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graduate | opinions & advice | research & decide
Why You Shouldn't Pursue a PhD
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The road to a doctorate is long, arduous and paved with abandoned scholarship.
So before deciding to pursue a PhD, make sure that you love your field of study and will enjoy immersing yourself in it for several years. Successful PhD students are those who thrive in a highly intellectual environment, are willing to work very hard with only a possible payoff, have excellent command of undergraduate coursework and don't mind forgoing impressive paychecks.
We know we're playing devil's advocate, but there are some reasons not to pursue a PhD. Make sure you've considered these before making the leap:
It's a lot of work.
First-year PhD students usually take around three classes. Graduate courses are far more demanding those you took as an undergrad, and three classes is an extremely heavy workload. Many first-years are also thrust into teaching right away and must learn how to juggle their needs along with their students.
And the workload doesn't lighten after the first year – you'll continue taking and teaching courses, and you'll begin the process of writing a dissertation. In the final three years of the PhD program, you'll mainly focus on writing the dissertation and preparing for oral exams.
Of course, there is a flip side to all this. Grad students get to manage their own time, and are not tied to an office cubicle. And if you love your subject, you won't mind all that time in the library.
You may not make it through.
Each year, some PhD candidates do not meet the requirements of their graduate programs and are asked to leave. Others choose to leave because they are burnt out, or their interests have changed. Some students who don't complete the PhD leave with a master's degree; others leave with no degree at all.
Some people believe that universities accept more grad students than they can fund because they need the teaching assistants (TAs) for all their undergraduates. According to this theory, professors purposefully give out low grades so they can flunk out graduate students the department can't afford to keep after the first year. We don't know if this is true. But we do encourage you to make a back-up plan in case you fail to earn a PhD.
You'll live frugally.
Getting a doctorate is intellectually rewarding. Unfortunately, it doesn't tend to be financially rewarding, at least not in the short term.
Most PhD students live on their earnings from teaching and research assistantships or other low–paying employment. So getting a PhD can mean being a starving student for another five years or more. And unless your specialty is a hot field such as computer science or nanotechnology, you'll probably find that the job market is even more competitive than you had imagined. Keep in mind that even if the pursuit of new knowledge sounds noble to you, your significant may think otherwise.
You may struggle to find a good job.
Many PhD students hope to find a tenure-track position at a good college or research university after graduating (although others do pursue careers outside academia). Academic positions are increasingly difficult to come by. There are more PhDs on the job market, and many have to settle for temporary or non tenure-track teaching positions.
If you do find a tenure-track position, it probably won't be at your dream school. You may have to relocate to a college on the other side of the country (or in the middle of a cornfield) if you're looking for professional fulfillment.
Okay…so why pursue a PhD?
Despite the long hours, low pay and every other drawback we just listed, people stay in doctorate programs because they enjoy learning for learning's sake. They love intellectual stimulation, and they find academic work fun. Most PhD students think researchers and academics have it made because they get paid to tackle intellectual problems and explore new areas of knowledge. If this sounds like you, then it's absolutely the right choice to pursue a PhD.
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