Sacrifice for postgraduate study: will it be worth it?


I'm 27 and in the final year of my PhD and am just thinking about the amount of time I've spent at uni-this is my fourth degree (BSc, MSc, MSc and now PhD). I'm also thinking about going into clinical psychology training after my PhD which will mean more time spent at uni and five degrees to my name (sounds like complete madness!).

I'm wondering whether the sacrifice will be worth it in the end! Although I'm well funded at the moment, my MScs have left me in crippling debt, meaning that I haven't really been able to save for a deposit for a house, or have much of a life really! My partner has recently got back with me (we're now 6 years into a relationship) but I'm also wondering how my situation affects him. I often think about a parallel universe- how things maybe if I hadn't gone down this route of postgrad study.

I've worked so hard in developing my career and although these degrees have opened many doors for me, I can't help but compare myself with school friends of the same age who seem to be married with 1-2 children! Remaining in education for such a long time, I'm starting to feel that I'm missing out on some of the other aspects of life. Maybe this is something to do with gender roles (female biological clock ticking?!?!) I'm constantly being asked whether I'm married with kids etc whilst conducting my fieldwork.

Has anyone else during their PhD felt anything similar? I guess I will never know either way and I'm sure a large percentage of it is to do with a persons situation and character. Just a thought.

In short, the more time I'm spending at university (to develop my career aspirations etc) the more I'm feeling like I'm missing out or simply feeling that I'm wasting my time! Other aspects such as travelling, getting married, having children seem to be developing in importance (never used to be like that!)!


I'm 28, and just gone into my second year of PhD. I do sometime wonder what on earth I'm doing! I always planned to travel again and that never quite happened. I think about the future and when I'm gonna find time (or money) to fit kids in before I'm too old! But I don't regret it too much. I spent 3 years out of academia between undergrad and PhD and got some exprience of the 'real world'.

As for going on a doing clinical training. This is something I have considered doing, and strangely we were discussing this yesterday. Specifically the fact you don't have to go straight on to clinical post PhD. If I decide to do this it will be 10 - 15 years down the line, by which time I'm have (hopefully) had time travel and have a kid or two!


I have friends who did NOT pursue their further education, got married, raised families, have children now off to university and beyond, and are themselves trying to now pursue a higher degree ( masters level or above). I have friends who did higher education, had kids later, have good careers, but have faced early widowhood. There is no guarantee of a happily ever after whatever you pursue. People who apparently had the perfect life 10 years ago now struggle with a variety of personal circumstances no one could have foreseen, but are they unhappy? No. Do they regret their choices? No--because the choices were ones they embraced whole-heartedly at the time. How many people have told me they envy ME--studying in a foreign country--both the studying and the ability to BE in a foreign country? And when I look at the grim walls of Bleak Towers, I remind myself, you picked this. There was a REASON--embrace that and get on with it.

Ten years ago I never would have imagined myself here. It would have been ludicrious. The very idea of being divorced, studying, in ENGLAND??!?? with my beloved horses and dogs left behind in another country, just would not have computed. But here I am. One single different decision, one thing that had worked out differently along the path, and I would not be here, would be somewhere else doing something else--but now its hard to imagine what that might have been.

Education, marriage, children and age do not have to be mutually competing categories. People have children at 20 and get degrees at 40, or they get degrees at 20 and have children at 40. Or any combination in between of variables. If you don't travel now, you can travel later. A higher degree may open up travelling doors you never would have imagined. Getting married and having kids is no guarantee that life is going to work for you the way you envision it--you might end up with challenges you never foresaw, such as a bad marriage, a divorce, financial problems, health problems, widowhood, a special needs child--I could reel off real life examples of these that happen to people--you can't plan for them, you cannot see them coming, and they do not invalidate the choices that were made--they just ARE. Its life.

Think of whether what you are responding to are societal messages of some sort of role or life you should have--which I don't think ever plays itself out in reality--or what you want. The only answer in the end, is to be true to yourself.



I think most people would say that a PhD is a piece of cake compared to marriage and/or raising children. Based on my own experiences, I would agree. A PhD relatively speaking for me, compared to what else I have done in life, feels like a holiday.


I don't think it's helpful to see it as a sacrifice - it's just a choice. To me, you still seem pretty young too! Plenty of time for a couple of kids.

I didn't buy our first house until I was 38 (too much travelling and chopping and changing jobs). We are a bit behind our peers and on the equity/savings front (no savings actually) but that was how we chose to live and you can't (usually) have it both ways.

I think we are all to some extent pulled in two directions: travelling and new experiences vs a home, kids and financial security. One usually takes precedence over the other at any one time. It was the former for me for many years, but now the latter. Is your partner on a similar life-track? It helps if you are reasonably in sync.


It's a piece of cake compared to potty training **shudder**. I swear it's going to give me post-traumatic stress disorder.


Potty training....good luck with that!!!!

If my life plan of 10-15 years ago had remained on track, I would have a fully paid for lovely 2 story home, with a one acre garden, oodles of dogs, some land in the country to pasture my horse(s), a couple of children, my best friend as my next door neighbour, a career--its here I start to draw utter blanks--doing something.....maybe? No travel. None to any foreign countries due to an (ex) spouse that hated to travel and was a nightmare if he did. No further education, despite perhaps an interest in it.

I remember waking up one day, thinking, is this really my life?! Every day is the same as the one before and the one after--every day every day every day. Do I really get jazzed about buying bargains at the supermarket? Am I at all thrilled that a new shopping mall went in nearby? No, and no. But those were thing that societal messages in my community and family said I should value! And fine if people DO--but speaking ONLY for myself--it felt hollow, empty, meaningless, pointless, really.

What am I ranting about--I don't know!!!!!! Maybe I need to get some lunch!!!!!!!!!! But I think the point is that there is really no place that the grass is just looks that way. Some people would think the grass under your feet is greener than what they have. And just because you have done one thing in one phase in life in no way locks you into that forever, not if you want. There is still always time to do something more, something different. No decade of my life bears any relation to what I did in the decade before or after--its like entirely different people leading entirely different lives! But I wouldn't trade it.


======= Date Modified 22 Oct 2008 12:58:06 =======
======= Date Modified 22 Oct 2008 12:57:29 =======
I don't think it's a very good idea to compare yourself with old schoolfriends, unless it produces ideas to actually act on something and change it in the future. There's no point, because you can't get the time back and do things differently. I'd agree with Smilodon about not calling it a sacrifice - presumably you've made choices to stay in education because you enjoy it, or at least did at the time you made those decisions. If it seems like a sacrifice to you now, maybe it's time for a change?

Maybe your priorities in life are shifting at the moment, but it's not surprising if you're coming to the end of a PhD, but it's no bad thing to question what you're doing with your life. If you want to do other stuff after your PhD, then why not? You're very young still, to me too! Apart from having children, you can do the other things at any time of your life - my dad got married again in his 50s, and he still travels a lot and he's retired now. I just don't think it's good to regret what you've done, because unless it makes you pursue a different set of things that will make you happier in the near future, you'll just get miserable.

I know it's a cliche but life really is so precious, you never know what's round the corner, good or bad, so all you can do is make the best choices for yourself at that point in time, and try to enjoy whatever you decide to do while you're doing it. If you make the odd slightly crappy decision in the long run, well, you are human (!!) so you can do it differently next time around.


======= Date Modified 22 Oct 2008 17:37:49 =======
I'm 38, (39 on Friday!!!) and I'm just starting my Phd, I left school at 16 with a handful of O levels, did dead end jobs, some quite good ones, but dead end that weren't what I wanted to be doing and didn't stretch me mentally. I married at 21, had my first child at 23, my 2nd at 24, divorced at 27, went back to nightschool at 32, did A levels, married again at 33 and had my 3rd child at 34, started my BA also at 34, then MA, now Phd. So, I've kind of seen things from the other end. I'm not sure how to not make this sound patronising, but at 27 you're still so very very young. You have so much more to give, so much time to go - when you look at what I've done SINCE I was your age, well.... Its not in anyway a sacrifice, things that look perfect aren't - if I was one of your school friends at this stage you'd think depending on which part of 27, that I had the perfect life - nice house (my own), 2 beautiful children, a husband, a 'career' - but it was a smokescreen - the only thing I have left are the two beautiful children (who are now teenagers - say no more lol).

I genuinely wish sometimes, not that I'd change the kids for the world, they are my life, that I'd done it the other way - I can't imagine how it must be to do all this without school runs, sickness, all the other 'kid' stuff lol.

You can create a brilliant career for yourself in something you love rather than something you 'have' to do, you are still way young enough to have children etc if that's what you would like - you've literally got your whole life in front of you. Heck, I'm still planning on a career lol - I work out that I'll only have slightly less work time before retirement left after I graduate than I've had already and I plan to spend that doing something that excites me, that i'm passionate about and that uses my mind.

Here endeth the lesson ;-)


======= Date Modified 22 Oct 2008 22:47:30 =======
I think it depends on what you viewed this sacrifice was for. What are your expectations at the end? For many doing 5 degrees can seem like you were unfocussed/ unwilling to face the real world etc etc.

I have a good friend, who did a PhD with me and went onto do a clinical psychology doctorate. I used to tease him about avoiding work being a permanant student, but to give him his credit, he really loved whatever he was doing (at the time much more than I did).

That said my ex gf did something similar and she became quite miserable and resentful about the hoops she had to jump through, and how things didnt live up to her expectations at the end. I think she had several feelings similar to yours, and money etc became a real issue for her (and us ultimately). IMO it hasnt made her happy, she was far sweeter and kinder before, when she was on her way to her goal, but when she got there...

Basically no one is in a position to say whether it was worth it, but if you are thinking it is a sacrifice at this stage (before you are either in academia as a post doc or in another line of work) I would query what your sacrifice ultimately for and does it exist in the way you think it does?


Pineapple, I harbour many of the same sentiments as you. I am a few years older, but basically in your position. To progress my career will involve more years of study and the prospect of getting a graduate/entry job at my age is becoming more and more bleak (so much so I will probably re-locate to a country that isn't so hung up on age). In many respects, I feel I have wasted years my 20s when I see my friends in executive homes, high-end cars, and a few kids in tow. These issues bother me so much that it has led to my research grinding to a I would strongly recommend you sit down with yourself and reconcile your thoughts.

If you really want to do the 2.4 children/white picket fence lifestyle, then you need do need consider whether you can juggle that with continued academic work. However, also consider whether you'll be better off in a 9-5 job - as others have mentioned the grass is not always greener (and rarely is). Many of your 27 yr old friends with kids may end up in negative equity or find their jobs redundant in the next few years. However, you have given yourself a career that offers the flexibility to work in many countries and you won't have a massive mortgage around your neck.

Given the economic downturn and my own wishes to travel/work around the work, I think it is quite possible that there has never been a better time to have a PhD.


Well said, Stressed. I am 49 and planning to start my PhD soon. My life hasn't been quite as hectic as yours. I am a single mother (mine is also full grown), and after years of always being in a secretarial job and struggling financially, I decided that the rest of my life will be dedicated to doing something that excites me. At the end of the day, that's what life is all about - doing what feels good to you. I am now in a position that I can do just that.

Pineapple, the worst thing you can do is compare yourself to others. In fact, they may be doing exactly that about you, wishing they were in your shoes. Maybe you just need to take a small step back and balance the work with some play.


I'm a little younger than you but same basic situation.

The other day, I got a key to my desk which I'd been waiting for for ages. In the drawer was about 20 application forms for graduate programmes from 2005 that the previous occupant of the desk must of left here. I felt a little sick about the wages, training opportunities and development that was available through these schemes. I NEVER looked at this kind of thing back in the day (selling my soul to be an accountant was how I looked at it) but the idea that 3 years ago I could've applied for positions with clear progression and up to £53,000 within 3 years really made me think about the PhD.

There is nothing I would rather do with my time but is this (academic research) what I want to do forever? No. So then I think, move on!

I'm lucky in that all my friends are in a similar situation, i.e., still training for whatever profession they've chosen but now some of them are looking at buying houses and I feel I'm definitely holding my boyfriend back...

I think you have to just keep moving forward. Everything is evolving right?



Oo, also, I'm thinking of clinical too. I'm just wondering, my PhD is in a health psychology area, not clinical. What's yours (without too many identifying details!!!)? And have you got clinical experience? I wish they advertised 1 day a week assistant posts!!!



When I compare myself to my friends (I'm slightly older than you), the only thing I regret is that I haven't been working for x number of years and don't have the same stability. I'm married but that was more for cultural reasons (to get my mother off my back) than the actual desire to be married.

I may not be in the same position in life as some of my other friends but they haven't had the same opportunities as me so I would prefer to stay where I am. The grass always looks greener but in reality, would you really want that other life?