Sorry for asking a question that has no doubt been asked hundreds of times before. I know you won't be able to answer it for me, but any thoughts would be hugely appreciated.
I’m in a slightly unusual position. After completing my undergraduate degree my university offered me a job doing engineering-related project work, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. However, it seems there is only so far one can progress in a university without a PhD (whether an academic or not). More pressingly, the money is running out, the university is keen to retain me, and I think I am keen to stay. A PhD would be an easy solution. However, I have some concerns…
I enjoy designing things and coming up with neat solutions to engineering problems. Can this be PhD material? I don't particularly enjoy analysis, simulation or report writing, though can be quite good at these things if motivated by a tangible goal.
I do not aspire to be an academic and don't necessarily want to spend forever at a university. Could a PhD be an advantage in industry? It seems that spending 3-4 years focused on a specific topic might put me at a disadvantage compared with those who have spent the time acquiring a broader range of skills and experiences.
Although a PhD is necessary for a career at a university, I wonder how much it would actually help, i.e. make me more effective at my job. I do not want to spend another 3+ years jumping through hoops, and if I perceive this to be the case I reckon I’ll lose motivation.
Continued from first post...
Although the university is running out of money to pay my salary, the project work will continue, and I suspect the main reason my supervisor is so keen for me to start a PhD is so that he can keep me around to work on them part time. I’d love to remain involved, but fear that juggling these and a PhD will take its toll one way or another. Some of my colleagues are in a similar position, and they do lose sleep over it (they recommend I don't start a PhD).
Job satisfaction is more important to me than money… within reason. I would ideally like to earn more than a PhD would pay. I’m approaching my late 20s (I hate saying that) so would be in my 30s when I finish. I’d like to be on more than £14k by then.
By the end of my PhD I would have been at the same university for at least twelve years! How would that look on a CV?
It seems even the most motivated PhD students go through rough times. If I’m having this many doubts at this stage, do I have any hope? To quote a Guardian article: “Having a clear idea of why you want a PhD will motivate and help you decide on what to do after: It is important to ask yourself: "Do I need a PhD for a specific job?" and "Do I want to do a PhD because I love the subject?" If you answer yes to only one, you could be in for a difficult journey.” Well, I’m not sure my answer is yes to either.
Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end of my ramblings. As I say, any thoughts at all would be gratefully received!
14k is the stipend, I presume? I'd be depressed if I thought I was earning less now then I did when I left school!!! So maybe don't consider it a wage as such! It's like a student bursary or grant that you don't have to pay back...
Anyway, sorry for the ramble! If you are eager to keep working and actually earn then perhaps you could see what is out there in terms of engineering jobs that tick the boxes? If you look at some job specs that look good, begin to write some applications, and then start to think that you can't bear the thought of not working in academia/the university setting, then maybe that will help you make your decision.
On reflection that really was quite a long post. Sorry!
TreeofLife, that's a very good question. I may have the option to continue in my current capacity for a while longer, though that's far from guaranteed. Also, since it’s clear there’s little chance of progressing it may feel like I’m treading water although I do enjoy the work. The alternative is to try for a job ‘in industry’- I think I might struggle to find something as satisfying as my current job but the pay would be better.
Tudor_Queen, you are right. Though I’ve been keeping an eye out for jobs, stepping up the search and coming up with some solid options might make the decision a bit easier…
Thanks a lot for the replies!
For industry, a PhD is probably rather an obstacle. It maybe helps you to get some positions at the very top but entering the job market will be so much harder, especially when you are quite old until you finished the PhD (for UK standards). If a long-term position in academia is not desired, I would not recommend to do a PhD. They probably just search for a way to keep you cheap.
I can totally understand your situation.
I am someone who seeks knowledge over money but again, who am I kidding. I want money as well for what I do. I don't mind doing things I dislike or give no value addition if it would help me get to reach a bigger and better target.
Coming to your situation,
Having a PhD will undoubtedly bring a great value to your CV and who'd say no to a "Dr." prefixed before their name.
I'd suggest you go for a PhD only and I repeat only if you love your job cause once you're done with those three years, then it's the rest of your life researching and mastering it.
But again, an engineering degree coupled with a masters degree in the field is good enough to get you the money, while doing things you love.
A Final word,
I'd say don't go for a PhD as yet, but aim to master in your field and take in as much experience as you'd like. Earn the money you'll need and then you could take a break to pursue a PhD later (in your 30's). It's not going anywhere as you can do it whenever you want.
Hope it helps. All the best!
As someone who is struggling through a write up after 3.5 years of hell (and may therefore be slightly biased/bitter!) I would say don't do a PhD unless it's really necessary for your career.
I am really focused on a career in academia and extremely passionate about my field but I still felt like quitting many times (including now!). My PhD was exceptionally hard because I was working alone and felt very isolated but this may not be the case for you. You often have to do reports and presentations as well as your lab work and keep up your records/lab book, regular analysis, attend training/seminars, teach yourself to use software and other skills. It's really difficult and stressful and you need determination more than anything else to get to the end of it. I had to work late nights and weekends and give up all my hobbies in the 2 years. This is not always the case but you need to be prepared for it.
The best part of the PhD for me (and why I want a career in research) is having creative licence to do anything you want (supervisor permitting!). I'm sure you would enjoy this aspect of it since you like to problem solve and invent things. Many industry jobs in my field do not allow you to be creative which is why I am doing a PhD. You end up doing what the company tells you and the work is very repetitive. So I would look into what kind of jobs you like the sound of and find out what qualifications you need and go from there.
So to summarize, if I could go back and do it again I would because I need it for my career and therefore it's worth the 3/4 years of hell for the happiness it will bring me long-term. But if I didn't need it/wanted a job in industry would I do it again? Hell no!
Dunham, you’ve hit the nail on the head- I don’t doubt their main motivation is to find a way to hang on to me. My gut feeling was also that a PhD might be an obstacle to a job in industry, but have had many people tell me otherwise. Do others agree?
SanSoph, I also don’t mind the ‘delayed gratification’ approach, though I admit it’s getting harder! I doubt I'd be struggling with the decision if I knew the PhD would benefit my career. I studied for a masters as part of my undergraduate degree, but I agree that coming back for a PhD later on might be a good route to take. The thing is, it’s not so much about the PhD, but the people, the contacts, and the projects. It’s a good time to be involved and if I walk away, it could be difficult to get back into.
Hugh, an EngD was the more appealing option when I briefly considered postgraduate study after graduation. They are hard to come by, but the PhD on offer may have some of the benefits (connections with industry, the opportunity for a placement… maybe even some sponsorship)
Bonnie, sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time of it. I don’t think I’ll struggle as much with the isolation as it’s a cohort-based program, plus I’ll still be involved in other projects. Working every waking hour is a worry though. Variety and creative freedom is important to me too- I’m lucky to have this in my current job, and it’s the reason I’ll be looking to smaller companies if don't opt for the PhD. It seems that a PhD isn't necessary for the jobs I’m interested in (relevant experience is favoured… though I guess a PhD could provide this). Maybe I’ll get in touch with a couple of companies and get their take on it.
Thanks again for the replies- you’ve given me a lot to think about!
Is a PhD an obstacle in industry? I'll address this as a hiring manager in IT.
But... it is not uncommon for people to feel threatened by having someone work for them who appears to be more intelligent than them purely based on a single academic qualification. Experience/qualifications/attitude are the 3 attributes I evaluate in a candidate - the qualifications are beneficial if relevant to the role otherwise it demonstrates a level of intelligence/perseverance.
The problem you may find is if you have no experience then you must start at the bottom and then there are two possible problems 1. You feel your years of studying make you too good for the role 2. The hiring manager thinks you would be bored in such a lowly role with such impressive qualifications.
I think a BSc gets your cv in.. once in the role with some experience a MSc sets you apart. A PhD once at C Suite level is a nice to have but will not get you there - more completed as a personal challenge.
Granted this is purely my opinion and solely anecdotal but for transparency - I have a MSc (but am considering a PhD) and am on the leadership team of the company I work for (one away from being a director) and I work at C Suite level in consultancy with other large global companies.
So after all I have said and how little I think a PhD geniunely helps in industry - why am I considering one? 1. I like a challenge and feel it would be mentally stimulating 2. An opportunity to publish my work as industry articles to raise my profile. I am just deciding if no. 2 would actually happen!
"I don't particularly enjoy analysis, simulation or report writing, though can be quite good at these things if motivated by a tangible goal."
Just a caution-a fair bit of a PhD is writing up and analysis, and the end part of a PhD is all writing up and analysis, so you probably need to factor this into your decision.
It wouldn't be a reason not to do a PhD, but if you really don't like writing and analysis, you will need to be prepared for this being a large part of your life for a year or more. It can be pretty grim, but is doable. It is hard to imagine how miserable you would feel until you are immersed in it though...just one of the paradoxes of the PhD journey. Good luck with your decision though.
I can't agree that a PhD is a hindrance in the job market.
Neither is the comment from Dunham about age correct.
And I say that as someone who has spent many years in industry, recruitment and running my own business before taking on this PhD.
As AOE26 states, employers look for experience and attitude more than qualifications though.
In the software industry for example a PhD might provide easier access to research software jobs.
Companies like IBM still routinely hire PhD qualified people for the most exciting blue sky work and they are not alone.
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