Thoughts on doing a Phd as a hobby/alternatives


I'm in my 50s and am toying with doing a Phd part-time. I realistically don't so much prospect of turning this into a 'career' - I would be in mid/late 50s by time I complete. Main reason for doing so would be enjoyment of studying. At the same time I don't necessarily have a topic that stands out as wanting to be done.

Interested in any thoughts on those doing PhDs as to whether they think the structure and discipline of doing a Phd with a tangible output/goal is beneficial, or if I should perhaps stick to trying to engage myself in just reading more stuff!


Hi there, sorry to see you haven't had any responses yet. Hopefully you find my reply useful. I'm speaking from a Humanities perspectives by the way.

I think it's great that you're interested in learning and reading. I'm not sure whether a PhD is the right path for you to go down, however. One of the core aims of gaining the PhD is to make an original contribution to scholarship and to get to the stage where one understands what this is in a given field requires substantial work and focus.

Also, you need a high level of determination to actually finish a PhD thesis and, if you're more interested in general learning, you might not be motivated to keep going with such a large piece of work (usually 80-100,000 words in my experience).

It might be more interesting for you to do a Master's or even Undergrad degree where the focus is more on learning about new subjects and reading around a topic. Good luck :)


I agree with Nesrine. Another thing is that a PhD thesis tends to be a detailed exploration of one tiny thing - you might do a PhD in biology (for example) but your actual time will be spent on one specific tiny part of biology. If you're not even a bit passionate about that thing it might become very boring quite quickly! I know someone who shares the same passion for learning as you and they essentially make their own courses for themselves, even writing essays for fun! If you want to share this learning with others you could always find forums, local groups and so on...


I don't see anything wrong in studying for a PhD without wanting to turn it into a career. I know someone who did exactly that - he had already retired and it gave him something tangible to work towards as well as opening up opportunities for giving talks and workshops on a voluntary basis after graduation. Do you have an idea of what you would want to research?


A masters or undergrad degree will restrict you to exploring a small number of subjects and the enjoyment of that can be ruined or diminished by the necessity to pass exams every few months.

A PhD is a great way to get the intellectual freedom you want providing you can control the pressure to publish. It will also give you the structure and the focus which you appear to want.

You also want to do the PhD for the right reasons IMO.

It seems a perfect match for you and your age is completely irrelevant.


Hi, thanks all for the replies! Yes - a main reason for thinking a phd might be a good option is the structure and focus that it brings. But I agree I have to find the right topic. I already have masters degree in two completely different subjects, and can't decide even which subject I would want to focus on... I have 3-4 years to chew things over.. so hopefully it will all become clearer..


Hi Bronin, I realise this message is a few months late but I stumbled across your post. I am currently in the process of submitting my doctoral thesis and thought you might like a few tips on choosing a topic for your thesis. I started my thesis a year after finishing my Master's degree and I have been studying it now for four years. Looking back on the decisions I made in this time, I do not regret choosing to pursue it and I have managed to contribute novel work to the field but I do believe I could have picked a topic better suited to me. My main piece of advice for choosing a topic would be: What questions do you personally want to answer that no-one else is working on currently? It took me the first two years of my PhD before I came up with the research questions and methodology I wished to pursue. Read, read and read. In a standard PhD you will spend the first 6 months to a year reading around 200-300 papers. As you are not pushed for time, you could spend years reading. I have personally found that Books provide much more information than papers, particularly if you're not an expert in the field. Then use papers to help expand and push your learning to the boundaries of science and to select your topic, though be critical of what you read. I wish I'd found this Ioannis' article (2005) in my first year (Doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124). To have the biggest impact, try to quantify the most important elements and the limiting factors in your subject and strive to improve them, with an eye to being able to develop a methodology that is simple and that can deliver with certainty. I hope this helps and I wish you the very best!


Hi dcaiken,

Thanks for the post! Yeah - I'm still thinking about it! I take your point about reading widely before taking the plunge, and having a specifc question in mind!

The other thing I was wondering if it is was common to use the same topic for an MRes/MPhil, and then 'convert' it into a PhD...