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Should I do a PhD?

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    • Thread Starter

    Hello everyone!

    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. Apologies in advance for the long and rambling post (an insight into my state of mind!)

    I’m in a slightly unusual position. After completing my undergraduate degree a few years ago 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 way to solve this problem. However, I have a number of concerns…
    • Fundamentally, 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, or might it limit my options? It seems that spending 3-4 years focused on a specific research topic might put me at a disadvantage compared with those who have spent the time acquiring a broader range of skills and experiences.
    • A PhD would allow me to progress through the university’s careers pathway and perhaps open up a role with more job security (although from what I’ve heard this is far from guaranteed). However, I am worried that ‘promotion’ will take me away from what I enjoy.
    • 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 on a day to day basis. I do not want to spend another 3+ years of my life jumping through hoops, and if I perceive this to be the case I reckon I’ll lose motivation pretty quickly.
    • 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.
    • Also, 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 some rough times. If I’m having this many doubts at this stage, do I have any hope whatsoever?
    • 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!


    If you're worried about what you will spend time doing for your PhD then talk to your supervisor and find out. You may even be able to do this project work for your PhD. Have you had this discussion with your supervisor? A PhD can be beneficial in industry depending on what sort of job you're interested in. Have a look at requirements and find out. Bear in mind that a PhD trains you in how to carry out research and you can gain a load of transferable skills which can apply to a range of different jobs. More and more PhD grads end up outside of academia and more employers recognise the value of a PhD. While a PhD is a requirement for an academic job it doesn't limit you to one. I think the main things for you to think about are the money you'll have to live off while you do your PhD and what you do next. Re; the money, you'll have to weigh up the benefits of doing a PhD vs devoting 3-4 years to it. Do you have any financial commitments (kids, mortgage for example) that you have to worry about? Finally, bear in mind that most of us will get promoted away from what we start off enjoying as we go through our careers and lives. Circumstances, priorities and interests change and you have to be prepared for that. For example, I work in a lab and have always loved the lab but if I ever want to achieve my dream of being independent and having my own lab group I will have to do more admin work, write grant applications (which I hate doing), write papers, supervise students and junior members of staff etc, all of which cut down my time in the lab.
    • Thread Starter

    Thanks a lot for the reply- you've given me a lot to think about!

    I have discussed things with my supervisor- it does sound like the PhD on offer has the potential to be up my street, and I might be able to build on my past work (though part of me thinks he might just be telling me what I want to hear). It is not clear what specific roles (if any) the PhD might open up if I were to stay at the university, and while it is good to hear that a PhD is increasingly valued outside academia, I question how beneficial it would be for the roles I aspire to. I haven't looked at very many ads, but it seems that most that I am interested in value experience over qualifications. Actually, I might get in touch with a few companies to see how those with PhDs fit in to their operation.

    Of course it never hurts to remain flexible as aspirations may indeed change overtime, and if the PhD could help open other doors in the future then it might be worthwhile. On the other hand I see potential for it to pidgeonhole me. I don’t have any major financial commitments at the moment and could probably live on the stipend without too much trouble.
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