Is a PhD a good idea for me?


I'm a Maths and Statistics student in the final year of my undergraduate degree, considering the possibility of a PhD, but I don't know whether or not it would be a good idea. I'm quite intelligent, and I've done well in my undergraduate degree (expecting a good first), and found much of the material to be fairly interesting. However, I don't have any particular ideas about what sort of research I would want to do for a PhD. I'm also curious as to the greater challenge of a PhD - I know it's substantially more work than an undergraduate degree, but just how difficult is it likely to be, and what sort of working hours are generally required? (I wonder about this because I'm not good at handling stress). If there's any other information about me that would help anyone give advice, please just ask.


It might help to do a Masters degree first. That extra year or two could potentially narrow down your research interests. Apart from that it is important to remember that a PhD has nothing in common with studies at Undergraduate or even Masters level, so think hard if you really want to be miserable, lonely and working long hours for the next three to four years. You say you are not good at handling stress. In this case be warned that a PhD does mean stress, a lot of it, by its very nature.


Well, lonely I don't care about, but I'm likely to find high stress and very long hours rather unpleasant. Another thing is that I'm not sure if I have the creativity required to carry out good original research (it's difficult to say, because I've never been tested in such a manner). Taking a Masters might be a good idea, though I'm not sure when the deadlines are for starting next year, so I may already have missed the opportunity. I've also been wondering - is further study a good idea when I'm "only" quite interested in the material I've covered so far, as opposed to having a great passion for it and being really enthusiastic about continuing to study it? (if that sounds like a rhetorical question, blame my communication skills - it's not meant to be)


Why not see if there's the opportunity of doing a PhD as part of your job - seems to happen to a couple of statisticians at our uni. And yes PhDs are stressful but so is working in the real world. Good luck with your decision.


Flakey, how could you possibly advise someone who cannot cope very well with stress to do a Part-Time PhD (i.e. DOUBLE the stress)????


i knew i wanted to do a phd, but didn't have a specific topic in mind. so i ended up doing a project where the main ideas were already decided upon, i.e. i didn't have to write a proposal myself. the subject is something i had never studied before, with people i had never met or worked with before, it just caught my eye in the advert and when i learnt more about it it sounded really interesting. i wouldn't necessarily recommend this approach to everyone as there is no guarantee that picking a topic almost at random like i did will be enough to get you through 3/4 years of hard work, but i would say that you don't always have to have a definite research idea in your mind before you start looking for a phd. this approach worked for me as i had never found a particular area that really grabbed my interest during my undergrad degree.

some people manage to work their phd like a job (me included, but it is early days for me!); others find it takes over their life! i guess it depends on lots of factors, including your personality, your attitude to your research, the pressure your supervisor puts on you, how you manage stress etc etc. it is definitely a lot more work than an undergrad degree, and i think doing a masters to perhaps narrow down your research interests would help you, and would be a good way to test how you cope with more stress (as a masters is generally more stressful than an undergrad degree, but a lot less stressful than a phd!)


Quote From jouri:

Flakey, how could you possibly advise someone who cannot cope very well with stress to do a Part-Time PhD (i.e. DOUBLE the stress)????

I'd agree with that. It sounds a good idea in theory, but can be horrendous in practice. Pressure to do your job outside of the PhD, pressure from your employer to 'get' the PhD, as well the usual stress that comes with doing a doctorate. Ok if you're already working somewhere and it comes up as an opportunity you can't afford to turn down, but possibly not for everyone

I'd agree with doing a masters first too, you'd be making a more informed decision by then. If you've missed application deadlines for the next intake, you could always work for a while - a stint outside academia might motivate you to get back into it, or alternatively, realise there are more interesting things for you elsewhere. My PhD idea came from my masters, and working for a while between degrees has a lot of benefits such as acquiring different skills and meeting new people, plus the money obviously.


Perhaps I'm missing something but I'm a little unsure as to why you're considering doing a PhD, beyond the fact that you're an intelligent person expecting to do well in your undergraduate degree. Progression from bachelors/masters study to PhD is by no means an easy or natural progression. Generally it is pursued by people who have a passion for research in general and/or learning more about a specific topic. It also helps if you have an aim in mind (e.g. doing a PhD will help me become an academic/improve my job prospects/fulfill a lifelong ambition etc).

If you're thinking about it because you can't think of anything else to do and cos it seems like the default for smart people, I would advise against it. Sorry to be blunt, but you'll save yourself a lot of despair in the long run. If, however, you have other motivations, then I would suggest getting some experience of a research environment (e.g. as a research assistant) and/or doing a Masters. If you can't work out what kind of speciality you might choose in a Masters, it's not looking promising for you to find a PhD project that would suit you.

It's not too late at all to apply for a Masters for next year. In fact some of the adverts might not be out yet. Have a look at as a starting point, but also look at the websites of individual universities as they might have additional courses not (yet) advertised.

Regarding likely working hours, it will vary from project to project and in different fields but I think the general expectation is a minimum of the equivalent of Mon-Fri 9-5. The reality is usually (a lot) more.

Good luck with your deliberations. :)