Should You Get a PhD? Six Things to Consider Before Starting the Degree

Happy Monday everyone! I'm doing a blog post today about a topic I get asked a lot about, and that's by people considering PhDs if they should do one. So after just finishing my PhD this July, I am ready to dive in and give my best advice and some things to consider before you take the plunge.

1) Do you really love your subject? I mean really love your subject?

If you just kind of like your subject or like the idea of it on a mediocre level, that's really not going to cut it. You really need to love your subject. You will be living and breathing this subject for the next 3-10 years if you undertake a PhD. It must be something that interests you enough to get up in the morning and research about, as well as motivate you to apply for fellowships and other programs in your chosen area. If literally living this subject for 3-10 years, and possibly the rest of your life, doesn't sound desirable, then no, you shouldn't do a PhD.

2) Are you self-motivated?

If you struggle with motivation, the answer is likely going to be no. While there are time limits for PhDs at most schools, you largely set your own deadlines with your advisors and must be self-motivated enough to get up and research and write, even if you're not feeling like it. Everyone struggles with motivation from time to time, but if it is a big problem, it's probably not the degree for you.

3) Are you prepared to spend a lot of time alone?

I definitely struggled with this one when it came to writing up my PhD. I have always been a pretty sociable person, however, writing up my PhD became a very solitary exercise. If you undertake your PhD in Europe, you may also never have classes as your MA serves as your foundation. As such, you may have to make an extra effort to meet other people.

4) Can you fit it around work?

There seems to be a misconception that PhDs only sit around and do research. If you're lucky enough to receive a grant, that might be the case for you. However, in most cases, doing your PhD also entails teaching or working another job. Even if you do your PhD part-time so you can continue your full-time work, know that this is a huge outside commitment and you will really be sacrificing a lot when it comes to social and other engagements like hobbies. There will, however, be downtime when your supervisor is reading your work and while you are waiting for your work to receive a final grade, so that's always a welcome break.

5) Are you able to accept that in this climate, some people think a PhD is a joke? 

This is something I never thought I would write, but since graduating (and especially to do with my situation), I have had a lot of people use my PhD as a joke. I have had people tell me they do not respect my work because it is on the Holocaust, or that a PhD just means that you Wikipedia-ed or plagarized other people's work.  I have also had people (non-academics) tell me I will never get a job because my skill set is so specialized. My harassment issue aside, there is a current trend of devaluing intellectual pursuits. While you and your family and friends and fellow academics will know you worked hard for your degree, be prepared for others to let you know they feel it was a waste of time. This is true especially if you are a woman. Don't get caught up in trying to prove yourself to people like that--they don't matter.

6) Will you always regret it if you never go for it?

I asked this to a friend of mine considering getting a PhD and this was the one question he said that motivated him to go for it. While there are positives and negatives to doing a higher education degree, this is really the most important question you have to ask yourself. Even if you end up being unsuccessful in your pursuit, or ultimately decide it isn't for you, if you know deep down you will always regret never trying, I recommend going for it.

I hope these tips help you make a better decision when it comes to whether or not you want to pursue a PhD. It's a big decision and it isn't for everyone, but for those who thrive in academia, it may just be the best choice.

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