully, don’t let the horror stories of failed PhDs scare you, and if you think you’ll enjoy it and benefit from it then go for it! Think about the type of PhD you’re doing, and the career prospects it will bring. And most importantly, do not do a PhD simply because you think you ought to, or because someone else is telling you to. A doctorate is hard work and requires determination and perseverance, so do it for yourself, not for anyone else.
Alexandra Jane is the writer and editor of graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available, as well as their graduate jobs Manchester page for further opportunities.