To those that are part way through, and to those that have finished, would you do it again? Even if you would do it again do you have any regrets? At the moment, all I can think about is how I wish I'd done this and that differently, and if I had my time again... Have others felt regret and felt disapointed that the whole thing - including 'academia' - didn't turn out quite as you'd thought/hoped?
As someone as a PhD graduate that is currently temping in various admin jobs if I could have my time again I would definitely avoid doing my PhD and would have gone into a more vocational route.
The drain on your social life, the intensity of the path, the chronic uncertainty and poor rewards outweigh the passion I had for my subject. If I had taken a more vocational route, I could have done research as a sideline, while still having job security, good pay etc.
I admit I got sucked in by the messages of "once you get your PhD, everything will be okay", but with everything else that has happened since, I wish I had made other choices since my BSc. I don't think I am the only one.
I did my PhD in my mid 30s, as a career break !! Some break
I now have a fantastic job with lots of networking and am a stronger happier person.
If Level 1 is the tea-boy and Level 10 is the CEO, I have gone from my non-PhD career ceiling of L6 to L8. It may be also possible now to achieve L9 in 10 years, but never L10 - Im too qualified !! Make sense?
I see academia like being a cult, with a pyramid structure. A few at the top make money, have lots of power, status and the ability to do things. A larger number exist below that have a few crumbs of control, but are living on temporary contracts, with poor pay. Below them are the ranks of graduate students and post docs that are exploited, get few benefits and some even have to pay for this dubious honour.
This cult is kept running by selling dreams of "If you make it through, you can become a professor/ academic!", while only 1 in 50 will ever become this. In any other field of employment this much dedication will be rewarded with promotions, improved pay etc, but we seem to put up with almost anything for a few "perks", like having our article in a journal almost no one will ever read or having "Dr" in front of our name.
If I could go back in time, I would slap my undergraduate self into going in the opposite direction, on his way to his first supervisor's meeting
Thanks for your replies. I really hate moaning and whining, but I can't deny how badly I feel about it all right now. The more I think about PhDs and academia, the more ridiculous it all seems. And then I have to wonder if I have lost it! You just can't ask the people you work with if they're happy, if it's worth it, if they'd do it again. They'd look aghast - and I know they'd treat me differently - as if I'd 'turned'!! That's why I can understand the use of the term 'cult'!
PhDs and research generally make me think of an Oscar Wilde quote - can't recall it exactly, but along the lines of - I never saw someone take so long and work so hard for so little result!
I often think most research is neither use nor ornament. And if it isn't either, then what is it?
I think there is a difference between moaning (which is often general), and specific criticisms and commentary (which is what good PhDs should do). I think the "oh you are just moaning/whining/complaining" is another technique people use to silence dissenters, and maintain the status quo.
Gandhi, Emmaline Pankhurst and those that worked to emancipate slaves were all called moaners, whiners and complainers at some point.
However, I disagree about research being pointless. Good inquiry illuminates what we know, contributes to everyones lives and is never wasted. Contemporary academia on the other hand is pointless. Its a very poor way of researching that rewards politics and backbiting rather than good study or foresight.
I'm glad that I started my PhD as I really enjoy what I do; I find it more rewarding than when I was working and I dont regret it at all. After reading some of the horror stories on here I feel that my life and general PhD experience is made easier in that I am based in a research institute rather than a university and my research group are friendly and helpful people and my supervisors are supportive.
The major problem I have with PhD life is money.. Having racked up a fair ammount of debt during my undergrad, I am paying for it now. So perhaps it would have been easier to just go straight from BSc to PhD so that I carried on with the student mentality of living on the bare minimum and not developing the tastes of a working adult lol. I have uni and school mates who are earning £40k+ and as much as that sort of money would be welcome I'm not sure that I would be satisfied doing the jobs that they are doing. Maybe my views will change after another year lol!
some very interesting comments on this post. i think an interesting way to reflect on a phd, is not to lament at a wasted few months or first year and saying what if i could do it again. a phd is training for research in which case you are likely to know the mistakes made during a phd project. These are valuable lessons for future research projects i.e you are so much better prepared for research in the future ( in theory).
as regards doing phds in a research institute rather than a university: from my own personal experience, research in an institute would be more preferable. i worked at a research institute as an undergraduate and found the people there to be honest,hard working and professional. these are attributes which i dont find in the people i currently work with. any thoughts on this would be much appreciated
I agree that working in a pure research institution may result in less politics/ potential for exploitation, because the need to offload undergraduate teaching to PhD students is lessened, and the demands of QAA etc are not there. The whole undergraduate element can be an area of conflict for many university lecturers because unfortunately teaching is never as highly looked upon as gaining grants and publications.
I agree with the idea of taking the PhD as a research training experience in itself. However, it seems quite pointless if you end up in a low level clerical job like me, or other unrelated pathways, as 50% of PhD graduates do (check the figures at UK Grad Program).
I have thought about this many times. I am glad to have my PhD and it was a life changing experience, however my gripe is that career prospects are awful. I am in a temp contract position as are many of us. I earn a pittance and I now realise that the qualification is only any good within acadaemia (in my subject anyway). Truly I do wish I had spent the time working at a more practical qualification. My friends who spent the last five to ten years gaining experience in their chosen field are seen as far more valuable and are much better paid in higher status jobs. PhD students are not given this information.
I definately think that PhD students should be made more aware of life after - before they embark. I do remember saying to a few lecturers 'but I worry about what I'll do after' just before I started, but they looked at me as if to say 'don't be silly girl!'. they said 'worry about that after'. but what about when after comes? at the moment I haven't the motivation to finish because thoughts of 'life after' just depress me.
If you don't want to spend your life in academia, what can you do after a PhD?
I feel that if I leave academia, everyone there will see me as a failure, but I'm getting the message that everyone outside academia will see my PhD as pretty worthless.
I really wish I had been warned how much a PhD ties you to academia.
Agree with the above comments - I think supervisors are so focussed on getting a student through their PhD, the question of what direction their student will take career-wise afterwards doesn't even figure on their thoughts.
As to the original question - I would hand on heart conduct my *project* again - the subject was great, the topic progressive and there are things I would do differently. But would I do it under the umbrella of a PhD again if I had the chance? No way. After all the uncertainty and anxiety I would not have gone for it. I would gladly done the same project employed as a researcher without the PhD registration.
I work in circles where I am fortunately respected for having a PhD, but I'm pretty sure my salary doesn't reflect this. I've been lucky t find a post-doc that's tailor made for my interests, but realise that this could easily not have been the case.
I'm nearly finished, and I don't think I would do it again. I still feel the same way I did at the start about research - that there is so much to explore, so much I could do, so much I'd LIKE to do...but now I know how difficult it is, and that I'm really not suited to the environment of academia - academically (I find the work too difficult)and socially. So now when I think I could apply for this or that postdoc (which I still 'dream' of doing) I know better! None of my PhD experience has lived up to my expectations, and I'm left feeling pretty disappointed, regardless of the qualification I come out with.
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