To PhD or not to PhD?

posted
15-May-18, 19:37
edited about 29 seconds later
Avatar for Rachierara13
posted about 3 months ago
Hello everyone, I am new here and am hoping that you can all give me some sage advice as I usually talk to my Mum about this stuff but I lost her last year.

I am currently an MA student (medieval lit) and it has been an ambition of mine since the beginning of my undergraduate course that I would pursue a PhD. However many things stand in my way. Firstly is my confidence, although I got a First in my undergraduate studies (English) I'm worried that because of major health issues that my MA result won't be a distinction (headed for a merit) that I'd need to be accepted to do a PhD.

So the first problem is: if i don't identify as smart or confident am I setting myself up to fail a PhD?

Secondly, my health is a big issue, has anyone here done their PhD part time? As in six years? Due to my health this looks like the only option for me but I'm concerned about failing after all that time, or someone undercutting my research idea and finishing their thesis before me, rendering mine practically pointless.

Also, I work part time (18 hours a week) which I still want to do whilst doing a PhD.

I have an idea of what I want to research but have read other research proposals and mine sounds nowhere near enough as academically complex as theirs does.

I could quite easily go and do a PGCE and then get a full time teaching job, which i think i'd like but my heart isn't in it enough when I'm desperate to achieve a PhD. I'm just concerned that I'm not smart enough, or well enough, or making the right choice to commit to 6 years of my life.

thanks all x
posted
16-May-18, 13:19
edited about 4 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 months ago
A few thoughts here.

It is almost impossible to fail a PhD these days. Pretty much everybody who makes it to the end and submits a thesis will gain the doctorate. These days it is less about demonstrating academic brilliance and more about other skills. With a first class degree you are in a good place to do a PhD. You will face a cliff wall in terms of the step up but you have already demonstrated you can do this at undergraduate level and people who do that have the best chance of succeeding. You will be amongst a great many other students who have a much weaker baseline than you.

You mention your health problems as a reason to go part time but if you additionally work 18 hours a week you are essentially full time anyway. If you can get funding, it might be better to consider full time on the PhD.
If your health problems are mental health problems then I would highly recommend you get that sorted before starting because your resilience will be tested probably beyond anything you have ever experienced. This forum is full of people who have been broken by the experience going back many years.

Your idea neednt be complex. In fact there are huge advantages in seeking simple solutions. I solved some problems which turned out to be simple which was great, but then i finished with a complex problem which was so difficult to solve that it almost broke me mentally. I have never been so relieved to see something get published and off my desk. Whilst I am glad I did that work, i could have got the PhD without it. Your ideas just have to make enough of a difference to the body of knowledge to be worthy of a PhD. Prospective supervisors will let you know what standard you are at.

As for the PGDE, dont waste your life pursuing something you dont like. Its not worth it. Better to be poor amd happy than well off and dreading waking up each day.
posted
16-May-18, 16:21
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 3 months ago
[quote]Quote From pm133:
A few thoughts here.

It is almost impossible to fail a PhD these days. Pretty much everybody who makes it to the end and submits a thesis will gain the doctorate. /quote]

I'd say this is the key point: if you make it to the end. The drop out rate is pretty high in some disciplines, particularly for self funded students.
posted
17-May-18, 00:45
edited about 16 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
And I would add - yes - a lot of it is about having the "grit" to not give up and make it to the end.

If it is what you want to do then go for it!

Ps. Confidence can be a recurring issue throughout the PhD (google "imposter syndrome"). It may just be that you've started early :-D All the best with your Masters result and securing funding if it's what you decide to do.
posted
18-May-18, 18:08
edited about 3 seconds later
Avatar for Rachierara13
posted about 3 months ago
Dear all, thank you so much for your responses. My health conditions are more physical (Mitochondrial Disease and Pancreatitis to name a few) which make me tired easily.

Won't a full time PhD and 18 hours a week paid work be TOO much and asking for trouble? Has anyone done this?
posted
18-May-18, 18:36
by laebae
Avatar for laebae
posted about 3 months ago
I'm about to start a part-time PhD working approx. 20 hours per week as well. I wouldn't consider full-time plus 18 hours working if I were you, it's asking for trouble, even without health problems! I think what people were pointing out is that, even if you're part-time, if you're working 18 hours a week as well, between the PhD and working, you'd still be working a full-time week, which might be a bit much? Perhaps it might be better to do the PhD part-time without working (or working less) so you don't get ill?

It's worth noting that, given your health problems, I imagine you could apply for full-time funding and programmes and then, if it proves too much, switch to part-time without any issues. Universities and funding bodies tend to be pretty accommodating about this kind of thing, so it's something to look into.

On a side note, if you get tired easy, definitely don't do a PGCE and go into teaching! That's one of the most tiring jobs there is! So many of my friends have burnt out and left after only a few years, and one who absolutely loved her job had to leave due to health issues which made her weak and fatigued. Plus, you don't want to be a teacher, so probably shouldn't :) Follow your dream and go for the PhD, I say!
posted
20-May-18, 10:39
edited about 9 minutes later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 months ago
Teaching certainly is not the most tiring job there is.
Why on earth would you think that?

There are countless jobs where you are on your feet all day.
Cleaning jobs are in a different league for this sort of thing as are most other manual jobs.
If it's stress you want, don't look much further than air traffic control or call centre help desk jobs for example.

Having put 3 kids through our education system and witnessed what and how they are being taught, it's pretty clear the teaching profession is stuffed to the rafters with people who should be nowhere near a classroom. At least two people on my course who ended up with ordinary degrees were allowed to become teachers. There are clearly some great teachers out there but I don't believe they are in the majority. There are still too many going into teaching because they are not able to do anything else and they are seeking an easy life.
posted
20-May-18, 12:52
edited about 18 minutes later
by Nad75
Avatar for Nad75
posted about 3 months ago
PM133, please refrain from insulting a profession that you have not clearly experienced. Laebae stated, 'one of the most tiring jobs', and it is true. As a seasoned teacher who has switched into higher academia, I can vouch that teaching (especially in the primary/elementary school setting) has an extremely dedicated force of people who have to be educators, counsellors, conflict disputers and social workers while being a positive role model for 9+ hours a day. This is a role that is draining and exceeds the salary that they are afforded. Plus, there is a constant awareness of providing a safe environment for children so you can go to work. Academia is mentally exhausting (and, even depressing), but much less of a risk as a job and less physically exhausting as teaching minors in the classroom. I've worked in five different industries (including hospitality and the service industry), and teaching is one of the the most rewarding, yet draining jobs.

Back to the OP - laebae has excellent advice. I think a part-time PhD route is a great option, if a funding route is there for it. I know some colleagues that did part-time PhD (some as teachers!) and some as workers in other professions. It allows for a better pace of study and learning how to research. Don't worry about the possibility of others undercutting your research--the thesis topics in the arts and humanities become very niche. Also, the MA dissertation supervisor may be able to take a look at your research proposal and give feedback on how it can be strengthened (if you haven't done this already).
posted
20-May-18, 15:48
by laebae
Avatar for laebae
posted about 3 months ago
Quote From pm133:
Teaching certainly is not the most tiring job there is.
Why on earth would you think that?

There are countless jobs where you are on your feet all day.
Cleaning jobs are in a different league for this sort of thing as are most other manual jobs.
If it's stress you want, don't look much further than air traffic control or call centre help desk jobs for example.

Having put 3 kids through our education system and witnessed what and how they are being taught, it's pretty clear the teaching profession is stuffed to the rafters with people who should be nowhere near a classroom. At least two people on my course who ended up with ordinary degrees were allowed to become teachers. There are clearly some great teachers out there but I don't believe they are in the majority. There are still too many going into teaching because they are not able to do anything else and they are seeking an easy life.



LOL alright then. Seeing as I grew up with a mum who's a teacher, live with a partner who's a teacher, and have several friends who are former or current teachers, I stand by my point.
posted
21-May-18, 12:40
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 3 months ago
I think it depends on what situations different people find stressful. Pm133 says call centre helplines are stressful - well I worked in one for 4 years and never once did I feel stressed, but I like to keep busy so... On the other hand, I worked in a strict office with multiple time specific deadlines per day and that was incredibly stressful for me. I've never really found my PhD or academic job stressful over a long period of time, just for short bursts. I would also agree that manual jobs are tiring. I've worked on a shop floor where you can't sit down all day, or been out gardening all day, and that is more tiring that sitting at my desk writing lectures and teaching material and marking work and replying to emails, which is what basically what my teaching in HE job is.
posted
22-May-18, 10:20
edited about 1 minute later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 months ago
Nad75 and laebae, you can attempt to "white knight" teachers all you like but the evidence is against you.
Pupils arrive in High school routinely unable to perform simple maths such as fractions or write properly.
In high school the pressure put on pupils to pass exams and go to university is intolerable and teaching to the test is widespread.
If not teachers, who exactly should we blame for this?

It is almost impossible to lose your job as a teacher and the profession is therefore awash with incompetent and lazy staff.

None of this is new and it is truly depressing to see teachers more keen to defend their profession than to defend the pupils who are at the receiving end of this.
posted
22-May-18, 11:22
edited about 9 minutes later
by Nad75
Avatar for Nad75
posted about 3 months ago
Hi Pm133, thank you for the somewhat strange reply, however, I'm just quickly replying to state that there is no value in engaging with a debate you on this issue. Any speculation of teachers' behaviour and responsibility clearly derails from the OP's topic and would not be useful for a forum focused on postgraduate issues. Let's keep the topic on assisting someone with choosing to do a PhD while working.
posted
02-Jun-18, 16:48
edited about 12 seconds later
Avatar for Rachierara13
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From laebae:
I'm about to start a part-time PhD working approx. 20 hours per week as well. I wouldn't consider full-time plus 18 hours working if I were you, it's asking for trouble, even without health problems! I think what people were pointing out is that, even if you're part-time, if you're working 18 hours a week as well, between the PhD and working, you'd still be working a full-time week, which might be a bit much?

On a side note, if you get tired easy, definitely don't do a PGCE and go into teaching! That's one of the most tiring jobs there is! So many of my friends have burnt out and left after only a few years, and one who absolutely loved her job had to leave due to health issues which made her weak and fatigued. Follow your dream and go for the PhD, I say!


Thank you so much for your advice! It really nice to hear from someone who IS doing a PhD part-time as everyone that I have come into contact with is doing it full time. I think after reading all these comments that you are right, working 18.5 hours a week might be too much and definitely is asking for trouble. I'm just anxious that on choosing to do it part time it will mean that I'll be 30 (23 atm with a year left of my MA) when I finish with no career path as I don't want to go into academia/lecturing. Is that something everyone else is worried about or do you all want to go into university careers?

I have a mortgage and I need my car for hospital visits and other bills so I don't intend to (can't afford to) quit either of my jobs. It's finding a solution to my already being chronically ill and finding a way to do a PhD without making myself worse.
posted
02-Jun-18, 16:55
Avatar for Rachierara13
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
I've never really found my PhD or academic job stressful over a long period of time, just for short bursts. I would also agree that manual jobs are tiring. I've worked on a shop floor where you can't sit down all day, or been out gardening all day, and that is more tiring that sitting at my desk writing lectures and teaching material and marking work and replying to emails, which is what basically what my teaching in HE job is.


This might sound like a silly question, but do all students doing a PhD HAVE to teach and prepare materials for seminar groups alonside their research, or is that only if said person wants to enter that career and needs/wants the experience?

It's good to know that not all of the process is stressful! Six years is a hell of a commitment and it is stress that triggers/exacerbates my medical conditions.
posted
02-Jun-18, 17:01
Avatar for Rachierara13
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From Nad75:


Back to the OP - laebae has excellent advice. I think a part-time PhD route is a great option, if a funding route is there for it. I know some colleagues that did part-time PhD (some as teachers!) and some as workers in other professions. It allows for a better pace of study and learning how to research. Don't worry about the possibility of others undercutting your research--the thesis topics in the arts and humanities become very niche. Also, the MA dissertation supervisor may be able to take a look at your research proposal and give feedback on how it can be strengthened (if you haven't done this already).


Thank you for your advice, I really appreciate it! I have asked my favourite lecturer (and hopefully supervisor) if she would talk my thesis idea over with me and she said that she'd be more than happy to do this at some point next academic term as this is now the end of my first year of doing a 2 year part time MA.

I think it just concerns me exactly HOW i could research my question. In terms of my question/area of interest at this moment it is deeply rooted in medieval studies and so I'm assuming I'm going to have to spend a lot of time travelling up and down the country to look at manuscripts/attend conferences etc? I can't find anything at all about it on the internet, which I suppose is a good thing as then I have a winning topic.

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