PhD or job? Help please!


Hi there,

I have recently found out that I have been successful in gaining a place on the Civil Service Fast Stream (Social Research) branch and that I am the chosen applicant for a fully funded 'project' Political Science PhD at the University of Southampton.
I am asking for advice (I know I am in an enviable position) because I am really torn about what to do. I know that I would like the project and that I am very lucky to have the funding, however, it is not my own topic and I am not sure I would 'love it'. I do want to do a PhD, but I am not sure it is worth it for me? I feel the same about the Civil Service, but obviously, it has the added bonus of longevity and I do worry about trying to get into Academia. Currently, I am doing my MA and I do struggle with Bipolar Disorder and an Eating Disorder so I am concerned about the stress of a PhD, but I know I could dig deep and do it. I know that the Civil Service will also be stressful, but I am a hard worker.

I guess I am concerned that if I turn down the PhD (it's an advanced quant project and I am quite new to quant and less confident at it) that i'll never get the chance to do a PhD or that I'm being ungrateful if I turn it down. I have applied for 1+3 projects before and got rejected 4 times, so this is a major decision for me.

Any advice from anyone would be greatly appreciated!


Hi Maddy, I can kind of relate to this because I come from a civil service background and am currently doing my PhD. I was also offered a fully funded project, so it wasn't my own, and I also switched research methods, although mine was from a quant background to a very, very new qual one!

I can't tell you what to do, but a few things, like you, I knew I would like my project, but it wasn't my dream topic, I made sure I had enough scope to make it my own though and I have to say I love it. The bits I had the biggest doubts about actually don't matter much at all.

I chose to do my PhD in qualitative methods because I was seeing increasing amounts of jobs that wanted both quant and qual experience - this seems to be one of the popular things at the moment. I'd thought about doing a PhD by publication while in the civil service but I just didn't feel I'd learn as much during the process. I really wanted the challenge and to be able to learn new skills and to better understand how qual and quant can compliment each other.

I think it's easy to get tunnel vision and think that if you do a PhD you need to stay in academia - You don't. You could almst certainly still get into the civil service after your PhD if thats what you decided you wanted

I don't know if that helps at all?


I went into the CS fast stream after my MA although policy not social research. Some of my MA friends went on to do PhDs, and none went into academia though most had wanted to - they ended up generally in policy type jobs whether government, NGO or consultancy. I did a PhD after 5 years of the CS as I was fed up. I did end up in academia. I think the 5 years CS experience made me a better PhD student as I had project management skills, was a lot more resilient and was quicker to pick up on the game that needed to be played. I don't think there's a right or wrong decision for you. One doesn't rule out the other. The one thing that would make me tend to going into the CS would be your MH problems - you might find the CS to be a better environment for getting better than a PhD. There's something to be said for comparative stability, relative financial comfort and the ability to plan ahead for a few years compared to the roller-coaster of uncertainty that a PhD is.


Personally, I would take the job. Bird in the hand and all that. I would take the job, leave the PhD to someone who desperately wants it and will love it, and enjoy your time in the CS.


I would suggest that you pick the job. You can always do a PhD later (my friend did hers at 50 after years of work experience). There is also no guarantee these days that you will have a job waiting for you as a fresh PhD grad.

Avatar for rewt

Maddy I would take the job.

You can always do a PhD later with a few years of civil service experience to help you as the others have said. I think you should always take follow option that you think that you would regret the most if you didn't take it. Ie you can always take a career break and do a PhD but it is far harder to get a second chance at the civil service fast track.

Avatar for aliceknowles

Practice is more to learn than theory, so you'd better take the job. Anyway, you'll get experience and will be able to build a descent career.