I was recently accepted into a very selective PhD program and I am incredibly excited for the opportunity. Last year, I received a First in both my overall marks as well as my dissertation for my MSc (including one spiffy award!). The point being - is that I love research and I am incredibly passionate about my field. I have a few career prospects including teaching and working for a nonprofit (as a research coordinator in wildlife conservation).
Upon doing research concerning "life as a PhD student" , I realized that the vast majority of articles, blogs, forums, etc were actually..quite negative. Many folks stated that their life was "hellish" and "miserable" due to the insanity of work-related stress. Moreover, many people were stating that they simply had no social/romantic relationships.
I am an incredibly hard worker..however, I also value having a social and romantic life as well as some leisure time. During my Masters..I overcompensated for everything and quickly became burnt out with only my passion and drive for the subject allowing me to have the energy to truly succeed. That was only a one year programme and I cannot see myself doing that again (I should put an emphasis on how many hours I put in every day..even my committed PhD friends were telling me that I was overdoing it and working myself to death).
Does anyone here have any positive stories concerning your life as a PhD student? Any rewarding experiences both academically and socially?! I believe that all of the negative stories that are available online might provide disservice to the overall experience. If possible..can you please provide some positive aspects to your experience as a PhD student?
From talking to PhD students that I see on a day to day basis, I would say that about 75% of them do not enjoy their PhD. This is for various reasons: bad supervisor, dislike of subject, poor understanding of what a PhD entails, frustration at little progress, feeling inadequate (imposter-syndrome), dislike of repetitive research etc etc. I wonder whether this would be the same in any job they were in though? I don't know, because most of them have never had a real job, so I guess they don't know either!
There are a lot of people, including myself, who love their PhD, even if we experience all of those things I mentioned above some of the time.
Whether other people like or dislike their PhD is irrelevant to you though. The only person who controls whether you will enjoy your PhD is you.
I think you will need to adopt some strategies for avoiding burnt out because a PhD is a 'marathon not a sprint' and you can't work at a crazy pace all the time. Personally I really value my friends, family and holidays and I don't feel guilty about taking time off (many students do). My PhD is fundamentally important to me, but I need a break and a social life to be happy and healthy, because obviously I can't complete a PhD without these things.
Positive things about my PhD experience: massive personal and academic growth, increased subject and non-subject knowledge, happiness, fulfillment, pride, great conferences, great lab mates, great times in pubs, nice meals out with friends.. it's a dream come true for me, even on the worst days when I've gone home to crawl under a duvet for a few days. Is that positive enough? ;)
I think perspective has a lot to do with it. As Tree says, a lot of PhD students don't have anything other than previous studying to compare the PhD to. I did my Masters by part-time distance learning while also working a night shift job, and I can tell you that by comparison I definitely have time for a social life now (and time for my partner and the six cats and my family!). Yes, there will be times when it is crazily busy, but I am also pacing myself and taking breaks. I don't really agree with the people who will tell you you need to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week - I couldn't spend three years living like that, and I have been told I am on track with my PhD without working myself into a miserable frenzy :-)
I have really enjoyed my PhD. Almost finished and I still feel upbeat about it.
Yes, I've had days/weeks when it has annoyed me and I've felt frustrated and upset, but overall I've got a lot out of it.
I like the freedom of it, the freedom to take up opportunities that arise, the chance to take part in departmental events, the chance to speak at conferences, teach, mark assignments, meet loads of new people, discuss interesting ideas. You need to not let it take over your life though - I very strictly worked Mon-Fri daytimes for the first three years, and then ramped up to full time when I was submitting. It meant I didn't burn out early and I had something more to give at the end.
The reason you mainly read negative stories online is that people use forums like this for help, so they are naturally posting about bad times, and if you just read those you will come away with a bad impression. We tend not to talk about the good bits so much, but trust me, they are there.
It's easier than working and studying. My PhD is my first time not doing work and distance learning. It's a much easier pace! Plus I have young children, husband, etc. Maybe I'm more pragmatic because of age and family and them being my priority? I'm financially better off studying on a studentship that working and paying childcare and I'm starting to build a social life after the void of children so all's good......for now!
There are a few positive things for me. For example, publications in SCI and SSCI journals, as well as grants to attend overseas conference and awards for papers presented...
However, isn't it possible that sharing positive things may also be perceived negatively? :-(
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