Torn and anxious


Hi all,

I've recently received Literature PhD offers but I'm not sure whether I should accept any of them. I've established my career, I love my job, and I'm lucky enough to be considered a candidate for promotion in the future. The reason I applied for a PhD was to see how far I could go and I thought at the time, in the unlikely event that I got accepted, I could try something new because I love being intellectually challenged and I am passionate about literature. I've loved it for as long as I can remember.

I've been recently given two offers and while I'm grateful for them, I'm stressed by the decision-making, something I didn't foresee. Both offers are from another country. Accepting either doesn't only mean I'll have to abandon my career, but maybe even face the consequence of financial difficulties and a tough time finding a job after graduation. I've learnt from multiple sources there are limited teaching positions in universities. Although I'm not looking for another job that offers me the same salary and prospect of my current one, my mind is now filled with the worst-case scenarios like being jobless, being unable to graduate, facing huge student loans etc. And so I'm not sure whether it's worth giving up a job I love for literature...which I also love...

What I also didn't foresee is my parents' reaction. They are worried about my career opportunities and when I told them if there was one in the country I studies in, I would consider it. They were upset that I wouldn't be there to take care of them in their old age, and this adds an extra burden to my decision-making.

I'd be very grateful if anyone here could tell me what it's like to do a PhD and whether the job market in academia is as dismal as it sounds. Having some concrete ideas would help me make a most informed decision! Thank you so much!



The grass is not as grim, in the postdoc world, as some people make out, but it's certainly not greener.

A PhD won't typically help a great deal with jobs outside academia; it is a mandatory passport (with few exemptions) to ones within it though.

The realistic employment prospects afterwards, are a fixed-term postdoc (which can be great, if contract security isn't a big deal for you), or a permanent lectureship (which can be great, if you like teaching, and don't care research will be relegated to your spare time). The 'bit of both' (teaching/research, with a permanent contract) is the elusive, hard to find thing.

It gets massively harder if you're fixed to a location after your PhD. This can be hard to predict.

A PhD is very self-directed, especially in the humanities. If you're happy reading books 9-5, consolidating thoughts, and writing them up it will fit well. If you're someone that thrives on short term tangible goals, praise from management, or clear direction, it will be a lot harder.

It is tougher with respect to the parent situation, but parents universally want their children to be happy. They may well (in crazy-parent-logic, which you'll probably experience yourself one day) - be much more worried about your future than their own support, but be using it to try to convince you into a route that they think will secure your future. This will be with the best intention in the world, but they will not have the perspective you do. They are probably sensing your own doubt about the future in academia and this is worrying them. There's not a right-and-wrong, but I think you need to think honestly about what you want to do and why, then sit down and explain it to them. It is impossible to predict where you'll be 5 years from now, but if you're intelligent enough to get PhD offers, you will always be able to find a job regardless of your choices; it's about finding a job you want to do.

[Edit - why, edit, do you destroy my paragraphs!]


Hi abababa, thanks so, so much for taking the time to read my post and providing such helpful insights. I really appreciate it and it definitely helps me make a decision that I'll be content with!


Hi Alex,

Doing a Ph.D. can be very lonely and heart-wrenching. If your sole intention is to do it because you love Literature (which you said will be your area of specialization), I strongly suggest you entertain a second thought. I also know friends of mine who think that being called Dr. so and so is luxurious and would love to do one just because of that. Poor them! Unless you would like to work in academia and really enjoy finding out stuff (by way of research), doing a Ph.D. will not prove its benefits to you. I am a Management Ph.D. student specializing in business communication. When I do not have so much work (job-wise), I read theories from 9-5. It is very boring. I love it, though. I learn things that I can use to contribute to society's improvement. One of the most demotivating factors is that none of your friends will understand what you are doing. So, you will not have the support system that you once had. In the process, you will lose many of your friends because you are completely coming from two different planets now that you are doing a Ph.D. You have different perspectives about the world than theirs, and you no longer find it fun to hang out with them.

My recommendation, think critically about what you want to do in life and why you want to do it. Then go for it. If you ever decide to do a Ph.D., go for it. Find a Ph.D. community and be part of it. Please make time to go to the gym, take a walk, exercise a little, and enjoy the world as it unfolds before you. All will end just fine.

All the best,


Hi chrismuhawe, thank you so much for sharing your insights and advice with me. If I may ask, if given the opportunity to start over again, would you still choose to pursue your PhD? Why or why not?


I gave up a decent career to do my PhD just because being a researcher was my childhood dream. My parents are the opposite of yours, they did they whole "follow your heart" thing. Looking back, I realise that I felt that I was disappointing them by NOT doing a PhD. I felt like they judged me negatively for having a good job, as if that was boring. Like I had to ditch my life at a moment's notice just to prove I was open to adventure or something.

I would not make the decision again. It was an adventure in some ways, but often a stressful and lonely one. I've never enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the job I gave up, and I've never earned as much either. I don't actually regret it, and I'm kind of glad I stuck it out, but I wouldn't do the same again. At least, not for another five, ten, twenty years.

Part-time PhDs exist. My friend did one at a Finnish university because he could do it (a) remotely, (b) part-time (c) in English and (d) in the one obscure subject that he was totally obsessed with. He worked full-time and it was really hard, but he got through it in the end. He was then the only doctor in the office which gave him some status...


Hi glimmerbat, thank you for sharing your personal experience! If you don't mind, what skills did you acquire from the degree and are you doing anything related to it now?


From my own PhD experience, I did it solely for visa purpose. Not the brightest idea, I do my PhD in biology so it might be very different from your own field. Regardless, I think you should read Black Hole Focus by Isiah Hankel before such a decision. You could start a PhD for 6 months and see if it fits, but do everything in your power to give it a good start, and even so, be prepared to be called a drop-out. Unless you have a dying question to answer and/or an image of yourself that you are dying to achieve which requires a PhD, a failed PhD could leave a permanent scar, very much like a divorce. Especially if you have a good career. So don't start a PhD just because you have an offer and you feel like having it would be nice, or just because. There are so many other ways to learn, and PhD is not the only nor the best way to achieve your career development goals.