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Stephen

Should I get a Ph.D.?

September 6, 2016, Posted In Graduate Admissions

Not everyone is ready for a doctorate (Ph.D.) and not everyone is suited for one. A Ph.D. is the highest academic degree a student can earn and sets you up for careers in academia, research or consulting. The degree is for those who are truly passionate about an academic field in which they hope to make a long term commitment. Before committing to another four to eight years of education, consider the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • You’ll adapt to being tough-minded after years of critiquing, second-guessing and grilling. These experiences are bound to make you feel like you could tackle anything academically.
  • After spending multiple years of conducting and producing research, your analytical skills will sharpen, and you’ll be able to carry these analytical and research skills with you to your next venture – whether or not it’s related to your Ph.D. dissertation.
  • A Ph.D. is the highest possible degree you can achieve. If you’re looking to intellectually challenge yourself and devote your career to one specific field of study, then this is a great option for you.
  • You will be an expert. Attaining a Ph.D. is a great way to build self-confidence and credibility. You will be able to explore uncharted areas of knowledge and teach the world what you discovered, and the title “doctor” confers an air of respect.
  • Some jobs require you to have a Ph.D. or equivalent – you’ll increase your earning potential and qualify for advanced and prestigious careers.

Cons:

  • Pursuing a Ph.D. is a time-consuming and long term commitment. Be prepared to spend the next four to eight years completing your studies while your friends may be on their second or third promotion. Typically, programs in math, engineering and science tend to take four to six years to complete, while social sciences and (especially) humanities programs often last for six or more years.
  • If you decide you no longer want to continue with that field of study and venture to new areas, prospective employers may see you as overqualified but under experienced.
  • A Ph.D. does not guarantee that once you graduate, you will get a job immediately. In fact, many recent Ph.D. graduates are struggling to find work in academia because, in some fields, the supply of Ph.D.s is currently greater than the demand.
  • About half of the people who pursue a Ph.D. do not end up completing it. That could mean spending several years committing to something and then possibly not leaving with a degree. Make sure you are 100% committed before moving forward with the degree program. Fortunately, many universities will award an incidental master’s degree upon completion of coursework and passing a qualifying examination. Then, if a student opts not to complete the Ph.D., at least s/he will hold an MA or MS from the graduate institution.
  • Graduate courses are rigorous and that means you will have a very challenging workload, especially in the first two years of doctoral work. After that time, pursuing a Ph.D. requires a great deal of self-discipline and organization to balance your time appropriately between research, teaching (as a teaching assistant), any additional courses, and – of course – your personal life.
  • If you are seeking a position in academia, it may take years before you have the luxury of making a full-time income. After you graduate with the Ph.D., you will likely have to participate as a postdoctoral research associate (postdoc) for one to three years. In the biological sciences, a postdoc position might last for five years.

If you’re thinking about getting a Ph.D. make sure you do your due diligence. Spend time reflecting on what your goals are for the future and whether this is the right next step to get you there. A doctoral program is a big commitment – it can be helpful to talk to trusted colleagues, peers, family and mentors about your decision.