So, you enrolled, got part way through you PhD and then…. Nothing. Your research and data - it may well be fine. Same with your PhD supervisor. Then again, it all could be going from bad to worse. Regardless, you’ve reached a point where you are clear on one thing – ACADEMIA IS NOT FOR YOU. The next question – do I need to PhD?
What does having a PhD mean to me? What does having a PhD mean to those who might employ me? Would joining the workforce now, be better than joining it in a few months or a couple of years? Is six months of 60-80 hours of work (fulltime job combined with thesis writing) worth the effort?
On many levels (maybe even all levels) this is a question only you can answer. But here are some things worth thinking about.
FOR doing a PhD*
1. Skills are in need – There are many jobs where PhD-level skills are necessary for success. In a recent study, researchers found that more than 5,000 jobs advertised on SEEK.com in 2015 included a requirement for skills that are at a PhD level. Although the jobs did not specifically ask for a PhD, the researchers concluded that a person with a PhD would have them and that having undertaken a PhD would be a legitimate path to obtaining them. Furthermore, these are generic research skills or skills obtained through a PhD. They are unrelated to the topic of the PhD itself.
2. Sense of achievement – academically, there is nothing compared to completing a PhD. While completing year 12 had a huge sense of accomplishment, it was my PhD that demonstrated (to me) an ability to stick with something for an extended period of time. It gave me a certain self-belief in my tenacity and drive. Something that I have leant on when other things got tough.
3. Demonstrated achievement – for others, looking at your career and CV, a PhD is unique. Although we train in a hyper-educated environment. Where all of our peers have one (or more) degrees, and perhaps a Masters as well, the rest of society does not. I cannot recall a time when I met someone outside academia or without a PhD who was not impressed. Impressed by the ability to stick with a program for an extended period of time. Impressed by my knowledge of a topic. Impressed by my capacity to learn.
4. Part of the gang – without a doubt, having a PhD makes you part of the gang. A certain sense of “we know how hard it is/was”. So, when it comes to working with researchers in the future, there is a base level of understanding not present for those without a PhD.
5. You could turn it into your job – depending on the topic and nature of your PhD, as well as your personal disposition, you could turn your PhD into your career. Although I have not done this directly, I have done it in a round-about way. But there are some who have taken their thesis or expertise and commercialised it (e.g. community engagement, co-production, collaboration, strategic planning, ideation, gene editing).
AGAINST doing a PhD
1. Skills are in need, not the PhD – in the same study The Thesis Whisperer also found that very few job ads specifically mentioned a PhD. Therefore, it is highly likely the applicants could obtain the necessary skills through other training or experience. Thus, joining the workforce earlier might provide you with the necessary skills.
2. You can earn (more) money – depending on when you join the workforce (i.e. when you’re not paid or paying to study), you could earn more money. For example, if you went straight from high school to work you could earn a full-time wage for 3-8 years before your degree- and PhD-completing counter parts are able to work fulltime. At $70,000 per year that’s between $210,000 and $560,000 more than your peers. Although the data suggest more qualifications results in higher lifetime earnings, greater income (and therefore investment) earlier in life will have greater impact across the entire lifespan.
3. More study – adding more years to your student career right off the back of your current study requires a lot of stamina. To commit to a project – the same project – for three or more years is immense (or however long you estimate you need to finish/finalise your PhD). Particularly if the outcomes are unclear. If starting a PhD after time in the workforce, getting back into the study grove can be hard. Particularly when your peers are several years or decades younger than you.
4. Pay cut – As a mature PhD student, you might be leaving the workforce. This will almost certainly mean a pay cut regardless of the stipend, award or top-up you might receive. Although the change in pay might be quantifiable, for some the change in lifestyle can be too difficult.
Of course, there are other factors too. Many people worry about what their parents, partner, friends, supervisor, colleagues will think. Ultimately, a well-reasoned decision – one you are convinced of – is the most important part. Your conviction around your decision will be (should be) strong enough to convince others. And where it is not, your conviction will be strong enough to allow you to stand tall regardless of other people’s opinions and their role in your life.
*NB: Struggling with your PhD? Join our PhD Coaching to Completion program. Helping PhD students complete their thesis and transition to work.