Second thoughts about starting a PhD


Hello everyone,

A few months ago, while doing my final year of a physics Masters, things were a bit rocky. All the job applications I had sent out were rejected, and even worse I got to the final round of my dream job only to be told they had found a better candidate. It was at this time that a professor at my university approached me asking if I'd like to pursue a PhD under his supervision.

The position was funded, the topic is something I find really interesting, and at that time I was certain I'd never find a job (working as a quant). So, unsurprisingly, I accepted the offer and have been through the formal process and am currently set to start in early September.

However, as of late I see my university friends moving ahead with jobs and whatnot (and I'm happy for them), but I find myself thinking "maybe I should just try getting a job". But then I wonder if 5 or 10 years down the line I'll regret rejecting such a fantastic opportunity...

Is it a terrible idea to start the PhD when I'm unsure about whether I truly want to do it? Or is this kind of self-doubt a relatively common thing?


It's different for everyone, you know because if someone (like me) who desperately had wanted to do a PhD for years was offered funding, it'd be a no brainer... take the opportunity! But if you aren't that desperate about doing one, I'd say why bother... unless you can't find a job and so it is an opportunity to keep you occupied and learning and (possibly) help your job prospects later... And the opportunity would probably come around again if you wanted to do one later...

It really just depends on what you think you want right now.

Is it really self doubt you are feeling (ie. lack of confidence in your abilities) or just uncertainty about what you want?

I don't think it's a terrible idea to start when you aren't 100% sure. You'll find out whether you like it or not as you go on :)


I have a BSc in physics and an MSc in nuclear science.

Honestly, if you can get a job as a quant (I am assuming you live in London), then do that.

You say you can see your friends moving on now, but in 4 years time the gap between yourself and your peers will be a chasm. I'm someone who has been unemployed for long periods of time and I know how essential it is to get a solid start in life. Employers are very picky.

However, it is also very hard to get a good job these days and the economy in the UK is going through a bad period. In the past I have been rejected by more graduate schemes than I can remember. When I graduated I was naive and thought I could get a cool job at Shell or BP which would utilise my scientific knowledge... either in the field or in the finance side of things (trading). Upon searching Linkedin I realised that the people who got those graduate jobs had done internships in these companies (usually during the second year of their maths or physics degree).

I am almost tempted myself to choose a nice university (Nottingham or York look nice) and do a physics PhD and just forget about the outside world... however it's probably different for me as I am 32 and the gap on my CV will become even bigger (I just have lots of temp work).

I'm not doing a very good job at explaining myself here but the bottom line is this - a PhD won't necessarily make you more employable. In fact it will probably do the opposite. It's extremely difficult to compete in the graduate job market without relevant experience.

However... if you think you would really love to do the PhD then do it. You could ride out the current economic crisis whilst studying... however 4 years is also a very long time and a PhD is a big undertaking.


You may ask yourself simple questions first:
1)Do you like research?
2)Have you done research with any professor?
3)Do you have a research goal in mind?
4)Are you confident that you will persist to do research even after 10/100 experiment failures?
If your answers are yes, it is clear to try. If not, think about it twice.


I think deep down you are the only person who knows whether you should do a PhD or not. I would just say that it does sound like you think you should already be on the career path. I can't say whether you'll be happy as a quant - I can say that it sounds dead boring to me. I can also tell you from my own experience, changing careers mid-life is really difficult despite what the internet says. It's not just a question of good grades etc. People will ask what you'v been doing for the last X years and if you can't make it relevant it matters not. You may as well have spent them on the couch.

On the other hand, I think the economic situation will only get worse as the developed world's demographics continue to tank. When the boomer generation liquidates their assets in two or three years, the party will be over. I think most academics and PhDs/postdocs are woefully unprepared for this reality. That said, in these situations finance jobs are also some of the first to get axed. The truth is a real economic nightmare, which hasn't hit yet, it will be skilled jobs not desk jobs that pay for the most part.

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I would start the PhD and treat it as job while applying elsewhere. There is nothing wrong quitting a PhD halfway through if you don't like it and at least it is an income.


I agree.