Positive Experiences in PhD


Hi all

I am just about to start a PhD in the next couple of months and am both excited and apprehensive. However, a number of threads on here discuss the negative aspects of a PhD which really worries me!!!! I understand it isn't going to be plain sailing all the time and am willing to put the time and effort in but dont want to have a nervous breakdown!!! I guess I was wondering if anyone would like to discuss the positive aspects of their PhD or any positive stories anyone may have? :-)


Your post made me smile- I am in the same situation. I am both very, very excited, and also very apprehensive- particularly after reading the recent thread about the health implications of a PhD! I am quite a perfectionist, which I had never realised until my Master's thesis, so I am worried about how I will mentally deal with that over a three year period!

I guess everyone has different experiences, but I'm hoping motivation and a great supervisor will help to make my PhD experience a bit more smooth sailing than some stories on here..


I am also a perfectionist!!!! I am more than willing to put the hard work in to complete the PhD but also want to be able to have a social life, be able to spent time with my partner and not come away from it with health complications!!!! I suppose every situation is different :-)


I've found that my Master's has helped me to learn time management more when it comes to investing in my relationship with my husband; for the first month or so I barely left my office room and then I realised I was neglecting my home life a bit too much. Hopefully things may become easier with the PhD as, though I know it will be a lot of hard work and deadlines, I think things will be more spread out and less intensive than a Master's.

In my current naivety I'm hoping I will be able to comfortably have a 40 hour work week and spend the weekends a bit more freely than I currently do. As my thesis is due in next week, I've been obsessively going over it on the weekends...

Where are you beginning a PhD, and what is your field?


Hey there! I guess there are always going to be negative posts on here- that's most likely when people are looking for support, but many people have very positive PhD experiences. I finished my PhD just less than a year ago and am now doing a post-doc at a different university. My PhD experience was brilliant overall- I loved nearly every minute and never once regretted having taken it on. I had a good social life and also got engaged during my PhD. Sure, there were tough bits, but I was lucky enough to be working within a great team, had a (mostly- we did have our differences at times) supportive supervisor who was experienced in supervising PhD students, and a project that I loved because I had designed it myself. I do have a tendency towards mental health difficulties as I have bipolar disorder, but I managed well over the course of my PhD- it certainly didn't drive me to any sort of breakdown. In fact, it was recently, during my postdoc, that I have had problems with that again. I think a lot of people have difficulties because they don't have good supervision or feel isolated if they are not part of a team- without both of those I'm sure my PhD would have been a more difficult experience. So go in with a positive attitude, make sure you engage with people and make friends if you're not already part of a team- it's good to have supportive people around you! Good luck with it :) KB


My field is in science (I have a BSc in Forensic Science and an MSc in Toxicology). For my PhD I will be specialising in oilfield analysis. I don't have very much experience within this field but have a fair bit of experience in the scientific techniques I will be using. I have been working in the pharmaceutical industry for the last two years since graduating so am a bit apprehensive about going back to university. I am excited too though :-). What about u?


Hi keenbean, thank you for your reply. Congratulations on getting your PhD :-) It's good to hear a positive story and I understand that most people probably come on here for support when they are feeling down or want advice. I am hoping mine will mostly be a positive experience :-)


Congratulations on starting your program. Nti!

You might notice that some of the posts pertain to managing personal challenges alongside completing the PhD, and not the PhD experience itself. It does require a lot of time and attention, so issues that come up (e.g. serious illness, death in the family, divorce, etc.) feel even more challenging. In retrospect, I enjoyed the academic rigor, and had a very supportive supervisor. The difficult situations that came up in my personal life during this period prevented me from finishing as quickly as I had initially planned, and that caused me to lose a lot of confidence. However, I wouldn't change anything. I feel I've grown tremendously from the struggle, and feel empowered by the fact that I overcame so much adversity. It was a great opportunity to grow both intellectually, and emotionally.


Hi Nti97sma,

I think overall my PhD story is a positive one! Obviously I only really came on here when I wanted to complain or moan, but I'm pleased to say that wasn't too often (apart from in the last few months which I found pretty hellish, but I don't think anyone can come through the stress of submission and viva completely unscathed!). I had relatively supportive supervisors, a topic I enjoyed on the whole, and I managed to maintain a good work-life balance throughout. I passed back in April and I finally graduate next month, and I think I came out the other side ok! I would say I'm mentally a lot stronger than I thought I was, and although at times the stress levels were quite high (!), I still got through it and survived.

So please don't think it's all bad - the posts on here are biased towards when things are going badly - maybe we need a subsection of the forum where people only post positive things?! Best of luck, and don't worry too much, as long as you have the support of friends/family to help you (plus the great people on here, obviously!) then you'll be fine!


Hi There,

I'm only a first year, but so far things have been pretty good for me! I definately have a chance to do things other than my PhD, but my supervisors seem happy with the amount of work i'm doing :) There was a thread similar to this one: http://www.postgraduateforum.com/threadViewer.aspx?TID=16927
lots of replies from positive PhD people :)
Good Luck!


My experience has been more of a mixed bag -- and I am profoundly grateful for having had the experience. I'm from the US and 3 months away from submitting a Phd in the humanities at a UK university. This has been a return to academia for me, so I have brought a lot of work experience and understanding of the ups and downs of "organizational behavior." In terms of "down time," I think every PhD student has the opportunity for a social life -- the challenge is that we often have to deal with being in nearly full control of that. It takes some skill and experience to learn how you will approach the competing pressures of time spent on the PhD and time spent on other things -- because no matter what, there is always more you could be doing on the Phd. It's not even a question of perfectionism or not: if you think there's some "perfect" product at the end, that will be your first big insight: the final product, the dissertation, is an act of the "art of the possible." Today, 2.5 years into this project, the amount of ideas I have had to put aside -- ideas that are central to the thesis, not offshoots -- far outweigh what will end up in the 80,000 final document.

I've had many difficulties with "the system" -- as well as family problems (including sudden and expected death of a loved one) and financial pressures -- so it has been far from smooth sailing. But I am very excited by my research, and kind of proud that I did not let the demoralizing aspects of "the system" minimize that enthusiasm. But it was a close call. There were two stages -- month 13 and months 21 and 22 -- where I look back and think I probably would have qualified as clinically depressed.

But here's the thing. That experience of suffering/struggling in the weird quasi-independence of life as PhD student really forced me to work on what I think is the most valuable thing I will take away from the PhD. Unlike in my old work life, the work wasn't being dictated by the demands of the company; I had to decided what was most important. Unlike in my old work life, stress could not really be thought of as the fault of the organization: within certain parameters, I had a lot of control over how much interaction I had with the unpleasant dynamics of my academic department. So, the slings and arrows were just as real as they were in my old corporate life (just a fact of life in organizations: people can be obnoxious, right?), but I didn't NEED many of those people to finish my work. My supervisor, yes. The others: not so much. So, I came up with the idea of using the PhD time to see what I could do to gain greater wisdom/competency -- whatever the word is -- about the big issues in life: how do we spend our brief time in this life? Along the way, I found various authors involved in "mindfulness" to be exactly what I needed. Daily meditation is becoming part of my daily routine (I say "is becoming" because at first it was ad hoc, then intermittent, and has been daily for only a short time). The idea of "the now," the importance of daily practice (a habit of mind that is different from goal-oriented planning, so a very nice addition to my "tools"), a different way of thinking about the inescapable suffering and impermanence of life, and awareness of just how demanding the mind can be, always looking back or forward, unwilling "to stay" in the present -- these have all be great things to learn, and relearn daily. Ironically, by spending less time looking ahead or behind, I've also made much faster progress on the dissertation. But that seems almost a secondary benefit now!

So that's my experience: it hasn't been what I hoped or expected in many ways, but the difficulties that I had ended up providing the trigger for a new frame of mind on life in general. I have great hopes that my dissertation will turn into a book, and be the ticket toward an academic career. But even my wildest dreams for the PhD


>>> Sorry! I wish there was something that indicated when I've gone over the character limit.

Last thoughts:
So that's my experience: it hasn't been what I hoped or expected in many ways, but the difficulties that I had ended up providing the trigger for a new frame of mind on life in general. I have great hopes that my dissertation will turn into a book, and be the ticket toward an academic career. But even my wildest dreams for the PhD itself are much less important to me now than what I gained by thinking of these years as an opportunity to think about the "big issues" in a somewhat disciplined way. I don't think I would have ever made the time for this in my old corporate life -- the siren call of "the job" and the way that sense of importance allows you to avoid seeing the fleeting quality of life etc. is a powerful force. So, it may not be "mindfulness" for you, but think of the PhD years as a unique opportunity to explore the big issues in life, when your time is largely your own even if your workload is just as big as it will be in an ordinary job. That was the most positive experience of the PhD for me -- in a PhD that has had many, many positive experiences as well as some of the most stressful experiences of my adult life. But it was the stress of depression that led me to the most positive thing, so I'm actually very glad that it wasn't all smooth sailing.


Very interesting post, Bejesus. Thanks for taking the time to share it and good luck finishing. :-)

Threads like this are very important, so thanks for starting another one! As several people pointed out, may people only come to places like this when they are really in difficulty. It's like reading reviews of restaurants/hotels online; most people only take the time to write something when they want to vent!

So far (9 months in), I'm really enjoying the experience. I love being in control of my own work, and that my work is learning more about my passion. The main difficulty for me is definitely trying to get the work/life balance right. Because of the nature of research you always feel behind - there is always another book (or fifty) to read and there is no boss to tell you to go home at the end of the day. But because I'm generally interested in my topic I find myself doing work even when I 'give myself' a day off!


I started the previous thread (linked below) but thought I might update.

I am in a slightly different position as I am an RA doing a PhD at the same time, though the PhD is basically my RA work so I don't have much extra to do. I previously worked in industry for a while and (as I've said a few times on here before) I don't think a PhD (in my experience) is all that dissimilar from a job with a long project in it. Having said this, I used to work for a small engineering firm where people didn't care when you came in or left so long as the work was done - possibly not a typical industrial experience.

This is meant to be about the positives of a PhD (obviously specific to my situation), but I'll list the frustrations first then finish up with the positives to end on a high note.


- Universities are disorganised and professors are generally even more disorganised - took over 6 months to sort my contract out properly
- Money is tight, in industry I generally got the things I needed quickly, regardless of expense because they were needed.
- Sometimes you can get stuck on a problem and there are not many people to ask because you are very specialised
- Had to take a pay cut and my pay can't go up any more at the uni before I have my PhD


- No real boss, I'm trusted to just get on with it and I do
- The work is slightly more intellectually stimulating
- I feel like I'm working towards something (because I am!) whereas in industry you sometimes just see your career spreading to retirement in front of you with no decent goals or rewards along the way.
- University societies and (at my uni) plenty of other people with a similar background and interests
- Get to work in a field that I want to work in.
- Lots of cake. Honestly - doing a presentation? Cake. Birthday? Cake. Bought too much cake the other day? Bring in cake. Bored? Buy cake. Note: I like cake. (mince)


Yet to receive any PhD-related (mince) . Now that's my number one frustration.