Main Reasons NOT to Get a PhD

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Originally published Mar 11, 2021, updated Mar 12, 2021
Main Reasons NOT to Get a PhD

Doing a Ph.D. is not a walk in the park. You might jump into it right now and regret it for the rest of your life. It would be a good idea to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis and weigh the pros and cons beforehand to prevent such a situation. Of course, it takes some time but it surely will pay off because you’ll make the right choice in the end. Here are a few factors you need to consider before finalizing an option:

Decide on Your Goals Before You Get Your Feet Wet

The first question you should ask yourself before choosing to pursue a doctorate degree is the reason behind it. What makes you want to achieve your goal? If you fail to come up with a concrete answer, you should devise a plan B. Leaping without reflecting on the decision might end up being a waste of your time and resources.

There can be various reasons for going after it. The most common ones are:

  • To be a part of academia;
  • To work in research;
  • To realize your intellectual potential. 
  • To gain an edge in the job market;
  • To delve deeper into a specific topic/project;
  • To make a contribution towards your field.

There are definitely many people who consider these reasons enough. But what if we say that you don’t need to pursue a Ph.D. degree to achieve these goals? What if there are ways that are easier? That won’t take you plenty of time and money? Let us show you another side of the coin. 

It Isn’t the Only Option to Go Into Academia

Well, if one of your goals is to become a part of academia, ask yourself: why do you need it? Do you need a specific community of smart people? You might be shocked by the fact that the academic world is no more or less tainted than any other community. If you really need these acquaintances, it would be much faster to invite your professor for coffee or to write a witty comment on Facebook. You don’t have to sacrifice your life, pore over textbooks, conduct research, and publish articles when the only thing you receive is a strong professional network of PhD candidates. 

It Doesn’t Guarantee You a Successful Career Start

Do you know that young people without higher education earn billions these days? The world has changed. Though there are still some professions that require a Bachelor's or Master’s degree, the Ph.D. is mostly overrated. 

Employes don’t look at your diplomas, they look at your knowledge, full-time work experience, practical skills, soft skills. When you’re stuck in the university laboratories with a lot of work, you're isolated from the real world. It not only doesn’t contribute to your professional development, but it leaves you one step behind. While your peers have four years of real challenges, you need to work much more to catch up with them on the career ladder. 

It is Not That Easy as You Can Imagine

Some students decide to do a Ph.D. because they are smart, get good grades, and consider this direction to be the logical continuation of their path. You might think that you can realize your intellectual potential, but what is on the other side of the scale?

Let’s see what challenges do Ph.D. students face:

  • Stress. Forget about a calm life. When you’re purchasing a Ph.D., you have to deal with large-scale projects and looming deadlines. It is not a secret that mental health in academia is a real issue because graduate students don’t have enough time for regular life. Your supervisors will expect pretty much of you, and dealing with that stress isn't for the faint of heart. 
  • Conflicts. Speaking about supervisors, don’t think they will treat you like high school teachers. They are part-bosses, part-mentors, and part-colleagues. It is challenging to maintain this odd combination, and you’ll surely face some disagreements. 
  • Useless tasks. Some professors ask grad students to perform grunt assignments that they personally don’t like. It means you’ll teach undergraduates and play mother hens to them, grade papers, hold office hours. And you can’t say “no” because you need professors to be on your side. 
  • Time. Average students take 8 years to wade through a Ph.D. program. So, if you’re about 25 right now, you’ll be 33 years old when you earn that top diploma. You’re not free all these years, you’re limited. You can’t just stop at any moment because you know that you’ve already wasted a lot of time so that you have to finalize this way. 

Sounds not that inspiring, right? You may be the smartest person in the world, but intelligence has nothing to do with the physical and mental health that PhD graduates have to sacrifice.

It Doesn’t Provide You With an Opportunity to Earn For Living

We have mentioned that it takes you about 8 years to purchase a Ph.D. Do you have a financial plan for this time? Ph.D. students earn $15,000-$30,000 a year depending on their educational institution, the field of research, and location. Besides, if it is not a fellowship award, and you get a salary from a teaching assistant position, you need to pay taxes as well. It means you’ll have $1250-$2500 before taxes per month until you’re a 33-year-old. And, you remember, Ph.D. doesn’t guarantee you a successful career. Do you consider this money to be enough for your needs?

If not, you have to find a part-time job, and it means you can’t be absolutely focused on your research projects. 

It Doesn’t Guarantee You a Decent Salary in Academia

If you decide to continue your academic career, you have a chance to get a decent position if you are in good standing with your supervisor and have outstanding academic achievements. But let’s be honest: other students around you are no less smart, and it is especially difficult to stand out among them. You still have a lot of competition and no guarantees. You can look for different offers and bargain when you’re in the commercial sector, but in academia, you’re limited by a number of educational institutions, their research goals, and budgets.

A Ph.D. is Expensive

High funding requirements for Phd holders can be ranked as one of the top reasons people are reluctant to enroll in it. The students can essentially be categorized into three groups. Firstly there are the ones who are self-funded. Managing the high fees at a young age is very difficult as is. Most students end up taking student loans. It adds to their psychological pressure along with the financial one. You will belong paying the debt back even after this higher education.

The other group is who gets departmentally funded, and the third is externally financed students. The scam occurs when the external funders have to pay the complete fee in addition to the indirect costs of tuition fees. Things can become tricky when there is a cap on these tuition fees. The first year, as well as the second years, are usually more expensive than the rest. Most students drop off in the first couple of years as retaining in this constant pressure becomes unbearable.

An Ultimate List of Signs That Ph.D. is Not Really Your Thing

  • Your parents want this more than you. Some parents believe their children should climb to the top of the academic mountain. They don’t have any convincing arguments, they just want you to realize their ambitions. Don’t make this mistake until you are sure that you need it.
  • It seems a logical continuation of your Bachelor’s and Master’s programs. Yes, you have to study at college or university to get a profession, develop your skills, and make friends. But the Ph.D. program has other goals, and it has nothing to do with classic higher education. 
  • You have not taken a break between your bachelor's/master's and Ph.D. It may sound like a waste of time, but you need some kind of a pause to sort out the mess in your head. Take at least several months to understand what you really want from life.
  • Your time management skills are not excellent. Doctoral students should be at the top of their game. Without time management skills, there is no chance of survival in this.
  • You are not stress-resistant. Ph.D. and stress are literally synonyms. You should be ready to forget about the peace of mind for the next several years. It is a constant run that requires you to do your best if you want to achieve significant results in academia.
  • You cannot commit to years of hard work. Stay away if you want to be flexible and change your life directions from time to time.
  • You are ambitious. Ph.D. designed for students who are willing to follow the rules, be systematic and consistent in their decisions. If you want to break records, stand out among other people, earn a lot of money, etc., you should think about the other path.

What Can Be The Convincing Reasons to Do Ph.D.?

Though there are arguments against purchasing a Ph.D. diploma, many students all over the world make this decision. According to statistics, about 85-100,000 students earn a doctoral degree in the United States years. Of course, it can’t be said that they are stupid and didn’t understand all the drawbacks. We don’t speak about ignoring academia at all, we speak about the necessity of the honest answer: what do you really want to do?

There are some advantages that you should consider before you give up the academic career:

  • You’ll get paid higher than non-PhDs employees in a long-term perspective. You can’t expect an outstanding salary at the beginning of your career path, but in a couple of decades, you’ll get more opportunities than your peers because of your advanced degrees.  The economy continues to favor innovation, so have patience, and continue developing in your field.
  • You’ll have a great social impact. Doing your Ph.D., you develop your social skills, access professional networks, build relationships, and you surely get societal recognition.
  • You’ll develop your personality. It is impossible to say that Ph.D. grads have some time-management, stress-resistance, persistence, organizational, or any other issues. You might have them right now when you’re at a crossroads, but the academic atmosphere is able to build your character.
  • You’ll have a chance to realize your ambitions. Speaking about ambitious people, we usually mean someone who earns a lot and has a great career. But what if you have other goals? Maybe you dream to develop a cancer cure, or, at least contribute. Ph.D. provides you with an opportunity to be a part of something that is really great, and society should be proud of people who are ready to sacrifice their personal lives for the sake of essential values.

So, How to Make a Right Decision if You’re in Doubt?

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Now, when you have enough reasons for and against the graduate program, you should understand that the final choice can’t be made at once. You should make the decision that will define your life for the next 8 years, or even more. There are several steps you can take before you sign up (or don’t sign up) for the doctoral program.

Seek Out Information 

It shouldn’t be the choice of your parents or your professors. Don’t wait until they lay out a plan for your life. Try to find as much information as possible about the specific graduate school, its programs, and opportunities for students and postdocs. There may be different conditions depending on these factors, and you need to consider them all. It would be also a good idea to get in touch with alumni who are graduated from the Ph.D. program you’re interested in. Most educational institutions have pages for alumni on their websites, Facebook groups, etc. If you start this journey, you’ll already have some useful contacts. 

Make Sure You Have Enough Money to Continue Your Education

Since it is impossible to ignore the financial aspect, it would be a wise choice to think about it in advance. Look for grad schools with good funding, that provide you with medical insurance and other kinds of financial support. If you’re still purchasing a Bachelor’s degree, you have enough time to save money, try yourself in some career positions, and even find a company that is ok with your part-time employment. It would be also a good idea to look for some stipends that will cover your expenses.

Listen to Your Heart

Sometimes it is really difficult to decide what we want because we live in a time of informational noise. If all people around you are Ph.D. graduates (or regret they are not), it is impossible to imagine that you would have other aspirations. And vise versa, when most Instagram posts tell you that you can start an amazing business career right now, the academic job after long years of education doesn’t look so attractive. 

We don’t offer you to flip a coin to make a decision. But try to dig a little deeper to understand your real goals and values. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? In 20 years? What are you ready to sacrifice for this sake? You’ll surely find the right answers!

Tasha Kolesnikova
Content Team Member

I write articles and do SEO-optimisation here at Studybay. I'm obsessed with creating content both people and Google love, surfing in Portugal, and dancing Jazz-funk.