PhD Offer Dilemma - Advice Needed!


OK, so I need some advice. Here is my current situation:

I am a Graduate currently working and residing in Surrey. I am 23 and in a fairly well paid job for my age (~£26k p.a.) in an area that I am interested in - Sleep Research. I have been in this job since last year and my degree Final Year Project was in Sleep Research and have said that I would like to do a PhD eventually. I have recently applied to and been given a conditional offer to a pretty good (top 20) university for a PhD position in Sleep Research. The offer is subject to the acquisition of funding from a second interview in a few weeks.

The problem:

The whole time I have been applying for the PhD I have really not felt like my heart is in it or I am ready for it. I am very happy in my life at the moment and enjoying working and earning a living. Also, I was not the one who sought out this position. My former supervisor for the Final Year Project (who likes to look out for me as she left my old Uni to work overseas, otherwise would have offered me a position there) asked if I'd contacted the Professor of the potential PhD and encouraged me to apply for it. I just don't feel ready for this and feel that if I had really wanted it I would have sought it out myself. I am in a relationship and very happy with my girlfriend too, but the new University is a long way away from Surrey. I know this is a very good opportunity but I just don't think my heart is in it. However, the big question is, is it wrong for me to turn this down??

If anyone could give me some advice I'd be very grateful!


======= Date Modified 28 Jan 2011 10:34:38 =======

Warning bells ringing here!!!

You're working in an area you're interested in already - fantastic. You're very, very fortunate.

You appear to be very happy in many areas of your life currently, which is great. You're very, very fortunate.

Twice you've said your heart is not in applying or doing the PhD. You're only at the application stage and already have very grave reservations. A PhD is very, very hard work and it will cause disruption to your current life. Only you can decide, and it is YOUR decision, but my feeling, based on what you've said, is don't do this PhD. You can always do a PhD in the future, or even part time.

Good luck deciding. I'm mindful that I'm doing a PhD that my heart is not in (but I was unemployed before doing the PhD and so had nothing to lose) and so my judgement may be clouded somewhat. Since you have to live with any decision, only you can and should make the decision.


======= Date Modified 28 Jan 2011 08:53:17 =======
======= Date Modified 28 Jan 2011 08:50:15 =======
Hi Garry

Disclaimer, disclaimer as ultimately the decision is yours but I'm with Delta! A PhD, even for those who LOVE it is hard, not just academically but in every way. Motivation to keep going can be tough but if you hit such a wall you are also likely to feel resentful as you no doubt will beat yourself up by reminding yourself that "I didn't really want to do this anyway..."

Plenty of people leave the world of study to work and return later in their life, in their late 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond. 23 is young (I vaguely remember it!!) so you have oodles of time. In fact life experience can help with the PhD process. If you have more life experience under your belt, you will more than likely be better equipped to handle the project management side of it, the motivation, the at times, tough feedback on your work.

If you do turn it down you can lay out your very valid reasons for doing so, but try to leave the door open for yourself, so you could return at a later stage. Therefore, couch your refusal (if that's what you decide to do) in terms of 'not as this time in my life', 'feel I need to keep working - lucky to have a job at the moment' etc.

However if you do stay with the programme I'm sure you'll do great!! Seriously though, think it through - a PhD is a big life committment.

Good luck


Delta - you're still with your PhD?? Don't want to pry but are you happier with your work??? Hope things moving in an positive direction for you:-)


Hi Garry

To add a bit of balance, venturing into the unknown is difficult at the best of times. You seem to be looking at all the "cons" and haven't mentioned the "pros". This is common when deep down you don't feel like the change, which is a natural thing to feel. However, there must be reasons why you said you want to do a PhD "eventually" (whatever that means!). This may be a great opportunity for you, and you don't want to miss it for a few rather mediocre reasons (e.g. "I'm happy as I am"). I would see the PhD application process through to the end - perhaps you won't get the funding and therefore your decision will be made. When you have the full official offer - then you have a real choice to make - remember to look at the pros as well!

Whatever decision you make will be the right one.


Hi Ady,

Many thanks for remembering and asking. Yes, I'm still with the PhD, just (haven't made much progress though). I'm determined to see it through as unemployment is the only other option. I'm taking the view that the PhD for me will be a test of pure endurance, rather than any enjoyment. Besides I've come this far... I'll continue to jog on, finish the marathon and then the excitement will kick in I think!


Sorry this is totally irrelevant to the above post.

Hi Delta!

Just read what you said your reason behind doing PhD , actually im in the same situation. i recently graduated from Birmingham university but no luck with the job , really disappointed and now started applying for phd . My mind is not into phd as its a long way to go through and needs high motivation.
im alot confuse about what shall i do go for phd or not although i haven't been confirmed for funding as well.



Hi karimsara!

I do feel for you and only you can make a decision as to what to do.

It's only my opinion but if you are reluctant to do a PhD anyway then you certainly shouldn't self-fund. Give yourself a reason for doing a PhD. My reason for doing the PhD is because I was unemployed, didn't feel it was likely I'd get a job soon and I wanted the income from the PhD. Not good reasons but I've stuck with the PhD and, for the most part, have worked hard on it and so, for me, I can justify my reasons. I am very organised in how I approach it and this helps to get me through it. Why am I seeing it through to the end? I still have most of the writing to do but I'm more than two thirds through the funding and feel it would be very wrong to drop out now as it could have an impact on future funding and I need to do right by the department and other potential students. Had I been able to collect the data sooner I might have left with an MPhil but it wasn't to be.

Please, please don't do a funded phD unless you feel you can commit to it as dropping out could have implications for others and you really need to take that into consideration. To be fair to me, I did feel I could commit to it when I took it on but did not anticipate the hold ups etc and so when these got in the way my motivation ran low. When I was able to work I made good progress but when there were hold ups and I couldn't make progress I found it difficult to get into again.

Whatever you decide, I wish you the very best of luck!


Delta, as much as I admire your benevolent attitude, I can't help thinking that in the "real world", one has to do what is right for oneself and one's family. I'm sure many have doubts about doing a PhD before starting and go on to be good PhD students who manage to last the course. I feel your advice "then don't do it" is far too simple for such complex situations.

As far as implications for other people, this shouldn't be a variable in your mind when doing or starting a PhD. All that will do is add further pressure and divert attention - the PhD is yours exclusive of imaginary and non-imaginary "others".


======= Date Modified 28 Jan 2011 13:35:55 =======

Quote From PierreR:

Delta, as much as I admire your benevolent attitude, I can't help thinking that in the "real world", one has to do what is right for oneself and one's family. I'm sure many have doubts about doing a PhD before starting and go on to be good PhD students who manage to last the course. I feel your advice "then don't do it" is far too simple for such complex situations.

As far as implications for other people, this shouldn't be a variable in your mind when doing or starting a PhD. All that will do is add further pressure and divert attention - the PhD is yours exclusive of imaginary and non-imaginary "others".
-I see myself as being very much in the real world hence my constant struggle with relevance, theory and where is this all going. I'm coming to the end of my PhD journey (sic) and if I have learned anything it's that there is no so 'typical' PhD student. I admire Garry's honest attitude before he starts, if indeed he decides to start. I think it takes guts to decline something rather than 'fall into' it. PierreR I think your post here jibes a bit with your post on the 'why' thread. There lots of laid out our motivations for why we are where we are. Some people want to change the world, some have a more incremental 'change the world approach' and some of us are still not sure.

Sorry Garry, think you've started something here ...!!!


======= Date Modified 28 Jan 2011 14:08:42 =======
I'm not sure what you mean by "jibes" Ady, would you enlighten me, and point out what exactly jibes with what?


EDIT: when I say "real world", I'm not trying to be condescending - I am talking about the very real things that are going on in our personal lives, for instance the responsibilities we have to our families, partners, etc, that sometimes seem contradictory to our ambitions to further our careers, do PhD's or such-like (e.g. working late, weekends, or far away).

And there is no "typical" PhD student as much as there is no "typical" human being!


Hi Pierre

Jibes, as in jars, not quite match - maybe I used it in the wrong context but where I'm from that's what it means.

And yes different PhDs, different students, different humans



Then perhaps I've confused myself. :-)

My post you refer to:

Just fell into it after returning to University to do a Masters. Did well, was offered a scholarship and it felt like a good opportunity.

To be honest, I have very little idea what I am doing, or why I am doing it, but most of the time I enjoy this bizarre existence.

I'm not sure how that conflicts with my other post ... I had very real reservations about the PhD I was offered, in terms of its effect on my family and its usefulness in furthering my career and education. I wasn't sure at all, but I'm enjoying it. I certainly didn't consider anyone else in my musings (other than my family) - the offer was mine to take - perhaps I am selfish!


Am I inferring correctly from Delta/Ady when I ask: Should I have turned the PhD and scholarship down in order to allow someone more sure of him/herself and of the project to take it instead? If the answer to that is "yes", then I have to disagree! Partly because I can't be sure such a person even existed.

I guess that is my point in a nutshell. As you were. Sorry for being so vocal, I should probably stop procrastinating and get on with some work.


Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

Hmm, you're having alot of the doubts typical of people who've thought about doing a Ph.D. That's why I did this page for students asking me questions about what's involved when I went post-doc (typical questions listed).

You said to your old supervisor you'd like to do one sometime but didn't give specifics. It looks like your old supervisor has got the wrong end of the stick and thought you wanted to do one now. I don't believe you supervisor has done the right thing arranging an interview for you and should have left it as mebbies you should contact this person if you wish. You've basically been put on the spot.

You say you're happy with your life, job and girlfriend. I think you've answered you're own question to be honest. If you don't feel ready to take on such a commitment, that in itself says leave it for now. If you do, remember you'll be taking a major hit financially. Also, you'll be moving to another part of the country for the next few years. Whether your girlfirend moves with you or not, the upheval of the move and the stress of the Ph.D. will (unless she's very understanding) put pressure on that relationship.

In all honesty, it sounds more like you're beginning to settle down rather than looking for change, and you're current circumstances are creating a situation where you're able to do that. If you're really onto a good thing, do you really want to spoil it?

I think the person you really need to talk to is your girlfriend. If you're in a relationship, it's effectively a joint decision.

Is there not a chance you could go part-time based on the research you're doing in your current job (i.e. on the job Ph.D. part-time) at some point in the future?

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


Hi Garry

I stumbled across your post while googling PhD opportunities in sleep so thought I'd add my thoughts.  I work in a sleep centre near Cambridge and find myself in a similar situation - I'm 26 and have been considering doing a PhD but have similar concerns.   I love my job so wouldn't want to leave so would but I also feel it is important for my future career and I'm worried that without it I might reach a ceiling without it.  It's great to hear you are happy with life as things are and perhaps that stops me doing one in the other way as I realise that doing a PhD will stop me living the life I want for the next few years. 

Do you mind me asking which university you are considering? I'm currently looking into where I could apply to if I did decide to pursue it so I know what my option are.  Have you thought about doing a MSc or MPhil which would be a half-way option that could be done part-time and possibly staying in your current job?  I think this is the way I might go as I feel I will need some form or postgraduate qualification if I want to pursue a career in research but doesn't mean quite the slog.  You can always then progress this to a PhD if it suited you. It's also quite scary even considering giving up something you enjoy especially knowing how difficult it might be to find a job afterwards.  I'm not sure if you would be eligible for NIHR Research Fellowships which would fund the tuition fees and also research costs but its something I've looked into as I could stay in my job (I work in the NHS).   

Good luck with your advice would be to speak to as many people about it as possible to get different perspectives.  It probably doesn't make it much clearer (it even confuses things at times) but at least you can make the best decision for you!