This might be the most important step you have taken so far in life. In the very least, it will define your next few years. The purpose here is not to advocate that a PhD is better (or worse) for your career. It is to clearly lay out the line of thoughts to show where your preference lies.
So, why do you think that a PhD is a good idea?
• Maybe the job market in your field is too tight at the moment. Perhaps a higher degree will give you better employment opportunities with higher salaries.
• Maybe a PhD is the “natural” next step for you. You were highly competitive during your Bachelor’s degree and are ready to take things to the next level. You feel that getting a PhD was the plan all along.
• Maybe this opportunity seemed almost unthinkable not so long ago, but was kind of just presented to you. You might have been recommended by your undergraduate professor, or encouraged by a colleague or even a family member. It turns out, getting into a PhD program is easier than you once thought.
• Maybe joining a PhD program will provide the platform (or excuse!) to travel to a new place, explore a different culture, and learn stuff, or simply move to a new country with a higher standard of living.
• Maybe your preferred career path didn’t work out like you expected. For example, you didn’t get into med school, or your double major didn’t open the opportunities you were hoping for, or whatever. Time for a new challenge.
All of these sound like plausible reasons for applying. So why isn’t it the easiest decision ever? You might have asked around and done a little bit of research. As it turns out, things are not that rosy and straightforward. Here are a few reasons that may be holding you back:
• The job market for your higher degree is also tight, and many PhD graduates are unemployed or underemployed; maybe you think that it is better to invest your time and energy elsewhere.
• It takes too darn long! A PhD can range between three years (for some engineer programs in the USA or some science programs in Europe) to six years (for life sciences majors). A reasonable estimate is around 5–5.5 years for a science PhD in the USA. Five years is a long time. Point taken.
• Maybe you think that the quality of life as a PhD student is too low, or lower than you want for the next several years. You might have heard so much about how the stipend is too low, the working hours are too long, and the location might not be the most exciting.
• More homework? No way!
It is important to understand these factors before you enroll in a PhD program. You do not want to paint an unrealistic picture and then see the big expectations fall short. For example, you might find that a PhD is not necessarily what you have always wanted, and that jumping into the job market and getting an MBA in a couple of years is a better option. On the other hand, a deeper look might show you that the living expenses in a college town are not too high, and your passion and determination will get you through it. You would then decide to go for it!
So, is the PhD really worth it?
Here’s the PhDeal. If you are seriously considering to apply, then go for it! Give yourself that option, you can always decide later whether to accept an offer or not. In any case, you will not get an immediate response, and there will be lots of time to examine your choices. Mind you, applying with any serious intent can be a bit time consuming. But this is a life-determining decision. If you cannot manage your time well enough to research and learn how to apply, then you probably don’t want a PhD anyway. Disclaimer: your graduate studies will be a lot about time management, sitting in for long grueling hours of research, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Consider applying your first test.
Luckily, our blog (and the internet and rest of the world) is here to help!