Scared to do a PhD???!!!


Hey, I'm in the process of deciding whether to accept a PhD offer in biological science or not and it seems to be an agonising decision! In reality people around me including my dad who did a PhD have given me the impression that although it will be hard it won't be a ridiculous and tormenting experience for 4 yrs. However, after a bit of googling and reading through threads on this website I am absolutely petrified! i know there will be ups and downs bt i dnt wanna become mentally ill and sum of the stories on here are horrific! I want to work hard bt i don't want to be working 12 hrs a day 7 days a wk and be on the verge of killing myself.

As far as the PhD that I have been offered goes-its fully-funded and seems well organised, I have met my would be main supervisor a few times and she seems nice, quite realistic etc. Shes also only ~30 and has a young kid (does this mean she is likely to be more personable, have better idea of work/life balance etc?!!). The interview i went to also seemed fair & good questions so there was no ego tripping or anything. Despite my first impressions of the phd i guess you can never tell until you start.

I guess what i would like to know is do all phd students have this seemingly awful depressive tormenting experience or is this somnething that is just suffered by a minority who may have exceptionally bad supervisors/project etc? I guess happy phd students would likely nt be posting on here mayb? I would rly appreciate any advice regarding this or how bad it rly is/how endemic this depression is etc as phd students in the department i've been doing my final yr project in all seem relatively content!



Although there generally is a higher incidence of depression amongst PhD students, like with any 'career choice' which is high pressured and demanding, I really wouldn't start worrying about personally experiencing depression whilst doing a PhD. We're all different people, each with our own 'baggage', and this is what makes a PhD such a personal journey and all relative. I've had my ups and downs with my own PhD, a combination of life circumstances at the time coupled with the demands of doing a PhD.
If you're passionate about research and your subject, plus a capable student (you must be to be offered the opportunity!), I don't think you'll have any serious problems. Oh, and the quality of supervision, work and family commitments can all be confounding factors - as can personal resolve and stamina. You'll rarely, if ever, work 12 hours a day for 7 days a week - maybe just a bit at write up. I think those contented, smiley faces of the PhD students in your department should go some way to reassuring you. Good luck with it all!


Hi Kate

If you are interested in the kind of work that your PhD will involve and it looks like a viable project, then I wouldn't worry about what may or may not happen as regards depression. Everyone is different and copes differently with situations and in many cases it may not be the PhD itself that makes people depressed, but other things going on. I think the fact that other people in the department are happy is a good sign. I know of many students who really enjoy their work and are excited about it. It is not all doom and gloom, because as you mention, people often don't post to say how happy they are.

My PhD was in Biological Sciences, and I very rarely worked weekends and probably averaged 10 hour days during the week, unless I was doing time-course experiments. I was also very depressed for parts of it and lost about a year and a half due to it as I was just in zombie land, so in reality I probably did my PhD in 2 1/2 years since I did not go for an extension. But, my depression, although it made me think of quitting the PhD, was caused by outside factors and I think had I not had that to deal with I would have been able to enjoy my work a lot more and I am now really excited about trying to get a postdoc and carry on with research. I think mainly my PhD made me learn a lot about myself and how I deal with things and it was about finding out what worked best for me. It was tough, a lot tougher than I thought it would be, but I feel so much more confident in myself now.

You have already done some research on doing a PhD so you're not going into it blindly.

I would say congratulations on getting a PhD studentship!! and just go for it :-)



I wouldn't take the experiences on this forum as being the average. Most people post on here when they have difficulties, that's what the forum is for really. You're rarely going to get someone posting: "today I completed one of the tasks I had in mind for the day and my neat solution gave me a real buzz and a feeling that I am really getting somewhere". As it happens that happened to me yesterday, but I wouldn't normally post it as I don't need advice and don't need people to virtually pat me on the back.

Hence, most posts are about fairly horrible sounding events and the only nice ones are when people complete or get a paper accepted and are basically thanking everyone for helping when it was tough.

I've only been going six months but I haven't felt at all depressed about my work and I'm not working ridiculous hours - I felt more stressed when I was working a "proper job".

Hope this post provides some balance to your deliberations.

Avatar for Batfink27

I agree with what most other people have said - it really is very unlikely to be as bad as a snapshot of many of the threads on this forum might suggest! People tend not to post about the good or average times. I've been doing my PhD for 18 months now and it's all been fine, there have been times when I've been working quite long hours (12 hours a day, six or seven days a week) but those have been few, and there's also been times when it's been a lot more relaxed and I'v etaken days off during the week to do fun things with friends. To be honest, so far it has been less stressful than working in my old job! Different though - much more reliant on my own actions. And the stress of writing up might still be bad, fingers crossed not though!

It sounds like you're getting good vibes about the offer you've received. It is a daunting thing to sign up to, and it's understandable to be nervous, but it doesn't sound like there are any major warning flags that you're heading for a bad time. If you think you'll be interested in the topic and want to commit to a PhD, do it - I love mine, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to dedicate 3 (or however many) years of my life to this.


Hi Kate,

Well done on getting accepted, especially fully-funded, that is great! I am in my third year of a part time PhD and I love it. I don't really find it stressful at all, there are moments when I don't know what I am doing or have to do something that perhaps I wouldn't like to do - like giving a conference paper - but for the most part it is really enjoyable. All my peers seem to be enjoying too, some of my friends have had periods when they are not so positive but all of them have bounced back within a reasonably short time. It is hard work but I am doing it part-time which suits me entirely.

I hope your decision won't be too difficult to make and that once it is made you are able to commit to that decision and enjoy whatever you decide to do.



Hey Kate! Just to echo what the others have said really- I know myself I have posted on here to have a whinge when I've been struggling with aspects of the PhD that I find challenging, but overall I have found it to be an extremely positive experience, and didn't really have any problems as such until recently when I started writing up full time and was finding it hard going. I certainly have no regrets about taking it on, and have learnt so much from it. It sounds like you have the ideal set-up - funded with a nice supervisor - so if you want to do it then I would absolutely go for it! Good luck! KB


My thoughts, in point form, for what they're worth:

1. Depression and PhDs. Cause and effect. I rather suspect that people who are prone to depression are more likely to do PhDs than others. There is an element of obsessiveness and workaholism in a lot of PhD work which, I think, is also found in depressed people. If you're not already depressed, and don't have a tendency towards depression, I reckon it's unlikely that you'll get depressed.

2. People here moan/vent/complain, and often about major things. However, it's a bit like plane crashes. One happens and it's all over the news. You don't come here and read about the hundreds of PhD students who are getting along fine.

3. My major point. Yes, a PhD is hard work, but it's not usually back-breaking. I've heard stories of 80 hour weeks, but I've never met anyone in that position. It's generally 9/9.30 - 5/6/7 daily for me. Not constantly working either - there's some chatting, coffee, lunch, procrastinating and so on. In my mind, the hardest part is the feeling like you don't know what you're doing or where you're going. However, this is natural for something that lasts a minimum of three years, and I think coming to terms with it is an essential part of the PhD process. It's not prescribed like undergrad stuff is, and in terms of what you work on, you may be partly or completely isolated from everyone else you know. However, there will be othes about in the same position, and anyway, if others were doing the same work, it wouldn't be original, and you wouldn't get your PhD :p

So, in summary, it's not a walk in the park, but it's not something which only a masochist would enjoy. You get out what you put in, and if you make the most of the opportunities, you will emerge from it not only more knowledgeable about your subect, but with better work ethic, organisation, communication and writing skills, and more confidence (I hope!). Oh, and you'll be more academically qualified than about 98% of the country, and allowed to have "Dr" on your bank card. Worth it just for that, isn't it?

Good luck :D


4matt's reply is reasonable. I would only add that although there is an ennui and isolation that's seemingly specific to the PhD process, it's only as bad as you let it become. I always just try and remember how lucky I am to get paid (well, not anymore >_>) to engage in interesting, high level research with practically nobody on my back most of the time. It really isn't a bad life, even if it does get especially hard towards the end.

The whole 24/7 thing is bollocks, too. Obviously sometimes you have to work late or weekends but in my experience some students do so frequently because their time management during the 9-5 period is poor.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

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Hi Kate55,

Congratulations on getting an offer. All the messages here make sense. I would just like to add one thing: what are you going to use the PhD for? If you have a concrete answer (as in you'd like a career in research/r&d labs), then go for it. If you're considering it because you don't know what to do with your career yet, it's probably not a good idea. I say *probably* because you may end up finding that this "temporary gig" is way too demanding for being a temporary gig. You might end up liking it, but chances are, if a person entered into a commitment (relationship/job) because of lack of other options, it's not bound to be a pleasant journey.

If you're considering it as a challenge to yourself, there are other challenges that might develop you personally/professionally that do not include PhD. If you do really want it, don't let the fear of depression get in the way :-)

Lots of luck! Hope you keep us posted on your decision.


have you noticed any traits of psychosis with your main supervisor? Females tend to make everything personal. it sucks ( i am saying this through personal experience)


Hey there

I would bear in mind that the opportunities for funded PhDs are becoming fewer and even more competitive. At our uni we had 1 funded place and 70 applicants for a biolog.sci. phd. So I wouldn't turn down a fantastic opportunity on the basis that a few people have had bad experiences because whilst it is a dreadful shame that they have had to go through this it does not mean that this is how it is going to be for YOU and you would not want to miss out on a great opportunity.

I am 7 months into my PhD and I have been fine so far apart from a few wobbles to do with confidence - am I doing it right? What am I doing? Am I going in the right direction? Is the project original? etc etc. However I have not met one single person at my uni and at others who have said that the phd was plain sailing and that they were always fully informed about their progress and fully confident about their ability. It's a learning process.

It's definitely not the easy option and it will challenge you, testing your emotional and psychological strength as well as your intellect and it will be trying, frustrating, maddening and exasperating but also rewarding, exhilarating, exciting and something you can feel really proud of.

I agree with the others on here - those who say they work 24/7 all 365 days of the year are exaggerating. There are certainly weeks when you would have to put in the extra hours work - esp if you are submitting a paper, writing a report or preparing for a presentation etc but it's not constant. A lot of the people that I have met that claim to work 60 hour weeks every single week can be seen surfing Facebook, lounging around the kitchen/common room, chatting to friends etc and therefore HAVE to work late into the night and at weekends to make up for lost time. I rarely work at weekends because I make sure that I get down to business during my hours (9-5 or 9-6). On occasion I have had to work long and arduous hours to complete a piece of work for a deadline and in many of these situations it's because I procrastinated about starting the project for several days :-s

I have, in the 7 months of my phd, loved it, hated it, been bored with it, excited by it and frustrated by it but ultimately I would not change it for the world and I am really pleased to be doing it. It's an emotional rollercoaster but so far I have not wanted to get off.

I wish you all the best with your decision and good luck!