Studying for a Ph.D is a major decision.
PhD programs are the final rung on the higher education ladder. Designed primarily to prepare students for careers in academia or other fields where extensive and nuanced expertise is needed, studying for a PhD is a significant commitment, both in terms of effort and time. Indeed, according to an article from Franklin College, reporting on statistics from CBS Money Watch, it takes roughly eight years, on average, for students to complete all of the their PhD requirements. The source is quick to stress, however, that this number is by no means uniform across the board of higher education institutions. PhD programs will vary in terms of requirements and set-up, between institutions and academic disciplines. A history PhD program at one school will likely differ in terms of organization from a biology PhD program at another institution, for example.
Given the magnitude of the commitment, if you are considering applying to a PhD program there are a number of things that you should keep in mind before you make your final decision. They include:
1. It helps to take a break
According to PhD student Andy Greenspon, writing in an article for Elsevier, it can be tempting to transition from your undergraduate or master's program straight into your PhD studies. After all, if you have recently completed your degree you are no doubt comfortable in an academic setting and in the right frame of mind to continue studying. Furthermore, as Greenspon pointed out, conventional wisdom states that the longer one is away from the classroom, the less likely they will be to return.
Greenspon, however, explained that taking time out between completing your undergraduate degree and starting your PhD program is a wise move, for a couple of important reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most notably, a hiatus from education can give you the time you need to consider whether further study is truly the right path for you – it can afford you an opportunity to explore other possibilities for your next step. Greenspon explained that completing independent research in your chosen field of study during this time can also be helpful. Secondly, a break can allow you to travel and do things that you won't be able to do during the five years or more that you're a PhD student. Greenspon ultimately argued that a break – of around two years or so – can help prevent the burnout and fatigue that is often associated with studying for an advanced degree.
"PhD students are all usually compelled to conduct research and complete articles for publication
2. You'll need to publish
As detailed by Julio Peironcely, writing in an article for Next Scientist, PhD students are all usually compelled to conduct research and complete articles for publication. Successfully publishing work, and extensively so, is key not only for doing well throughout your PhD studies but also for your job search afterwards. Positions in academia, especially, are highly competitive, and if you have little work that has been published, it's unlikely that you will impress hiring committees. Given how competitive and stressful this kind of work can be, it is important to consider before applying to PhD programs whether you want to spend considerable time on this kind of work.
3. You will have to consider geography
Not only is studying for a PhD a major decision in terms of your professional life, it can also mean making the decision to move away, especially if no institutions of higher education near your home offers the PhD program you want. Deciding on where to study can be a challenge, and an article from U.S. News & World Report advised keeping an open mind – for example, don't rule out schools based on a particular geographic location, as you may find that institutions in places where you had never considered living are renowned for your subject area, or boast exciting research opportunities. While making your final decision about the institution at which you will study,keep in mind considerations such as cost of living, the job market in the area and crime and safety.
4. It is easy to lose motivation
While you will no doubt begin your PhD program in a flurry of excitement, all guns blazing, given the length of PhD programs it is common to become frustrated and burned out with your program in the middle stages, Peironcely argued. Losing motivation in this way happens to most students at some point, and is a natural consequence of dedicating so much time and energy to one pursuit. Studying for a PhD can also lead to feelings of uncertainty and worry as you ponder career moves upon the completion of your program. A loss of motivation during PhD studies is so common, in fact, that the feeling even has a colloquial term – Phase 3 of PhD motivation, the "Crisis of Meaning." This loss of motivation shouldn't discourage you from embarking on a PhD program, however. As Peironcely argued, given that this stage is essentially routine, it can be easily overcome with focus and dedication. He suggested taking each day at a time, working on small tasks and worrying about the future only as the end of your studies approaches.
5. A PhD differs considerably from other programs
Unlike undergraduate degree programs and even master's degree programs in some cases, studying for a PhD is not about simply completing assignments and getting good grades, Greenspon detailed. Indeed, at the PhD level you will be treated as an academic peer among faculty and be required to carry out your own research and add your own unique voice to academic discourse. Put another way, PhD programs are often understood as a preparatory phase for a career in academia. This is important to keep in mind – studying for a PhD will involve a notable upward transition in terms of difficulty and expectations.
6. Your personal life will likely be affected
As detailed by Don Martin in U.S. News & World Report, it is likely that opting to return to the classroom will have an impact on your personal life. You may have children or a spouse, or you may have a packed schedule of extracurricular activities. All of these things can be affected by your decision to study for a PhD, and as such, careful consideration and planning is necessary before committing to a program. For example, maybe you won't be as available to pick up your children from school, or you may not be able to cook and clean as often and so on. As the article advised, be sure to consult those closest to you about your decision and figure out ways in which your studies can be incorporated into your daily schedule. Enlist as much help and support as you can. Ultimately, the more you plan ahead with your loved ones, the less likely your PhD study will have a negative impact on your life.