I really do need some input on this, I am awake worrying at 2am :(
My dream job: a psychology lecturer (permanent being the goal)
1. That my dream job is statistically unlikely. I read only 10% of psychology PhD's lead to academic positions.
2. If my dream job is unlikely, is a PhD worth it?
3. If an academic path is as difficult as reported (times educational, guardian articles, royal society figures tracking phd careers) would my time, stress, emotional resilience, money and efforts be better spent progressing in a 'regular' job?
4. Failing my dream job, I just want stability, disposable income and a good life... Alongside intellectual challenge. I know I can earn more outside of academia, and if I don't make it in academia then a PhD may be a backward step.
My circumstances: I have a place on a self-funded PhD. I am 31. I am a qualified ex-teacher and have worked a number of jobs before returning to university. If I applied for a job tomorrow I would accept nothing less than £25-30k. I want to settle down in life but desperately need a challenge. I recently achieved a distinction in my MSc. I loved my research dissertation and was asked by my supervisor to seriously consider a PhD... I did consider it... We get on great. And here I am.
What are your thoughts? I'm really sorry for such a long post... But the short question is: is a PhD worth the 'risk' if an academic career is so unlikely?
I am seriously considering turning down my phd offer, going to work again with my MSc, and getting on with my life. But this nagging thought at the back of my head might always be: I could have been able to do a PhD. And how awesome might that be! I don't know if I'm being rational, too rational, or finding excuses not to start because I'm terrified of trying to get my dream job...and failing.
Here are some thoughts - nothing very coherent, I'm afraid.
I have always thought it is better to pursue a dream even if I don't ultimately succeed than to spend my life wondering 'what if...'
I really wish someone had told me before I started my PhD that it is nothing like doing a taught masters degree. I too really enjoyed my masters and was encouraged to do a PhD. I haven't enjoyed the PhD in the same way. It has often felt like a very long and lonely struggle although I have now established some support networks with colleagues and fellow PhD students. I know that not everyone has such a negative experience but I've spoken to a lot of students who feel that their confidence really took a nose dive at some point during the PhD.
Can you ask your supervisor about the possibility of some part-time lecturing work while you're doing your PhD? If you're an established visiting lecturer when a vacancy comes up, you'll stand a much better chance of getting the job than if you're applying to a university where you've never worked. Also, if you decide to go ahead, make sure you get some publications out during the PhD because it's quite hard to get an academic job without them - another piece of advice I wish I'd been given at the start!"
I'm also worried anout the isolation you mention. I moved to a new city a year ago and only know my partner. I currently see a friend around once every two weeks, and am seriously missing a routine! And that's just after the research dissertation during an MSc.
I'm pleased you mentioned things like loneliness and confidence... I think they are serious considerations and already impact on me.
My supervisors are really nice, publish themselves frequently and have already been mentioning things like grant application, conferences, presentations and publications. Publish or perish.
I haven't officially started yet but the time and input they've given me makes me confident they are absolutely the right supervisors. I would recommend them to anyone. We've already decided and designed a first study. I also already have marking work lined up for April.
I feel slightly swept along in the momentum, but I do need to think about lack of routine, confidence, isolation... These things have a big impact in a persons health!
Thanks for your response, and honesty
The piece of information that sets alarm bells ringing for me is that you intend to self-fund. For a subject like psychology where there is funding available for good applicants, that sounds like an unnecessary risk. Statistically you are correct - it is unlikely that a psychology PhD will lead to an academic job (as it is for any subject) but at least if it's funded and it doesn't work out, you've had the opportunity to try to follow your dream and haven't taken such big financial losses. I know some psychology PhDs are ESRC funded, and the ESRC doctoral training centre deadlines all seem to be in the next two weeks so it might still be possible to get an application into your nearest centre.
Is an academic career is worth it? Firstly, even for the successful, the first years post PhD are often spent scrambling for any work and moving around a lot - this is not for everyone. Then if you get a job there are pay-offs. If it's a research-intensive place, the students are good, facilities tend to be reasonable and there are resources - the downside is that you are looking at very long hours and often unrealistically high research expectations. If you don't meet them, then your 'permanent contract' isn't worth much. If you are really driven by research, then it can be very satisfying, if not it's miserable. The teaching-intensive places are more like FE colleges, in the ways they operate, and like in FE colleges, it seems more and more difficult to get full-time posts and security of contract can be an issue. Here student recruitment and retention are the primary issue, and the demands are set accordingly. Again it would suit some, not others.
It's certainly not the career it was twenty years ago. And for the hours and the pressure, you could earn better in other fields. I honestly think it's only worth it if you are research-obsessed.
Thanks for your input,
I love research... But more than that I love the challenge. I would NEVER speak like this in person, but on a phd forum I expect we might all be able to relate to this:
I'm pretty bright... Well, what I mean is, in regular employment, having an IQ that may be fifty points above your co workers can be a very mixed blessing. I have never had a job that challenged me. I moved from teaching because I was stifled, went into the charitable sector and worked under people far less able than myself... Essentially I have always felt limited and unchallenged in employment.
Whether this is enough reason to peruse a PhD, I don't know.
Whether a life in academia would be more stimulating than employment in business or the public sector, I don't know.
I received my official unconditional offer tonight in the post. I felt nothing when I saw it, and the sooner I reach a decision to accept or decline/defer and get a career the better.
I'll keep checking back here. I know I would love the challenge of a PhD intellectually. But I've also been in the job market... And know that idealism can't make up for a rubbish job at the end of three years if hard work!! Even if you do get to call yourself "Dr"!
I have my partner and mortgage to think about. I just need to work out if it's worth the 'risk', just to get a job in academia and an intellectual challenge.
The downsides of the academic life are not lost on me, it's a shame things are heading the way they are. So much of our talent may be lost or downhearted in such a system.
Thanks guys. The posts so far have been really useful.
Here's the thing.
You mentioned that you want stable, secure employment. Academia is one of the least stable and secure employment options until you get tenure, which is increasingly becoming rarer and rarer. You will also need to think about your geographic mobility. You've mentioned a partner and a mortgage, both of these can be hindrances to an academic career. What happens if you land a professorship/lectureship position in a different country? How will you negotiate this with your partner?
A PhD, whether you go the academic route or not, is not a guarantee of stable employment. Stable employment can really only be found in a hard skill that is still required and cannot be done solely through the use of machines, or outsourced. I.E. Some trades or Medicine (Doctor). They are probably the most stable you'll get because they are in high demand and are quite specialised.
Do not do a PhD because you want security and stability in the future. The PhD is more than a title, it is a process. Do a PhD if you love research, and view it less as a step to employment, and more as a process of research and enlightenment.
The other thing is that you've mentioned being a professor as a dream job, with a focus in lecturing. This environment is also changing, your research outputs will be significantly more important than your teaching experience. I don't have much experience with psychology, but many of the psychology lecturers I know are also at least part-time psychologists in practices, or do a lot of hands-on clinical trial research.
Do not do a PhD for the sole purpose of becoming a lecturer, especially in a discipline like psychology. If you are doing a psychology PhD, it should be because you love psychology,you love the research associated with psychology, and that you can see a future in continuing research with psychology. Teaching/lecturing is an afterthought at many universities.
The others have all made excellent points. I echo bewilder's concern about the self-funded aspect.
Some great points already made here. Just want to reiterate what others have said about funding but also add what my back up plan was if I was unsuccessful with my bid for funding.
I am an ex teacher like yourself and have worked in various roles in schools. I am doing a PhD in social policy, I was fortunate to get ESRC funding. I made a decision that I was going to pursue a PhD whether I was successful in winning funding or not. If I was unsuccessful I had a plan to do a PhD part-time self funded but to do it a different area. My back up plan was to do a part-time education PhD whilst working in education. I would therefore see it as a fairly expensive hobby but also one that could have potentially enhanced my career in education later down the line.
The reason I really wanted to do a PhD was stay to engaged in academic debates, intellectual stimulation and also the feeling of accomplishment I've always had in education (bachelors and 2 masters degrees). If this resonates with you then maybe it's worth pursuing and viewing it as a hobby but one that may enhance your career. There are downsides to a part-time PhD but if you're self funding I think it's the best way to avoid the huge costs of study in loss of earnings...
Your plan Bs sound solid, and the kind of things where the skills you pick up in a PhD could be valued. I'd also advise looking for opportunities during your PhD to gain additional skills/experiences which may help support your transition to those career paths if need be.
Do consider a part time route though, and/or see what funding you can acquire via small grants.
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